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Planescape: Torment (Windows)

89
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.2
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (169089)
Written on  :  Jul 25, 2001
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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Summary

Here I stand in awe: RPG perfection has been achieved

The Good

Help me, fellow RPG fans. I want to write a review of Planescape: Torment, and I have a question: where do I begin?..

What makes this game so great? Many, many things, but let's start with one: an original, interesting idea goes together with an absolutely brilliant execution. Planescape: Torment strikes a perfect balance between the artistic, creative side of video games (style, setting, writing, etc.), and the actual gameplay. How many games you know have good gameplay but are still dull because they aren't telling you anything new or exciting; how many games, on the contrary, have a great concept but are poor as games?

That's just the thing about Planescape: Torment: it's certainly "artsy", it screams originality, but - as opposed to too many other games with similar premises - it is a fantastic RPG, regardless of its artistic side. 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 experience.

This game is magnificent as a concept and as a game in general, both technically and spiritually. No matter which aspect of it you analyze, you'll come to the same result: perfection. The role-playing system of the game is remarkably rich and flexible, coming close to the amazing open-ended gameplay of Fallout. You shape your character the way you like. The choices go much deeper then simply selecting a dialogue option; they are integrated into the gameplay and the story line 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.

On a technical level, all those choices appear in a form of quests and refined character customization. There are many, many 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 is perhaps not huge, but it surely takes time to explore, and instead of empty places and empty people that appear in so many games, you'll find more and more fascinating layers of the game's world.

The character customization is extremely deep and refined; it affects the gameplay and the story much more than in usual AD&D games (even more than in Baldur's Gate series). 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 stats 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 story line. Upgrading your character when leveling up will not only make him stronger or quicker; it will change your character 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.

Battles in the game are handled via the Infinity engine, which in my opinion is the best RPG combat engine ever created. People enjoyed playing Icewind Dale, a game with almost no story, extreme linearity, and simplistic role-playing; it was saved by its combat engine, the same one that is used here. You don't like hack-and-slash, yet you find turn-based combat too slow and tedious? I have one answer: Infinity engine. Fast-paced, fluent battles with seemingly real-time movement and action, yet with a strategic depth that allows everything you could do in turn-based battles. Once again: perfect.

Now to the "artistic" side of the game. Frankly, it is hard to decide what is greater in Planescape: Torment: its gameplay or its artistic aspect The game has an absolutely unique style. It is impossible to imitate. The world of Planescape: Torment is its world only, period. You won't encounter something like this in any other game. Somehow, it fits into a medieval fantasy setting - but only because it has no guns, space ships, robots, or radioactivity. But what exactly is medieval in it? 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...

In the world of Planescape: Torment, everything is unique, nothing is like what you've seen before: weapons, inventory items, characters, locations, monsters - everything bears the stamp of the game's incredible personality, everything was created especially for it. The theme of death is frequent, so that at times it resembles a horror game, but without any cheap effects, just through the power of its personality.

You'll encounter fascinating characters on your way, and assemble a party that surpass the best examples of Japanese RPGs in style and characterization. The intelligent, albeit talkative floating skull Morte; Anne, a sexy thief with a tail and attitude; Fall-from-Grace, an angel-like innocent beauty who runs a brothel... Those people are not just bizarre, not just stylish. They all have layers upon layers of personality, dialogue lines for you to explore, secrets to discover. And probably the most bizarre and fascinating character is the protagonist, 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 so many conversations, so many dialogue lines, yet all of them are of highest quality, 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, more secrets, more wisdom...

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 to 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 that are needed to defeat the great evil; but you'll discover, step by step, your true identity, your true purpose in this world. This is what the game is about.

Planescape: Torment has great atmosphere. The unique setting is what makes it come to life, but let's not forget graphics and music. The game is probably the finest example of 2D isometric graphics, a style that was a template for RPGs in the late nineties. Characters and backgrounds are highly detailed. And the music, just like the game itself, is far removed from any stereotypes. It is strange and mystical, but in such a way that it accompanies the game faithfully without drawing too much attention to itself.

The Bad

We all have different preferences and a single game cannot fulfill them all, because many of them are contradictory. So in this vague and too-metaphysical sense, Planescape: Torment is not "perfect". There are people who don't like reading text in games. There are people who don't enjoy the kind of meticulous, complex role-playing it offers.

But to me personally, this game is perfect, and with my best efforts, I can't find anything I don't like in it. It's as simple as that.

The Bottom Line

A RPG that is open-ended, flexible, and yet extremely story-driven; inventive and deeply satisfying gameplay-wise; brilliantly written; full of immense creativity, depth, and artistic power - the words of praise won't ever stop when I begin to talk about Planescape: Torment. It has no equals in my eyes, and it's one of those rare wonders that the video game industry managed to produce despite itself - an intellectual delight, a work of art, and yet an immensely entertaining game.

Planescape: Torment. I will always remain your faithful, zealous admirer. I stand in awe of you, and I hope you can hear the thunderous applause - which, I'm sure, does not belong to me alone.