Planescape: Torment review
Storytelling at its best!
“What can change the nature of a man?” This is a quote that I won’t be forgetting any time soon as it’s a question that I have recently spent the good part of 60 hours trying to answer. If you ask me, it was time well spent. After almost fifteen years of playing RPGs I can safely say that I’ve played most of the goodies. I find myself constantly comparing modern games to those of the past and just wishing games were made like they used to be. However, occasionally, I travel back in time to play the gems that have somehow avoided my gaming consoles. Planescape: Torement is one such game that somehow slipped through the cracks. I had heard the name being tossed around in the past but never really thought twice about it, until Neoseekers own ‘Halloween Review Challenge’ encouraged me to seek out a horror RPG. The reviews for this game were absolutely amazing with many games claiming it to be the ‘best game ever’. “Why not?” I thought. “I’ll give it a go”. And what a grand decision that turned out to be. Planescape: Torment is really unlike anything I’ve ever played before. The entire experience is so unique and immersive that it’s not something I’ll be forgetting for a long time. This comes highly recommended to anyone who craves a unique experience with an excellent story. It may be dated, but in many ways it goes a lot further than anything you’ll find at EB.
‘Dungeons and Dragons’. This is a term that most people have probably heard of, but I’m willing to bet that most gamers are like me and haven’t experienced this form of role-playing, nor would they know the rules. The Planescape is a popular setting in Dungeons and Dragons, and Planescape: Torment (PT) emulates this into a visual form. The entire, elaborate D&D rule set is also present which sets a massive learning curve to those new to the form, such as myself. I actually had to do quite a bit of research to learn what all the statistics actually meant, such as Armour Class (your dodge statistic, where the lower number is better) and Thac0 (which is your hit accuracy, also better as a lower number). The list goes on and without knowledge of the D&D mechanics; you will undoubtedly have no idea what anything means. Thankfully, there’s Google. Now, this should in no way be seen as a negative. I found it a welcoming experience and would embrace other games that use D&D rules (such as Boulders Gate). If you’re prepared to try something new, then read on.
I remember walking out of the Vault in Fallout 3, gazing over the vast, barren landscape, and thinking; “Wow, just wow”. The world was just awesome and a joy to explore. PT created the same feeling. The world is just so unique and breathtaking (With consideration that this game was made in the late 90s). From the moment you begin, the desire to explore arises and never fades. The world’s atmosphere created by the unique locations, wonderful background tracks, music and rich culture is an absolute treat. It’s one of those games where you could talk to NPCs for hours just to find out a little more about how the world works. The cities are sprawling with excitement, the dark locations create a sense of fear, and new areas constantly evoke a sense of curiosity. The world of PT is truly spectacular and should be experienced by all. Below is a screenshot from one of the bars in The Hive, the first town you’ll encounter.
Now, the greatest thing about PT is easily the story, and every review that I’ve read has given it great praise, with some sources concluding that it is the greatest gaming story ever told. They wouldn’t be far off. The element of mystery is at its strongest and drives the story better than just about any game I’ve played. You wake up on an empty slab in the mortuary with dozens of other dead, dissected bodies nearby. Your name is…… you can’t remember….. you are here because…… ummmmm…. Just as you realise where you are, a floating skull named Morte arrives to help you out. He doesn’t know anything, but helps you read the tattoos all over you back which provides a small indication of where to go next. Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Oh great, another amnesia plot. Been there, done that’. Stop right there. The main character (The Nameless One) didn’t simply fall down the stairs, bump his noggin, only to discover he’s actually the rightful king to the throne. The depth of his past and the way that the narrative flows creates a strong, constant desire to learn more. As a gamer, I felt the need to understand the origins of The Nameless One, why he ended up in the mortuary and why he cannot be killed. This journey is something that cannot be explained and instead should be experienced. I promise that it’s not something that you’ll forget any time soon.
The story is told in a different way to most game, particularly in comparison to games of the modern era. By this I mean it’s one of the most novelistic games I’ve ever played. You don’t simply walk into a bar and have a NPC explain what a fine day it is outside. There are many questions to be asked (which is the essence of the game) and most of the answers are lengthy and written with incredible detail. Finding the answer to a question requires thought. Putting together clues and searching through locations is how you will progress to the next step. Seeking out the answers to questions is something that you will be doing right up until the end of the game, and the more questions you ask along the way, the more you will learn about The Nameless One and the mysteries that surround him. For this reason, PT probably caters to a more mature audience; one that is prepared to read and absorb everything that is being told. Gamers who want an action packed experience with explosions and tea-bagging, steer clear, go waste your time playing Black Ops.
As I’ve previously discussed, The Nameless One is a fantastic character who has been developed through outstanding script writing techniques. The other characters who accompany him play a vital role in his journey. What better example to give than Morte, the flying skull. Who is he? Why is he a skull? Why did he suddenly appear? All of these questions are constantly on your mind. It makes things worse when someone deciphers a tattoo on your back that says “don’t trust the skull”. “Don’t trust Morte? Why would I write that on my back? What is he hiding? Should I get rid of him now? I can if I choose to…. But his one liners are so hilarious, and he has guided me this far.” Trust is something that goes a long way in the world of Planescape, but there is always a reason to question the intentions of everyone you encounter. Are you on your own? Are you the only person that you can truly trust? It soon becomes apparent that you can’t even trust yourself. Below are six of the playable characters that you will encounter along the way.
As mentioned before, the gameplay is a lot different to anything that you’ve ever played, and is certainly not the draw point of PT. You start off with The Nameless One and Morte, but can later recruit another six characters (five of which are optional). The point and click battle system is very simplistic and most of the time you will select all party members (max of 6)and target them to the same enemy until it is dead. The AI is horrible and to be honest, I never noticed my other characters acting on their own accord. If an enemy is killed, they will just stand idle until you click a new enemy. Clicking on specific targets becomes particularly frustrating when the area is loaded with allies and enemies. A simple auto attack option would have made life much easier. Apart from attacking, your mage characters are able to cast spells, but this system needs some work done as many lower level spells are seemingly useless and miss most of the time. The emphasis was clearly not on the battle system. Fortunately there are only a few battles that are compulsory. Most of the experience that you receive comes from quest completion anyway.
Despite the poor battles, there is quite a bit you can do in the way of customisation. Classes play a large part of the game as all characters are warriors, mages or thieves (some are even multi-class). This plays a role in how you will distribute your skill points upon levelling up. With that said, Wisdom and Intelligence seem to be the most useful stats regardless of class, because this is what affects most of your dialogue choices through the game, and as you know, dialogue is the most important and enjoyable aspect of the game. Characters can also wear certain pieces of stat enhancing equipment and carry a certain number of items. At every level, thieves can choose to improve specific thieving skills (such as pickpocketing and stealth) and more magic spots are opened up for mages. Weapons play a huge part in battle, but only for The Nameless One who can equip most weapons. Most other characters are stuck with their original weapon for the majority of the game. Once you actually get the hang of what the stats actually do (like Armour Class and Thac0) you’ll really be able to experiment with certain builds and parties. This customisation system is by no means revolutionary (especially in comparison to other RPGs) but it does the job and compliments the game nicely. Below is an image of the equipment screen for The Nameless One.
PT also has its fair share of bugs and glitches, and this can become very tiresome at times. There were a few instances where side quests could not be completed due to NPCs not doing what they should be doing. This may have been a result of completing other quests in between, or just bad luck, but it was an annoyance nonetheless. Navigating your characters around the world was also very frustrating as the characters cannot walk past each other and often decide to stop on the spot, causing a simple task to take ten clicks when it should have taken one. Perhaps the biggest problem was the magic spell animations that would not render on my (or any modern) machine. Instead of beautiful spells filling the screen and terrorizing enemies, my foes were struck with large, chunky squares of doom. I am aware that bugs and glitches like these are enough to put off many gamers, but just know that the Hercules-like strengths of the game far outweighs the negatives. If you turn away because of the simple, dated battle system and bugs, then maybe you deserve to wake up on a mortuary slab with no memory of yourself.
There are very few games out there that create such a sense of wonder and constantly cause you to think about the issues presented. When I find games that achieve this, I am able to truly see the potential that video games hold. A few years ago, Xenogears created this feeling, and I spent months just thinking about everything that I experienced. Planescape: Torment did the exact same thing. The incredible presentation, the amazing world, the mysterious and deep characters and the Oscar-worthy story is not something that I will forget any time soon. This is hands down, a must play for any gamer who appreciates a very strong narrative and is prepared to read through mountains of text to find the answer to the many questions posed throughout the game. “What can change the nature of a man?” Go find out for yourself.
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