Developer: Inxile Entertainment
Publisher: Techland Publishing
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One
Release Date: February 28, 2017
ESRB: M for Mature
Note: This review is based on the PS4 version of the game
I think it says a lot about my awareness of Kickstarter when I had not even heard of Torment: Tides of Numenera prior to reviewing it. A Kickstarter campaign that was so successful that it conjured up over four million in crowd-funding donations adding even more to its prestige. Moreover, it is also a spiritual successor to the cult-classic PC role-playing game Planetscape: Torment. With more than its share of delays, and nearly four years of development time, it is curious to see the anticipated CRPG (computer role playing game) title arrive after its beloved Kickstarter contemporaries already basked in their critical acclaim years ago like Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin.
Was it worth the wait to see the Ninth World or does it stand faceless among better CRPG options in recent memory?
If you told me that Torment: Tides of Numenara was delayed entirely due to writing its highly detailed world for several years I would be more than keen believe you. The sci-fi fantasy world-building and writing in Torment: Tides of Numenara is extremely top notch. Filled with painstaking nuance and detail, the Ninth World in which Torment: Tides of Numenara takes place truly feels lived in despite how extremely foreign just about everything surrounding is at the same time.
Now, admittedly, the Ninth World is a very difficult setting to parse initially. The game quickly entertains the thoughts of alternate worlds and the incredibly rich sci-fi fantasy world-building is so distinct that you feel just as lost as your mostly blank slate protagonist. But, in an attempt to try sum up preamble in a somewhat comprehensive way, the character you play is a former vessel (also referred to as The Last Castoff) of a being called the Thousand Faced God.
Gaining your own sense of self, while uncovering the world around you, you learn that you are but one of many discarded bodies that your former Thousand Faced God â€œsireâ€ has used in pursuit of his/her own personal endeavors. However, the huge caveat is that the death-cheating/soul-transferring Thousand Faced God, as well as the former vessels that have developed their own sense of self, live in constant fear of a powerful monster known as The Sorrow that is in active pursuit of them, which is seemingly the only way to permanently kill and absorb their existence at any time.
I may argue that Torment: Tides of Numenara is more into its world-building than anything else (and for good reason), but it certainly has the soul of a classic CRPG as well. There is a ton of flexibility in character builds and whatever strengths and weaknesses you want to have your variation of The Last Castoff predicated on. Various class molds and D&D styled skill checks are all there and then some. More than anything else this is the most traditional aspect about the game, and it being built within the Pillars of Eternity engine also helps it conform within the familiar CRPG mold too.
To be frank, however, I have played more than thirty hours of the game, and have only seen the combat system about three times total (arguably two because one was a tutorial). I was certainly presented with many more chances to fight, but I pretty much avoided most conflict just by talking or passing various ability checks. Apparently the original Planetscape: Torment was very similar in this regard in which you could avoid just about any potential fight based on your actions as well. I think that's awesome, since so many RPGs pretend to have the narrative conceit of player choice and Torment: Tides of Numenara truly follows up on it.
What I will say is that even if I did not have much exposure to battles, it does seem rather underwhelming compared to the much more varied and strategic gameplay of Divinity: Original Sin. It also did not help that I battled with an obscured view because of the often fixed camera angles of environments too. Weirdly enough, even if you were to fail or die in a battle it does not matter all that much because the main character literally revives somewhat shortly after.
Actually, the biggest consequence of dying, outside of seeing the context of certain quests change, are, well, seeing the various load screens. Basically, one load time when you go into the labyrinth of your subconscious (did I mention the storytelling is complex?) and another when you choose to revive into the real world. Problem is, each loading screen is at least thirty seconds each and in worse moments can get rather close to one minute.
You may guess what I am trying to lead into, but as it is currently, the PS4 port of Torment: Tides of Numenera runs extremely poorly. It does not matter if you are using a PS4 Pro with boost mode enabled (or are extra crazy like me and have a solid state hybrid drive in it too). Constant thirty-second or more load times as well as regular frame rate hitches (which I have counted to be nearly every ten seconds) are your main companions when playing.
I hate that I found myself annoyed by quests that wanted me to go to different locations and not just pick the brains of individuals within that zone. Not because quests weren't interesting -- heck, most of the storytelling is truly fascinating and I found myself engrossed in even the most random of NPCs and the ambiguity of so much of the storytelling -- but because I knew I'd lose many minutes of my time in long load screens simply trying to reach the zone. It is all the more jarring that they are so frequent when the various towns or areas aren't even that big -- just very compartmentalized and load screen-ridden.
Really, it's the technical hiccups that mar the whole experience more than anything else. There is not any reason for it either with visuals that are hardly remarkable for the PS4 hardware, despite some neat environmental backdrops. It controls well enough for something clearly intended for mouse and keyboard (though, a bit sluggish), which, for as much as I adore Divinity: Original Sin, I could not say the same about the console port all the time. When it comes to fighting with the stuttering presentation, painful load times or less common issues like a few bugs that forced me to reload earlier saves to make them truly disappear just makes it so the PS4 port is that much less desirable to play. Of course, I still played thirty hours of it, so that just goes to show how engrossed I was in Torment's storytelling despite how frustrated I was in how it all was being presented to me.
As it is currently Torment: Tides of Numenara on PS4 is in a state of limbo. The brilliance of its rich fantasy sci-fi setting and very smart writing is not enough to carry one through the constant frustrations of its gameplay. Hopefully, such issues are alleviated over time via various patches in particular. Until then, it's very hard to recommend seeing what the Ninth World has to offer on PS4 when The Sorrow of technical grievances that follows behind it makes it such as hassle to carry on through it.
+ Masterful writing and world-building.
+ Truly follows the conceit in which you can avoid most conflict based on the decisions you make
+ Fascinating side quests with many unpredictable outcomes
-Can be rather difficult to parse early in from both a narrative and gameplay perspective
- PS4 version runs terribly: Awful load times, frequent frame rate hitches, and noticeable bugs plague a normal playthrough
- Underwhelming combat
- So-so presentation
Overall Score: 6 (out of 10)
A very disappointing port to PS4 that is all that much agonizing to behold when the world underneath Torment: Tides of Numenara is so fascinating
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.