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Planescape: Torment

Scorecard:
Gameplay:
97%
Visuals:
100%
Aurals:
100%
Solo:
100%
Multiplayer:
N/A
Fun Factor:
100%
Overall:
99%

Audience: The game will not appeal to twitch gamers like a Diablo clone would, but if you enjoy a game that requires you to think a little more than react, you should love this game. This is definitely a throw back game that both old school CRPG players and fans of other genres alike should be able to enjoy.

You will not miss 3D support in this game either; the 2D artwork is spectacular. The sounds really bring you into the game, and the voice acting wasn't terrible (Which is a high compliment for most computer games!). The game should work smoothly on almost any system that sports a 266mhz P2 or higher.

The storyline for Torment just sucks you right in, and is one of the best I've seen in any game. There is no hybrid in Torment, and that is what makes it great. Although at times the game seems a bit text heavy, you are rewarded more for solving quests than combat which is a great change of pace with all the hybrid combat focused CRPGs we are seeing now. You will be glad you picked this one up, I guarantee it.

Publisher: Interplay
Developer: Black Isle Studios
ESRB Rating: T (teen)
Platform: PC

Review By: Chris Johnson
Published On: Thursday, December 23, 1999 at GA-RPG

Introduction

I'll have to be honest here, although there has been an increased volume of CRPG games, I haven't been very impressed with the majority of this yearís selection of titles. Too many games have been released that just were simply a month or two premature, and I had pretty much just assumed that a FPS / RPG hybrid, System Shock 2, would be this genres best offering for 1999. System Shock 2 was definitely a great game, in fact I would consider to be the best FPS of the year hands down. However it is not the best CRPG game of the year, that accolade goes to the guys at Black Isle Studios for their saving grace in a sea of mediocrity, Planescape: Torment.

When I first heard of Planescape: Torment I figured that gamers would be given a Baldur's Gate ripoff in a new universe. How wrong I was. I am very familar with the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance universes for AD&D since I've read about 30 of the books, but Torment was a new experience for me. I will have to admit that it was a refreshing change of pace from the same stale old recipe most CRPG producers shovel. Although there really isn't any game like Torment, the best comparison would be Fallout II hands down. I'll admit I didn't like Fallout II that much especially with all the problems it had with save games, but Black Isle has definitely offered a better game this time around.

So just what is Planescape? Well, here is how Black Isle Studios puts it:

The Planescape "multiverse" is the setting for the game - but setting is actually a misnomer... the Planescape multiverse is actually composed of a series of "planes" (other dimensions) that rotate around a central city, Sigil, like spokes on a wheel.

The city of Sigil is the central fixture of the Planescape multiverse. Also called the "Cage" or the "City of Doors", it's unique in that scattered throughout its labyrinth of streets are portals (some hidden, some obvious) that lead to anywhere in existence, provided you hold the proper key. It is neutral ground and watering hole for races and creatures from across the multiverse, all under the watchful eye of the Lady of Pain, the enigmatic ruler of the city.

The world of Planescape is a more adult, hard-core fantasy setting compared to other AD&D worlds. The architecture, the people, the creatures -- everything has an edge to it. Belief, emotions, faith, and other abstract concepts actually make their presence felt in reality. In the Planescape multiverse, belief has the power to reshape worlds, kill and resurrect beings, and change the laws of physics.

As you can see, the world of Planescape is definitely an ambitious undertaking for Black Isle to take on, so let's see how they did.

Storyline

Torment puts you into the shoes of an immortal human called The Nameless One, who just can't seem to remember who he is or how he came to waking up on a cold stone slab in a mortuary in the city of Sigil. In fact, you can't remember anything at all, and as such your goal throughout the game is to get your memory back. Since you are immortal, the damage that would normally kill a mortal will put you into a coma (Torment's version of death). You will wake up in various spawn points throughout the game depending on how far you have gotten, ready for more action, with the first being the marble slab in the mortuary.

You learn early on that you were someone of importance that should be wary of revealing your condition to just anyone because the Lady of Pain may just take notice. You will immediately meet your trusty traveling companion Morte, who is basically a floating wise cracking skull. After the initial introductions, you make your way out of the mortuary, and out in the streets of Sigil in search of answers. Throughout your travel encounters with people, former body parts (no joke), or a particular place can trigger a flashback that brings forth another memory, and one step closer to figuring out what is going on.

Gameplay

During character creation you have the option of picking your stats, but you will notice that the selection of class or alignment isn't given. Later in the game you can make your way to trainers that will require you to perform some tasks to become a better fighter, become a mage, or even become a thief. Once a change of class is made you will revert back to level three, and that was a little painful when I had a level 6 fighter at the time becoming a level 3 mage. If you ever choose to switch back to your previous class you do revert back to whatever level you were prior to switching out of that class. When you gain a level you will be rewarded with a skill point and new abilities.

I tried the game out for all the different classes, and found them all relatively useful. I'm not sure I would play a thief again, but the pickpocket skill is nice early in the game when you are poor. The mage is definitely the strongest character late in the game, but the fighter isn't a wimp either. The thief just didn't seem to be as fun this time around as in Baldur's Gate, especially since you pick up a thief later in the game.

In the background during combat the AD&D rules are definitely in effect, so you will not have to worry about this facet of the game if you are not a big AD&D player. There are options where you can actually get more of the "dice rolling" information that some players might wish to see, and this can be activated by a simple mouse click. Although there is some deviation from the AD&D rules, the basics are still in place when it comes to such things as the spells available at a certain level, stat bonuses, and experience towards the next level.

Alignment in Torment is determined by your actions in the game, so you canít start the game as lawful evil for example. Doing a lot of good deeds without demanding to be paid will obviously have an affect on your alignment. The system in place will allow you to play an evil alignment, but mass killing is the fastest way to end the game quickly when you take out a necessary NPC to progress. You will find certain items in the game that will only protect you from people of specific alignments, or give bonuses to you if you are of a certain alignment. Party members might leave if you stray too far from what their alignment is as well.

Black Isle has definitely taken away a lot of the necessary note taking with automatic journal and quest entries. These entries are triggered by accepting / completing a quest or finding out something interesting from a NPC. There is also a working map that gets put together as you make it to more areas, which makes travel easier especially later in the game. Speaking of maps, the new running feature is great for getting around to your destination much quicker.

As I mentioned earlier, death in Torment is not that bad since you basically start back at a spawn point with all of your equipment and comrades in arms with you. If any of your friends die you can pick up a special skill of Raise Dead early in the game that is extremely helpful. The Nameless One is the only member of your party that will respawn back upon death. Any other member of your party that dies will remain where they died, so only the living members of your party will actually be there to greet you when you wake up from your coma. Black Isle has definitely gone the extra mile to try and make death a little less unpleasant.

I felt like I was reading a book at times when I initiated a conversation with a NPC with my character's 20 intellect. The game is definitely text heavy, and is geared more towards old school computer role-playing gamers. Black Isle could have lightened up a bit on the text, but it works well if you enjoy that type of gameplay which reeks of replayability.

The interface is easy to use, and is far from clumsy. Right clicking on your character will bring up all of your available options, or you can do the same thing in the bottom right hand corner. Nothing more complicated than a few clicks will accomplish anything in the game, and the action can be paused at any point relatively easy as well.

I would not recommend this game for anyone that thinks Diabloís dungeon crawling is the only thing that makes a CRPG fun, because the combat system in Torment is not the strong point of the game. Icewind Dale is a game in development by Black Isle that is targeting that market, and I for one canít wait, since I love dungeon crawling as much as anyone. Again, let me stress there is no hybrid in this game, Torment is just a plain old CRPG, and that is what makes it great.

Visuals

I will have to admit that of all the things that are great about Torment, the graphics would have to be the most surprising considering the non-3D accelerated 640 x 480 resolution version of Bioware's Infinity Engine that Black Isle used. The artists should be given a nice pay raise because they sell this world well, and it is not an easy world to create. Since the Planescape Universe is so unique, there really isn't a standard look and feel you can give towns and creatures that artists usually can draw from off of the traditional swords and sorcery medieval setting most gamers are all familiar with. For a game that doesn't use any 3D acceleration, Torment is a visual treat.

Some of the better graphics in the game are coupled with spells. I really liked casting something like Spiritual Hammer, and seeing a white glowing hammer appear above my enemy pounding it to oblivion. Most spells above 3rd level when cast trigger movie clips which have a lot of eye candy. The highest spell level I had the luxury of casting was 7th, and that was a pretty damn impressive light show. Torment definitely has some of the most unique spell casting animations I've ever seen, and really take your mind off the fact that they are not 3D accelerated ones like you will see in Blizzard's Diablo II.

Not only did Black Isle put the extra effort into spell casting animations, they did spend a considerable amount of time on character models. This extra effort can be seen clearly when viewing any of the six NPCs that form your party. This is definitely a step above Baldur's Gate, but one could argue that they were able to touch them up more due to the small number in comparison to Baldur's Gate. When one equips a small dagger it shows up as such in the game, and a two-handed battle axe does in fact look like a two-handed battle axe. Some items will show up when you equip them, and some will not. One example is an arm you come across that can be used as a weapon that uses the same sketch as a mace. Don't expect everything you equip to look just like it does in your inventory on your character model, but a majority will.

The backdrops and landscape of Torment fit in well with the theme and setting the game takes place in. There are numerous examples of dynamic landscape, but the two that really stick out in mind right now were the gears in the foundry and the giant iron golem in the siege tower. They are both backdrops that would have sold the image great if they had been static, but Black Isle took the extra time to make the gears turn and the iron golem appear to be working on some weapon. Someone definitely stayed a few extra weekends to pull those off, and you just have to appreciate that.

Aurals

I mentioned in my first impression piece for Torment that there wasn't anything that stands out about the sound quality of the game; however once I got further in the game my opinion soon changed. I wouldn't equate the soundtracks to say those of Ultima IX's, but they are definitely well above the norm. Nice tempo for fighting sequences coupled with convincing spell / melee attack effects sold the combat. There were also some very nice pieces in a few of the buildings, my personal favorite being the Brothel of Slating Intellectual Lusts. The soundtracks really accomplish what they are intended to do, and that is to simply set the mood for the game.

The voice acting in Torment is about where it should be, and is noticeably better than the majority of CRPGs of late. You do get those annoying responses from companions when you move them around the screen, but not nearly as bad as Baldur's Gate. I thought Morte stole the show in this area of the game. I definitely cracked a smile a few times listening to this talking skull's sexual innuendo or litany of curses when in combat.

Torment features three-dimensional sound quality support for those lucky enough to own sound cards that use EAX. However since I own a MX300 card, I couldn't take advantage of that. Without 3D support the sound quality was on the mark, so I can only assume with 3D sound quality enabled that it is just that much better.

Solo

There are a total of five characters that you can add to your party throughout the game (Update: I was informed by A. Teilans there are a few others you can add to your party). One is of course your buddy Morte (fighter) the talking skull, a burning corpse named Ignus (mage) might join you in the game at some time, a githzerai named Dak'kon (fighter/mage) was definitely the best member of my party, a Tiefling named Annah (thief), and finally a Succubus named Fall From Grace (priest). You will note through conversations with your companions that they can train you if you are their class. Dak'kon has a very unique history and is of the race I would have played if given a choice during character creation. The sword he carries changes as he levels, which I just love the idea of. You will get reactions from your party members when they feel something is wrong, or if you are swinging far away from their alignment. Some of the more interesting exchanges occur between Annah and Morte, so just sit back and enjoy those.

The actual adventure throughout Torment is composed of several quests that guide you where to go and what to do next. The quest system is comprised of both essential components that are necessary to continue the plot, and side quests that have a reward coupled with some experience points. Speaking of experience points, I would estimate that I got a good 70% of mine just talking to NPCs and solving quests that usually didn't require any combat. I rarely hit a roadblock when I played of not knowing what to do next, especially after a quick reference to the in-game journal. I would put this game on the higher end of the difficulty scale. There are some difficult parts in the game that will probably require you to seek some help to get past. It took me roughly 65 hours of play to finish the game, but I did almost every side quest available.

Fun Factor

Planescape: Torment puts you into so many different situations of gameplay that you canít help but to have fun with it. From solving a murder at the foundry to battling larval worms in Under-Sigil, Torment offers a lot of variety in what you do during the game. Tasks can be accomplished several ways, so choose the play style that you would enjoy the most. I personally never paid attention to my alignment when I played the game, so it was interesting to see myself ending the game with a neutral good alignment. I always picked true neutral when given the option to pick an alignment in other games from the start, but in reflection on my actions in Torment, that was pretty much right on the money.

Black Isle Studios loosened the restrictions on the 2nd edition AD&D rules to give characters special powers that they normally wouldn't get, and being very generous with experience points for quests. As such, your character doesn't suffer through the boring early years that many people simply don't like about AD&D. I'm sure some old school AD&D players would argue otherwise, but I feel it definitely helps the gameplay here making it more fun for a wider audience of gamers.

The Questions

  1. Does it advance the genre? Yes.
  2. Does it offer anything new? Yes.
  3. Does it offer a decent amount of gameplay? Yes.
  4. Is the product relatively bug free? Yes, although the memory leak was a pain prior to the official patch which fixes it.
  5. Does the documentation thoroughly explain the game? Yes.
  6. Does this game have any features to keep it from getting outdated? No.
  7. Is the game worth the retail price? Yes, four CDs worth of the most unique AD&D gaming seen yet on the computer.
  8. Is the game FUN? Yes.
Tips
  • Do a full install of the game if you have the hard drive space, go here for the instructions.
  • Be wary of buying expensive spells for the companions you travel with (5th level and up).
  • If you wish to play a mage or thief then immediately head to Ragpickers Square at the start of the game, and find Old Mebbeth or Yellow-Fingers respectively.
  • Make sure you talk to your companions from time to time because they can show you tricks to improve your skills and trigger memories for experience points.
  • Any NPC with a unique name will be involved in either a quest or side quest eventually during gameplay, so make sure you remember where they are located.
  • Wisdom and intelligence are important stats even for a warrior. The higher your intelligence and wisdom are the more text options and chances to trigger forgotten memories your character can take advantage of. A minimum 15 for both wisdom and intellect would be advisable.
  • You will gain much more experience as well as permanent stat increases for performing quests than you ever would for simply fighting.
  • Stock up on healing supplies; they are cheap and will save loading time since you aren't dying every 10 minutes.
  • Don't feel bad about visiting fan sites or the official site to request help; Torment is a little higher than most games on the difficulty scale.
  • Check some of the walkthroughs if you get stuck.
Pros: Great graphics, the soundtrack really fits the mood of the game, alignment based on actions in-game, spell animations that almost look as good as accelerated ones, great story, and a good break from the normal run-of-the-mill swords and sorcery RPGs. Cons: A few minor bugs, memory leak can be annoying, limited character selection options, and the fact that Black Isle hasn't announced an expansion pack yet ;).
Final Thoughts:
The simple fact that Black Isle was able to make the dated non-3D accelerated Bioware Infinity engine look so good in 640 x 480 resolution speaks volumes to the dedication and time spent on all the little details that make this game so great. From the time I first installed the game until the time I finally finished it, I enjoyed playing Torment. Not to take away anything from the greatness of Baldur's Gate, but I was just ready for that game to end once I actually reached the city of Baldur's Gate.

I never felt tired of playing Torment, and that is the highest praise I can give this game since I have the attention span of your average 12-year-old. Perhaps this game is just getting a little bounce back effect after my experience from Ultima IX, but I've not played a CRPG this good since Betrayal at Krondor.

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