Planescape: Torment is an RPG on a grand scale. It's a game that seems to get most everything right that an RPG can do. Colorful characters, an intriguing universe, plenty to do outside of the story-based quests and good old-fashioned stat building. All wrapped in a package that's pretty to look at and easy to get into.
Torment is developed by Black Isle Studios, the developers of the excellent Fallout series (two of my favorite RPGs) and producers of the much acclaimed Baldur's Gate. The game takes the best elements from both of those titles and uses BioWare's Infinity Engine from Baldur's Gate. As a result, Torment shares graphical styling along with general movement, combat and interface systems. In some ways similar to Fallout, the game seems to emphasize side-quests, many characters have branching conversation trees, levels are gained more quickly than in Baldur's Gate (you should easily reach the teen levels by game end) and the overall game world has a dark and gritty feel.
The storyline is rather intriguing. At game's beginning, you wake up in a mortuary filled with wandering, thoughtless zombies. Your body is covered in scars and you can't remember your past or your name. You adopt the moniker, Nameless One, as you attempt to discover who you are and why you're here. Apparently, you were dead when brought into the mortuary and how you died, why you were resurrected and what it all means become questions you search for during your journey.
The story brings about an interesting gameplay device: the Nameless One is, save for a few exceptions, immortal. He can be temporarily killed but usually comes back. There are a few way he can achieve "true death," like being killed by a Godly force but, for the most part, he'll never really die. This is a device that could've horribly unbalanced the game or taken away the feeling of tension from combat but, surprisingly, it works. The Nameless One's immortality is implemented perfectly within the game and plays a major role in the story and even some puzzles.
Since the game uses the aforementioned Infinity Engine, the graphics are very clean and detailed. The camera is set much closer to the characters than in Baldur's Gate but that doesn't seem to degrade the graphical prowess of the title. Surprisingly, the game uses a wide array of colors and doesn't just stick to a dark palette to emphasize the foreboding world. Even the characters are colorful, ranging from unimaginative white and black to more exotic purples and yellows and reds. The only real problem is the game's penchant to slow down to a complete crawl when too many characters are on screen, a problem exacerbated due to Torment's large, bustling cities (note: a recently released patch corrects the problem).
Sound effects in Torment are rather satisfactory. While the music isn't anything you'd catch me humming around the house, it isn't bad. Neither is the sound but, again, it's nothing to write home about. I found that the voices used for the characters are actually fairly well done and certainly varied in dialects. As a whole, the sound is above average -- just nothing really superb.
The game's interface is a bit of a mixed bag for me. The inventory screen is very similar to the one utilized in Baldur's Gate's "paper doll" system and is extremely easy to navigate. However, getting to the various sub-screens (inventory, journal, character, and so forth) seems too out of the way. I sorely missed being able to access everything with just a click instead of going to menus within menus to get to what I wanted. It's not a big deal -- certainly doesn't mar the fun of the game -- but it's an inconvenience nonetheless.
In addition, combat seems a little clumsy. Unlike Baldur's Gate, where it was almost necessary to pause the game for combat to tactically plan out your moves, most of the time in Torment you can simply take the Diablo approach and just hack and slash. Once you choose an enemy, though, your characters will continue to attack it and, while easy on the mouse finger, can make combat rather boring.
Torment's sub-quest structure is probably the biggest attraction for me. These are the best kinds of quests: multiple solutions, the best usually being the peaceful, conversational type and rewarding with experience points. The sheer number of things to do is almost overwhelming. Yet, no matter how many quests you take on, you'll never get lost or forget who to talk too or what to do, thanks to the excellent in-game journal. While there are many games that have some sort of quest book or dialogue reviewing option, the journal in Torment is absolutely invaluable. It offers miscellaneous information and data about the monsters and NPCs in the game, flashbacks the Nameless One has experienced and, most importantly, all the quest information you may need. It may not tell you how to solve the puzzles but it'll let you know who to talk to and where you can find them once you attain your solution. In fact, without the journal, this game would get heavy markdowns for being so overwhelming but, with the journal, I can give nothing but praise.
Characters in Torment are definitely interesting. The first character you meet is a wise-cracking, floating skull and things don't dull down from there. One of the aspects that really appealed to me about the NPCs is how much they have to say. Some people (more action oriented) are really going to hate it but it seems every character in Torment has a different view or opinion and they're willing to not only share it with you but allow you to voice your own and retaliate with a counter-point. It's almost hard finding denizens in the cities that don't have something interesting to say or don't spawn a conversation tree for your response.
Black Isle has hit the nail on the head with Torment. It should be mentioned that this is the first game based on the Planescape universe from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Now, I'm not a pen and paper RPG player, so I honestly can't say if the Planescape universe was implemented well or horribly. If it was implemented poorly, then some hardcore Planescape players may be disappointed. If it was implemented well, then it's all the more an enjoyable experience. From the standpoint of a neutral party, there's no denying it: this game is awesome.
Graphics: While it can't really compare with the technical aesthetics incorporated in many games these days (1999), Torment's detailed and exotic graphics are still gorgeous.
Sound: No real complaints. The sound effects and music were only slightly above average.
Enjoyment: I'm hesitantly marking off half of a point because of the monotonous combat. Otherwise the game's story, quests, characters, etc. all combine to make the game incredibly fun to play.
Replay Value: This goes hand-in-hand with my enjoyment rating. While there are numerous quests and the reaction and conversational trees change with your stats (so it's really up to you how much of a different experience you want to have), the flaws in the combat system, and the minor inconvenience in the interface are only more apparent the second time through.
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