Torment: Tides of Numenera

This game was advertised as a spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment, made by the same people. Let’s see how it holds up.

The story takes place in the far future. Millions of years have passed, great civilizations have risen, one after another, creating impossible wonders of technology, exploring space and other dimension and infecting the air with nanites. In the end, all of them have fallen, leaving behind only ruins and barely working remnants of their machines that nobody can understand any longer.

The current era, which is called the Ninth World, is but a pale shadow of the former glory of any of the dead civilizations. Social structures reverted to more primitive, the scientific understanding tends to be pretty patchy and focused more on recovery and repurposing of existing technology rather than understanding the underlying principles behind its construction and attempts to replicate it (though such attempts are made as well, the world lacks the industry to fully support them). Life is harsh, and old tech brings disasters as often as it brings miracles.

In other words, it’s a fantasy world with your kingdoms and warriors and mages where forgotten technology took place of magic (in fact, local mages, who are called nano, are people capable of limited manipulations of nanites in the air), and I actually like this take on the blend of fantasy and science fiction. The world feels old and well-lived-in, every science fiction scenario you can think of probably happened at one point and left its mark on the world. You have knights walking alongside mutants and transdimensional aliens among the ruins of fallen civilizations, and it’s weird and confusing in the best way.

The game is big on exploration and tinkering with various pieces of technology, which naturally leads to a lot of scenarios where you’re confronted with wonders you can’t quite comprehend but that feel like they had a purpose, once.

Basically, if you like flavor text being everywhere, you would like this game.

Now, to the plot. You play as the Last Castoff of the Changing God. The Changing God is an ancient nano who has found a path to immortality by way of crafting new bodies for himself and transferring his consciousness into them. His old bodies, however, don’t die or become vegetables but gain minds of their own while retaining basic understanding of the world around them along with a couple of skills inherited from their sire. You are, naturally, the last in a long line of such castoffs, born during a fall from a moon station. You survive the fall because the Changing God builds his bodies to last and survive pretty much anything, which means you can’t actually die outside of some exotic circumstances like being devoured by Lovecraftian monstrosities and such.

Well, the bad news is that one such monstrosity, called the Sorrow, is hunting you and other castoffs and managed to invite your mind. The Specter, a reflection of a person you once knew that exists in your mind, tells you of a way to defeat the Sorrow that the Changing God has devised: activate the resonance chamber.

Unfortunately, you kinda fell on it and broke it to pieces, so first you need to find someone capable of repairing it, which is not a trivial task.

Thus begins your journey.

Those familiar with Planescape: Torment would notice quite a few similarities between the plots, of course. Aside from the Last Castoff’s general situation and effective immortality, there is also a city of portals you would visit later in game, the Bloom, an enormous predatory organism which tendrils reach to different world and can transport people inside itself and back. It even has a mechanic familiar to us from Sigil: its maws must be fed some specific thing (like connections between people or regrets or what have you) in order to open them and travel around, much like Sigil portals can be opened only by specific keys.

To Tides credit, I do think the game succeeds in being its own thing, however, Despite various similarities, the core conflict goes into a different direction, it’s less about your personal quest and more about castoffs’ place in the world as a whole (which bears more similarity to Exalted, actually, what with them being empowered semi-immortal beings that shape a lot of major events and often change the world for the worse while at the same time gifting it with miracles). The setting is original and well-crafted (even the Bloom, while it bears resemblance to Sigil, is still its own thing, what with it being a capricious predator instead of just a weird multiverse hub) and various characters have their own stories that don’t really have anything to do with PT.

That said, I do think the comparison to PT harms this game. PT had a very strong central theme about the nature of a man and what can change it, which was prominent both in the main story and side quests. By contrast, TToN’s theme can be described as legacy. You have to deal with machinations of your siblings and your sire’s sins, while the rest of people live in a world built by people they can’t understand, surrounded by machines which purpose they can barely guess. Mind, it’s an interesting theme in itself, and the world does work well with it, especially since the game provides plenty of opportunities for exploration, but it does mean that a lot of quests deal with people discovering some weird technology and being affected by it in various ways. There is less focus on ideals, different worldviews and individual beliefs and more on external forces intruding upon our lives, which, I feel, holds less of a universal appeal and overall less insightful.

Taken on its own merits, TToN is pretty good: consistently solid writing, interesting setting, colorful characters. Compared to PT, however, it has less to offer. I doubt I would replay it often.

Then again, without the connection to PT it’s debatable if TToN could have gathered enough funds to be made and attracted enough buyers, so there is that.

One thing TToN does better than PT is its treatment of female characters. No more ridiculous outfits here as far as I can remember. The party is also gender-balanced, with three female characters to three male ones. In general, there is a lot of women around filling vastly different roles. Party members, quest givers, villains, allies, merchants, minor NPCs, some random enemies, etc. And they’re treated as characters, with their own stories and personalities and flaws and weird shit they have to deal with, with gender being mostly incidental to them. Overall, I didn’t find any major issues on that front.

Game’s take on LGBT people is.. less stellar. Let’s talk about it in detail.

The most prominent LGBT character (bisexual, to be precise) is Tybir, one of your potential party members, and he gets around. Like, really gets around. He has a lot of dialogue about his sexual misadventures, and if you contact him through an artifact that allows you to recall party members you left behind, you would find him in the middle of an orgy. Every time you call.

That’s a shame since his story is reasonably well-written and revolves around his rocky relationship with his old lover that started back when they both were soldiers in an Endless Battle (a major war between two factions of castoffs both of which have time-reviving devices), which he fucked up majorly. It’s not a bad story about how our fears can drive us and turn us away from what we actually want, so it’s doubly unfortunate that Tybir’s characterization plays right into the negative stereotypes about bisexual people.

Then there is the Changing God, who is “funny” in that he picks the gender (and, for that matter, species) of his bodies more or less at random. The game actually comments that it’s a notable trait of his, but then just kinda shrugs and leaves it at “well, I guess he’s just that way.” Not sure what to think about it.

There is also a woman who had a relationship with the Changing God back when he occupied your body regardless of what gender you picked for it. Nothing wrong with her, she’s mostly a “For Science!” type stock character who sends you on a quest to clean up a curious piece of technology from hostile drones for her. It does come across as less a piece of characterization and more player-centrism, though. You wouldn’t know she’s into women if you don’t play as a female character yourself.

I don’t remember any more LGBT people in the game, though I could be forgetting someone.

Overall, it feels that the writers did make an effort to be inclusive but stumbled upon a few rather common pitfalls. At least there is no malice.

Now, before I move on to gameplay, let’s talk about the eponymous Tides. Tides are basically a local equivalent of alignment system with a twist. They come in five colors, one or two of which would be your dominant Tides. What those Tides would be is determined by your actions: acting in accordance with the ideals associated with a specific color gives you appropriate points.

They’re as follows:

Blue Tide stands for wisdom, knowledge and mysticism. It’s a Tide of people who always seek to expand their horizons.

Red Tide stands for emotion, passion and zeal. It’s a Tide of people who want to live the life fully, throwing themselves into every moment.

Silver Tide stands for ambition, fame and greatness. It’s a Tide of people who seek glory and want to leave a visible mark on the world.

Gold Tide stands for compassion, altruism and sacrifice. It’s a Tide of people who want to help others even at a cost to themselves.

Indigo Tide stands for justice, compromise and the greater good. It’s a Tide of hard people making hard decisions while hard.

It’s an interesting take on the idea of alignments that attempts to move away from the simplistic dichotomy of good and evil and general incoherency of law and chaos and focus more on philosophy of living, on what you consider important in this world, what mark you want to leave with your life.

It’s not exactly a unique concept (Pillars of Eternity, for example, have a mechanic where you get descriptors like cruel, clever, selfless and so on based on your actions), yet it’s still an interesting idea that even ties somewhat with the main theme of the game in that your dominant Tides partially define what legacy you will leave behind.

Buuuut there is an issue: you’re going to be Blue/Gold unless you go out of your way to avoid it because the game disproportionally awards their points.

Basically, the issue here is that blue points are awarded for things like asking questions, tinkering with various pieces of technology and generally trying to understand the situation as much as you can before acting. Which is, oh, only the entire point of the game. Plus, it often yields additional exp and items, so even if you aren’t into reading flavor text (in which case, why do you even bother with this game?), there is still an incentive to click through all dialogue options each time.

Gold, meanwhile, is the designated good Tide. So long as you do side quests without being a dick about it, you’re going to get gold points. Some quests, in fact, have no resolution that doesn’t award you gold points, which is hard to counter without going full murderous sociopath on the world.

So, yeah, good idea, flawed execution.

Which happened to describe the rest of the gameplay well enough. The game attempts to do something interesting with its spin on RPG mechanics but also something kinda stupid.

Alright, so the gist of it is that you have three stat pools: Might, Speed and Intellect. You also have a number of skills you can pick by leveling up, buying certain special class abilities or through unique interactions with the setting (each skill only has two ranks). During conversations and interactions with technology and other important objects, you’re occasionally presented with an option to make a check of one of your skills. Such tasks have a base chance of success modified by your proficiency in a given skill. Furthermore, you can improve your chances of success by investing effort in the task, which depletes one of your stat pools (which stat is determined by the nature of the task. Disarming a bomb may be a Lore: Machinery check using Speed, while reprogramming a construct to obey your commands may be Lore: Machinery using Intellect). You can also get free levels of effort by buying stat edges when you level up. Each edge gives you a free level of effort in all tasks using a given stat. You can gain four edges maximum distributed among stats.

So, you may have an option of convincing some person to resolve a conflict peacefully. Let’s say it’s Persuasion task using Intellect. The base difficulty may be 50%, if you have one rank in Persuasion it would be 65% instead. You may invest a point of Intellect into the task, which would give you 80% chance of success, or two points to raise your chances to 95%, or three points to max it at 100%. If you have an edge in Intellect in this scenario, the base difficulty (before taking Persuasion into account) would be 65%.

Oh, and usually you can also ask your party members to do the task for you. So if someone else is more skilled in machinery than you, you can leave it to them to repair a piece of technology and the like. There are exception, mostly revolving around recovering the memories of the Changing God locked within you and fending off psychic attacks, but such situations are relatively rare.

Now, on paper it looks good. My explanation may be a bit awkward, but in the game itself it’s pretty intuitive and easy to grasp. You have this neat little system of resource management which makes you think about how badly you want to succeed in a given task and whether it’s better to go all-in now or save some of your stat points for later.

However, there are three problems with it:

  1. It all basically works on a honor system. There is a reason most RPGs use flat checks instead of probabilities (you either have enough points in a skill to convince someone or you don’t), and that reason is save-scamming. As it stands, nothing really prevents you from saving before an important conversation and attempting the task again and again without investing any effort. So long as the base chance of success is not zero, you’re bound to succeed eventually. Granted, doing so can be boring, but I’m always wary of games that use players’ boredom as means of balance.
  2. Even if you do value honesty in single-player gaming and won’t try to abuse the system, it’s actually not hard to get the means of recovering your stat pools before every important interaction, so you would be able to invest maximum effort every time. You recover stats by sleeping, and every major location has a place where you can rest. Now, normally, it costs money, which can serve as a deterrent against abusing it, but there is also always a quest you can do that allows you to rest for free. It’s somewhat hard to do in the first city, since it requires you to clear one of the main quests and possibly do a side quest as well, but in the next two major locations such quests are available from the start or close to it and take very little time to do. And, once you get the ability to rest for free, you can basically do it every time you have to spend even one stat point. In theory, there is a deterrent against it in a form of timed quests: sleep too much, and a man would be executed, some houses built on unstable ground would collapse, burying a quest giving NPC under them, etc. In practice… well, it can work if you don’t know which quests are timed. If you do, on the other hand, it becomes trivial to finish them quickly and then go back to abusing the system.
  3. The system kinda breaks down late in game, when you get close to maxing your level cap. At that stage, a lot of tasks presented to me had their success chance maxed at 100% without me investing any effort into them. I suppose it depends on your build and party. Without a character invested in Intellect, it would have been much more difficult. Speed was important too. Might was less important but had some uses. If you have some holes in your party specializations, the game may be more challenging. As it is, however, the late game was a piece of cake for me.
  4. Speaking of Intellect, mages (well, nanos) still rule. Intellect rolls are much more prominent than that of the other two stats and cover the majority of lore and social tasks. Since buying an edge in Intellect is as effective as having a level in skill for a given task, playing a character fully focused on Intellect is objectively the best choice. Especially since Anamnesis (memory recovery), Concentration (resisting psychic attacks, attacking psychically when you can and related stuff) and Tidal Affinity (affecting the world in various ways through your Tides, like breaking mental bondage) tasks can be done only by the main character and always use Intellect. (Notably, it’s less prominent in the TRPG on which this game is based. A level of effort costs not one but three or two stat points, and edges only lower the price by one, not give you effort for free. So you need three edges in a given stat for one free level of effort, five for two, seven for three, etc. I get why the game changed it, the current system gives a more strong sense of progression, but it did bork the balance in the process and made actual skill ranks less important.)

The system fares better during crises. Crisis in this game is basically any prolonged situation where time is of the essence. Usually, it means battles, though there is a couple of situations without fighting that count as crises, like a tense stand-off between mutants and mafia thugs that could escalate into a fight if you don’t resolve it peacefully, or a con where you have to distract a character while you steal a valuable artifact behind his back.

During crises the game switches into turn-based mode. The order in which characters act is determined by their initiative (which is based on Speed stat). During each turn, each character can perform one movement and one action. Movement allows you to, well, move your character around, attempt to go into a stealth mode which would hide you from enemies as long as you don’t perform any actions, or use some of the special character abilities and some of the consumable items. Actions are attacks, use of other consumable items, use of most character abilities and certain important actions like attempting to persuade someone, tinker with machinery and the like.

In such conditions, it’s not exactly productive to reload every time your attack missed, you face a lot of tasks in succession, which can deplete your pools fast if you aren’t careful, and nanos are less dominant on account of being kinda fragile and less protected compared to other types of characters.

There is still an issue of late game since my chances to succeed in an attack were still maxed, but even that was less prominent since the most powerful abilities cost stat point just to use them. Edges help with that, too, but they first go into lowering the cost of abilities, without rising the chances of success, so I still had to occasionally spend a few points on it.

An interesting aspect of crises is that, even when they do revolve around battles, defeating your enemies is rarely the goals. The point of any given crisis is to reach your stated objective. That objective can be killing everyone around (and killing all of your enemies typically does end the crisis), but more often it’s something along the lines of reaching the exit point, getting the item you need, reprogramming a piece of technology and the like. Ignoring the enemies or distracting them with summons or inflicting some negative status effects on them is a valid tactic.

Even when crises do revolve around killing your enemies, there are usually some point of interest around the field, like an acid cannon you can utilize to inflict lasting damage on a couple of enemies or a teleporter allowing you freer movement around the area. Once again, the focus of the game lies in interaction with the world around you rather than in simply hoarding your power.

Speaking of hoarding, another interesting aspect of crises is cyphers. Cyphers are helpful items that you can usually only use once. (Technically, they aren’t connected to crises specifically since some of them have effects like rising your chances to succeed in non-combat tasks, but most of them are stuff like bombs, temporary protection and such, so crises is when you’re most likely to use them.) By themselves, they’re not special. Many RPGs have things like scrolls, potions and various other consumable items. What makes them interesting is that each character has a very strict limit on how many cyphers they can carry safely (the idea here is that their inner workings are not fully understood, so they can interact with each other in unpredictable ways if stored improperly). Go beyond it, and you get various negative effects like a penalty to one of the stat pools or your chances to succeed in any task. Go way beyond it, and you’ll die (which, granted, is not that big of a deal in this game) and will lose all your cyphers, including safe ones (which is a bigger deal).

It is a rather obvious anti-hoarding mechanic intended to make you actually use the damn things instead of saving them for a rainy day that will never come. It’s a good and clever idea, though there is an issue: the crises are relatively rare and can often be averted by various means. Given that cyphers are common rewards for quests and exploration, that means they still tend to accumulate even if you aren’t afraid of using them. Plus, since there usually are various other important actions you can perform during a crisis, you may end up not using cyphers in some of them due to that instead.

It’s clear that fights aren’t the heart of the game (that would be exploration and narrative). Still, aside from some minor issues, they’re not badly done. There isn’t anything ground-breaking to be found here, and they’re not big on clever tactics, but they’re enjoyable, don’t drag and, most importantly, aren’t the embarrassment PT fights were. Definite improvement here if only by comparison.

One last thing about the gameplay: your party members don’t gain exp unless they are actually in your party, and, while you can find an item that allows you to contact and recruit them even after you leave the original location where you first meet them, the game rather clearly labors under assumption that you’re going to pick three out of six characters in the first town and stick to them. Some personal character quests (most notably Tybir’s) cannot be progressed unless a character was in your party during a certain event, and many of them require you to take your party members to the game finale in order to complete.

I rather dislike this structure as it’s a clearly artificial way to increase replayability. I much prefer Bioware’s current setup where having characters with you all the time does give you unique interactions, but you can still complete their personal stories even if they spend most of their time on the base of operations, and they still remain useful if you decide to add them to a party at a later point.

I mean,I get that TToN’s approach is “old school” or whatever, but there is a reason why some gaming conventions are dropped in the name of convenience, and I think it applies here.

Alright, I think I’ve covered everything I wanted to say about the game for now. So, to summarize: the plot is solid, the world is old and vast and broken and just plain cool, the characters are interesting and make you want to learn more about them (especially if you can read their thoughts, another reason to play as a nano). The female characters are treated fairly and don’t raise any complaints from me. There are, however, some issues with LGBT presentation.

The gameplay, on the other hand, is kind of a mess. Plenty of good ideas, but the execution can use a lot of polish. Playable, but not impressive.

So, the conclusion is rather obvious: if you like story-heavy games with a lot of flavor to immerse yourself into, TToN is a game for you. If you prefer fun gameplay and tactical battles, you’re better off trying something else. Pillars of Eternity seem promising on that front, though I’d need to get deeper into it to form a coherent opinion.

That would be all.


  1. Roarke says:

    Okay but like, just saying, Rhin is my precious daughter and I will protect her from anything. Including your criticism.

     edit: Actual thoughts time: Like you, I did like TToN the most when it wasn’t trying to be a Torment spiritual sequel. The setting of Numenera is frickin’ incredible, and the game was made by folks who are really good at that kind of worldbuilding. 

    One specific thing that I wish had been explored more were the Meres. A big deal was made about how special you were for being able to adjust the past through them, but the choices you were able to make through them tended to make little difference in the future. Maybe the devs don’t believe in butterflies, but I wanted *something*. 

    The Bloom was really nice. Sagus Cliffs was still my favorite area, though. It just had the most going on and felt the most developed. My honestly biggest gripe about the game though, was that you can’t return anywhere after you’ve left. PS:T had this in a big way, too, but like you said, it’s been 20 years and we as gamers have moved past that. There were like 4-5 quests I had end in Sagus Cliffs with blokes swearing vengeance on me and then it was like nothing happened. Let me come back and face foul consequences!

    1. illhousen says:

      Rhin’s ending was kinda underwhelming. “Hey, nice to meet you again, it’s me, future Rhin! Imma gonna help you with the endgame! OK, was nice seeing you, by!” I don’t know, felt like it lacked proper closure, could be better if she were to find you (or your grave) only in the epilogue.

      Meres are indeed mostly just side reading. I actually get why you aren’t allowed to make more waves: too much to code, too many possible forks for quests. Still, expanding on it would have been nice.

      The later parts of the game are clearly less polished than the early ones, yes. The game can clearly be expanded, it’s actually pretty short for this kind of RPG as it is.

      1. Roarke says:

        I mean, I consider the Future!Rhin thing as more of a bonus, really. Her real ending was getting sent home. Though I did appreciate how circular her story was. You find her in the beginning, she finds you in the end. Her first god is Ahl, a god of hiding and solitude, and the god she gives you at the end is a god of friends and finding. It just felt like a very clean narrative arc, bolstered by the fact that her character was so damn lovable. If I was ever going to do an evil run of that game, I’d need to not travel with Rhin at all basically. 

  2. Xander77 says:

    I bounced right off PoE despite liking Baldur’s Gate / PS:T quite a bit. Heard a lot of impressions from people in the same boat, and many of them were into Torment.

    1. illhousen says:

      Well, I only played a bit of it, so I don’t really have much of an opinion yet. It seems… OK? Clearly modeled after old school games, the gameplay seem to be better than BG (mostly because BG gameplay was kinda meh to begin with).

      1. Roarke says:

        Somehow I also only played a little of PoE and then haven’t returned to it. I’ll eventually finish it after replaying the shit out of Dark Souls 1-3+DLC.



  3. Nerem says:

    Why is it that the only good character Patrick Rothfuss has ever written isn’t involved in his own books at all.


    Actually, that may be why.

    1. Roarke says:

      Name of the Wind has some good side characters in it. The reason it flounders is because 99% of it is a skillcheck for Kvothe “Max Stats Max Skills Max Level” Kingkiller.

      When he writes a character the story isn’t supposed to revolve around and isn’t based on having max stats, he seems to do just fine. It’s a problem a lot of authors, new and old, have.

      1. illhousen says:

        I don’t know, while not writing about his pet Mary Sue helps, I wasn’t exactly impressed with his side characters and can’t actually remember more than a general archetype of some of them.

        I guess a part of it could be creative boundaries. By necessety, Rhin’s screen time is heavily limited, so he was forced to think about how to deliver maximum information with minimum words, which is generally helpful in writing.

        Plus, he played in a setting not of his own, that could have provided him with a foundation he needed to get out of his set patterns and think up something creative.

        1. Roarke says:

          I liked Elodin, but that might be because of all the shit he gives Kvothe giving him more brownie points than he deserves. Similarly, I liked Kvothe’s friends more than the kid himself, Devi especially, because, again, people who give Kvothe shit. 

          No, I guess you’re right. I really only remember the people who give Kvothe shit. 

  4. Act says:

    So I just got into this, and I’m really enjoying it! Fallen London got me wanting a text-heavy RPG that wasn’t shit, and here it is.

    I really loved the personality-test opening bit, but I wish it locked you in to the three classes your answers were based on instead of backpedalling and letting you do whatever. In game design terms, I think it probably could have used to be more punishing — I agree that so far it’s been absurdly easy to pass skill checks, and I only have cheated once so far (super annoying to have a skill locked behind a skill check for the Influence Tides thing, and I was dumb and went into it without full stat pools).

    But it’s hard to complain, because the low requirement shave meant I can see everything and do all the quests, and I think I come down on the side of preferring to be able to access everything to feeling like the stakes are super high even for sidequests.

    It does have a very different tone than PS:T — I think it’s not trying to be quite as deep, which is okay; I think it could have felt very false to attempt to get that philsophical just because that’s how the other game was, and there’s still so much to think about in this game. The characters and setting are so full, the sidequests are great, and there’s a lot of great morally ambiguous choices.

    I’ve honestly spent basically all my time in Saugus Sagus running around doing sidequests, but I really love it so far!


    1. Roarke says:

      The sidequests – and Sagus Cliffs in general, love that place – were probably the most enjoyable parts of the game for me, which is honestly pretty typical of RPGs in my experience. PS:T is the exception rather than the rule.

      T:ToN (their initialisms are only getting crazier) is definitely at its strongest when it’s exploring its own world, and sidequests are the meat of that.

    2. illhousen says:

      Glad you’re enjoying it. You’re actually lucky to play it now rather than when I reviewed it. There was a patch a couple of months back that fixed various minor flaws (in particular, a very annoying sound from one of the Silver Tongue focus abilities that was always on) and added new content.

      I’m actually OK with the personality test. It’s a pretty standard practice for RPGs to backpedal like that because of player’s agency. Besides, it’s not that hard to figure out which answers correspond to which class, so all locking you on a specific class would do is make you restart the game if you really want to play as someone else, and it’s not really worth it, I think.

      If anything, a better alternative would have you pick not specific actions in specific memories but memories itself, with the full OOC knowledge of what your choice means.

      So, for example, the first mirror presents you with three choices: years spent working on some grand metaphysical biology project, a prolonged expedition into a faraway city or some ruins where you fight mighty foes to obtain some treasure or accomlish some other objective and, say, a court intrigue where you orcherstrate a coup. Each memory comes with a short disclaimer in brackets telling you which class you’d pick by picking that memory, with the basic description of that class.

      And then the events of the chosen memory could have come up during the play in minor ways.

      That, I think, could have been more interesting and immersive. As it is, though, it’s OK.

      On skills, yes, I see your point. I guess what I want is for the skill checks to be a bit more difficult so I’d have to actually use cuphers and that automatic success skill on occasion but not so difficult that it would lock quests from me if I don’t have the right build. To be fair, it is a thin line to walk, so devs not managing it is understandable if disappointing.

      On comparison with PST, yeah, Tides are much more outward-looking, focusing more on cool stuff around you rather than on meaning of life or whatever. It is actually somewhat similar to Fallen London and such in that there is a great emphasis on atmosphere, and also you never get the full picture of how everything work, numenera always remain mysterious. It’s done better than FL, though, since the game actually is invested in telling you a full story instead of doing immersion for the sake of immersion.

      Well, all in all, the game is at its best when it does its own thing without trying to imitate PST, and thankfully there is enough original material. I’d say it’s less a spiritual successor and more a game made in the same general paradigm.

      Sagus is actually probably the best location. Bloom is more conceptually interesting, but I also felt it was less deep, probably less developed due to time constraints. Still cool, though, even if it could have been better.

      On side quests, I also like the sheer amount of ways to solve some of them, which is what really gives the game replay value. Some random factoid you hear by talking with one character may well provide a solution to a completely unrelated quest, without the game pointing you in that direction. While it’s always possible to complete all quests just by following the obvious steps, more interesting solutions often require exploration, which, really, is what the game is about.

      (Also, fun fact regarding one of the starting quests that I’ve learned way too late to implement: failing the clock puzzle opens an option to smash the clock. Doing so switches Sagus’ time to night, affecting some of the quests, and in particular allowing you to talk to that giant monster in the tank and invite it into your mind.)

      What companions did you pick, by the way? Note that, while in Sagus, you can switch them fine without many consequences, but once you leave, there would be various cut scenes and interactions that would affect the outcome of your companions’ stories. Not having them with you at the right moment could mean bad end for them.

      There is an object that allows you to switch companions in any location, and to a certain extent it’s possible to juggle them (it’s possible, for exxample, to favorably conclude the story of Aligern even if he’s not usually with you if you know when to call him), but not always, and some of them need to be with you during the final game segment in order to get the good ending. Be mindful of that. If you’re playing without guides and the like, it’s best to just stick to three specific companions throughout the game once you leave Sagus.

      1. Act says:

        RE: Companions: Right now I have Rhin, Callistdjkfghdjk, and Oom. If you can only have three, I’ll drop Oom for Assassin Lady once I get there, most likely. Erristis is a stock character I don’t much care for, Tybir was an awful person, and Aligern was a whiny baby, so I’d rather not have to bring them along.

        1. illhousen says:

          Oom is a new companion added in a patch, so I don’t actually know much about it.

          Rhin and Cal are solid choices, like their stories and personalities.

          Erritis actually isn’t a stock character, he appears to be one, but there is a really cool twist with him. It’s apparent if you have Scan Thoughts, otherwise learning his deal requires more effort. Do you mind me spoiling his story or would you be interested in learning it by yourself?

          Assassin Lady is cool, a good choice.

          Tybir… yeah. I like parts of his story, but to get to them you need to tolerate his presence the rest of the time, so…

          Aligern is at best bland. Cool tattoos that hide a cool secret, but the man himself leaves much to desire.

          Also, note that your companions only receive exp when they’re with you, so you may want to dump Oom earlier if you don’t want to keep it to advance the Assassin Lady faster.

        2. Roarke says:

          Rhin and Erritis are actually my favorite companions, but yeah like illhousen said you need Scan Thoughts to really make him shine. And I mean that quite literally.

          Matkina (Assassin Lady) would be a not-so-distant third, I guess. She’s actually a bit more of a stock character: the paranoid rogue who’s been burned one too many times. It’s done well, though.

          I want to spoil everything about Rhin because I just want to gush about that kid. Protect her!

        3. St. Elmo's Fire says:

          Rhin and Oom, huh? I was intrigued by both of them, but they’re so useless in combat I didn’t want to risk it. How’d that work out for you?

          1. Roarke says:

            Rhin’s not bad in combat if you use her as a cypher mule. Of course, you have to be willing to use cyphers, which means she will be useless if you’re not willing to do that. If I remember, there are one or two weapons that play nicely enough with her stats (or lack thereof). Seriously though, there’s not enough combat in the game to not use cyphers.

            Also this is my general rec for anyone to play Disco Elysium, which is, I’d say, the first true ‘spiritual sequel’ to Planescape: Torment.

            1. St. Elmo's Fire says:

              Seriously though, there’s not enough combat in the game to not use cyphers.

              but what if I need it lateeeeer

  5. illhousen says:

    Holy shit. Decided to re-read this post and suddenly noticed that in the middle of it there was a link to a casino game inserted. Do we have a virus?

    1. SpoonyViking says:

      Are you sure? I’m not seeing anything.

      1. illhousen says:

        I’ve deleted it.

    2. Farla says:

      If the link has multiple underlines, it’s something being inserted by a browser hijacker.

      1. illhousen says:

        It was a normal link, plus a regular line of text.

  6. St. Elmo's Fire says:

    Finally got around to finishing this. I also got Blue/Gold aligned, but that was what I was shooting for anyway so I didn’t notice the imbalance. :D

    I generally agree that it had better gameplay but poorer story than Planescape: Torment. I think a lot of it might be personal taste, but this highly-decentralized sidequest-oriented style so common to western RPGs just doesn’t work for me. I feel like I’m getting tantalized with tiny windows into completely different stories that I never gain the full scope of, and thus I can’t get satisfying resolution either. In P:T the main quest was at least more focused, but here I felt that way even about the main quest. I felt much more like a spectator than an actor, buffeted by these conflicts between people much greater than myself, and by the end I didn’t have a very clear idea of my motivation. The Changing God is a dick, the First is a dick, and the only other option is omnicide, so what exactly is my stake in this?

    I also disliked the setting, I have to say. I am just so, so tired of these pessimistic doom-and-gloom settings where even in far-future sci-fi everything has to be miserable and civilization has to keep collapsing. (I was also pretty disappointed that after putting in so much effort to humanize all the other aliens that everyone insists are evil… the murdens really are all evil and just there to be fought. If you want to encourage players to be nonviolent and question violent solutions, commit to it, game.) It really undercut the game’s message for me — this clearly shows that legacy is irrelevant, because no matter your intentions, all knowledge and context will be lost until it doesn’t matter anymore. We’re given the opportunity to poke at the seedy underbelly of this crapsack world but never to meaningfully change it. You can save the stricha and stop the Children of the Endless Gate, but that’s about it. You can’t kill the Bloom, you can’t fix the poverty and infighting in Sagus Cliffs, you can’t piece any of the shattered remnants of civilization back together. All you can really do is prevent it from getting any worse. Despite being so much more violent and edgy, Dragon Age’s world honestly felt more uplifting than this.

    I was also annoyed that the final reveal was “your very existence is evil no matter what you do”. In P:T, the reveal had bite because it was tied to your actions, and it had a very definitive and concrete effect. This reveal of “Surprise! Even if you stopped using the secretly evil ability you’re still evil because your very presence vaguely causes conflict somewhere maybe mumble mumble so that’s why you have to die” was comparatively so tepid and unfair. I guess maybe that was the point, asking the question of how it feels to be made evil through no fault of your own, but you’re never given the opportunity to bemoan the unfairness of that. My final choice was to merge all the castoffs into Miika just because she was the only option I didn’t know for certain was a terrible person, but that still really sucks for all the other castoffs. I would have appreciated an option to sever their connection to the Tides without immediately killing them all. If it just removed their immortality but let them live out the rest of their lives in peace, that would have been bittersweet enough. But no, they had to go full KILL ‘EM ALL.

    The companions were definitely the best part of this. My main party was Rhin, Erritis, Aligern, and Oom after I sent Rhin home.

    I will fully admit I picked Aligern for gameplay reasons, because I was already playing a nano and figured I needed a good support caster, but also because of the two he seemed like the nicer person. I was really disappointed that his character never really went anywhere or developed, though. He stays grumpy, whiny, and taciturn to the end even after you finish his personal quest. His reveal was also very… meh. I’m pretty tired of “the reason I’m so unlikable is because of manpain survivor’s guilt, pity me!”

    I’m actually not as crazy about Rhin as some people. She was an intriguing mystery, but I was frustrated we never learned the answers. And knowing that Patrick Rothfuss made her makes me find the whole “defenseless little girl who must be protected by the (assumed male) MC” thing really sketchy. It’s also pretty hard to justify in-universe letting her tag along through unknown horrors and danger just for the uncertain possibility you might stumble over a way home. Sending her through the House of Empty Time seems like the most reasonable option, honestly.

    (I was also very upset to learn that she did not keep any of the cyphers I stuck on her before I sent her home. “So long and thanks for all the gear” is not a thing we need in modern gaming, thanks.)

    Erritis was far and away my favorite, though. I was fascinated as soon as I got his first thought snippet, and unlike Rhin the reveal did not disappoint. The metacommentary on player behavior was gold and so accurate, I was laughing through nearly every conversation with The Audience. (Similarly, I have to wonder if the Reconciler of Truth is meant to represent save-scumming?) He’s a really clever take on that stock character, and his actual story is so tragic. I’m really happy that you can actually save him in the end — and unlike sending Rhin home, that’s an actual sacrifice, because he is most definitely the biggest game breaker outside of adult Rhin. Though I was pretty committed to saving him, there was always a little voice in my head saying “But what if this means he’s not playable anymore? What will I do if I don’t have him to win battles for me?” and that’s a massive credit to the writing.

    Oom I really wish I got to play more with, but since I was already carting Rhin around I wasn’t willing to drop an actually useful fighter for it. Maybe if I ever do a replay. I loved what I did see of it, though — also so sad and so tragic, and I think there’s a resonance between its experiences and how the castoffs are all callously used by the Changing God too. I just want to give it a hug and wish it all the best in life, even moreso than Rhin. (It didn’t show up in the Labyrinth for the final stretch, though — is that a bug?)

    Tybir was a sleazeball and I don’t feel bad about ending up with his bad ending. I tried, buddy (I did his sidequest), but maybe you shouldn’t have been such an awful person in the first place, hm?

    Matkina I didn’t use at all, which I do regret a little since I’m sure she would have had a lot to say during the Miel Avest and finale portions. Sorry, sis, but my party was already full and I don’t like mean grumpy murderers.

    In general, I think what disappointed me the most is that the characters have so little synergy with each other. Each one feels like their stories were designed in complete isolation; they don’t meaningfully interact with each other at all, not even on a thematic level. They tried to add banter interactions, but none of it felt as natural or interesting as the banters in Dragon Age, just token. Coming into this after Dragon Age 2, where every character represented a distinct side of a clear ideological conflict that was reflected in the major plot and everything was just tied together so well was… well, it was disappointing.

    I agree with most everything you say about the gameplay. I naturally gravitated towards the important stats anyway so I didn’t notice it as much, but yeah, I really feel like the experience will be diminished if you don’t have a focus on intellect, perception, and persuasion skills. I also can’t believe that Scan Thoughts is not only a totally optional feature but one you’re locked into at character creation, especially when they give it actual gameplay benefits by having characters react to it and unlock additional dialogue options. As Act’s response here shows, you’re really missing out on half the experience without it. I think if they wanted to include it as a feature, they should have made it an intrinsic part of the Last Castoff’s repertoire.

    I liked the idea behind crises and how not all of them were combat, and the fully turn-based nature was a massive improvement on P:T’s system, but I think I wish they would have committed more thoroughly and used a system that revolved less around combat. They make good use of the various skills, but all of your stats and abilities are so clearly geared for combat that I think it overshadowed everything else a bit too much. Especially when dialogue options are, like you said, so comparatively trivial — in like 9 out of 10 cases you can avoid a combat just by dumping a few stat points into a single check and you’re done. I think it might have been best to commit to a more visual novel-like format where combat and negotiation had the same level of complexity. (Perhaps like the meres — those were honestly the only times where I actually felt tense and like I couldn’t just steamroll over everything, especially the one with the White Nest.) This would have gone a long way towards balancing the weaker characters like Rhin and Oom.

    Re: cyphers, I like the idea of the anti-hoarding mechanic, but I still hoarded them anyway. Not only are crises so rare in the first place, but I was generally able to resolve them easily enough without needing to resort to desperate measures. The only area that actually gave me trouble was the Endless Gate, since you need to fight lots of battles in a row without resting — everything else is nicely isolated, so you can fight at your full power. But I think what really pushed me over the edge was that every cypher was unique. This isn’t like with Vancian spells where they’re very specific but you can regain them later, you use it once and you can never get it back, ever. So each one is clearly meant for a specific situation, but how do I know this is that situation? I can only use each one once in the entire game! If it were possible to buy or repair old cyphers, I’d be a lot more willing to use them.

    The dialogue options, branching, and depths of the sidequests were still great, though. I really appreciated how many options you were given and how complex each situation was, encouraging you to avoid seemingly easy solutions and come to compromises that benefit all parties. (By the end of it though, especially in the Bloom, I started to say “Screw it, you’re evil, die now” to more people.)

    Did you ever figure out a way to satisfy the megalith in the Ascension? I never found the “product” it wanted, and peeling off a scale made it upset so I didn’t do that.

    1. illhousen says:

      Since playing the game, I’ve learned more about the original TRPG and the design philosophy of its creator, which permeates all of his works. It’s… not a philosophy I can agree with, and a lot of problems with the narrative (and some mechanics) can be traced back to it.

      Basically, the author is very much in favor of… disconnected weirdness, I guess. All of the recent settings he’s created, regardless of underlying metaphisics or themes, are structured in such a way so as to allow the GM to just drop anything they desire into the game and make it fit because anything and everything would fit those games as they don’t really have a coherent foundation to differentiate between native and foreign elements.

      There is an advice for running Numenera, which sums up this approach: when players start thinking they have things figured out and know what’s going on, throw in something that completely contradict their theories. You don’t need to know the underlying picture yourself, it just needs to be unexpected.

      So, yeah, the world of Numenera is one without the hope of understanding itself, though it is born not out of nihilism, but lazy storytelling (and, charitably, annoyance at players going, “But if it works like that, enemies really shouldn’t be able to do this” and such-like).

      That also gets at how you feel about the side quests: you are an eternal observer because you’re not allowed to be anything else.

      With mechanics, there is another issue prevalent in his games: he seemingly really wants to create a narrative-focused game of exploration and inventive roleplaying, but is stuck in old school D&D conventions. As a result, the game has very little support for anything outside of fights, and wizards rule supreme, partly because they actually have shit to do outside of fights.

      While the video game is substantially different (the devs have essentially reinvented Jacks, since they were just nano/glaive hybrid in the original), some of its design foundations have clearly bled over.

      When it comes to the main plot, I think a huge part of it was copying PT without the personal stakes that make PT work. I felt the same way playing the Mask of Betrayer for Neverwinter Nights 2. It had a cool, grandiose story, but my character felt like an intruder to it. I was just an unlucky soul haunted by something I had no connection with, a stranger in this tale.

      I think what we see here is a conflict of adherrence to a blank protagonist into whom you can project yourself and a story that really demands to star a specific character with their hopes and dreams, with their own life.

      On characters, yeah, I mostly agree.

      I don’t mind Rhin, but I’ve become disillusioned with the archetype as it feels like it’s fucking everywhere these days, and she doesn’t have enough behind her mystery to really hook you.

      Erritis was definitely the best. I think Scan Thoughts as an extra feature can work, but not when you hide so much content behind it. (Though I think you can pick it up at a level-up, not just at the character creation. It’s been awhile since I’ve played, though).

      Did you ever figure out a way to satisfy the megalith in the Ascension? I never found the “product” it wanted, and peeling off a scale made it upset so I didn’t do that.

      Sorry, don’t remember.

      1. St. Elmo's Fire says:

        Sigh. I’d say that design philosophy can work for a TTRPG where the goal is collaborative storytelling, but for any sort of coherent narrative like this, it just creates a mess.

        (Though I think you can pick it up at a level-up, not just at the character creation. It’s been awhile since I’ve played, though).

        There’s a bonded artifact in the Bloom that grants it, but that’s way too late. Otherwise I’m pretty sure it’s a nano-exclusive ability.

        Re: megalith, according to the Steam forums there’s an elaborate sequence where if you wait for the merchants’ cart to be completely eaten by the Bloom, they’ll give you the powder it wants and you can get a unique artifact from it. This comes at the cost of being able to shop there later, obviously, so it’s not actually a great idea regardless.

        1. illhousen says:

          Well, yes and no. There are TRPGs that are extremely light on lore and expect the players to fill in the gaps, but they tend to be different from Numenera in a number of key aspects:

          – They tend to have a tight thematic focus that guides the logic of world-building and makes inclusion of new elements relatively intuitive.

          – The players are usually given a lot of power to define the world, it’s not concentrated in the hands of the GM.

          – The mechanics themselves farther guide the direction and flow of the story.

          You may check out Before the Spire Falls to see what I’m talking about. It’s pay-what-you-want and is a fine introduction to this kind of games.

          By contrast,Numenera is largely stuck in old school mindset wherein the GM is solely responsible for defining the world, while the players merely interact with it through the medium of their characters. Combine it with the game being advertised as one of exploration and discovery, one where the intended playstyle often ties PCs success to their ability to understand and manipulate the world around them, and the decision to make the world unfathomable becomes a rather bad choice.

          There’s a bonded artifact in the Bloom that grants it, but that’s way too late. Otherwise I’m pretty sure it’s a nano-exclusive ability.

          Oh, got you. I thought by “character creation” you meant picking your abilities rather than class for some reason. Yeah, it’s nano-only.

    2. illhousen says:

      Oh, also:

      I really feel like the experience will be diminished if you don’t have a focus on intellect, perception, and persuasion skills.

      Persuasion skills are for FOOLS! You can just as easily dominate people with your MIGHTY INTELLECT and spare the skill points for what really matters: STEM fields.

    3. St. Elmo's Fire says:

      Having done the House of Empty Time sequence with Rhin, I’m pretty annoyed that she and the game treat you like a monster for doing it. By any logical metric, that is the best option for her. In-story, the characters have no reason to believe they’ll stumble across a way to get her home, she gives them no leads to go on, and her memory is such a mess is plausible she either a) will forget her home completely in time or b) is just crazy. But no, she is incredibly invested in gluing herself to the side of a stranger she just met (who, in my playthrough, coldly murdered the dude sent to find her) on the off-chance that in the course of their journey, which they don’t even know the course of, much less her, they’ll just happen to stumble on a way to get her home? That is some “read the script” level of contrivance.

      This would be so easy to fix. The Bloom and its capabilities are common knowledge, and it’s right next to the city. Have someone bring that up, and/or have Rhin give a better description of where she came out such that you or one of the other characters can figure out that the Bloom is relevant. It then becomes much more reasonable to assume that a) you will be passing through this known area and b) that said area has something that can help her.

      What would also help is if Rhin wasn’t such a dainty innocent flower. It is mind-boggling that she refuses to let you hurt even Tol Maguur, yet she is totally fine sticking around with your band of murderers as they gallavant across battlefields murdering people. This, too, would be easy to fix: Have her be herself a little murder gremlin whose only takeaway from watching the player kill people is “They’re strong enough to protect me.” Then it makes sense she’d be scared to leave them. But I guess that would interfere with her being waifu/daughter fantasy bait.

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