Written by  :  Oleg Roschin (181570)
Written on  :  Jul 25, 2001
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars

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Gourmet dish for RPG lovers

The Good

After having produced the brilliant Fallout 2, Black Isle moved onto a more personal project helmed by Chris Avellone. Building upon good old AD&D rules and a smooth new engine provided by Baldur's Gate, they have created one of the most memorable role-playing games in history, evoking passionate feedback from the community.

Planescape: Torment goes to great lengths caring for the artistic, creative side of video game design (style, setting, writing, etc.). At the same time, it never forgets it is a game. It's certainly "artsy", it screams originality, but - as opposed to too many other games with similar premises - it is a fantastic role-playing game, regardless of its other aspirations. If it were just a generic "kill the bad guy" story set in a generic fantasy world, it would still be an enjoyable, high-quality RPG.

The role-playing system of the game is rich and detailed. You shape your character the way you like. The choices go much deeper than simply selecting a dialogue option; they are integrated into the gameplay and the storyline in such a way that every encounter will make you think about your behavior. It's not just a matter of being nice or rude, killing people or helping them; there is ambiguity in almost every action you take, in the way you are slowly discovering your true identity.

As you play the game, you are constantly facing the questions: what kind of a person have you been? What kind of a person are you now? And more concretely, how should you play the game so that your actions will finally reveal to you the protagonist's true nature?.. This is pure magic - very few games have managed to create this kind of emotional attachment to the protagonist without compromising the flexibility of character development or diminishing the player's control over it.

On a technical level, all those choices appear in a form of quests and refined character customization. There is a large amount of optional quests in the game; many of them can be solved in various ways. Almost every character has something to share with you; almost everywhere you can find interesting tasks. The game world may not be huge, but it surely takes time to explore, and instead of empty places with uninteresting people that appear in so many games, you'll find more and more fascinating layers of the game's world.

Character customization affects the gameplay and the plot much more than in traditional AD&D games. We are all used that extra points invested in strength will make you hit the enemies harder, that constitution gives you more hit points, that a mage should have high intelligence, etc. But here, the attributes are important not only for defining classes or aiding you in combat; they have a direct influence on dialogue lines, quest solutions, and ultimately the entire storyline. Upgrading your character when leveling up will not only make him stronger or quicker; it will change him as a whole, the way he interacts with people, the way he thinks and feels. There are several different endings in the game, and they don't only depend on some choices you make at the last moment, but on the way you've been shaping your character all along.

Battles in the game are handled the same way as in Baldur's Gate. The game is much less combat-oriented, and the sporadic skirmishes you participate in are almost exclusively confined to narrow areas. Still, even with these restrictions, the battles are pleasant and can get reasonably challenging on higher difficulty levels. While your companions are rather predictable gameplay-wise, the main protagonist can be shaped in several interesting ways, his magical route being particularly fulfilling.

The game has an absolutely unique style that is impossible to imitate. The world of Planescape: Torment is its world only, period. You won't find anything like this in any other game. Somehow, it fits into a medieval fantasy setting - but you won't find any kings, castles, brave knights, or beautiful princesses. Instead, you'll encounter a zombie-infested morgue, slums in a depressingly dark city, streets full of suspicious thieves, girls with wings or tails, people eternally tormented in fire, strange ancient creatures, magical realm hidden in a cube, and much more. Weapons, inventory items, characters, locations, monsters - everything bears the stamp of the game's incredible personality, as if it were created especially for it.

You'll encounter fascinating characters on your way, and assemble a party that surpasses the best examples of Japanese RPGs in style and characterization. Your companions have layers upon layers of personality, long and complex dialogue trees for you to explore, secrets to discover. And probably the most bizarre and fascinating character is the protagonist himself, The Nameless One, a scarred dead body that gets to live over and over again, no matter how many times he dies; a being without a memory, but with something that torments his mind.

The game has a huge amount of conversations, yet all of them are brilliantly written; it's a joy to climb deeper and deeper into the intricate web of dialogues, exploring more and more of them, seeing how they differ depending on what you have made your character into, uncovering more and more information and secrets. Unlike so many other games, the main storyline here doesn't involve saving the world and defeating the big bad guy. No, what you have to do in this game is find out who you are. And although there will be plenty of hostile creatures on your way, you won't be just killing them on your way to the final boss; you won't be collecting some magical items needed to defeat the great evil; but you'll discover, step by step, your true identity, your true purpose in this world.

The Bad

Even though I love Planescape: Torment, I cannot overlook its limitations as a role-playing game. First of all, it's not very big. Granted, almost every screen you visit is bursting with quality; but the game does not convey the sensation of exploration and traveling as well as some of the more conventionally-minded representatives of its genre. I understand that not every RPG must have an open world; but I was left craving for more locations when I finished the game. It is particularly noticeable during the final part, where you are whisked from one small area to another in an utterly linear fashion, struggling to find a sense of control as you begin to feel it's being taken away from you.

It seems that the creators of Planescape: Torment had a particular fondness for the adventure genre. Much of the game is dedicated to laid-back trips through busy, yet non-threatening locations, and communication with NPCs is noticeably more prominent than combat. I wouldn't mind that at all if the few mandatory hostile areas were more rewarding from the point of view of character development. However, performing side quests yields significantly more experience than fighting, thus diminishing our motivation for seeking out enemies and dealing with them.

The Bottom Line

Planescape: Torment embodies all the fine qualities of an intellectually stimulating, artistic RPG, beautifully entwining is creative content with refined, rich gameplay. Not everyone will enjoy its text-heavy nature and its relatively modest size; but, like the best works of chamber music, it substitutes quantity for quality with resounding success.