We sat down with Planescape: Torment's spiritual successor for a couple of hours on PlayStation 4.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is the upcoming spiritual successor to classic RPG Planescape: Torment, and it has subsequently received a lot of publicity because of its heritage. inXile has made no secret of the fact that they are being ambitious with this release, as they continue their efforts to help revive an older style of RPG while at the same time heaping a lot of content into the experience. It was this mix of classic sensibilities and the focus on depth that had us curious ahead of inXile and Techland's invitation to play two hours on PlayStation 4 in London, during which time we got to see a section of the game that was set deep into the story.
Before we get stuck in, though, we should talk a bit about how the game played on the PS4, as historically this genre has thrived most naturally on PC, with mouse and keyboard controls. We found that Tides of Numenera played very well on console, and everything from moving characters to zooming and navigating menus was easily done with the controller. Although our mid-game introduction had us starting on the back foot, it still felt natural played on the DualShock 4, and everything we needed was easily accessible via an intuitive UI and radial menus.
Just before we played, we asked creative lead Colin McComb about whether he felt modern RPGs had changed a lot, to which he replied: "Yeah, I think they have, and until Wasteland came out I think that they were declining. I feel like they were spending more time on the graphic elements and less on the player development [...] so we're trying to get back to the feeling of 'this is my game, this is my story, this is something that I am creating'." Senior writer Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie added that this meant using player feedback about what should be able to be done in each situation in order to give the most possible player choices.
This is also achieved through what McComb calls the 'pillars' of the game, the pillars that unite Planescape: Torment and Tides of Numenera. "When we started making this project [...] because we were making the successor to Planescape: Torment, we wanted to make sure that we knew what it was that made Torment such a beloved game, and so we figured out four pillars, but there's three that are most crucial for us here." These are the "world unlike any other"; "reactivity, choice, and real consequence"; and "a rich, thematic narrative".
We won't spoil too much about what we had to do in the campaign, as there are a lot of quests that link into the main narrative, but what we can say is that we saw evidence of all three pillars in what we played, especially in terms of this being a world unlike any other. The section we played took place in the Bloom, a gigantic creature with tendrils that pull it through time and space, strange dimensions linked together. We were basically in a giant labyrinth of tendrils, maws, and fleshy caverns, all of which were filled with fellow Bloom-dwellers.
The world of Numenera (the RPG), is definitely translated very well into the game, and you're constantly reminded that the focus is on exploration and adventure, just as it is in Numenera. An underlying concept is Clarke's Third Law; that advanced technology is like magic, and this is evident throughout the fantastical world of the game. The setting of Earth a billion years in the future is a key part of that. The magical atmosphere is pervasive, no more so than in the giant ominous creature that is the Bloom.
We can't say too much about why we were here, as it's about 60% of the way into the game, but the narrative aspect certainly wasn't lacking. Story of one form or another, whether it be the main narrative or side quests, is waiting to be found around every corner. In the two hours we played, there were an impressive number of dialogue options to read, and we found ourselves getting lost in the amount of characters, story details, and more that were there to discover. Not only this, but there's a level of optionality in almost all of it, so you can choose what you say and how you interact with every person and situation you come across, just as the second pillar decrees it should be.
As a result of all this, the game is very, very deep. In two hours we progressed only a small part of the way through the quest we were assigned, as there was lots to do in the ten or so areas we explored, and plenty of side quests to take up our time as well. We can imagine, then, that the finished product will take a long time to complete, especially if you want to see everything there is to see, and finish all of the side content.
Like the classic RPGs of old, there's not much hand-holding either. The first character who greeted us gave us a location to visit, but there wasn't a waypoint set on the map or anything. Guidance is at a minimum, which means you have to remember where to go, and search for clues on how to progress, which for some can mean getting lost and frustrated, but for others can be just the challenge that modern RPGs have neglected to provide, which is the audience inXile seems to be targeting more.
Visuals aren't the game's strong suit, and sitting close to the screen for the preview event did it no favours. The whole presentation seemed a little grainy at times, and the definition wasn't very sharp either. It didn't look terrible, however, it hasn't got that added layer of polish that McComb insists other RPGs focus too much on. This may be because we were playing on PS4 rather than on PC, but having seen PC gameplay, we can't say we noticed a major difference.
There were minor animation issues as well, but we're talking about the kind of kinks that can be ironed out before (and as is the way of things these days, after) release. Characters needed to be in a very specific position to interact with things at times, for example, and the movement of objects like tendrils sometimes looked a bit jittery and jagged. In the same vein, moving your character also felt a bit sluggish at times, and they often turned in odd ways.
Overall though, if you're a fan of the older types of RPGs that give you hours of content, that don't guide you in your quests but instead set you free in a fantastical world, then what we've seen would seem to hit the nail on the head. There was so much to do in just two hours that we don't doubt that there'll be plenty of content to keep fans entertained when Tides of Numenera eventually releases, and if the issues are ironed out we can't see why this wouldn't be a fan favourite too.