Torment: Tides of Numenera Previews

Now that an early build for the title is available for purchase on Steam Early Access, it seems prudent to round up a number of previews for Torment: Tides of Numenera, not only to report on the title's progress but also to advise potential buyers on whether they should spend money on it so early.

The Escapist calls the beta "a technical mess" but is otherwise positive:

At least in its current state, the interface keeps your relationship to the Tides opaque. Dialogue options don't tell you which Tide they will pull you towards, and your character sheet has no indication of which Tides you embody most strongly. There is an ally character you can visit from time to time to get a sort of alignment check-up, but the information is not available on the fly. If this remains the case in the final game, I'm not quite sure how I feel about it yet. On one hand, I do like the idea of simply making the choice I want to make, rather than looking for "the Red one" or "the Silver one", and seeing where the chips fall. On the other, such indicators can sometimes lend you a clearer idea of what certain dialogue options are actually implying, which can be a useful roleplaying tool.

Considering inXile made Wasteland 2, a fantastic, turn-based tactical RPG, I had high hopes for the turn-based, tactical combat in Torment. At this stage, it feels more than a bit messy and annoying, but a large part of that came from my inability to equip items and the various bugs that cropped up. The silver lining is that, in true Planescape: Torment fashion, combat is almost always avoidable through diplomacy and clever skill use. There are also clear efforts being made to give non-combat characters something besides fighting to do in encounters (which are called "crises", instead of battles, to emphasize this point, and sometimes don't involve fighting at all), such as activating arcane devices to split the enemy party off from their reinforcements. But I spent so much time using my silver tongue to sidestep encounters before they got started that I didn't have a lot of opportunities to see this in action.

One of my favorite elements was the introduction of Meres - choose-your-own-adventure-style asides that allow Torment to tell "big budget" story moments through text and still images that wouldn't be possible to portray in-engine without a BioWare-sized war chest. They take your skills into account, and allow for a variety of outcomes and interesting moral choices. We saw a bit of this in Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity, but it was frankly quite underutilized. Torment takes the idea a step further, and gives you more of these scenarios to bite down on.

PC Invasion:

Planescape: Torment was a title in which mandatory battles were a rarity. This is something which Tides of Numenera also appears to have taken to heart as a design doctrine. During those opening six hours or so with the beta, I engaged in a grand total of two mandatory fights (and one of those was a tutorial during character creation).

Several character abilities were not yet even present in this beta release, and combat systems and balance are unlikely to be final. Nonetheless, an early fight in the Reef (the outskirts of Sagus Cliffs) had some encouraging aspects to its design. With the right skills, it was possible to prevent the foes from healing, make use of multiple points in the environment (for buffs or damage), and even, potentially, just teleport away and make a run for it. The usual, turn-based (hit a guy with my current weapon) option was there too (and encompasses a flanking system), but there was a clear attempt to provide other, more thoughtful options.

Combat and dialogue-prompted actions alike draw from your character's Might/Speed/Intellect pools. Attempting to heave open a hatch would check against Might, while an effort to steal something from a merchant would test against Speed. Most of the speech-related checks (persuasion, intimidation and so on) seemed to use Intellect. Each action has a base cost and estimated level of success (challenging, moderate, easy etc) and can be boosted a step further by 'ňúspending' some of your pool.

Ultimately, this will leave you (and any companions you may have with you) short of each ability and in need of rest to top the pools back up. This, though, advances time. And time is something you may not always have in great supply for Torment's quests.

For those who remember the amazing companions from Planescape: Torment -- Falls From Grace, Morte, Ignus and the others -- and the extension to story they brought to the game, rest assured that there is more of that coming in Torment: Tides of Numenera. The companions, at least so far, are fascinating, each with his or her own story to discover and motives to discern. They argue and jibe and joke with one another. They offer advice and direction and even heckle decisions made. The writing for each rivals that of the main story itself.

And this is the beauty of a game like Torment: Tides of Numenera -- it is a story slowly told, exquisitely revealed over time. I found that I needed to force myself slow down and to temper the impatience I felt to get on with it already!. I needed to remind myself that storytelling of this ilk is a remnant of another era in RPGs, one that, at the time anyway, was like opening portals to new worlds, worlds that I wanted to explore and devour, though with painstaking slowness, not with the speed and over-reliance on action combat that many embody today.

Are there issues with this beta presentation? Of course there are. I ran into more than a few bugs and I found the "first pass" UI to be intrusive and often times frustrating as the text I wanted to read would disappear requiring scrolling to read. As mentioned earlier as well, there will be many, many who think that they want to play a game like T:ToN who will be unsatisfied with the way the story painstakingly unfolds or who will miss the D20 dice rolls from more traditional DnD games.

Finally, Eurogamer has half an hour of gameplay footage with commentary from creative lead Colin McComb: