This is another one where I’m late to the party. I started my run something like two years ago but I only just recently decided to play it through. Either something else got inbetween or I hit a point which I didn’t find interesting enough and stopped playing. This time I had my mind set on finishing it and I made it all the way.
There are so much to unpack with this game. There are so many weird places, characters and philosophical conundrums presented in this game so I really don’t know where to start when trying to describe it. Also worthy of note is that playing half the game first and then playing the second half two years later affects the overall experience and the ability to get some sort of satisfying conclusion on what the game was about.
At its core it’s an isometric RPG with turn-based combat. Comparetively to other games of its genre, its pretty combat light if you don’t actively go out looking for a fight. I almost always play brawler characters on my first run if is an option in a game, but even then I felt like combat was a pretty fringe part of the experience. Combat is most often implemented for the sake of coming up with interesting incremental power-ups for your character.
All the mechanics are focus around an effort system where you have three different statistics with each character: Might, Speed and Intellect. Each challenge that you come across will test one of these statistics. The base chance to success is based on your skills in the subject but you can boost your chances by spending points of the appropriate statistic. It’s a really neat flexible system that was very easy to learn. I felt a bit too powerful at the end and could manage to get 100% success rate on any test I tried, but I guess it’s fine that you feel like a god at the end of an RPG.
Another feature that I thought was really smart was the Cyphers. A cypher is basically a powerful useable item that can only be used a couple of times. Each one has a unique effect and most of them are used in battle. When it comes to limited consumable items in any type of game I always refer to something I call the “Megaelixir problem”. What that entails is basically that if you hand a player a very powerful item that they can only use once, they will not use it at all (the reference of course taken from the Final Fantasy-series). Torment has solved this in a very smart way with cyphers. You can only carry a set amount of cyphers on each character, if you carry more than you are allowed you get something called “cypher sickness” which makes your base chance less for each test. This makes you want to spend your cyphers to make room for new ones since otherwise you get a debuff. This is much different from a normal inventory system as it creates a much more interesting choice for the player. It might be okay to have only one cypher over the limit since I want to save them for a special occassion, but having two will severly impeed my abilities so if I pick up another one I will have to use my, at the time, most useful one. I really liked the minigame of keeping that balance.
The story is really interesting but I had a hard time following until the very end, and when I got to the end it had been such a long time since I experienced certain story beats so I had forgotten most of them. This made me miss a bunch of reference that was made to things I had done earlier in the game. I think my long hiatus really damaged my experience in this regard. I think this is really a game that demands your focus if you want to get the most out of it.
You play as an incarnation of a god. This god is knows as the Changing god, and throughout the game you get to experience fates of other incarnations. This lets you learn about multiple different worlds and places, many that really doesn’t affect the main story, but they all carry a lesson or some sort of moral. Some of them reconnect in the main story, but it was really hard to keep track of all the names, places, timelines and concepts. There were some time travel shenanigans, where something you did in one of the other incarnations past lives affected your current situation, but not too many. Lots of interesting concepts are explored though, it must’ve been as much a headache as it was an exciting adventure to write it.
Always a good sign is that I kinda want to start over immediately and play through a new run and make some new choices, and this time playing it straight through without a long break inbetween. Unfortunately there are too many interesting games to play so I’m not sure that I will have time to do so. Torment: Tides of Numenera is definately on my “good games” list though, aworthy spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment.