Planescape: Torment - Review

An Epic of Otherworldly Proportions

By: Rob Hamilton

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 4
   Interface 5
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 6
   Plot 10
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Hard
   Time to Complete

20-40 hours


Title Screen

   While many computer RPGs based directly on Dungeons and Dragons have been created, most turn out terrible as they adapt a system designed for pen and paper roleplaying to a computer screen. Planescape: Torment is definitely not one of those games. Black Isle Studios did a great job of capturing the feel of the planes--their grandeur and variety, something previously only experienced by players of the Planescape AD&D campaign setting.

   Though Torment's battle system is in fact based on D&D, it isn't clumsy like many older D&D-based computer RPGs. In some of those, every individual action happened in order, causing battles to take forever as players initiated attack after attack after attack.. most of which missed. It's still the case that a lot of attacks miss (true to D&D, after all), but in Torment, the attacks happen much faster. You merely select which enemy your character or characters start attacking, and a limited AI has them keep doing it on their own. A round of combat that could take a minute on paper can go by on a second in Planescape. Other aspects of character development are also exactly like D&D--such as experience levels, magic spells, and such. Experience is well-balanced, as most of it comes from successfully completing events, not from killing monsters. Magic is a bit clumsy, admittedly, which is where the Battle System loses points. There are a number of spells that have very little use, including several with a range that is larger than the computer's field of vision.

   Torment's interface certainly isn't outstanding, but it more than fits the purpose. As mentioned, experience works as in D&D. An enormous percentage of experience points gained in Torment come from completing small quests, convincing non-player characters to do things through dialogue, and advancing the plot, rather than merely by killing monsters. Indeed, dialogue with NPCs is more detailed in Torment than in almost any other game yet. Speech options are based on Intelligence and Wisdom, and reactions to what you say are based on Charisma, fully incorporating those ability scores in ways some games have failed to do. One notable downside is the so-called "slowdown bug," in which the game slows down for no apparent reason. This is more common when there are a lot of characters and/or monsters on the screen, but can happen at any time inexplicably. It can be temporarily fixed by saving, quitting the game, and loading back up again, but this won't prevent the problem from rising up again.

Some Planescape
Some Planescape  

   Torment's sound is often more ambient noise than actual music, in many places. The few pieces of music in the game fit the mood very well, and evoke emotions in the player very well, but they are just that--few. Character speech is also used effectively. Far from everything any character says is spoken, but at times voices (including Michael T. Weiss from The Pretender, and Mitch Pileggi of the X-Files) accompany the text on the screen, particularly at important plot points. Characters also say things out loud when you tell them to perform certain actions, though that isn't particularly remarkable.

   Using the Baldur's Gate engine for the battle system and general interface, Planescape doesn't have much in the way of originality as far as gameplay itself is concerned. However, it has a uniqueness in other areas that more than makes up for that. Very few other games have openings comparable to Torment's. You wake up... on a cold, stone slab, in a Mortuary... with amnesia Surrounded by zombie attendants and a chattering floating skull (truly only possible with very imaginative designers), your only knowledge of your past life comes from the strange tattoos that cover your tattered body. To elaborate more would spoil the game, but be assured that its intrigue continues throughout.

   The majesty and mystery of the setting leaves countless options open for planeswalking adventures. Though Torment uses the setting very well, doing things that couldn't possibly be accomplished anywhere else, it concentrates on character development a surprising amount. Indeed it must; because the character is amnesiac, the very premise of the game is, in no small part, that he must learn of his past. The plot's intricacy rivals such famous titles as Xenogears, and Suikoden II, with many characters following their own agendas, some of which aren't revealed until the very end.

...and some Torment
..and some Torment  

   The main character can freely switch back and forth between the classes of Fighter, Thief, and Mage. In addition to that, your actions can reflect any of the nine major alignments of D&D: Lawful good, Lawful Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Good, True Neutral, Neutral Evil, Chaotic Good, Chaotic Neutral, or Chaotic Evil. There are an enormous number of ways you can configure your character to go through the game, doing different things each time. Almost every puzzle can be solved in multiple ways. Certainly the game can be played two or three times before becoming repetitive, perhaps more.

Capturing the mood of the planes is a difficult thing. Strange sights and sounds accost you at every turn, and you can be sure things are not as they seem. The imagery contained in Torment reflects this excellently. In the city of Sigil, devils walk nonchalantly among people who don't give even give them a second glance, and architecture either towers above... or topples to the ground. Either way, it looks wonderful. The occasional movie sequences range from pleasing to breathtaking, particularly the opening sequence, which very subtly hints at plot elements not encountered until later.

The precise difficulty of this game is hard to measure. The game can be completed without a huge amount of effort, but to hit all the major plot points, and get the "good" ending, really takes skill and intuition. If your character isn't wise enough, for example, you can get a completely different ending, which has its own merits. The time to complete the game obviously depends on how you play and how many side-quests you choose to complete, but should take most people between 20 and 40 hours.

The shop of Pestle and Kilnn
The shop of Pestle and Kilnn  

While many of the individual parts of this game are merely average, the whole comes together to create a wonderful experience. The game highlights its good points to such a degree that the average points can easily be ignored. In spite of it being based on an existing setting and using an engine from another game, Interplay and Black Isle Studios have truly created a unique experience in Planescape: Torment, and I would definitely recommend it for anyone with a decent PC.

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