Advice From Torment: Tides of Numenera

Killscreen's Chris Breault wrote an article on the Torment: Tides of Numenera beta after spending a number of hours on it. Instead of going for the usual preview format, though, he decided to talk about the advice characters in the beta gave to his Last Castoff, although he mostly uses it as a launching pad to discuss the game's writing and mechanics. Either way, it's an interesting approach, and it's to Breault's credit that I actually found the article very enjoyable rather than pretentious.

Here's a couple of snippets that were of particular interest to me (I can't recommend the full piece enough, however):

(You can laugh, but the old saying is undeniably true: the tongue that wields the words is deadlier than the hand that wields the sword.)

The old saying (the pen is mightier than the sword) is much snappier than this one, and it's troubling to see the citizens of the Ninth World fattening up our truisms with their own alliteration. This came from Dhama, one of the grizzled psychics in the Fifth Eye, a bar cut from the same cloth as the Smoldering Corpse.

He's not wrong. Intellect towered over the game's other stats in my playthrough. The Torment beta isn't balanced yet, but the original Planescape gave players little incentive to build a character for anything but conversation. It's hard to tell before release whether developer InXile sees that as something to emulate or correct.

(When one stands at the utmost peak of the highest mountain, an advance is no better than a retreat: all change is decline.)

Spoken by a rotten old alien brain in a flashback told Choose Your Own Adventure-style. (Although they're becoming a cliché in Kickstarter RPGs, Torment's CYOA segments punch above their weight.) This advice demonstrates a commendable bias for inaction, which is one of the performance evaluation metrics at my dream job. But in the game, it's also a laudable example of purposeful bad advice: the brain wants to delay you, not advise you. As you waste time listening to its philosophy, pondering all the (boring bits,) it marshals its strength to attack.

It's true that the Numenera setting can feel indulgent, inclined to let too many far-flung concepts share the stage at once. But its shifting rules and narrative frames give the Torment writers more room to misdirect and disorient their players. It's exhilarating to watch a game lie with conviction (as it does again later, in another note of false authority that I shouldn't spoil), leaving players to work their own way to the truth. Of all the promising and exasperating signs of the Torment beta, this narrative courage stands out as the best reason to return.