CRPGs have been making quite a comeback over the last couple of years, from big names like Wasteland 2 through to newer franchises such as Divinity: Original Sin. The latest big CRPG to be releasing is inXile’s Torment: Tides of Numenera, viewed by some as a spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment, and even though some themes are similar between the two games the stories are not linked. This is very much inXile’s attempt at forging a brand new world with a unique mythology, and while they’ve been hugely successful on that front, sadly there are a number of technical issues that serve to tarnish the experience.
Players are cast as a character known as The Last Castoff, a title that carries great significance. So important in fact that the character is not known by any other name. The game begins with The Last Castoff waking up as they fall towards a planet’s surface, not knowing what is happening or how they came to be in such a position. The character hits the ground and is soon found by a squabbling pair.
These characters give you an introduction to who you are, and why you’re important. As the title of The Last Castoff suggests you are something that was essentially thrown away, though the being that got rid of you is The Changing God. This is an individual who has spent centuries constructing bodies and moving his consciousness into them, with each body becoming better than the one before. However there is a side effect when The Changing God leaves a body, as that discarded vessel harbours a new consciousness and identity. In this instance The Last Castoff’s fall from the heavens was their birth, and though they have an adult body they are essentially a newborn that knows how to communicate and perceive the world, but little else.
There are hundreds of castoffs out in the Ninth World, living for centuries and trying to eke out their own destinies. The Ninth World is a place that has familiar types of locations set in unfamiliar environments. No one really knows what the eight worlds prior were like, or even if there were more, but the Ninth World is an era that has spanned for centuries surrounded by remnants from eras before. These remnants and pretty much everything in the world are what are known as numenera. Numenera range from tiny inconsequential things to great constructs that have seen millennia pass, and in the course of the game you’ll use these items to heal, fight, trade, and solve quests with.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is absolutely littered with quests outside of the main plot, which can be triggered in a number of ways, from finding some numenera in a trash heap to helping your companions. I tackled a large number of side quests, but know for a fact I missed a many more through the choices I made and the choices ignored. A number of the quests have some fantastic writing while others can be a bit forgettable, but the quality is generally there when it comes to plot.
Torment’s lore is fascinating and one of the main elements within that lore is the concept of the Tides. At their most basic the Tides are an invisible force in the universe with each representing a different personality type. Castoffs are able to use the Tides to their advantage to manipulate events and the people around them. Every choice made by you affects which Tide is dominant in The Last Castoff, for example, blue for justice and gold for helping others even at a cost to your character. While its interesting to see, the dominant Tide doesn’t really have a major bearing until later in the game.
It’s The Last Castoff’s companions that tend to narratively outshine the protagonist, each with their own tragic story that can be resolved through a personal quest line. These quests aren’t obvious though and could be triggered by talking to a random NPC when you least expect it, making the flow of their stories feel a lot more natural.
As The Last Castoff and their party travel through different places and talking to all manner of people, you’ll encounter those that will either help you or stand in your way. What is interesting is that the majority of Torment can be played without fighting battles. In fact, outside of encounters that form part of the narrative, I can count the number of battles I fought on one hand, with many of the situations resolved through calming characters down through persuasion, scaring them through intimidation, or straight up deceiving them. These options use the Intellect trait, and the more you invest in that the more success you have with manipulating or convincing people, as well as finding answers. If you do find yourself in a battle you can try and escape from most of them, instead of standing your ground.
Torment’s battle system is a turn based affair which relies on a character’s Might and Speed stats. Might is focused on the amount of damage a character can dish out, while Speed relates to how quickly a character’s turn will come up. During a turn you can perform one action, whether this is an attack or interacting with something in the environment, and one movement which allows you to travel a certain distance. If you wish you can sacrifice an action, for example attacking, to move a lot further either away from or towards a target. Battles are tough and can be won or lost in a single action.
The environments are incredibly varied and each one manages to evoke a powerful identity. Sagus Cliffs is a town that is the centre of power for the Sagus Protectorate, with districts that show off that power to areas where the poorest live. The Valley Of The Dead is a tomb that has quite a doom and gloom environment, and it makes you feel like it is a very depressing place. The Bloom is probably the best of the locations purely because of how unique it is when it comes to any game, being a living creature that is kilometers in size that houses its own community.
Despite all of the good work done with the game’s characters, lore, gameplay and artwork, it is also a game that’s mired in technical issues on PS4 and in our brief testing on Xbox One. When interacting with an object, the character may walk around randomly a little before actually focusing on it. There are constant frame rate drops and stutters which become increasingly jarring as you play.
Torment’s problems really come to a head during battles, with the game crashing four times at crucial moments during my play through. Twice the game just failed to load the next action, with one not loading up the UI after completing a quest as well as freezing my character in place, and the second in a battle where pressing “End Turn” resulted in nothing happening. Besides these significant problems the game is also beset by numerous other small and deeply annoying bugs, which when taken as a whole serve to destroy all of the hard work that’s been put in elsewhere.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is a game whose plot, with its well written characters and plentiful twists and turns, could easily hook you in. However, it’s a game that is currently fundamentally broken on consoles. Despite the technical flaws, the plot definitely grew on me and it would be great for others to be able to experience it, as well as the world they’ve created, but until the game is fixed on a number of fronts, Torment: Tides of Numenera is hard to recommend.
Version tested: Original PS4