Review: Torment: Tides of Numenera

Developer inXile Entertainment certainly knew how to get my attention with their pitch for Torment: Tides of Numenera. Positioning it as an old school throwback that draws upon Black Isle Studios Planescape: Torment is like cool water to a parched throat. The “talk ’em up” style RPG, where dialogue, setting and characterization takes priority over smiting dragons and plundering treasure, has been sorely lacking. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the studio has been very forthcoming with information and details leading one to believe that this offering would bottle the magic found in the seminal classic while being a creature of its own. The end product, though, is riddled with too many flaws that hamper the experience as a whole, making this outing a crushing letdown.

That’s not to say that Torment has nothing going for it. In fact, there is reason for the story focused gamer to check this one out. Set in the extremely distant future, in an era known as the Ninth World, the player character awakens falling a long distance through the sky with zero understanding about the circumstances that lead to this predicament. After a fortuitous rescue, the hero is left unconscious, wandering the confines of his/her mind, which leads into the character creation. A series of scenarios, presented as emerging memories, are told, with the player making choices that affect the character type. It’s not original, but it serves well at building the heroe’s narrative. As this all plays out, and after awakening, the background of the world begins to emerge.

Long ago a singular man discovered the key to immortality. While flesh isn’t permanent by nature, consciousness can be. Thus, the man lives his life in improved bodies of his own design, becoming known as the Changing God. Being fickle, he is prone to leave these bodies behind for new ones. The remaining husks develop a conscious of their own and become known as Castoffs. In Torment, the player is known as the Last Castoff. Being a freshly realized mind, the player must work through the new life, solving mysteries about their existence while contending with the untiring pursuit of The Sorrow, a multi-tentacled villain that is wreaking havoc in the Last Castoff’s mind.

This story set up is what carries the best of the game. It feels fresh and original, allowing the situations that arise to maintain a sense of discovery, even if those same situations would feel rote in a less well written title. Throughout the game, there are numerous quests to complete, using wit and charm, stealth, or brute force. It should be noted that the vast majority of the coolest stuff is told, not shown, so it does require quite a fair bit of reading. This isn’t a complaint, though, as the writing is extremely well done. The authors did something that one wishes others would embrace: assumes that the player isn’t a moron. Alternating between florid and classical, to brutal and stark, the writers at inXile uses literacy like a finely crafted musical instrument, pulling the player further into the alien world (and expanding my vocabulary in the process).

There are even more than the expected share of darkly humorous moments. One example that can be given that won’t be too bad of a spoiler occurs after falling in battle the first time. The Last Castoff does have regenerative capabilities, much to the surprise of the cannibalistic cult that collected the body. Upon awakening, the Castoff is in a ritual chamber bathed in ominous light. Surprised, the cult leader apologizes for the wacky mishap that almost occurred but then stops to think. If the Castoff cannot die, would it be okay to just have a nibble? It’s not like it would do any lasting harm. I agreed, lost two health points, and an achievement unlocked.

The issues lie everywhere else where dialogue and storytelling aren’t the sole gameplay mechanics. World exploration is a tedious affair, with small areas blocked off by loading times, rendering traveling to and fro to complete quests aggravating. It’s not as though the areas are packed with graphical finesse. Torment is built off of the Unity engine and it shows, with unattractive environments and character models, and it feels like the design wasn’t modeled to fit around the technology used. This is especially frustrating when, occasionally, one can see the artistic intent that simply cannot be realized.

There is also the matter of the effort system. Each party member has a pool of points spread across strength, speed, and intelligence. When encountering an action that requires some extra oomph, like swinging a sword in battle, telling a lie convincingly, or capturing a quick critter, the player can assign effort points from the limited pool of the pertinent stat, raising the chances for success. This is very cool in theory, as it naturally represents the expenditure of personal stamina that comes with a particularly vigorous attempt. As sleeping is the easiest way to refill the pools, outside of items, it acts as a fatigue system without an annoying dwindling bar. In practice, it leaves the player sitting through more load times as they laboriously travel back to an inn for rest. Frankly, this is a game in desperate need of an immediate and forgiving fast travel system.

The biggest detractor comes in the form of the turn based battles. This is actually what caused me to rage quit a few times, not because it was challenging, but because there seems to be an almost willful intent to waste the player’s time. One early battle, for example, takes place in a chamber filled with mechanical constructs defending it that needs to be recaptured. Now, this isn’t a required battle, and the situation could, and according to the quest giver, should be bypassed without destroying the machines. I fouled that up, though, and a brawling I went. Each time one of the enemies moved, it would do a protracted dance that takes around 20-30 seconds to complete. Same again if they are going to attack. After a few minutes of this, the player’s patience is going to be tested, especially when there are tons of these things that have a turn. Waiting for a turn isn’t a huge deal in other titles, as it can provide an opportunity to strategize, but five plus minutes between player interaction is ridiculous in a single player battle. One could argue that this isn’t a game centered around fighting, but there are numerous character builds specifically centered around violence.

One major word of warning: do not play Torment: Tides of Numenera on console. At all. The load time issue is compounded, with minute plus periods of time between the discrete areas. The frame rate is atrocious, too. With the camera zoomed out enough to see enough to play, expect constant stuttering and rates between five to twenty frames per second. To get it anywhere near smooth, one would need to zoom all of the way in, which makes the game impossible to play. There is also some strangeness to be seen in fallen enemies. Not ragdoll physics; it’s just that the remains are getting their boogie on. One could suppose that just laying there would get boring. How the game passed any sort of console certification is beyond me. This is terribly unfortunate, as I prefer to do my gaming on a no fuss console from my recliner. PC sidesteps some of these issues. The load times are still annoying, though not as long, but the frame rate is fine and none of the jittering was noticed. This is on a machine that far exceeds the recommended specs, though, so results may vary. My uninformed theory is that Unity simply works better on PC than console, which falls in line with other titles I’ve tried on both PC and console.

Closing Comments:

With frustrating tech, unappealing appearance and a lack of quality of life streamlining, Torment: Tides of Numenera might actually be my biggest gaming-related disappointment since I bought an Atari Jaguar. Some of the complaints mentioned here, especially exploration (wrongly as load times weren’t this bad), could be leveled at Planescape: Torment, but many years have gone by with many new ideas to make gaming experiences more engrossing. To throw these out wholesale does a disservice to the modern gamer. Additionally, Tides of Numenera manages to find some brand new ways to be obnoxious. I’ve waited for patches and gave this game an inordinate amount of chances to no avail. If the writing weren’t so well done, I would be okay with giving it a low score alongside a few wisecracks and forget about it. Because inXile is telling a story that demands to be seen through but made it so tiresome to do so, I cannot help but feel a frothy, incandescent rage. This could, nay should, be so much better.

Review Date
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Torment: Tides of Numenera
Author Rating

  • secretfire

    You waited…all of two business days for a patch? What? The issues arn’t THAT bad dude, the same as any major rpg being released. Skyrim wouldn’t even TURN ON for my machine for a MONTH post release, and it was a friggin AAA game! It sounds as if you were mostly frustrated at the combat. The graphics and environmentals were gorgeous, and exploration was a wonderful joy. Combat was annoying, but tbh Torment is an RPG for people who hate combat anyways, and I expect it to be tweaked in patch. I mean, that would be fair criticism, but the overall tone I think is rather unfair.

    • You are Not a Victim

      “The graphics and environmentals were gorgeous”

      Are we looking at the same game?

      • Reginald Allouchery

        You sir need to run to the opthometrist right away..

    • atnnta

      I think the reviewer’s complaints are valid. For my tastes, all aspects that I like in cRPGs, namely exploration, dynamic storytelling and combat, are tedious in this game. In particular, the decision to implement turn based combat in a game with so much text interaction makes exploration, combat and story telling tedious. I enjoyed the IE games when they were released (BG 1-2, Icewind Dale 1-2, Torment) and other similar games (Neverwinter Nights 1-2, Pillars of Eternity, Divinity Original Sin, etc.) so please don’t chalk it up to me just wanting another Dragon Age 43.

      • Sasha Kozak

        What? The storytelling is tedious? Did you play this game at all? The storytelling was not tedious at all, infact it was some of the best writing of the last 10 years in rpgs imo. Probably the best writing since Planscape torment or Mask Of The Betrayer for me.

        The combat needs work no doubt about that, but the writing is top notch and I found the exploration to be great to, I couldn’t wait to check out new areas and talk to new people. As someone who loved Planscape Torment, Icewind Dale and BG 1/2, this game was a wonderful surprise for me.

        I thought it woudl be average but it is actually pretty good other than the combat. I have also beat (and loved) Divinity, Wasteland 2 and Pillars Of Eternity, to me all of those and Torment are even, they each do som ethings better than the other but neither of them are perfect. Anyways just my two cents as someone who grew up playing these types of rpgs, the combat isn’t as good as PIllars or Divinity but the writing is MUCH better.

        • Jason Bohn

          I’m… confused. The writing was the one thing I praised to high heaven. Playing the game itself was tedious.

          • Sasha Kozak

            Now you have me confused.. I replied to the comment made by “atnnta” which was this “For my tastes, all aspects that I like in cRPGs namely exploration, dynamic storytelling and combat, are tedious in this game.”

            I don’t find the dynamic storytelling or exploration to be tedius at all (which is what the person I quoted wrote). The combat I can see how some might not like it, I don’t think it is the best but its not the worst either.

          • Jason Bohn

            And there is my confusion. You were responding to a comment, not the review. I guess I was a little brain fried there. Sorry about that!

        • Grarr McGrarr

          I think you and many others are confusing ‘good’ writing with ‘lots of’ writing. Most of the writing in this game is nothing to do with the ninth world in which you reside… its tedious filler about other places, other people and nothing to do with you. Finding information that has anything to do with you is just a long slog through unrelated, overly flowery, cliched crap. All of which is hiding the fact that everything is simply a bunch of fetch quests with a light garnish of meh combat.

          As a writer, I was tought never use a paragraph where a sentence would do. Never use a a sentence where a word will do.

          This is a lesson that the writers of TToN desperately need to learn.

          • Sasha Kozak

            Nope, the writing is fantastic in this game imo, has nothing to do with how much writing is there as it all is quality. This is the best writing of the crpg resurgence imo, although the worst combat to. You must not have played Planscape torment, it had tons of words to and is regarded as the best writing in rpg history by many people.

            Why do I enjoy the writing? Well The dialogue is interesting, the story is interesting and the characters are very interesting. This is a perfect example of good writing imo and is the best writing I have witnessed in an rpg since Mask Of The Betrayer and Planscape Torment. Meh combat is the only thing I can agree with you, the writing is top notch.

            I want to chat with every character in this game as all the dialogue is so well written, I want to hear about these characters and the game world more and more, the writing has pulled me in and made me want to chat with every character I come across.

          • Reginald Allouchery

            I agree 100%

          • Grarr McGrarr

            By what bar are you measuring the quality of the writing? Because I hold it up to PoE and Tyranny and it is much weaker. At least there was some discovery and relevance to the world you were in. TToN is just really eager for everyone to tell you the town is made of spaceships and that the underbelly is ruled by this guy and the cliffs are run by this woman and oooh there’s a mad assassin lady…

            It’s just a slow slog through repetitive, flowery exposition over and over until you hit the next bit of plot. Frankly I was starting to look for a way to detonate those engines or get the burrowing creatures to just collapse the whole city into the ground. I instead just quit to play something else. I’ll keep going back, just for the fact I blew 35 quid on the game… but it just isn’t fun.

          • Reginald Allouchery

            The purple prose is strong in this one, same with pillars and same with tyranny BUT as RPG prose go, the writing in torment is pretty fantastic and fun to read. We don’t need the lord of the rings (althoug that would be nice) to enjoy the writing in an rpg. Also it is not a bunch of fetch quest, this is not skyrim: have you played the game?

          • Grarr McGrarr

            I most certainly am playing the game, though the bad writing is making it a long slog. And you haven’t seen fetch questing in this game? That seriously make me doubt that you have played it. I need help repairing a crystal chamber, can you give me advice … well first you must take this Darlek eye and go do this… I’d like to sleep in your camp and talk to you… well first you must fix this magic clock… I’d like to talk to you about a murder… well first you must help me turn my legs into babies and kill me in the process… tell me about this sculpture you made, well first you must go and ask the cannibals about the corpse in it…

            On and on and on and on… entire dialogue trees devoted to ‘I want x done, go do it’.

            It is terrible. AND IF ONE MORE GAS BAG tells me, over a half dozen paragraphs, that the town is built on space ships… I KNOW! It’s obvious! The first dozen idiots told me already!

            I’d flat out not speak to them… except they might have the one single dialogue option that progresses the frozen plot.

            I love lore. I LOVE IT. I’ve read every book in Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim. I love rich, deep, immersive story telling.

            Which is why I can’t stand TToN. It has the quantity, but the quality is low. The characters are one dimensional. Even the multidimensional one.

            No game should make you wish you were playing a better game from the very start… but from the beginning of the tutorial I was nostalgic for Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny. Just… something written with a touch of skill and flair.

            You like it? I’m happy for you, but I’m used to better than this.

        • Reginald Allouchery

          My two cents on the crpg revival:
          – divinity: best gameplay systems, worst story/writing
          – wasteland 2: best combat and customisation, great atmosphere, average graphics (sometimes) and story
          – pillars: amazing art/graphics, great lenght, good companions, confusing combat and best baldur’s gate imitation
          – tyranny: great art and companions, fascinating lore/world, original premise, good combat, okay story, too short
          – torment: wonderful lore/worldbuilding (thank you monte cook), great story/writing (even though purple prose), okay combat (wish there was more of it), best planetscape imitation

      • Reginald Allouchery

        FIrst of all, turn based combat is always superior to real time as far as I am concerned. Second, there is so little combat in this game that I don’t understand your point at all. Finally, this game is amazing precisely bacuase it is a joy to explore, both the incredible world and fascinating narrative.

        • atnnta

          Ok, that’s your opinon, not mine.

    • Grarr McGrarr

      Honestly, the reviewer is being overly kind. The game is truly awful. The graphics are horrible. Lord help you if you want to click on an item at the bottom of the map as there really isn’t a border or buffer there. You have to try to click right between bits of the HUD to hit what you want… the cloaks clip through the shield or weapons on your back with no attempt at having made them function together… holding tab to show intereactive spots on the map… and also name plates for each character on screen. There are often dozens of characters on screen all with stupidly large and elaborate nameplates that just make the screen a mess. No character model needs a nameplate the same height as them and ten times as wide.

      The game, however, is about the writing. That is the big selling point. Which is why I bought it, eager for a well written and deep story with lots of detail.

      It isn’t well written. It has a huge amount of filler text with nothing to do with you or the world you are in.The first room you are in outside of the tutorial has a broken crystal sarcoughagus in it. Just above that is a machine with a 5 branch dialogue tree that takes a few minutes to work through.

      Its a loot chest. Its a god damned loot chest with a grenade in it.

      There are huge numbers of people who have a great deal to say… with no impact on your story or the world around you. Imagine a choose your own adventure book that also includes dozens of clippings from someone’s vanity novel just thrown in.

      After digging through these you realise you are essentially playing a standard low combat rpg, with a few fights and a bunch of fetch quests. Except in TToN, each busy dialogue is nested in a multi branch dialogue tree. Every stage of your quest is filled with flavour text. That isnt depth of story, often alternate branches are just the same info said slightly differently. So you dont know if the final clue that unlocks the next part of the fetch quest is in THIS character’s diologue tree… or in the next one. You are hunting for plot in filler, constantly.

      Its dire.

      I’m a reader. I love reading fiction. I’m all about the lore… but sometimes I want it to be relevant in someway to the game. TToN hasn’t figured that out yet. Today, I sat down to finish some quests in the first town. I kept reading and reading and reading and passing checks and still talking… after two hours, not one quest has ended. I just want to kill every NPC on screen just to end these quests.

      Oh… and selecting the diologue options can, randomly, lag. The graphics dont, just the dialogue. This means that you click again in case you missed before hand and end up clicking an option in the next list of dialogue options. This would be simply annoying… except that the first time you follow an option, you get a long rambly detail filled answer, if you ask them to repeat it, they will then answer with a brief summary of their previous answer… and that is the only answer you will now get. If you missed something in that first, detailed answer that isnt in the summary… you need to reload from a previous save.

      When you start getting frustrated with the rambling pointless dialogue… rapid clicking happens more often, which means this click through happens more often. So maybe you missed key data, maybe you didnt… reload and start rummaging through the dialogue again, just in case.

      This game is just infuriating to play. I bought it at launch for full price… so Im going to push through… but its a slog. It isnt fun. I hope it changes soon… but currently as I dig around the first town… it is just hard work. Not fun.

      Oh… and good luck finding an old woman that isnt wise but insane, gibbering waffle constantly. Because there is a ton of those so far.

  • Sasha Kozak

    Some of the best writing I have seen in a videogame in ages, the combat could be improved but I have had a blast on it on PC.

    • Igor Mikuya

      One of the best – yes, but it’s because modern games have usually horrible writing or at best average. Numenera is just slightly above it, nothing else.

  • Koolz

    Game was amazing to me! I couldn’t put it down clocking 45 hours. I give it a 9/10

    and that includes some bugs I encountered. It is just so well written! The story is very tight.

    Great Rpg and great experience.

    • Sasha Kozak

      Agreed 100% Best writing in a videogame in years for me!

  • Reginald Allouchery

    This game is a solid 4.5 in my book, but I understand the criticisms. I just disagree with them. The only thing that matters if how much fun will you have playing this game. It is a very specific kind of game that will immensely appeal to some people and not at all to others.

  • Jack Birch

    After passing 99% of the skill checks in the game, and being able to re-try the ones I failed, I don’t feel like I was locked out of enough content to warrant a 2nd playthrough.

    Also, I get the feeling that this game doesn’t know what it wants to be. Obviously a huge amount of time and effort went into creating the combat side of the game: Most of the cyphers are combat-related, merchants in the game predominantly sell combat items, there are many combat skills to choose and upgrade…. but then you have only a handful of combat situations so you never get to use them. Using a diplomatic character build, I found myself hoping/trying to get into more combat situations because my inventory was full of weapons, cyphers, healing items etc that should serve a purpose.

    And the easy access to rest spots means you never need to use the cyphers, healing items, or purchase anything anyway.

    This game reminds me of Age of Decadence because it’s more of a choose-your-own adventure with an interesting story that keeps you clicking through. However, it’s not as focused, because there you had to be careful about your choices. In this, it doesn’t matter what character class you choose or what choice you make, your hand is being held so tightly that you never need to lose a skill check, lose your place in a quest, or lose any of your resources. Would have enjoyed a challenge more.