Torment: Tides of Numenera (Xbox One Initial Impressions)

I was saddened when the world of video gaming moved away from the Isometric RPGs I grew up with. Games like Fallout and Baldur’s Gate would go on to start a 20 year affair with Dungeons and Dragons. The fact the genre is making something of a resurgence is brilliant, with Pillars of Eternity setting the pace. There’s an exciting new sheriff in town, coming off the back of an immensely successful Kickstarter, and it’s called Torment: Tides of Numenera. So, I went hands-on before launch to see what’s what.

Like many classic, and even modern, RPGs, Torment: Tides of Numenera starts off slowly. The first twenty or so minutes feel more like a “choose your own” adventure than anything else, but like I said, I’m a tabletop RPG player, so that didn’t bother me in the slightest. The idea of revisiting memories and making decisions to shape your initial character isn’t a new one, but it’s tried and tested and Torment uses it well.

I’ve always enjoyed RPGs that provide a sensible reason for you (and your character) not knowing anything about the world they live in, and Torment does just that. You play as The Last Castoff, the most recent in a long line of bodies created by, and previously in control of, the enigmatic being known as The Changing God. It doesn’t take long to learn that The Changing God creates a body that fits his purpose, inhabits it for a decade or two, then abandons it, creating a Castoff.

If you’re looking for frequent, high-intensity combat then I’m afraid you’re out of luck as fight sequences, known as Crises, are few and far between. In the first ten hours of gameplay, I’m pretty sure I encountered three different Crises, and one of them was the tutorial Crisis. Torment: Tides of Numenera is very heavy on dialogue and actual role playing, and honestly, it’s an amazing throwback to the likes of Baldur’s Gate and actual tabletop role playing.

Unlike traditional RPGs, that have some variation of the classic Good-Evil alignment system, Torment features a really interesting system that revolves around the Tides. The Tides aren’t explained to you, except from in loading screen tooltips, but it doesn’t take that long to get the gist of it. There are five Tides; Red, Blue, Indigo, Gold and Silver, and they all represent a different aspect of your character. Different combinations of Tides determine and shape your Legacy, which effects what bonuses and powers you’ll receive from certain weapons and artefacts. I don’t think I’m doing it justice with my description, but honestly I found it exciting. This is an RPG element that has more depth than the usual “Holier than thou” douchebag/Selfish Evil Prick archetypes you see so often.

And it’s not just the roleplaying that’s new and well defined. The Skill Check system is really interesting as well. You have three pools that you can draw from during combat and skill checks; Might, Speed and Intellect. If a skill check requires you to smash something, you’ll draw from the Might pool. Some Quick Fingers will require Speed, and attempting to remember some Lore or deceive someone draws from your Intellect pool. As you level up, you can increase the size of each of these pools, or you can improve the maximum amount you can spend on every skill check. They only refill by resting or using healing items, though, so use them wisely! Thankfully, Torment often has interesting results for failed skill checks, not just successful ones. All of this works to building towards a massive fleshed out world that feels believable. You fit right in after a few hours, a catalyst to a massive world full of promise. I think the last time I was so comfortable in a brand new environment was with Mass Effect, which is one of my top games of the last 10 years.

In the first 10 hours of Torment: Tides of Numenera, I feel like I barely scratched the surface. I literally didn’t even leave the first city. There’s so much I’m still to learn and I’m falling in love with it. Torment is a total love letter to the classic RPGs of old. The only drawback would be that the controls aren’t great, but you grow accustomed after a short while – perhaps it is better suited to mouse and keyboard. If you enjoy RPGs, either in video game form or tabletop like D&D or Pathfinder, this is definitely worth a look. I’m passed being cautiously optimistic; this might be the best RPG of the decade. I’ll make sure to put in more time and get back to you when I’ve decided.

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