Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent a not-inconsequential amount of time playing Pillars of Eternity. Got a copy off GoG in an effort of expanding my DRM-free library for the hell of it, and I have to admit it’s an exquisite game indeed. A phenomenal RPG, even, with truckloads of content spread around the vast game world for the player to interact with. However, it misses a certain something that I’ve been unable to put my finger on. Whenever I play, I keep thinking about how it doesn’t truly encapsulate my imagination. Never did it completely suck me in, which is the effect I was hoping to attain. This is a personal, subjective quirk, mind you, and is entirely irrelevant when it comes to the actual quality of PoE. All the same, I went into the Early Access build of Torment: Tides of Numenera expecting much the same experience, seeing as how the two share a passing resemblance, only to be completely blown away by what I got to play.
From the initial “birthing” sequence to the exploration of the first city you literally crash into, Tides of Numenera has a unique oomph to it. The atmosphere is nailed down perfectly and is highly reminiscent of Planescape: Torment, and to say that the static backgrounds are gorgeous in their weird, otherworldly way would be a severe understatement. Over the course of a single hour, Torment: Tides of Numenera has succeeded in completely and utterly enthralling me (once more) with its universe, a feat PoE hasn’t achieved after nearly a month of on-off playing it. Even at this stage of development, InXile have a special jewel at hand, and they’re treating it really, really well.
Perhaps it’s a very personal experience, but the static-image dialogue-choosing sequences sit amazingly with me in Torment. Not only are they all a fascinating read, but each snippet also offers additional information to the task at hand in one way or another, allowing you to make an educated decision when the time comes. In comparison, the very same sequences as they are found in Pillars of Eternity feel drab and strangely derivative. Perhaps it’s down to the fact that Torment is a strange mixture of sci-fi and fantasy, and I simply prefer that to the good-old vanilla setting of old RPGs of yore, but it’s made a lasting impact on me in any case. I feel confident in saying that the storyline and plot are the most important elements of Tides of Numenera, and that’s definitely a good thing, because no matter what way they are conveyed to the player, it all works phenomenally well.
That is – it will hopefully work once the game is done. Torment: Tides of Numenera has only recently been released on Early Access, and people expecting to get a solid experience out of it should tread carefully. As it currently stands, Torment is buggy, laggy and runs like a wet, drugged mutt with both of its hind legs broken. I’m not even joking, as the very first scene may well run at less than 10 FPS for you at the time of writing this article. The performance goes way up once you’re done with the first sequence, but it’s still far from ideal. I would like to point out, however, that no optimization’s been done at all as of now, and the game is likely to run just as fast as PoE does. And yes, the engine InXile are building Torment on is licensed from Obsidian, so no worries in that regard.
I can also attest to the general atmosphere of the game being much more precise and defined than what InXile delivered with their previous offerings. Maybe it’s due to the overall drab levels, overdone setting or perhaps dull characters of Wasteland 2, or even all of these factors combined, but Torment is much more approachable than Wasteland ever was. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoyed the game, but Tides of Numenera is already looking to outdo it in every possible way, and the mere thought of that makes me giddy.
Regarding the gameplay, Torment: Tides of Numenera works very similar as to how its ancient predecessor did, with the small exception of combat. Indeed, InXile have decided to go ahead and make the clashes turn-based, and trust me when I say that they’ve made the right choice. All the awful bugs aside, Tides of Numenera’s combat already works well enough, with satisfying skills and powerful weaponry readily available for the player to employ through his/her in-game avatars. The enemies don’t feel like overly powerful tanks nor are they sitting ducks – a fine balance has been struck which I can only applaud. The relatively rare combat encounters thus feel more satisfying and tactical than those in PoE do, in my opinion. I will say, however, that Torment is slightly weirder than one may expect as far as equipment and whatnot goes because different mechanics are in place compared to, say, Pillars of Eternity, but it’s all fairly manageable. The UI is due to get a revamp anyway, so rest assured that all of that mess is very fluid as it currently stands. Of course, issues may well arise and the developer could potentially mess the game up, but having seen the development process of Wasteland 2, I’m prone to believe this won’t be the case.
Now, in regards to the visual design of the game, I am positively astonished by the quality of levels and quite worried about the 3D characters sticking out of them. The levels themselves are masterfully designed and intricately filled with interactive elements but aren’t attuned to the characters moping around their surface. This is not visible on screenshots but only when animations are played out, so if that’s something that bothers you, I suggest trying to squint, maybe? Plenty of eye candy can be found in lighting, effects and virtually everything else, though. The music is phenomenal as well and sets the mood perfectly regardless of what may be taking place on-screen.
I know I’ve only sung praise for the game at this point, but I don’t remember the last time I’ve played an Early Access title that would have me so stoked for the final release. Right now, it’s buggy, awfully-optimized and overly complex, but I have trust in InXile to fix it right up and prepare it for its release which is hopefully not more than a year away. If you’ve been yearning for a new game set in the universe of Planescape: Torment, this is what you should be keeping an eye on. Naturally, once the game is out, Mouse N Joypad will have a review ready for you to sink your teeth into. For the time being, though, rest assured that this is a very special experience InXile are cooking up for us.