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At the start of the campaign, you learn that you're one of the many castoffs of the Changing God, and that a creature called the Sorrow is hunting your kind. Your only hope against the creature is something called the Resonance Chamber, which unfortunately is broken and needs to be repaired. So your goal during the campaign is to find somebody who can fix the chamber so you can save yourself and your kind.
Unfortunately, there isn't a lot to the main questline. Each time you find somebody who knows something about the Resonance Chamber, they just send you to somebody else, and so you spend the entire campaign jumping through hoops without accomplishing anything. However, as a byproduct of this, you visit a few of the major landmarks in the world, where you meet lots of people with lots of quests. And these quests tend to give you threads of information about the Changing God, the Resonance Chamber, and the Sorrow, so when you reach the final confrontation at the end of the campaign, you know what's going on and what's at stake.
My least favorite kind of campaign is the side quest campaign, which is what Tides provides. I'm self-centered, so I want my quests to be about me or my companions, or at least get me closer to my goals. The more I have to complete odd jobs for random people, the less involved I become -- and the Tides campaign has odd jobs aplenty.
Tides also has a problem with telegraphing its ending. From about the halfway point on, I had a pretty good idea about how the final confrontation was going to go, and it wasn't anything that I really cared about. There isn't a bad guy who's trying to destroy the world, or who wants to kill your family, or who is in league with demons. There's just something that needs to be done, and you're the most capable of doing it. In other words, the campaign is far more intellectual than emotional, and emotional works better for me.
Luckily, the writing in the campaign is excellent. You don't meet any cardboard characters who are simply quest-giving billboards. All of the characters have depth, and if you don't understand their motivations right away, you usually learn them over time. The writers do an impressive job of feeding you snippets of information in unlikely places, where you see situations from different perspectives, or peel back layers from people to learn why they're doing the things they do, so that everything comes together nicely by the end.
As an example of the quality of the writing, in the first major area of the game you can rescue a 12-year-old girl. If you want, you can immediately sell her into slavery or shuttle her off to a random family, but since I was playing a paladin-ish character, I wanted to get her back to her parents. The problem with this is it meant I had to invite her into my party, where she was no help whatsoever. So I spent a lot of time early in the game grumbling about the party slot she was wasting. But the longer I kept her with me the more useful she became (she's the only companion who can heal), and the more I liked her -- and so when I finally found a way to send her home, I didn't want to do it at all. I've never had a turnaround in feelings like that for a companion before -- most companions I can swap in or out and not really care -- and the shift impressed me.
There is also a subtle quality to the writing. Because very little of the text is voice acted, the writers were able to make small changes here and there to reflect things you've done or how people feel about you. The companion interjections also flow better than I've seen in other games. Instead of companions just interjecting a line that everybody else ignores, the person you're talking to responds to the dialogue and it becomes a part of the conversation. I also liked how you're able to repeat questions to people, and instead of the person spewing out the same response as before, they give you a shorter, summarized response so it's easier to review important topics.
Finally, just like in Planescape: Torment before it, the campaign in Tides is way more about dialogue than it is about combat. There is very little combat in the game -- to the point where I started picking fights just to try it out -- and almost all of it can be avoided. So if you buy role-playing games to kill things and look for great equipment, then Tides might be more neap than spring for you. Er, that is, you might want to look elsewhere.
I spent roughly 40 hours playing Tides of Numenera, and it worked pretty well for me. The engine is polished, the load and save times are pretty fast, and while I experienced a handful of random crash bugs, nothing serious happened, which isn't bad for a game that hadn't seen a patch yet when I played it.
About the worst thing I can say about the technical side of Tides is that the game doesn't allow you to create any sort of profile for the character you're playing. So all auto-saves and quick-saves get saved to the same place, which can cause problems if you have multiple people playing the game, or if you're playing multiple games yourself. It's surprising to me how many games today have unfriendly save systems, when a better one probably wouldn't be much more work.
Overall, I enjoyed Torment: Tides of Numenera, but I didn't love it. It's a solid game with excellent writing and lots of polish, but I found its campaign to be a little on the dry side. It doesn't include a bad guy that you really want to defeat, or anything else to keep you playing when you really should be going to sleep. There are just lots of quests to do because they're there.
I'm also skeptical about the game's replay value, despite what inXile says on their web site. From what I saw, your choices have consequences -- but only locally, and nothing changes the main storyline. So one playthrough is likely to be much like another. Of course, I only earned 42% of the Steam achievements, so maybe there's a lot of stuff that I missed.
Tides also has a lot of text to read through, which might be a positive or a negative depending on what you're looking for. But my guess is, if you like interacting with characters and objects more than fighting enemies, or if you enjoyed Planescape: Torment, then Tides is likely to be a worthwhile game for you to try out.
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