This is the stuff legends are made of. Planescape Torment is one of the most legendary games ever released. Created by one of the most skilled teams in the world by the now-defunct Black Isle Studios it offers a bleak view of the future in a distant world that’s somehow relatable. Torment focuses on characters and their motivations extensively, just like it focuses on you, the choices you make and the impact those choices will have on the world. Torment might be a twenty-year-old game but it still has something to say.
The gameplay is a bit strange to wrap your head around, Torment is an isometric RPG meaning it has the camera centered in a top-down perspective that allows you to control and monitor your party. This camera setup allows you to have greater flexibility in terms of monitoring the battlefield for threats and planning out your next move. However, the control scheme feels antiquated compared to the best games of the modern era in the same genre. Dragon Age Origins on PC, Divinity Original Sin and its sequel along with Pillars of Eternity have all iterated upon and revolutionized the genre from a gameplay and control scheme standpoint. Torment’s combat feels clunky as an end result, especially on a controller, but it’s still functional enough to get you through encounters.
How much time you spend in combat depends entirely on your luck, combat encounters are random, determined by a behind the scenes dice roll. Maybe every few feet you get into a fight, maybe you don’t end up in combat for hours. The combat itself aside from control issues can be extremely challenging, especially in the early levels before you have a party or any good gear. Take constant advantage of the environment around you, positioning and tactical pausing to be able to function efficiently and gain victory. The combat, however, can be frustrating because of those dice rolls, I can’t tell you how many times I was standing right in front of an enemy and missing attack after attack because the dice decide my attack roll wasn’t high enough. Your companions can also make things difficult because instead of taking position around enemies reasonably, they have a tendency to bump into each other and cause confusion. You can even get stuck in place when you’re surrounded by a large group of enemies, as seen below.
Graphically the game shows its age because it is 20 years old even with updates to the graphical style. However, the game is absolutely beautiful because of the strength of its art style. Dated looking or not, the art of Torment is absolutely striking and needs to be seen to be believed. Fantasy is a core part of Torment, as is a grimdark and oppressive nature that seamlessly blends into almost every part of the world. The environments themselves are part of the storytelling and they paint a beautifully bleak picture of the world you’re inhabiting and your place in it.
Torment is littered with side content and additional things to do. Companion quests, optional dialogue trees, exploration that takes you so far off the beaten path you almost wonder how you got to wherever you ended up. However, none of it feels forced, every bit of additional content feels perfectly placed and balanced. If you don’t take advantage of it, it’s not the end of the world, but if you do, you get a deeper understanding of your character and their place in the world. You get a deeper understanding of your companions and why they follow you, what they’re looking for in life and how they feel like you can help them. The side content is optional, but I’d say it’s something that shouldn’t be missed
Torment’s story is still one of the best in gaming twenty years after its release. I won’t go into spoilers but it really is a character study and an introspective look at the world. Questions like “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” are commonplace both in gaming and in real life but it’s the answers we get to those questions that make them so spectacular. The game tackles them in unconventional ways that will constantly shock and surprise the gamer in ways they may never have expected possible. Your companion characters especially will be a constant source of information and excitement for you. There’s one character in particular, a succubus that is a virgin and decides not to have sex because she wants to save herself for someone she loves. Torment is a masterclass in taking typical tropes and ideas and turning them completely on their heads while still making them enticing.
Torment has an absolute wealth of dialogue. If you don’t like not only reading, but thinking about what you just read and the meaning of what you just read, this isn’t the game for you. You’ll read hundreds, if not thousands of dialogue lines depending on your playstyle and how quickly you try and barrel through the story. If you take your time like I did and exhaust dialogue options, you’ll be spending quite a lot of time in menus. There is voice acting and it is absolutely top notch, but it’s unfortunately scarce at certain intervals in the game. Some of the best bits of the game come when you’ve been standing around for a while not doing anything, some of your companions will verbally urge you to continue on. I was unable to catch footage of it but it’s something you should look out for in your playthrough, you’ll get a good chuckle out of it.
Menus of Torment are actually surprisingly intuitive and interactive. To access them you simply press down on either the left or the right trigger depending on which menu you want to access, and hold that trigger down for the duration of your time in that menu. Navigating through that menu is also easy, it’s as simple as moving the joysticks left and right. Considering the fact that Planescape is an RPG that originated on PC, I’m impressed that Beamdog studios were able to make the transition to consoles so seamless.
RPGs live and die not just by their stories, but also by their companions characters. Companion characters help to shape the world by providing exposition for the story and context to understand that story in. Characters like Fall-from-Grace, a succubus that is the literal definition of temptation and sexual energy decides to save herself for marriage and the person she loves. Dialogue with her is often introspective and delving more into philosophical concepts like love, what love really means and if it’s worth waiting for compared to getting immediate satisfaction.
The Nameless One ( the main character ) can’t die, the game is a quest to discover why, and in doing so, it’s a question to ponder whether life is worth living or if death is something that should be sought after. Early in the game you meet a character that represents a group that seeks what they call “true death” where you can’t be reborn after you’ve cast off all mortal attachments. Their ideology is the belief that death grants rest and peace. This character even goes out of his way to say that he can’t bear the idea of returning to life again.
Annah is another character that’s extremely complex, she has a rough exterior due to years of abuse and living on her own. However once you get close to her and start to melt her icy exterior, you see that she’s really just looking for a home like everyone else. Earning her trust is difficult but a worthwhile endeavor.
Mortimer Rictusgrin, otherwise and very affectionately known as Morte is your constant companion throughout Torment. A good comparison for Morte is Mimir from 2018’s God of War reboot. He is quite literally a talking skull, he has no body though he constantly alludes to his search for one which makes for some of the best comedic moments of the game. However Morte isn’t just a comical character, in terms of combat he’s versatile, and when it comes to knowledge and history of the world, Morte is an indespensable resource. Morte has a wealth of knowledge at his disposal about the various Gods and Goddesses that inhabit the world of Torment, and the different factions that lie within. He constantly gives advice about who to trust and who to avoid, but the decision is ultimately left up to you, the player. Morte is a tormented and pained character, as you get deeper into his history and backstory you find out that he carries a heavy burden that you can choose to shoulder with him to lighten his load.
These are just a few of the fascinating characters you’ll meet during your time in Planescape Torment, keep your eye out for anyone that seems interesting, you never know who you can recruit into your party.
The sound quality of Torment is fantastic, the hum and whir of fantastical machinery pervades throughout the game. Constantly giving you a feeling of being in a faraway land with extremely advanced technology. You also spend a lot of time in cities and bustling urban centers where you get to hear people going about their daily lives. Traders at the markets hawking their wares, shoppers trying to haggle on prices, companions offering their commentary about the state of the world. It’s completely enthralling.
Musically Torment has a wide array of tracks on offer. The orchestral scores are some of the best pieces to be available because of the subtle nature of their introduction. The strings, brass and woodwind sections all come in at different moments for varying lengths of time. Nothing overstays its welcome but none are understated either, they’re all used to great effect to heighten the impact of the scene and draw you deeper into the world.
Difficulty Scaling and Replayability
Torment is a difficult game combat wise due to the RPG nature of that combat, but overall it’s a wonderful experience. There is a learning curve due to the awkward controls, but once you get your party together, get them ready for combat and start specializing people in their respective roles, things get easier. How long that will take depends on the individual but overall you’ve got a quality experience on your hands if you’re up to the challenge. Replay wise Torment is an absolute masterpiece because of all the different ways you can handle scenarios and quest lines. No two playthroughs will ever be exactly the same, and part of the fun is seeing what can change.
Value for Money
Torment is easily a forty to sixty-hour adventure if not longer depending on how much side content you do. Exploration is richly rewarded, branching dialogue trees and paths will give you alternate quest lines and routes to explore. Combat while clunky can be fun when things fire on all cylinders. Torment gives you a fantastic value should you be willing to sink your teeth into it.
Overall, even though twenty years have passed, Torment is still a wonderful game that begs to be experienced. The themes covered in the game are still relevant in the modern-day. The character study and introspective nature of its story do something games don’t often make you do, think. And most importantly, the game really does respond to you, your characters, your choices and the way you play. Torment isn’t a game where you get the illusion of choice. The world responds to you and the decisions you make, for better or worse, your game world is yours. Your companions are yours, your story is yours, however for everyone that plays the game, we’ll all ask the same question. “Who am I?” And we’ll all get an answer.