Conceived as a spiritual successor to acclaimed RPG Planescape: Torment, Tides of Numenera was originally scheduled for release well over two years ago, but is only now seeing the light of day. Fortunately, its extended development time has been well spent.
Set on Earth in the distant future, the rise and fall of numerous great civilisations has left the planet in a quasi-medieval state, accompanied by pieces of sufficiently advanced technology strewn everywhere. A human known as the Changing God used this tech to cheat death by the periodic transfer of consciousness between a succession of new bodies, each discarded husk afterwards becoming a sentient person in its own right. You play as the Last Castoff – the most recent of these accidental immortals – and in your journey to unravel the mystery of your very existence you gradually uncover meaning and answers behind the question at the core of the story’s development: What does one life matter?
Much like its antecedent, Tides of Numenera is very heavy in text, with advancement in the story coming from lengthy dialogue tree interactions with other characters and the world around you, the detailed writing drawing you in as much as the surreal science fantasy setting. Almost every exchange with even the most minor character further develops the sprawling and mutable world, gradually weaving a tapestry of captivating storytelling as expansive as it is intricate.
Even more so than Planescape, the game goes out of its way to avoid combat, opting for a conversation-driven approach to confrontation and usually giving several options besides attacking. What battles do break out are turn-based, where each character is allowed only one move and one action per round, requiring far more strategic thinking than rushing in swinging swords and slinging spells. Only a handful of these altercations are unavoidable, and even rarer are situations where all-out fighting is the only way to resolve them; far more rewarding is talking, puzzling or manoeuvring your way out of danger. It’s even possible – albeit difficult – to get through the whole game without actually killing anyone.
Should combat (or a myriad of other circumstances) result in you dying, your consciousness is temporarily sent into the Castoff’s Labyrinth, a metaphysical maze existing within your mind that gradually expands as the game progresses, successive areas and fathoms opening up to provide further story, quests and abilities.
The Tides of the title are aspects of human personality grouped into five colour-coded assortments that constantly alter throughout the game dependent on your choices and behaviour, indicating what kind of person you’ve become. They bear some superficial similarity to D&D’s alignment system but with far greater nuance than a single point plotted on a dual axis, and have varying influence over how characters can react to you. As you progress through the game and advance in capability, it’s even possible to learn to manipulate them like a psychic aura ready to do your bidding, but at the cost of certain powerful entities taking a severe dislike to you doing so.
Most situations can be handled in any one of a number of different ways, sometimes achieving the same result by alternative routes, other times having vastly variable outcomes. Some innocuous choices might give you surprise allies later on, while others return to haunt you with unforeseen enemies. Some decisions might be the selfless thing to do, but end up limiting later options or blocking off certain pathways entirely. Even the companions joining you affect what quests and areas you can access, and such is the game’s expansive nature it’s impossible to experience all it has to offer with a single play through. With there being very few instances where a choice leads to Game Over, you can play the game through without ever reloading, and thus better explore the consequences of your actions. The decisions you make are never wrong, only different, and it’s this emphasis on open choice that makes the story that much more compelling and affords the game significant replay value.
Even more meticulously plotted and endlessly inventive than its predecessor, Torment: Tides of Numenera has certainly been a long time coming, but it has been more than worth the wait.
TORMENT: TIDES OF NUMENERA / DEVELOPER: INXILE ENTERTAINMENT / PUBLISHER: TECHLAND PUBLISHING / PLATFORM: PC, MAC, LINUX, PS4, XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW