Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Torment: Tides of Numenera (PS4) Review

Torment: Tides of Numenera has come to consoles after a very successful Kickstarter for its PC release a few months ago.  It harkens back to the old PC RPGs of years ago, where atmosphere and characters were top billing.  In contrast to most games nowadays, you can talk yourself out of most situations, and rarely have to resort to combat...unless you want to.

The game starts off with some voiced lines that sets up what is happening and helps set up your character with a personality quiz, or something like it.  I found this bit confusing, as I was trying to sort out what this world is, and it wasn't coming together for me.  There is then a brief tutorial before the game properly starts, and that was the point where I started to "get" the backstory.  I honestly felt the game could have started there, then went into the other parts, but I'm sure there are others who are fine with how the game starts.

The idea of the game is neat and unique.  There is an entity called the Changing God, who, in an effort to continuously gain knowledge and also escape a powerful being called Sorrow, creates a new body every 10-20 years, and transfers into it.  This leaves behind the old body, which is then filled with a new soul.  These "castoffs" are known throughout the world by their telltale scar, and this is the character you play as.  You have no real past of your own, except for whatever trouble the Changing God caused in your body, plus memory fragments of previous bodies.

The game has a lot of reading.  In fact, that is an understatement.  It has a near insane amount of text, as first encounters don't just name a person, but describe them in a Robert Jordan kind of way.  By contrast, few lines have voices.  Most interactions have a lot of extra text that sets the tone and scene, describing actions to make things seem more alive.  It's pulled off really well, even if there are a lot of complexities that are almost too much to digest.

Here's an example.  A character you meet is an alien with intricate mechanical arms.  He is studying the mating habits of other creatures because they differ so much from that of his race.  To reproduce, they cut off a limb, which will grow into a new person.  Which part is cut off determines what the person does.  Legs make laborers, arms make more thoughtful people, and the head makes leaders, because of the obvious sacrifice.  Regrowing or replacing a limb is seen as offensive to your offspring, and is frowned upon in their society.  When this particular guy accidentally ended up with mechanical arms, he was exiled from his society.

I should now note that this isn't even a party member.  This is some NPC that you interact with for about 2 minutes.  That is a crazy amount of thought and effort put into something so small, but it really makes the game deeper and more realistic.  It's easy to get absorbed into as you read everything.  It's also easy to spend a ton of time and not really go anywhere...I spend almost 20 hours in the first town alone!  It wasn't all from the loading screens.  They were frequent, and were on the long side, but still not as bad as some other recent titles.

The core system of the game is Effort.  To do something, you must expend your stats.  You want to break something?  Use some of your Might to do so.  Want to catch a fast moving object?  Spend some Speed.  The more points you use, the higher the success percent.  There is a definite balance between using more Effort to guarantee success, and leaving some to use for the next choice.  There are items to restore stat points, and sleeping will also recharge you.  However, sleeping too much can advance some quests, simply because you were taking too long to do it.  Plus, money is pretty hard to come by, especially early on, so you might go broke if you have to spend a few days at the inn.

I actually really like the Effort system, mostly because you can see the percent chance of success, and with multiple party members, you can alternate who spends the points.  Effort also extends to combat, where expending more increases accuracy and damage done.  Plus, you spend the stat relevant to your weapon type.  Speed for light weapons, Might for heavy, and etc.  Once you understand the basics, it works well.

Of course, as alluded to earlier, you barely have to fight in the game if you don't want to.  Many quests have multiple outcomes, which can be brought about by talking, convincing, lying, or maybe even stealing.  I'll give you an example.  In one quest, you meet a trio of ancient builder robots that cannot move, but can talk and think.  So, they help direct people in building and renovating the city above and around them.  One of them is having a bit of an existential crisis and wants to produce offspring.  It has failed several times, but the only way to succeed will ultimately kill this intelligent, ancient and rare being.  Do you help it, or convince it to live instead?  I choose to help it, and it created several robo-babies that scampered about.  You could round them up, or let them run free.  I let them out into the world.  However, there is one that didn't work out.  You can leave it, but I chose to take it with me.  Never would I have thought that an item I would receive in a video game would be a stillborn robot baby, but here we are.

While fighting and finishing quests can give you big chunks of experience, a lot of things in the game give little bits.  Reading things, or learning about people can provide small boosts toward your next level, or should I say Tier?  Instead of a more traditional set-up, your characters will advance toward the next tier, which requires 4 advancements.  At each advancement (level up, basically), you can choose one thing to improve, from a list of four or five.  However, each can only be taken once each tier, so you can't load your characters up with stats or skills, and then do the other later.  The things you can choose from are: increase a stat, increase edge (which basically gives you a free stat point toward effort checks), extra effort (can expend an extra point to increase success %), improved ability (give you a new ability to use), and improved skill (can improve a passive skill).  Several of these are useful, so it's best to think about what you want from your characters when deciding.  I especially like edge, as it helps stretch out your stat points.

One last thing I want to mention is the "tides" system for your character's personality.  Well, I think that's what it's for, the game didn't really explain it.  As you choose responses to the many, many text options, your tides will shift toward different colors.  I would think this effects how others see you, but I'm not really sure.  I only caught on that they are supposed to represent your personality from a random loading screen hint.  Your character screen shows your dominant tides, but you have to use the touch pad to see more detail, then scroll down in the appropriate tab to actually see what those colors represent.  I would have liked a more detailed (and easy to access) explanation, or even just knowing which responses might trigger the shifts, because they don't all fit with their descriptions.  If it doesn't actually affect the game, I'd at least like to know that, too.

The developers tout not being able to see everything in one run of the game, and I believe it.  There are lots of little choices and alternate outcomes to quests that add up throughout the playthrough that I see good reasons to go through the game a second time.  Plus, you could try another character class, or different skills.  Trophies are sometimes awarded for competing quest outcomes, and it is very easy to miss a good chunk of them if you aren't following a guide.

So, Torment: Tides of Numenera is an engaging and deep game to eat up your free time.  It won't be for everyone, but if you are the type to get completely engrossed in a game and its lore, this is definitely a game you owe it to yourself to play.  It's fun, unique, and offers good replay.  It controls well on consoles, too, so pick it up on your platform of choice.

The Good:
Lengthy, deep, old school RPG that can suck you in for hours.  Effort system is a refreshing new way for skill checks and combat.

The Bad:
Might be more text than you can handle.

The SaHD:
"I haven't had this much fun, since...the last time!"

(Review code for Torment was provided by the publisher)

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