Back in 1999 I discovered something that would change the way I thought of games, change what I expected from games. By dumb luck I bought Planescape: Torment. I knew Black Isle Studios and Interplay Entertainment and I bought the game based purely on having positive experiences with previous titles under those names. Was I in for a treat.
Here was a tale of an immortal man in a crematorium, his only companion a glib floating skull. So I set out on a dark, intricate tale that would take me across the planes on a quest to find the truth and death. On the way I met beings of monstrous power, creatures of nightmare and companions that even now, in 2017, I remember fondly. Planescape: Torment taught me that the most powerful thing in any game was my imagination and through its pages upon pages of text, the clever writing left an indelible mark on me.
Now all these years later, a spiritual successor is born. I expected much from this new game. How could I not after the all these years holding Planescape: Torment in such high regard and awe? Thankfully I can tell you that it was worth the wait. Torment: Tides of Numenera takes you on a crazy but personal journey in the Ninth World, with high stakes and crazy locations. Get ready for your definitions of weird and otherworldly to be stretched.
Classes to shape your way
Before we begin looking at the world and characters waiting for you, there are some nuts and bolts that need to be discussed so that you have a firm grasp on the weird sounding terms later.
Normally in CRPGs the number of choices at character creation are myriad and often, pretty daunting unless you are familiar with the tabletop system they are using as a base reference. Numenera is a system built around the belief that anyone can try to do any action, but some will just do it a bit better. Each class has access to Might, Speed and Intellect, but each class will put more points into one over the others. You have three choices before you:
- The glaive, a martial character that focuses on dealing as much damage as possible with their weapon of choice, training to offset the penalties incurred by wearing heavy armour.
- Jacks are, as the name so helpfully states, jacks of all trades. A jack isn’t afraid to use anything and everything to get an advantage, from sharp tongues to sharper blades and a tossed cypher, the jack weighs up his options and takes the move that makes the biggest change.
- Nanos are the spellcasters of the Ninth World. Their magic is actually forgotten science, but not science in the means that you or I think of. Nanos make use of nano-spirits, collectives of nano-machines left scattered all over the Ninth World to shape and alter reality.
The classes roughly equate into warrior, thief and wizard archetypes, but this doesn’t mean that every nano you meet is a “wizard”. Nanos can include necromancers, priests, wizards, people with living tatoos that work as weapons, and can opt to use melee or ranged weapons to help out when they run out of Intellect to fuel their spells. Similarly a jack can be an assassin or an explorer, a hero or a villain. A glaive can be a heavily armoured guard, or a speedy scout with ranged weapons, depending on what style suits you.
Companions to help you on your path
Just like the memorable companions of Planescape: Torment, TToN has some memorable characters that join you on your quest. These individuals have feelings, a history and needs and if you want them to follow you into danger, you need to pay attention to them. The information here is limited to things you will learn in the first few minutes after meeting these characters, if you are worried about spoilers.
Aligern is sarcastic ex-Aeon Priest covered in multiple brightly coloured tattoos that writhe along his forearms. He comes to you looking for the Changing God, a man he wants to take revenge on. Aligern is still uncertain whether you are a castoff or the Changing God pretending to be a castoff, but he knows that if he follows your path, you might eventually held him uncover what happened to his family, his friends, his entire village. He will not join the party or talk to you if Castellige is present. This nano is good with machines and he can remove a strand of a tattoo from himself to make a chain of similar actions become increasingly better.
When you look at Castellige, she appears to be surrounded by several copies of herself. Most of them do the same thing that this Castellige does, but others react to unseen people or distractions, investigating or talking to them. She is a strong nano who uses the connection to her other ‘sisters’ on parallel planes to further her research and try to reclaim a lost love. Castellige tries to keep her distance with haughty disdain, but behind it all there is a sincere soul looking for a way to stop the connection she shares with her parallel selves, before one of them learns how to excise her. Now she hopes to access the datasphere, a complicated system of networked satellites from a previous age. Castellige will not travel with you if Alligern is in the party.
Matkina is an assassin and is known around Sagus as the White Death. She is also the only companion that is also a castoff, meaning she takes less penalties if dropped to 0 health during combat. This jack works better without armour and strikes from the shadows, infusing her weapon with deadly energies to penetrate armour. When you find her she is trying to recover memories taken by her in a mind wipe. In her long life she has been to many places, making her a valuable asset for information about new places and her stealth and quick fingers will help you bypass some encounters.
Erritus is a hero. In fact he would tell you he is the hero. This glaive is a daredevil, attempting to achieve the impossible and every time he completes a death-defying stunt, he seems to grow even better at what he does, as if the attempt somehow made him stronger and catapulted him to new heights. Erritus has a golden glow around him, but he refuses to acknowledge it. Erritus treats you as the NPC, as if he is the big hero of the story. But there are dark bags under his eyes and he seems to never sleep. What is happening here?
Don’t let Tybir’s paunch fool you. This jack is a con-artist and has spent a lot of time being a sailor, soldier, spy, bodyguard and many more jobs. In all of these though, his real job is conning others out of their shins. Tybir’s silver tongue has gotten him out of many situations but now his latest smuggling operation has ended up with his friend being executed on a platform in Circus Minor. This probably wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen, but it turns out that execution in Sagus Cliffs involves putting the guilty in a lucid dream state, during which every word they say turns into heaps of flesh. These heaps of flesh slowly coalesce into a figure which wraps the flesh around the guilty, until enough words have been uttered to choke the life out of the victim. After this, a Dendra O’Hur cultist eats the remains, absorbing all the memories of the guilty party. It seems Tybir is finding this a bit much to watch. Even if you save Ris, you can bet he will not be happy that he took the fall for Tybir’s smuggling operation.
Rhin is a lost child, found in the detritus of a collapsed building. She ran away from a slaver and if you want you can return her to the slaver for a few shins. Or you can gain her confidence and have her join the party. Why would you want a child in the party? Well besides the ethical questions of leaving her to fend for herself or selling her back to slavers, Rhin doesn’t have a class. But she does seem to have some pretty amazing abilities. She isn’t a nano, but some of her abilities work like esoteries. She also talks to a small rock, that she insists is a god. That sounds ludicrous, but her ability to hide, which Rhin insists comes from Ahl, is exceptional. Eventually, her ability to get a little bit of extra healing out of items, or even a second use out of single-use cyphers makes her a powerful ally.
Immortality, curiosity and finding yourself
The journey of the Last Castoff is an interesting one, made more interesting if you go looking under every rock and talk to everyone. Sometimes memories of the Changing God will come to you when investigating objects, allowing you to peer into the past, to catch a glimpse of his thoughts and machinations, or learn the true purpose of an object. The same can happen with the characters you meet, who might recognise you from before, but then they notice the change in bearing. Your every step feels dogged by your sire, and the Labyrinth inside your head seems vast but, why can’t you see the whole thing? Why do you feel incomplete? Being immortal has its advantages, like most deaths you bounce back from, but some things are worse than death, much worse. Like being turned into a blob of useless flesh, with no way to move around or communicate, yet kept alive by your body’s amazing ability to regenerate. Why is it so important that you are the latest castoff, and why is The Sorrow following you and not any of the other castoffs? The world is full of weird, spectacular sights and experiences and you never know where a quest or artifact might be found. Inside your own body? In this trash heap over here? Get ready to look at, talk to and touch everything. This is a world where failure often means another path is open to you, so be ready to push on and deal with consequences.
I find myself preparing to plunge straight back into the game with a fresh character. My first playthrough embodied charity, good-will, helping others for no return and a logical approach to uncovering knowledge But how will the world react to me if I become brash, impulsive and quick to anger? I managed to help Rhin, Erritus and Castellige meet their goals but there is so much I still do not know about Aligern, Matkina and Tybir. Can I help them to find closure or make amends? Are they key to unearthing new quests in the world? What happens if I break the one thing that my companions truly desire, or keep it away from them? What else can I discover in the enigmatic Meres? I have so many questions left. Not the questions left when a story fails to provide closure, but the questions left because Torment: Tides of Numenera has been created in a way that it is impossible to see everything in a single playthrough.
Disclaimer: The creation of this feature was sponsored, but the topics chosen, the tone and themes were all in-house and genuine.