World building is one helluva drug.
AIn Torment: Tides of Numenera, you awaken falling to Earth from the sky. Your body, up until seconds prior, was inhabited by The Changing God, a man who has cheated death by moving his consciousness into new a body whenever he becomes old or diseased or injured. As one of these castoff bodies, you've sprouted your own consciousness, and have to figure out what life you're going to live in your "father's" wake. You have no idea what The Changing God did while in your body. A
The world you live in is one billion years into Earth's future, where various past civilizations of Earth are now heaped on top of each other like several weeks worth of dirty dishes dumped into the sink. One civilizations' everyday technology is another's alien magic, and the borders between are hard to find. The world is vivid and innately chaotic in its allure.
'Torment' Is Devoted To Its World
Torment: Tides of Numenera is not a game of this world or this time, both in setting and in text-heavy cRPG stylings. It's a menagerie of technology and personalities and worlds unified under the game's central question: "What does one life matter?" And Tides takes this core theme very seriously by allowing the player to explore that question over and over again.
What does your life matter as the forgotten shell of a god? What does the life of a violent, unknowable machine-beast matter? What do the lives of slaves or legal slavers matter? What do the lives of children or benign tunnel-dwelling CHUD monsters matter? What do the warriors of a long-defeated civilization matter? The answer for every iteration of this question is yours to explore through mountains of excellent dialogue options.
Every character you meet in Tides of Numenera has a story. These stories can be heartwarming and uplifting, somber and sobering. While the game doesn't decide to make its own statement about what one life actually matters, it does plant a flag in the idea that every shred of existence you pass by has a life just as complex and vivid as your own.
Most of the time, those other lives are actually far more nuanced than your own; as the Last Castoff, the newly awakened castoff body of The Changing God, your story only recently started. So, literally, every other character is more nuanced and complex than you are because you were only just born.
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And that's where the game derives most of its fun. You get the opportunity to develop your own nuance in an accelerated coming of age, in a world stitched together from civilizations far past their prime.
'Tides of Numenera' Is A Heartfelt Homage to 'Planescape', But It Won't Replace It
When you think of games with cult followings, it's easy to get caught up in the flurry of Steam Early Access and mods and horror titles, where cult games like The Hidden and Five Nights At Freddy's live and die based on which popular YouTuber made a video about it. But in 1999, the biggest cult classic was Tides' predecessor Planescape: Torment, a roving RPG praised for its unmatched quality and quantity of writing.
Tides of Numenera is a worthy successor, but it's not exactly going to take Planescape's place.
There are some flaws in Tides, but the flaws are often easily attributed to the inherent issues in attempting to capture a tabletop RPG experience within a video game container. Combat encounters, for example, only feel clunky because they're too ambitious - focusing heavily on providing tons of encounter-specific RP options to the point that actual mechanical polish feels sacrificed.
Voice acting only feels scarce because there are so many infinitely interesting characters that I just want to hear more of. It's always going to be difficult to try to match the excellent voice acting of the 1999 predecessor — but looking back at performances from Planescape does make me realize that the voice acting is one large reason the writing always stuck out. It's tough to imagine Planescape's characters like Morte, Fall-From-Grace, Nordom, and Annah being so delightful without their amazing voice performances. Excellent words are always made better by excellent delivery, and Tides of Numenera could have been far more elevated if it had the same performance quality and quantity. The voice acting is good, not great.
The story and the narrative are stellar and the characters stand head and shoulders above most other mainstream RPG companions. If you've ever griped about weak stories in video games, you need to play Tides of Numenera. The entire cRPG renaissance and its recent revival is stocked full to the brim of excellent companions and NPCs with believable motivations and interests. Tides of Numenera is a trope-buster that I won't soon forget.
How Does Tides of Numenera Compare To Other Recent cRPG Games?
In the past few years, we've seen several Kickstarted games unearth interest in the '90s western cRPG, a genre characterized by being text-focused, isometric, character driven. Here are the major contributions.
- Wasteland 2 (2014)
- Divinity: Original Sin (2014)
- Pillars of Eternity (2015)
- Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear (2016)
- Tyranny (2016)
- Torment: Tides of Numenera (2017)
Between them all, that's an awful lot of reading and an awful lot of characters. The games have steadily been getting better and better as time has worn on, and the most recent two, Tyranny and Tides of Numenera, have set the bar incredibly high.
Wasteland 2 revitalized the genre and Divinity took it to a multiplayer-friendly space. Pillars of Eternity created an excellent Baldur's Gate-inspired world and Siege of Dragonspear directly expanded on BG storyline. Tyranny gave us a very fresh take on magic and combat systems and Tides of Numenera has given us one of the most dynamic and fleshed out worlds yet. Both Tyranny and Tides also take a certain amount of glee in completely flipping typical RPG clichés on their heads.
And while every one of these games features a massive, unique, textured world to explore with great characters to explore them with, Tides' success is in its intimate approach to its world. Just as the central question asks "what is one life worth?" Tides allows you to discover worth by just chatting with people. You hang out in bars talking to techno-psychics, you trade secrets with information brokers, you ask ancient statues about the cultures they were born from. You barter, persuade, argue, and intimidate. This casual and social approach to world building makes apparent a the core principle that the Planescape franchise champions above all else: a world is nothing without the people who live there.
Did you play 'Planescape: Torment'? What are your thoughts on Torment: Tides of Numenera'?