Short Version: It’s a rough and overwhelming start, but it’s get very good over time. If you don’t mind reading a LOOOOOOOT of text, then you’ll love how rich the world building is in this game. Believe me, you’ll learn to love this game, even if the combat suck ass.
Long Version: Despite how much I love fantasy-themed stuff, I’ve never really branched out beyond The Elder Scrolls series and a few select others. Most of all the other fantasy-themed works, be it in video game, written or film form, feel exactly the same to me and don’t do enough to stick out from the rest. Even then, the one thing that really pulls me in about all of them is how they build their worlds. Fantasy themed worlds, at least to me, have been less about the story and more about everything else surrounding it. This is something that Torment: Tides of Numenera does very well, to the point where I would rather read a book about it, rather than play a game, since that’s the part that falls short for me.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is also playfully known as “the greatest book you’ll ever play.” This is due in part to the overwhelming amount of text that the game presents throughout the whole thing. It can be very overwhelming at first, but soon you’ll realize that it will be the key propelling you forward through the campaign. Literally every little thing that happens in the game is described in massive detail. From someone’s appearance to even the smell of certain rooms, you’ll always have an opportunity to enrich yourself in the great descriptions and almost poetic writing of the text boxes. Because reading is such a massive part of the game, I would’ve appreciated a bigger space to read, or at least bigger text. Since I was playing this on PS4 with a fair distance away from the TV, I always had to hunch over and look closer to be able to read the relatively small text primarily found in the lower third of the screen. Since reading is so important, I wouldn’t have minded an option where I could just have larger text that fills the entire screen.
Speaking of the interface, I did allude to the point that I didn’t really enjoy the more visual parts of this game before, so let me explain. This is mostly due to the generic feeling that I talked about in the beginning. Even though the descriptions for everything are so rich, the actual things that you look at in the environment are a lot less impressive. Because everything is seen from an isometric viewpoint, you can never really get the full picture of what you’re looking at, hence the hyper specific descriptions. Usually, this way of writing is implemented because this was necessary when reading a fantasy book (or any book, for that matter) or playing Dungeons & Dragons, but it also makes sense here. This isn’t a fully 3D rendered first/third-person game like Skyrim or The Witcher, so Torment kind of leans on its text to make up for the relatively boring look of all the NPCs. Graphically, it’s fine; it’s just the art direction that’s not grabbing me.
One great example was during a time that I had to negotiate with some giant digging creatures underground that needed to move somewhere else, or else the buildings in the surface would sink. Their description was so intriguing, but in the actual game, it just looks like some big grey dude that stands around. I would’ve liked everything that it presented in the text to actually be reflected in the game in some way. It’s kind of like watching a movie where everything is described for you, which is problematic for a visual medium. I’d rather have games like these show rather than tell, but Torment tells everything and shows very little that fits that. Having the audience fill the gaps with their imaginations can leave us disappointed if whatever we have in our minds is a lot more heightened than what’s actually there.
This feeling translated to the menus as well. Whenever you pause to check your objectives, stats or anything else, you are met with a cannonball of information. Every time I come into these menus, I never know where to look because of how cluttered with stuff the menus always are. If you’re on PC, I guess it’s easier to just click on what you want with the mouse, but on PS4, you need to find what button you’re highlighting, then trudge your way to where you need to be. Some options are tied to buttons on the controller, like the touch pad, so it’s difficult to remember all of these things, on top of the menus feeling a little clunky and difficult to use. If this bothers you enough, I suggest going for the PC version, just to facilitate the process through the mouse. You thought Operation Abyss had too much going on in the menus? Think again.
After you’re done reading and looking at menus, you are free to explore the world, but be sure that you talk and do everything possible in the area you are in, because the loading screens (at least in the PS4 version) are very long. Even when you are going into small rooms with barely anything in them, it takes forever for the loading bar to reach 100%. It’s even worse when you realize that you can’t really do much in that small room, so you go back outside and get another loading screen that’s sometimes even longer than before. It’s frustrating and makes me wonder if all the other versions have this same problem.
Another problem that I was intending to point out was the frame rate, which was very inconsistent starting out. There were many moments where completely empty rooms ran at 60 FPS, but the moment one person appeared on screen, it would dip to very low levels. However, these problems slowly got fixed as more updates got rolled out. It’s a lot more stable now, so I recommend that whoever purchases this game makes sure to update the game to the latest version. Unfortunately, one thing that I don’t think any update could fix is the combat.
For the most part, I like the whole game alright, but if there’s one particular thing that I simply dislike is how the fighting works. Aside from the fact that there’s barely any of it to begin with, when you actually get to it, it’s not that enjoyable. It’s pretty slow and everything you do takes forever. This gets worse over time when you get a full party and more than a handful of enemies to handle all at once; and of course, some frame rate issues pop up here as well. Since you can’t fast forward through everyone’s turn, you have to sit there for the whole thing. Another potentially fixable problem is that you can try and manipulate your stats to be more powerful so the fights can end faster, but since most of the game is conversations and convincing people to do stuff, you’ll probably be better off upgrading speech-related stats, leaving you vulnerable to enemies. On the bright side, there are very few story-related fights that are actually required, so you won’t suffer too much if you prepare ahead of time. To summarize, the combat feels like more of an afterthought and is definitely not one of the game’s selling points.
Overall, I think Torment: Tides of Numenera is a game that you learn to love over time. It’s not bad at all, but it certainly lacks in a few details that stop it from being great. It gives you a ton to think about up front, but you’ll eventually manage and want to see the story through to the end. It’s dialogue and flavor text is filled with so much richness that you’ll want to explore every single dialogue choice. Even though the text, combined with your imagination, might create a prettier picture than what’s actually there, it is still a really fun time that made me wish for more, particularly in book form. There is definitely a lot that can be done to make the actual gameplay more accessible, so if there were any sequels planned, I would love to see some improvements in place. If you’re into fantasy stuff, it’s pretty likely that’s you’ll have a good time reading/playing this.
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