ESRB Rating: T (teen)
Review By: Chris Johnson
Published On: Thursday, December 23, 1999 at GA-RPG
I'll have to be honest here, although there has been an increased
volume of CRPG games, I haven't been very impressed with the majority
of this years selection of titles. Too many games have been released
that just were simply a month or two premature, and I had pretty much
just assumed that a FPS / RPG hybrid, System Shock 2, would be this
genres best offering for 1999. System Shock 2 was definitely a great
game, in fact I would consider to be the best FPS of the year hands
down. However it is not the best CRPG game of the year, that accolade
goes to the guys at Black Isle Studios for their saving grace in a
sea of mediocrity, Planescape: Torment.
When I first heard of Planescape: Torment I figured that gamers
would be given a Baldur's Gate ripoff in a new universe. How wrong
I was. I am very familar with the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance
universes for AD&D since I've read about 30 of the books, but Torment
was a new experience for me. I will have to admit that it was a refreshing
change of pace from the same stale old recipe most CRPG producers
shovel. Although there really isn't any game like Torment,
the best comparison would be Fallout II hands down. I'll admit I didn't
like Fallout II that much especially with all the problems it had
with save games, but Black Isle has definitely offered a better game
this time around.
So just what is Planescape? Well, here is how Black Isle Studios puts
Planescape "multiverse" is the setting for the game - but setting
is actually a misnomer... the Planescape multiverse is actually
composed of a series of "planes" (other dimensions) that rotate
around a central city, Sigil, like spokes on a wheel.
As you can see, the
world of Planescape is definitely an ambitious undertaking for Black
Isle to take on, so let's see how they did.
of Sigil is the central fixture of the Planescape multiverse.
Also called the "Cage" or the "City of Doors", it's unique in
that scattered throughout its labyrinth of streets are portals
(some hidden, some obvious) that lead to anywhere in existence,
provided you hold the proper key. It is neutral ground and watering
hole for races and creatures from across the multiverse, all under
the watchful eye of the Lady of Pain, the enigmatic ruler of the
of Planescape is a more adult, hard-core fantasy setting compared
to other AD&D worlds. The architecture, the people, the creatures
-- everything has an edge to it. Belief, emotions, faith, and
other abstract concepts actually make their presence felt in reality.
In the Planescape multiverse, belief has the power to reshape
worlds, kill and resurrect beings, and change the laws of physics.
Torment puts you into the shoes of an immortal human called
The Nameless One, who just can't seem to remember who he is or how
he came to waking up on a cold stone slab in a mortuary in the city
of Sigil. In fact, you can't remember anything at all, and as such
your goal throughout the game is to get your memory back. Since you
are immortal, the damage that would normally kill a mortal will put
you into a coma (Torment's version of death). You will wake up in
various spawn points throughout the game depending on how far you
have gotten, ready for more action, with the first being the marble
slab in the mortuary.
You learn early
on that you were someone of importance that should be wary of revealing
your condition to just anyone because the Lady of Pain may just
take notice. You will immediately meet your trusty traveling companion
Morte, who is basically a floating wise cracking skull. After the
initial introductions, you make your way out of the mortuary, and
out in the streets of Sigil in search of answers. Throughout your
travel encounters with people, former body parts (no joke), or a
particular place can trigger a flashback that brings forth another
memory, and one step closer to figuring out what is going on.
During character creation you have the option of picking your stats,
but you will notice that the selection of class or alignment isn't
given. Later in the game you can make your way to trainers that
will require you to perform some tasks to become a better fighter,
become a mage, or even become a thief. Once a change of class is
made you will revert back to level three, and that was a little
painful when I had a level 6 fighter at the time becoming a level
3 mage. If you ever choose to switch back to your previous class
you do revert back to whatever level you were prior to switching
out of that class. When you gain a level you will be rewarded with
a skill point and new abilities.
I tried the game
out for all the different classes, and found them all relatively
useful. I'm not sure I would play a thief again, but the pickpocket
skill is nice early in the game when you are poor. The mage is definitely
the strongest character late in the game, but the fighter isn't
a wimp either. The thief just didn't seem to be as fun this time
around as in Baldur's Gate, especially since you pick up a thief
later in the game.
In the background
during combat the AD&D rules are definitely in effect, so you will
not have to worry about this facet of the game if you are not a
big AD&D player. There are options where you can actually get more
of the "dice rolling" information that some players might wish to
see, and this can be activated by a simple mouse click. Although
there is some deviation from the AD&D rules, the basics are still
in place when it comes to such things as the spells available at
a certain level, stat bonuses, and experience towards the next level.
Torment is determined by your actions in the game, so you
cant start the game as lawful evil for example. Doing a lot of
good deeds without demanding to be paid will obviously have an affect
on your alignment. The system in place will allow you to play an
evil alignment, but mass killing is the fastest way to end the game
quickly when you take out a necessary NPC to progress. You will
find certain items in the game that will only protect you from people
of specific alignments, or give bonuses to you if you are of a certain
alignment. Party members might leave if you stray too far from what
their alignment is as well.
Black Isle has
definitely taken away a lot of the necessary note taking with automatic
journal and quest entries. These entries are triggered by accepting
/ completing a quest or finding out something interesting from a
NPC. There is also a working map that gets put together as you make
it to more areas, which makes travel easier especially later in
the game. Speaking of maps, the new running feature is great for
getting around to your destination much quicker.
As I mentioned
earlier, death in Torment is not that bad since you basically
start back at a spawn point with all of your equipment and comrades
in arms with you. If any of your friends die you can pick up a special
skill of Raise Dead early in the game that is extremely helpful.
The Nameless One is the only member of your party that will respawn
back upon death. Any other member of your party that dies will remain
where they died, so only the living members of your party will actually
be there to greet you when you wake up from your coma. Black Isle
has definitely gone the extra mile to try and make death a little
I felt like I
was reading a book at times when I initiated a conversation with
a NPC with my character's 20 intellect. The game is definitely text
heavy, and is geared more towards old school computer role-playing
gamers. Black Isle could have lightened up a bit on the text, but
it works well if you enjoy that type of gameplay which reeks of
is easy to use, and is far from clumsy. Right clicking on your character
will bring up all of your available options, or you can do the same
thing in the bottom right hand corner. Nothing more complicated
than a few clicks will accomplish anything in the game, and the
action can be paused at any point relatively easy as well.
I would not recommend
this game for anyone that thinks Diablos dungeon crawling
is the only thing that makes a CRPG fun, because the combat
system in Torment is not the strong point of the game.
Icewind Dale is a game in development by Black Isle that is
targeting that market, and I for one cant wait, since I love
dungeon crawling as much as anyone. Again, let me stress there
is no hybrid in this game, Torment is just a plain
old CRPG, and that is what makes it great.
I will have to admit that of all the things that are great
about Torment, the graphics would have to be the most
surprising considering the non-3D accelerated 640 x 480 resolution
version of Bioware's Infinity Engine that Black Isle used.
The artists should be given a nice pay raise because they
sell this world well, and it is not an easy world to create.
Since the Planescape Universe is so unique, there really isn't
a standard look and feel you can give towns and creatures
that artists usually can draw from off of the traditional
swords and sorcery medieval setting most gamers are all familiar
with. For a game that doesn't use any 3D acceleration, Torment
is a visual treat.
Some of the better graphics in the game are coupled with spells.
I really liked casting something like Spiritual Hammer, and
seeing a white glowing hammer appear above my enemy pounding
it to oblivion. Most spells above 3rd level when cast trigger
movie clips which have a lot of eye candy. The highest spell
level I had the luxury of casting was 7th, and that was a
pretty damn impressive light show. Torment definitely has
some of the most unique spell casting animations I've ever
seen, and really take your mind off the fact that they are
not 3D accelerated ones like you will see in Blizzard's Diablo
Not only did Black Isle put the extra effort into spell casting
animations, they did spend a considerable amount of time on
character models. This extra effort can be seen clearly when
viewing any of the six NPCs that form your party. This is
definitely a step above Baldur's Gate, but one could argue
that they were able to touch them up more due to the small
number in comparison to Baldur's Gate. When one equips a small
dagger it shows up as such in the game, and a two-handed battle
axe does in fact look like a two-handed battle axe. Some items
will show up when you equip them, and some will not. One example
is an arm you come across that can be used as a weapon that
uses the same sketch as a mace. Don't expect everything you
equip to look just like it does in your inventory on your
character model, but a majority will.
The backdrops and landscape of Torment fit in well
with the theme and setting the game takes place in. There
are numerous examples of dynamic landscape, but the two that
really stick out in mind right now were the gears in the foundry
and the giant iron golem in the siege tower. They are both
backdrops that would have sold the image great if they had
been static, but Black Isle took the extra time to make the
gears turn and the iron golem appear to be working on some
weapon. Someone definitely stayed a few extra weekends to
pull those off, and you just have to appreciate that.
I mentioned in my first impression piece for Torment that
there wasn't anything that stands out about the sound quality of
the game; however once I got further in the game my opinion soon
changed. I wouldn't equate the soundtracks to say those of Ultima
IX's, but they are definitely well above the norm. Nice tempo for
fighting sequences coupled with convincing spell / melee attack
effects sold the combat. There were also some very nice pieces in
a few of the buildings, my personal favorite being the Brothel of
Slating Intellectual Lusts. The soundtracks really accomplish what
they are intended to do, and that is to simply set the mood for
The voice acting in Torment is about where it should be,
and is noticeably better than the majority of CRPGs of late. You
do get those annoying responses from companions when you move them
around the screen, but not nearly as bad as Baldur's Gate. I thought
Morte stole the show in this area of the game. I definitely cracked
a smile a few times listening to this talking skull's sexual innuendo
or litany of curses when in combat.
Torment features three-dimensional sound quality support
for those lucky enough to own sound cards that use EAX. However
since I own a MX300 card, I couldn't take advantage of that. Without
3D support the sound quality was on the mark, so I can only assume
with 3D sound quality enabled that it is just that much better.
There are a total of five characters that you can add to your party
throughout the game (Update: I was informed by A. Teilans there
are a few others you can add to your party). One is of course your
buddy Morte (fighter) the talking skull, a burning corpse named
Ignus (mage) might join you in the game at some time, a githzerai
named Dak'kon (fighter/mage) was definitely the best member of my
party, a Tiefling named Annah (thief), and finally a Succubus named
Fall From Grace (priest). You will note through conversations with
your companions that they can train you if you are their class.
Dak'kon has a very unique history and is of the race I would have
played if given a choice during character creation. The sword he
carries changes as he levels, which I just love the idea of. You
will get reactions from your party members when they feel something
is wrong, or if you are swinging far away from their alignment.
Some of the more interesting exchanges occur between Annah and Morte,
so just sit back and enjoy those.
The actual adventure
throughout Torment is composed of several quests that guide
you where to go and what to do next. The quest system is comprised
of both essential components that are necessary to continue the
plot, and side quests that have a reward coupled with some experience
points. Speaking of experience points, I would estimate that I got
a good 70% of mine just talking to NPCs and solving quests that
usually didn't require any combat. I rarely hit a roadblock when
I played of not knowing what to do next, especially after a quick
reference to the in-game journal. I would put this game on the higher
end of the difficulty scale. There are some difficult parts in the
game that will probably require you to seek some help to get past.
It took me roughly 65 hours of play to finish the game, but I did
almost every side quest available.
Planescape: Torment puts you into so many different situations
of gameplay that you cant help but to have fun with it. From solving
a murder at the foundry to battling larval worms in Under-Sigil,
Torment offers a lot of variety in what you do during the
game. Tasks can be accomplished several ways, so choose the play
style that you would enjoy the most. I personally never paid attention
to my alignment when I played the game, so it was interesting to
see myself ending the game with a neutral good alignment. I always
picked true neutral when given the option to pick an alignment in
other games from the start, but in reflection on my actions in Torment,
that was pretty much right on the money.
Black Isle Studios
loosened the restrictions on the 2nd edition AD&D rules to give
characters special powers that they normally wouldn't get, and being
very generous with experience points for quests. As such, your character
doesn't suffer through the boring early years that many people simply
don't like about AD&D. I'm sure some old school AD&D players would
argue otherwise, but I feel it definitely helps the gameplay here
making it more fun for a wider audience of gamers.
- Does it advance
the genre? Yes.
- Does it offer
anything new? Yes.
- Does it offer
a decent amount of gameplay? Yes.
- Is the product
relatively bug free? Yes, although the memory leak was a pain
prior to the official patch which fixes it.
- Does the documentation
thoroughly explain the game? Yes.
- Does this game
have any features to keep it from getting outdated? No.
- Is the game
worth the retail price? Yes, four CDs worth of the most unique
AD&D gaming seen yet on the computer.
- Is the game
- Do a full install
of the game if you have the hard drive space, go here
for the instructions.
- Be wary of
buying expensive spells for the companions you travel with (5th
level and up).
- If you wish
to play a mage or thief then immediately head to Ragpickers Square
at the start of the game, and find Old Mebbeth or Yellow-Fingers
- Make sure you
talk to your companions from time to time because they can show
you tricks to improve your skills and trigger memories for experience
- Any NPC with
a unique name will be involved in either a quest or side quest
eventually during gameplay, so make sure you remember where they
- Wisdom and
intelligence are important stats even for a warrior. The higher
your intelligence and wisdom are the more text options and chances
to trigger forgotten memories your character can take advantage
of. A minimum 15 for both wisdom and intellect would be advisable.
- You will gain
much more experience as well as permanent stat increases for performing
quests than you ever would for simply fighting.
- Stock up on
healing supplies; they are cheap and will save loading time since
you aren't dying every 10 minutes.
- Don't feel
bad about visiting fan sites or the official site to request help;
Torment is a little higher than most games on the difficulty scale.
some of the walkthroughs
if you get stuck.
Great graphics, the soundtrack really fits the mood of the game,
alignment based on actions in-game, spell animations that almost
look as good as accelerated ones, great story, and a good break
from the normal run-of-the-mill swords and sorcery RPGs.
A few minor bugs, memory leak can be annoying, limited character
selection options, and the fact that Black Isle hasn't announced
an expansion pack yet ;).
The simple fact that Black Isle was able to make the dated non-3D
accelerated Bioware Infinity engine look so good in 640 x 480
resolution speaks volumes to the dedication and time spent on
all the little details that make this game so great. From the
time I first installed the game until the time I finally finished
it, I enjoyed playing Torment. Not to take away anything
from the greatness of Baldur's Gate, but I was just ready for
that game to end once I actually reached the city of Baldur's
I never felt tired of playing Torment, and that is the
highest praise I can give this game since I have the attention
span of your average 12-year-old. Perhaps this game is just
getting a little bounce back effect after my experience from
Ultima IX, but I've not played a CRPG this good since Betrayal