"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Arthur C. Clarke said this and this is the very philosophy that governs Torment: Tides of Numenera. All of our wonderful technology comes from ten thousand years of advancements. Imagine demonstrating something like Google Translate to the architects of The Rosetta stone - to them it would appear akin to magic. So, imagine the countless civilisations that would rise and fall over a billion years... technology would ebb and flow and change beyond our comprehension.
From inXile Entertainment comes Torment: Tides of Numenera
, which reaped a massive $4.2 million from its Kickstarter campaign (the original target was $900,000) and as you would hope it picked up some ambitions along the way, leading to a delayed release date. Originally it was meant to be out in December 2014, but as many backers will be pleased to know the wait was worth it.
Set a billion years in the future you play as The Last Castoff, a being born in the body left behind by The Changing God. This 'God' is an immortal who maintains eternal life by transferring his consciousness to a new body every couple of decades, and every time he exits a body a new Castoff is born.
You awaken falling from the sky, no memories, no sense of who you are and whilst in freefall you begin character creation. Eventually you pass the upper tiers of a city and someone with powers slows your decent... Not enough to prevent you crashing through a crystal dome and in to the ground, however.
A second awakening occurs and this time you find yourself in The Labyrinth, a representation of your mind that can be changed and shaped to fit your needs. It plays a large part in the overarching story and so I won't go into too much detail, but it is a similar concept to something called the Method of Loci, in which memory is enhanced by imagining a physical space in which to store items related to specific memories, often called a 'Memory Palace'.
It plays on the idea that most people know instinctively where things are within their own homes and can go straight to them without much thought. The Labyrinth in Torment acts almost like an opposite to the memory palace, as if your sleeping mind has gone and locked doors and erased passageways whilst your waking mind was elsewhere being distracted by all the wonders in the outside world.
And oh boy, there are some bizarre things to be distracted by out there.
The Numenera in the title refer to the countless wonders built by civilisations of the past. The devices, buildings, oddities and various other products of a barely understood past are so numerous that they impregnate the very geology of the world. Some of these Numenera remain useful to the various flavours of sentient beings. They are probably put to uses not intended by their creators and in some cases are viewed as piece of art to be admired but not touched (usually because touching some of these things will literally fry your brain).
Yes, you can touch something innocently that will turn you to a smoking pile of ash within the first thirty minutes of the game and yes I am still finding these things thirty hours later. No, I haven't learnt my lesson yet.
Something that I have found extremely refreshing is the fact that you can get through the majority of Torment
without having to deal with combat. There is almost always a way around it involving manipulating the environment or just talking it out with the potential aggressors. This means you can skip combat, the weakest component of the game, and keep to the most fascinating part of it - the world and the people within it. Every conversation unveils new layers, new marvels of the bygone ages.
Because of time restrictions I had intended to try and just mainline the story, concentrate on the main quests and ignore side content as much as possible. That intention was almost immediately derailed as I accidentally got roped into a murder investigation involving severed hands and arcane symbols. This lead to more side content that included quests about a string of women being haunted by a body-snatching entity and unknowingly convincing an interdimensional alien to rebuild its galaxy-spanning empire. They probably sounds confusing, but make perfect sense, honest.
Doing these side-quests eventually lead me back to the main story, but not before picking up a new party member, an impulsive young gent who glowed with golden light and stole airships instead of using the stairs.
All of this I did without hitting a single person with the strange botanical hand-club-thing I ripped off of a strange growth. All of the side quests I have taken on during my playthrough have been fascinating and have had a massive impact on how I approached situations in the main story. I'm purposely avoiding talking about specifics in the main story because it has been a genuine surprise and pleasure. It revolves around discovering just who you are, who the Changing God is and why an all-consuming evil called The Sorrow is trying to kill all of the Castoffs and presumably the Changing God himself.
I played on a PS4 Pro, and the UI is clean and easy to manoeuvre through. The actual game is beautiful in a way only pre-rendered RPGs can be. However, there are some major performance issues that I hope are cleared up in a Day One patch. There is regular chugging and framerate drops that make movement feel incredibly sluggish and clumsy. Load times can also feel a bit ridiculous and in a few cases were so long that I had time to make a fresh mug of coffee. When you have to traverse several areas to continue a quest this can become tedious. Thankfully this is a game that can be enjoyed despite these issues, but for what is going on onscreen and the size of the areas there shouldn't be any of these issues.
Torment: Tides of Numenera
is a game stuffed full of fascinating characters and stories that can change depending on your choices (make multiple saves to explore this if you can), built upon a world of wonders and nightmares born of technology so advanced it might as well be magic. There are issues that should be easily remedied but ultimately they don't detract from a game that will delight CRPG fans and provides an interesting stepping stone for console owners in to this varied and brilliant genre.
+ Excellently wrought story in both main and side quests
+ Party members are utterly fascinating
+ The Stat Pool system is simple and elegant
+ Environments whilst chaotic and are also beautiful
+ Choices have genuine impact on events
- Inexplicable performance issues (on a PS4 Pro)
- Voice acting is underutilised.
SPOnG Score 8/10