Torment: Tides of Numenera (PS4 Review)
There are plenty of games that pass us by on a weekly basis, time is often limited and squeezing in another title seems impossible with a full time job and other time constraints. We can sometimes miss those crystalline diamonds in the rough that go down as cult classics and even those that shape new genres. I say this because, unfortunately, I was one of the few who never got to appreciate Planescape: Torment back in 1999. Though I doubt my feeble mind would be able to grasp the complexity of Planescape’s narrative driven mechanics back in the day, now I feel I’m more than adequate to give it a bash…or at least its spiritual successor Torment: Tides of Numenera.
Tides of Numenera takes place within the Ninth World. With eight generations of civilisations being wiped out by unknown means, leaving behind artefacts that the Ninth World now call “Numenera”. These Numenara can range from the most simplistic entity to the most obscure; unnatural objects across space and time, all of which transcend any form of understanding. You play as the “Last Castoff”, a being with no memory and no knowledge of the world before them. The only knowledge they contain is that they are a literal shell of their former self, a chassis of a former god known as the Changing God. Creating a host every few decades or so to go on living, fighting an endless war against the “Sorrow”, a creature that torments the player through their journey in this vast world.
There is so much convoluted backstory and world building within Tides of Numenera that trying to explain it would be doing the game a great injustice. From characters, worlds, settings, elements, and a whole manner of Numenera. These aspects are somewhat drip fed to you throughout the course of Tides of Numenera and you’ll be able to come to grips with the world and characters on your own accord. The first 10 minutes can be rather daunting however, as you go about the various scripted dialogue trees, defining your character’s disposition and morality, molding who they are to become. All the while Tides of Numenera throws its own jargon around, hoping you can understand what it all means. You’ll be left clueless and overwhelmed until you can get into the meat of the game and this can be rather intimidating affair for people not so used to the text heavy adventure that Tide of Numenera, more or less, is; A cacophony of words that leave you dazed and confused.
The backdrops are the real attraction, drawing you in to Torment: Tides of Numenera’s world. These abstract lands of the Ninth World are truly stupendous in design, with a whole mix of feelings and genres rolled into one, an amalgam of steampunk, cyberpunk, fantasy, and the macabre. Its these settings that will have you immersed for hours on end. The characters that inhabit this isometric plane of existence aren’t much to look at and sorely lack in graphical fidelity, but the environments more than make up for what they are lacking.
Even if you don’t understand Tides of Numenera’s preeminent ways of storytelling, we can all understand character customisation – especially in RPGs. As with most RPGs, you’ll get to choose a class to start your adventure. Tides of Numenera has its own unique twist on the genre staples. Glaives act as your hard hitters, tanks if you will, that wade into battle with might and muscle. Nanos are your spellcaster class, mages with an extra dimensional disposition, these folks use their intellect to inflict mind numbing attacks and can even use their knowledge to maneuver their way around conflicts. Last we have Jacks, the Jack of all trades characters as the name suggests, relying on speed to overcome their opponents. Even though your class defines how your character plays, it doesn’t lock you into one particular path of problem solving. You can still mix and match various sub-stats that determine how situations play out, a blade wielding Glaive can still have the intelligence of a Nano and vice versa.
And with all this cross-skill optimization you can perform it may be best to at least put a few points into Persuasion to talk your way around combat encounters. ‘Cause damn, they are hard. Combat encounters are known as a Crisis, a turn-based set of decisions that ultimately determine the victor. Each character has a turn that they can move and attack in, both are consuming respective action points. Although Torment: Tides of Numenara doesn’t limit you to one attack phase and one movement phase, you can move in and attack or double your move action to evade your way out of an enemy attack. Regardless of how you play your hand, you’ll need to expend “Effort” if you even stand a chance of hitting an opponent. Effort is Tides of Numenera’s own Action Point (AP) system. The more action points you use, the greater the percentage chance you have of hitting the opponent. The problem herein lies the amount of Effort a character has -hint it’s not a lot- and that Effort is used to do practically everything, in and out with battle; interactions, conversation prompts, attacking, skills, you name it. With a momentous dialogue system, you will be running out of your precious Effort in no time at all. This results in the inability to perform the simplest of actions and battles boiling down to a 20% chance of hitting your opponent or not each turn – add that to the plethora of enemies you face in most Crisis events, mostly outnumbering your own, becomes troublesome to say the least. If Effort was integrated in to any other game, like The Sims, my character would be lying on the floor, slowly dying, face down in a pile of his own feces because he didn’t have enough Effort to reach the loo.
If you are having particular difficulty with engagements then it’s time to break out the Cyphers. You’ll find these strange Numenera all over the Ninth World. These devices are one of the saving throws that can sway the tide of the battle. Cyphers can only be used once, so even though they are powerful enough to heal all party members, cause mass damage or deal debilitating effects, they can only be used that once before they become defunct and gone forever; an ace up your sleeve when you need it.
Though it is stated by the developers that Torment: Tides of Numenera’s focus is on the narrative story telling and combat takes a back seat. And that couldn’t be more true. The extensive dialogue system is more expansive than I could possibly have imagined. Talking to a single character and reading every line of dialogue could take several minutes of your time to hours. In fact, it took me roughly 10 hours to clear the starting portion of the game, talking to all characters, doing side quests and learning the lore. Tides of Numenera isn’t one of those games that, if you get bored, you can continually mash the skip button until you get to the gist of what they are trying to say. Oh no. You need to hang onto every word said and every action, as you’ll be presented with options that could determine the fate of a quest, character, or your own life. And most notably your own “Tides”.
Tides are essentially your character’s moral compass, or pendulum, if you will, as it can swing instantly depending on your own choices in conversations. Whether you are noble, emphatic, cruel, hateful your tides will change and affects those around you. Ultimately it will change the outcome of the main game and some side quests depending on your choice.
To be honest, I feel like I have only scratched the surface of the Ninth World within Torment: Tides of Numenera. With an overabundance of conversations open and areas left to discover, I can’t help but feel I’ll be sitting here for countless more hours to come. But it has to be said, Torment: Tides of Numenera is not for those who prefer action to deep lore, or a decent book. Most of the gameplay will be character interaction and conversation, so if that’s not your cup of tea then you best give it a miss as the combat, whilst strategic in its own right, is less than stellar in comparison to other like minded games with turn-based, strategic combat – like Divinity: Original Sin. Regardless Torment: Tides of Numenera is a huge plus in my book for narrative storytelling, world building and more, so get out there and try it for yourselves.