grumbel's Planescape: Torment (PC) review

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Tedious and frustrating

Let's start with clarifying what kind of game Planescape Torment is and is not. Looking at the screenshots one might think it's just a usual isometric RPG, but in a lot of ways it really is much closer to a multiple-choice interactive fiction title. The core of the game is essentially a scrolling text log on the bottom part of the screen in which you read dialogs and descriptions, just like one would in an interactive fiction interpreter. Instead of the parser interface Torment however uses simple multiple-choice dialog options. In a few very rare encounters the game does use a little bit of voice acting, but for most part it's all text.

The graphics in Torment are secondary to the text, often they don't even reflect of what is going on, as much of the detail is only conveyed through the text descriptions, not character animation. Never the less, they do actually look quite good. One problem with them however is that they are presented at an odd angle and don't limit themselves to a clean tile grid so that there are often issues with a loss of visibility, as you character might be occluded by a piece of wall or other obstacle. As the viewing area is quite small and zoomed in there is also the problem that one often can't really tell what one is actually looking at, so a roof of a house might look like a walkable area as one is simply to much zoomed in to see the rest of the house. Aside from a few trouble some areas however one gets used to that limitations and there is a fan-made patch to allow higher resolutions and thus a much larger viewing area that should also fix this.

More classical RPG elements are present as well, the fighting is done in realtime with pause and follows AD&D rules. Leveling up and inventory management is present as well. Thanks to gathering a rather large party, one almost never runs out of inventory space, but there is a lot of annoying shifting of inventory items from one character to another that needs to be done to free things up. The game also doesn't provide any differentiation between important quest items and what is random junk, which can make it a little hard to tell what items to collect and what not to bother with. One gets used to that after a while, but a little more clarity would have certainly been welcome.

An unique element of the game is how it deals with character death. As you play as an immortal one, you can not permanently die. Instead when you die, you will revive in a nearby place with your health restored and your items still in your possession. Your party members sadly aren't so lucky. While they can be revived with a simple spell, they do drop their items in the place of death, which can be a little annoying to recollected. Party members also don't have the luck of getting their health restored on revival. This often leads to annoying situations where it's better to leave the party behind and explore with the immortal one alone or kill the immortal one on purpose to not risk a party members death. Resting in the game is also worth a mention, as it flat out doesn't work for the first 25 hours of the game, whenever you click the button you get a "This area is to dangerous" or another excuse, the only way to rest is to go into one of the special places where you can initiate resting via dialog. A few times in the game I also ran into a situation where the respawn point was swarmed by enemies. So each respawn was follow by a quick death. These situations resolve themselves when one is patient enough, as enemies don't get their health refilled between player respawns.

The story essentially centers completely around the immortal player character and his search for his lost memory. Which in my opinion is also the biggest weakness of the game, as it gives very little purpose to the journey. At the beginning you now nothing about your character and the uncovering of your history happens at such a slow pace that it's just not enough as a driving force. So a lot of time in the game ends up being spend with NPC interactions that don't really add anything to the central plot.

The biggest frustration with the game is probably the way the dialog is actually written. It almost always follows the same scheme, you start with "Greetings" followed by a "What can you tell me about {location|character|whatever}" and then just click your way through the choices till you have explored everything and maybe learned something new. Very rarely does the game divert from that path and so getting through all the dialog can get very tedious very fast as you are really just doing a click through everything there is. It doesn't help that the game is filled with tons NPCs and most of them don't really have anything interesting to say. Even those that actually advance the game, often just want you to do some random boring fetch quest. The game does not cleanup it's dialog trees, so you will oftentimes stumble into a bunch of repeated dialog which is also annoying.

The fight in the game also feels flat out broken and unfair at times, especially against the end. A large part had probably to do with me following the recommendation to put lots of points into wisdom, intelligence and charm, but either way, it turned the fighting into a bunch of Benny Hill style chase sequences with a lot of dieing and respawning.

Overall the game was a rather large disappointment for me. It's often lauded at one of the best stories in games ever, but I found it to be rather aweful in actual execution. The world of the game is somewhat interesting and the core plot has a few interesting aspects to it, but it's nothing all to special compared to a random Final Fantasy game. The story however just completely fails is in actually making the player engaged. There is way to much time where you are just wandering around playing postman for some random NPC guy. Very few of the stuff you do ever adds anything meaningful to the overall story and even 20h in you are essentially still as clueless about your characters origins as you where at the start. There is never an urge to actually do something, to solve a problem or any of that sort, everything you do you kind of just do because there is nothing else to do, not because you actually care. And those who expect some kind of big reveal at the end will be disappointed, as there is essentially none. You do learn a little more, but not much, fight the final boss and after a very short cutscene it's already over. That the fighting became a complete chore at the end certainly didn't help my lack of enjoyment of the game, but the game already was way to tedious long before that. There never where characters or places I cared about in the game or really anything of long term interest, just a tedious hunt for the next NPC guy that would advance the story an inch and far to much of that turned out to be essentially irrelevant.

At the end of the day, this was easily one of the worst gaming experience I have had in a while, didn't help that it took 35h to complete the game.

4 Comments
Edited by Kidavenger
Posted by Grumbel

@kidavenger: Don't get me wrong, I quite like what Torment tries to do, I just really don't like how it's actually implemented. Garshasp is by no means a perfect game, it's a pretty broken one, but unlike Torment, I managed to derive some enjoyment out of it. If Torment would have been a plain point&click adventure, visual novel or interactive fiction my rating might have looked quite different, but as RPG I just found it way to tedious.

Posted by TheDudeOfGaming

So Grashasp is better than Torment? Now I know you're trolling. But just in case you're serious, your opinion is wrong sir.

Posted by Grumbel

@thedudeofgaming: That completely depends on what kind of measurement stick you put on it. As said, from a pure mindless fun level, Grashasp was better, I actually enjoyed playing it despite all the brokenness. Torment on the other side is a game I didn't enjoy playing, thus the rating. I am not giving out 3+ stars for games I didn't enjoy.

Yes, Torment is much longer, the story is much better and so on. No argument there. But I am not giving out points for ambition unless that ambition actually translates into something engaging. And Torment failed for me at that. The fight system turned everything into Benny Hill style chase sequences and a lot of respawning and the story was in large part delivered through infodumps and far to little through purposeful interactions with the world. In retrospect, the story sure looks nice, but it never felt all that interesting when actually playing the game, as the pacing was way off.

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