Torment: Tides of Numenera – Review
PC, Xbox One, PS4
After the glitz and glamour of the last few months of AAA gaming (Hitman, Horizon Zero Dawn, Zelda), it’s almost a shock to sit down with something that offers a far more intimate experience. Something that requires commitment from the player in the form of thousands of lines of description and dialogue. Something that is sedate, when all around is noise and flash.
Torment: Tides of Numenera (just “Torment” from now on) demands a lot of the player. It demands your imagination. It tells rather than shows, with very little visual or aural reinforcement. This game clearly had a budget ceiling, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of the writing. If you are willing to invest the eye-time, this world has the potential to be just as rich and rewarding as any open world opus.
Text is everywhere. Walls of it are thrown at you, from scene descriptions to lengthy swathes of dialogue. At first, this might seem exhausting as every NPC seems to contain a novel’s worth of backstory and explorable question paths. But realistically, Torment is quite narrow in focus if you want it to be. It’s quite possible to miss entire sections of the game, hours of side quests, if you just want to focus on the main story and bluster your way forward. It’s far less rewarding, however, and you would be doing the game’s creators a disservice to not explore at least a few of the many side pursuits on offer.
While there is a combat mode in the game, enacted via a stilted turn-based system, it’s far more interesting to try and avoid combat. The game almost feels like it’s meant to be played this way, finding alternate routes and conversation options to persuade or trick NPCs into stepping down from violence. I chose to equip my protagonist with a perk that let him read snippets of people’s thoughts as he conversed with them. These inner thoughts often ran contrary to what the NPCs were saying, which helped me to work out how to persuade them to do things. This is just one skill of many and it had quite a profound influence on my experience, so there’s definite scope for a replay even if the general path might remain similar.
At times, the experience of playing Torment feels a bit sparse. There’s hardly any voiced dialogue and the soundtrack is barely present during exploration. The areas that you can walk around in are tiny by modern expectations and each transition requires a lengthy loading screen, so that you begin to feel like you are gaming back in the era that the first Torment game arrived. It’s also the kind of game that can feel a bit overwhelming if you want to talk to every character and complete every side quest. Keeping track of quests is not exactly easy as it’s often difficult to remember exactly where the character you need to talk to is and the lack of any mission markers can make the act of turning in a side mission a gargantuan task of explore-every-area-looking-for-that-NPC-you-talked-to-three-hours-ago.
Convincing NPCs to do your bidding takes place via a betting system. Each character in your party has a rack of points relating to strength, speed and intelligence. Certain situations arise relating to these areas and ask you to sacrifice points to increase your chances of success, usually something like: 60%, 70%, 90%, 100%. You can use any character’s points for these, so travelling with companions is worthwhile for this alone, as you can easily spend quite a few points from all the pools before you need to recharge them – which can be done with inventory items or simply staying overnight at an inn (these are often quite expensive). As such, Torment struggles to feel very difficult and the player is often at a heavy advantage during each encounter. Things do, of course, get tougher later in the game, but even so there’s usually one or two alternative courses of action that can be taken to avoid all out violence.
Torment is suited to players willing to bring their imagination and penchant for playful experimentation to the table. Many options that would see a game over screen in other titles are just part of the strange proceedings here. For example, one situation saw me having to decide whether to let cult members feast on my living flesh. Death itself is but a small obstacle in the world of Torment, at least for your character, who exhibits left over powers from the living god who abandoned your body and moved on to another. This tongue-in-cheek approach to situations is both interesting and refreshing, but again you must be willing to bring your imagination to play as there is little in the way of extended animations or story scenes.