Friday, 3 March 2017

Torment: Tides of Numenera - Review



Hi guys! In this post I intend to record my initial impressions of inXile's newly released RPG, Torment: Tides of Numenera (TToN). Intros bore ppl so let's get right to it!

First up - and this is a big one for me - startup and loading times are actually tolerable. This is in contrast to Tyranny, where you could go off and make a cup of coffee, return to your PC, finish your cup of coffee, and still find yourself waiting another minute or two before you can play the fricking game. Such a grave lack of optimization killed Tyranny for me, so thank you inXile for hiring competent coders! Or did you? Expect framerate drops, dialogue lag, and the exe to occasionally lose focus and threaten to CTD. lolUnity. Patches, pls.

Second - and you probably already know this if you've been following its development - T:ToN is heavily influenced by Black Isle's legendary Planescape: Torment (PST); for example, the art assets, the tone of writing, and the non-standard setting. But what I want to emphasize here is that dialogue is torrential. It just rains and rains WORDS. Words, words, and more words. So yeah, if you don't like reading walls of dialogue and lore then this is not a game for you. And if you don't like role-playing then this is not a game for you either. If you're only interested in turn-based combat then I kindly refer you to Temple of Elemental Evil and Jagged Alliance 2, the two greatest turn-based RPGs on the PC platform.

3. The game-play of TToN is not as "pacey" as PST. This is primarily due to the former employing turn-based combat whereas the latter employed realtime-with-pause (RTwP) which was configurable to 60 AI updates per second. Now, for those who don't know, let me tell you - that's FAST. And fast makes playing the game FUN. In addition, PST's dialogue scrolled smoother and faster, and its selections were more responsive. This is not so much a complaint as it is an observation of a trait shared by many current gen RPGs: they are simply slower to play than the likes of Fallout (1997), Arcanum (2001) and the Infinity Engine RPGs (1998-2001).

4. The TToN dialogue window features a scroll bar so that you can review the dialogue, on the fly, as per PST. But inXile made the same mistake Black Isle did back in 1999, in that the dialogue window cannot be maximized vertically in order to show more text on-screen. Why devs continue to make "interactive novels" and not give us the ability to show as much dialogue as our screen size allows, is beyond me. Check out the pic posted below. You see that top border of the dialogue window (which, btw, wastes too much space like the bottom part)? I instinctively want to drag it to the top of my screen so that I can read the dialogue like it was a page in a novel. But no, I can't. This is a waffle-heavy cRPG with a crippled console interface. Bring on the UI mods!


This is how you make a dialogue window for a dialogue-heavy game:

Left: Neverwinter Nights. Right: Neverwinter Nights 2.

5. PST dialogue was punctuated by welcome voice-overs and sounds to indicate memory regain and experience point rewards. They were really a delight to hear! TToN also features this plus it bolts on an Item Gained panel when you find an item through dialogue. You can then mouse-over this newly acquired item in order to view its stats in a floating text bubble, without having to call up Inventory mode. I think this is a cute lil' addition.


6. During Crisis mode (turn-based encounter mode) certain objects can be manipulated in order to gain tactical advantages in combat scenarios. Here, one of my companions interacts with a turret and employs Might to successfully turn its valve. You can then aim the spray with a visual aid to targeting in order to inflict acid burn upon the foes caught in its cone AoE. Very, very cool.


7. The UI is about as bland as it could possibly be - just flat, gray panels with no character. Looks too much like a generic smartphone app. Still, there are no glaring issues in regard to its functionality, and tabs are always great for quick switching between modes. That's nothing revolutionary, though: Icewind Dale 2 employed tabs in its Character Sheet way back in 2002! (proof)

Bland.
Inventory
Bland.
Character Sheet
Bland.
Journal

Here are a few shots of the PST UI for comparison and nostalgia purposes:

Inventory and Character Sheet

Journal

^ Way better. T:ToN has one of the worst UIs I've seen.

Anyway, a few other things I've noticed:

• There does not seem to be a marquee selection option for selecting your party on the playing field. Instead, your companions just follow along behind the protagonist; in fact, they're on you like a cheap suit and never in strict formation. For the benefit of those who don't know, marquee selection is when you drag a rubber band on the field of play to group-select units, all of whom then carry out the order given. Marquee selection is standard in Planescape: TormentTemple of Elemental EvilNeverwinter Nights 2, and even Dragon Age: Origins featured marquee selection. Not TToN, though. Is that because it was made for consoles, too?


Moreover, you can't individually select and control your companions outside of combat mode, meaning you're always clumped together and your "rogue" can't be sent off to scout by herself.

• The pathing routine seems somewhat problematic when characters are trying to make their way around placeables and other obstructions. What!? Pathing problems in an RPG? Who would have thunk it? (PST was notorious for its pathing routine.)

• Pre-rendered backdrops, sprites, VFX and animations are nothing to write home about. Basically, they are on par with Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny levels of quality, neither of which broke new ground. These three games look and feel almost identical to one another (lolUnity), and PST is easily superior to that trio from an aesthetic point of view. And grittier, which is what counts for the veterans. I can't stand the glossy, overly polished look of current gen RPGs. Everything just looks too new. To be fair, some of TToN's area design could pass for "Sigilian". Not this sort of thing, though:


Oh look, tentacles. Never seen those before. The above Sorrow sequence induced naught from me but an exaggerated yawn.

Devour Spirit and Eternal Rest in Mask of the Betrayer:


^ Way better.

• Morte, Dak'kon, Annah, Grace: unforgettable PST companions. Remember the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon, the Pillar of Skulls, the Brothel of Slating Intellectual Lusts? I guess we'll see if there is anything comparable to them in TToN.


But let me tell you, Callistege and Aligern are unlikely to instantly interest you. It doesn't help that one of the first inquiries you can make with them is the generic "What's your story?" How slack and blunt in tone is that? The initial banters are a far cry from the opening dialogues of Morte, Dak'kon and Annah. Let's hope things improve.

.
***

I'll never forget my first time playing Black Isle's Planescape: Torment. The year was 1999 and I'd just come off Baldur's Gate, a standard FR campaign released by BioWare one year prior. But there was nothing standard about the plot, setting and characters in PST. Take the beginning, for example. You awaken on a slab in a mortuary and this skull floats over and starts chatting to you about the scars on your back; and, far from being mindless and hostile, the mortuary undead are happy to strike up a convo, too. You regain memories, such as how to raise the dead, during an emotive exchange with the spirit of a woman who loved your previous incarnation. You learn about "the doors" in Sigil and how to trigger them. You disassemble hulking skeletons with arcane lore. You dress up as a zombie and play dead. All in the first 30 minutes. The mortuary segment is riveting, and by far and away the best prologue in RPG history [1].

Engine aside, PST was nothing like Baldur's Gate. It was unlike any RPG that came before or after. Maybe TToN will be unique - 18 years later - but at this early stage I'm not seeing it.

[1] Compare also the first 30 mins of Mask of the Betrayer, a true spiritual successor to PST.



EoP

17 comments:

  1. I rather agree. I feel like sticking the Torment name in the title is doing this one no favors. It seems like a pretty decent implementation of the Numenara tabletop setting (given my limited knowledge), and a solid CRPG in its own right if you're looking for something a little less combat-focused. It's not going to compare well to the original, however. Not unless things really ramp up later on.

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    1. Yeah, so far it doesn't seem like a spiritual successor to PS:T. But I'll play on and see how things pan out. It's a pity they weren't able to acquire the rights to make a proper Planescape RPG. Veterans have longed yearned for another RPG set in that campaign setting, even though the story would have to be separate from TNO's.

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  2. It is a pity if Tides of Numenera does not compare to its inspiration, but hardly surprising, as the Infinity Engine games set a very high bar. Even if it is not perfect, I am pleased to see there is still a willingness to make very dialgoue-intensive/role-play heavy games like this. For many years it seemed RPGs (at least the major professionally produced ones) had been all but taken over by what were actually semi-action games.

    Personally I never liked PST as much as BG or IWD, mainly due to its often questionable combat and encounter design, but it was certainly memorable, and a major landmark in the history of RPGs.

    While I would not make a big deal about it (core gameplay being more important), I do agree about the blandness of the UI, and that is nice when the aesthetics of the UI fit thematically with the game, by for example, making one's game journal and such appear to be written on scrolls in a fantasy RPG, as was done in BG: one of many little details the IE games got right and that were neglected by many of their would-be successors.

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  3. I have mixed feelings so far. There is soooo much descriptive writing and I have to admit I'm not a fan of that. I didn't like it in Pillars and I think there's even more of it in Tides. I LOVE reading in games, but it has to get to the point. I don't want to be bombarded by in-depth descriptions of everything single object and person in all of existence. I'm exaggerating a bit, but you get the point.

    Another issue I have is with the stats and effort mechanics. It feels like the game promotes save scumming with percentage based stat checks. I'm early into the game but I've already failed a 90% roll a few times. Yes I know I don't HAVE to reload and I'm ok with failing stat checks from time to time, but not with a 90% chance tbh. I also noticed some dialogue lag and a slight delay or "ramp up" time to move when you click on a location.

    Yet ANOTHER issue I have is with the character models. They're ugly imo. There also seems to be this weird blurry quality to them. I'm not sure if I'm describing it correctly. I see a whole bunch of character models and none of them stand out to me in a good way. I like many of the character models in Pillars in addition to all the cool looking equipment that game has. So far I don't feel the same with Tides.

    As for the good stuff I LOVE the music and the atmosphere so far. The small bit of combat I played through was enjoyable. I'm keeping an mind and still excited for what is to come.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing your impressions, Desmond!

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    2. Good stuff and very on point, now go play tale of wuxia. Great game that no one seems to have played.

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    3. Hi there, Lhynn! Thanks for the recommendation. I'll check it out.

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  4. You mention the excessively long loading times in Tyranny. But what is your experience with Pillars of Eternity? They all are apparently using the same engine - Unity - which is well-known to be a performance hog. What helped me was keeping the number of save games to a minimum and moving the game to SSD.

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    1. lolUnity.

      I found PoE to be rubbish, too ("Hi, my name's Lilura and I have opinions on RPGs!")

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  5. excessively long loading times in Tyranny? So I am not the only one? :D Good thing... for me that was unbearable.

    Pillars is faster, don't know why. But I agree, it's quite bad even if I played worse! And sadly I have to admit that I resumed playing it.

    But Numenera... it's strange. I love it, the story, the setting, the Npcs... but all the rest isn't that fun: I'm talking about combat (I did just one and it was...meh! Not so much strategy involved at all, few options) and about the "spend your points to be sure to succeed" checks.

    OK, Torment too had a crappy combat system, but it was ok for the time. Now if we had Skyrim with Morrowind combat... hey it would be terrible! Luckily Numenera combat isn't that bad but I felt it uninspiring. And I try to avoid it as much as possible!

    I also find some weirdness a bit forced, you can finde many strange characters in the game but most of them look like they're shouting "look at me! I'm strange, I'm special" and have no reason to be weird.

    I don't know, so far I'm not convinced despite the beginning was really immersive.

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    Replies
    1. I think this game is awful in almost all its facets and I just want to forget I even played it.

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    2. Really? There will be a post with more detail on that? I admit I lost interest and preferred playing a bad game like PoE for a better combat experience.
      But... I'll probably restart BG.

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    3. The Unity Engine (Pillars and Tyranny) has crap load times. All there is to say about it. Whomever decided an engine needs an auto-save every area that *cannot* be turned off needs to be hanged by his code. Not only did it slow the game down horribly and lead to memory leaks if I didn't restart it every couple hours, but literally 3/4s of my CTDs came from the autosave locking up.

      Worst part of Pillars by far. If so much of the rest hadn't been epic, I would've dumped the game for that.

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    4. I say this a lot, but yeah, lolUnity.

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    5. "The Unity Engine (Pillars and Tyranny) has crap load times."

      I don't know id PoE was patched but for me it runs fine. Torm... no let's call it just Numenera in my experience has frequent framerated drops but not bugs, crashes or excessive loading times, despite running it on an old Pc...

      On the other hand Tyranny has awful loading times, worse than Vampire Bloodlines pre-patch! -_-

      Delete
  6. AbdulwaheedMarch 25, 2017

    "Moreover, you can't individually select and control your companions outside of combat mode, meaning you're always clumped together and your "rogue" can't be sent off to scout by herself."

    But you wouldn't need to scout anywhere at all in TTON.

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  7. "I instinctively want to drag it to the top of my screen so that I can read the dialogue like it was a page in a novel."

    I don't; I find the dialogue box more readable in the TTON pic than in the NWN ones. Could be a font thing, though.

    ReplyDelete

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