Torment: Tides of Numenera is a game about making choices. This text-based RPG developed by inXile Entertainment is a throwback for anyone who’s even dabbled in ’90s fantasy. It feels like it’s been ripped straight from the unfinished pages of your best friend’s sci-fi themed D&D campaign. You will think. You will read. You will choose your own path and carve your story from a handful of selected scenario options.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is not for everyone, and it does not have a modern sensibility. Its charm is its ability to cobble together something original from the scattered pieces of tabletop dice-spinning role-playing game concepts dating back to the mid-’70s.
You awaken to the howling winds around as you begin your journey piecing together your reality with the help of your narrator. You will be asked a series of questions (that I am certain pertain to your character creation and stat building). Soon after, you will choose your character type and finally see your tiny rendered character model ready to move inelegantly around a top down puzzle room. Once you get control of your character, you can interact with the world around you.
The gameplay loop is as follows: find what in the room you can interact with, interact with it, and move on. There are a few more “mechanics” than this (including battle), but this is basically what you will be doing for the game’s 20–40+ hours.
How does your character handle, you ask? Poorly! I played this on a PS4 and simply moving around these top down environments was laborious. Torment might handle better with a mouse option on a PC, but it reminds me of Blizzard’s Diablo III port to the PS4, which handles perfectly well. In other words, it can be done. Then again, this isn’t a game about movement. Torment wants you to find more text and keep that reading-train chugging.
These environments have an auteur’s level of hyper specificity. Everything you see is meticulous, and the world-building is unlike anything else. Once I saw how much detail went into every seemingly meaningless transaction, the game won me over.
As a big fan of games like Myst and Fallout, I was charmed by the all-too-familiar western style RPG environmental detail. The playgrounds that you run around in serve as a visual aid to the actual story, which simultaneously exists in your imagination through the game’s precision text flourishing. To put it reductively, this video game is like reading a book. As a follow up and spiritual successor to the 1999 cult favorite Planetscape: Torment, one would expect nothing less.
The combat is turn based, just like you might find in a D&D campaign. You are in charge of your party, which has movement, attacks, special abilities, and item use at your disposal. You will gain, lose, and replace party members in a progression that will bury you alive if you are a completionist.
You should experience Torment many different ways through multiple playthroughs, ideally changing your approach each time. In other words, there is no need to be precious about any particular decision. Just go with it!
I found the combat to have an incredible amount of depth, yet at the same time felt rather hollow. This is likely going to come across as uneducated, but a lot of the moves/attacks felt like iterations of the same thing. Thus many of the combat mechanics felt like guessing.
Torment is a game that both over-explains while still feeling rather obtuse. There were many hours of fun to be had despite this. But understanding the deeper layers of Torment felt far away especially at the speed at which I was playing the game.
Torment immediately captivated me, as someone who barely touched text-based PC games of the early-to-mid ’90s. It seems to take a lot of cues from the design concepts of the PC-based D&D campaigns. Of course, being a full-on novice at it, I began to make the choices I would make given the circumstances presented, and died right away.
This served as a brutal reminder that Torment isn’t playing around. It doesn’t need you, and it doesn’t care to teach you much. It expects you will try and fail and try again.
Again, this kind of experience isn’t for everyone, but as someone who plays a lot of video games, this slow-paced style of reading bulky text that would make Isaac Asimov swoon was refreshing! Is it boring? Maybe. However, boring is subjective. I found it to be more “relaxing” or “soothing” than boring.
Torment: Tides of Numera is available on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam.