Written by  :  Kit Simmons (264)
Written on  :  Mar 18, 2008
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars

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I don't think we're in Faerûn anymore, Morte ...

The Good

Amnesia in today's role-playing games has become little more than an over-used cliché to create blank characters on which players can project whichever personality they wish, but which nonetheless have a past that's relevant to quests and NPCs. Off of the top of my head I can name only two RPGs in which the cliché works as a plot element, one being Knights of the Old Republic, the other Planescape: Torment. Planescape's major feat is combining the time-honoured AD&D rules with a setting and characters that are amazingly original and deep. Players are presented with a world that appears to the main character as alien as it must have appeared to lovers of classic high fantasy when they first opened the Dungeons & Dragons Planescape campaign box.

Waking up on a slab in a gigantic mortuary, players are hit with some rather surprising facts about their existence: one, they were dead; two, they can't be too sure whether or not they still are; three, their memories of what brought them there are gone and four, apparently somewhere along the way they befriended a floating skull who pleasurably gives the hero what little information he is to be provided with to start his quest. The macabre miracles don't stop there because not only must the walking corpse flee the mortuary run by a slightly disconcerting group of people nourishing a philosophical death wish, upon stepping out into the streets the nameless hero, appropriately named Nameless One for the entire game, discovers that he is in Sigil, the City of Doors and easily the most unusual place in the entire AD&D multiverse. Being the hub of a cosmological wheel on which all possible worlds in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons universe are located in the form of dimensional planes, Sigil appears to possess the inherent trait of randomly opening magical doors to said worlds and attracting its inhabitants. The potential for literally outlandish characters which bring a plethora of personalities, backgrounds and quests to Torment's rich story is nigh unlimited and used to almost full effect by the creators.

Everyday little wonders can be found at every corner and its a credit to the game's sheer narrative power that the vast majority of odd episodes play out almost entirely as text box descriptions. Dialogue in Torment is elaborate and incredibly well-written; at the time of its release it easily beat the until then wordiest RPG, Baldur's Gate. The game's strong focus on personalities and intellectual problems very elegantly steps in the way of this becoming a chore. Battles play an inferior role in Torment and can often be evaded altogether using the game's equally developed and elaborate dialogue options. In short: Planescape is one of the wordiest games ever, waking memories of old Infocom text adventures which captivated gamers' imaginations like good fantasy novels do. Torment achieves exactly that.

Torment's main cast is one of the strongest and most colourful in any RPG created to date. Whoever thought Final Fantasy holds the monopoly on quirky and unusual party members needs to play this game. Where else does an undead hero team up with the already mention floating, Billingsgate-talking skull who equips dentures like weapons, a half-demon street thief, an honour-bound mystical warrior, a succubus and ex-proprietor of a platonic brothel, a robot looking like a walking TV set, an eternally burning arsonist wizard or an animated suit of armour?

Based on the Infinity Engine already used in the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series, Torment's graphics are presented in Black Isle's standard isometric view. Running at a resolution of 640x480, the game's detail level benefits from larger onscreen sprites and a closer look at the morbid scenarios. Thanks to a freely placeable actions menu that can be displayed and hidden with a right-click, the screen layout feels a little less cramped than in Baldur's Gate and allows for a literally broader view of the world. Torment's music is appropriately odd, mixing minimalist and experimental tunes with mysterious melodies just unusual enough to never let players forget that while they're still playing a fantasy game, a classic AD&D campaign this ain't!

The Bad

For players with the right mindset Torment is an almost perfect RPG experience and its shortcomings are mostly matters of personal taste. Unfortunately, its greatest asset, the captivating text descriptions and dialogue, make the game inaccessible for casual gamers or those who don't feel like wrapping their minds around an exceedingly fantastic and macabre world. The game decidedly (and rightly!) closes the door in the face of people who are unwilling to read the equivalent of a fully-fledged fantasy novel onscreen.

The graphics, while bigger and clearer than in other Baldur's Gate-related titles, restrict a larger view of the scenarios by limiting the game to a single resolution, 640x480 - pretty low by today's standards, considering that unlike Baldur's Gate even the action panel to control characters can be freely moved and hidden when desired. In addition, character models, although detailed and well animated, are static in terms of design. Almost no equippable item changes anything about the models onscreen appearance.

AD&D fans will also miss the possibility of building a custom party of adventurers. As versatile as Torment is in terms of scenario, it is far more linear than most other AD&D game when it comes to character development and customisation. Only the main hero can equip different weapon classes based on his chosen profession and it isn't possible to choose from all professions the AD&D rules have to offer. The Nameless One can be either a fighter, wizard or thief, but always looks like a buff warrior type even if his stats and chosen profession say otherwise.

Exploring Sigil and its inhabitants is one of the greatest joys I've ever had in an RPG. It is almost a pity that after three fourths of the game players are ripped out of the by then familiar surroundings. While the game builds to a climax they are forced to travel to other, significantly smaller and more linear planar worlds.

The Bottom Line

Planescape: Torment is one of the most unusual, original and rewarding RPG experiences to date. It requires and tries players' patience and imagination but repays them many times over if they are up to the task. The game exists and entertains through its deep and lyrical understructure, making its lack of character customisation excusable. All seasoned gamers looking for a fantasy tale far, far away from the genre's stereotypical elves, dwarfs and humans vs. orcs stories must play this game.