Having entertained a variety of genres in my day, I'm no stranger to the feeling of changing my playing style so as not to be violated when I'm in turn-based strategy mode and my friends happen to invite me to play some Guilty Gear XX/Whatever. I am not the greatest of gamers, and indeed to this day I carry the unfortunate distinction of being the only man alive to have broken a Jurassic Park arcade machine by somehow being able to shoot during a scripted "can't shoot" sequence, and taking advantage of said window by popping a cap in the ass of some poor sod about to be eaten by baby raptors, thus ruining the scripted scene entirely and crashing the game. At least, I'm positive it was my actions that crashed the damn thing. It might just have been crap.
Having said that, however, the game under review today does require a bit more thinking than, say, Doom, and for some reason my first decision to hack apart everything in my way didn't go down too well with the NPCs, who decided to gang up on me just before the game's resident pseudo-god knocked my avatar for six. While the ability to pause to make strategic decisions takes away much of any potential feeling of being rushed and pressured, when your character takes a lucky crit to the face and almost drops dead, you certainly may still *feel* rushed as you try and work out the best way to save their unworthy hide.
Despite all of this, practical management of your team can limit or negate any need for panic at all, which is why when I first got my sweaty mitts on a copy of Planescape: Torment, a game that was proclaimed to have quality oozing out of every orifice, I discovered that the frantic, hair-trigger style that I had developed for games such as Quake or Unreal Tournament wasn't going to help me much. On the other hand, my experiences with the classic game Gordon Freeman Pushes Buttons were going to be of at least some use here.
You play as the "Nameless One", a heavily-scarred amnesiac who has taken to carving everything bar his weekly shopping list into his flesh in case he forgets, and who wakes up in a mortuary after being mistaken for a corpse. Even before the game itself begins, the simplicity of the character creation system makes itself known. You simply assign Characteristic Points (That's "Stat Points" to you and me) to whatever stat you want, and then the game begins. No pissing around with race and class combinations here, or scrolling through a list of special abilities in order to find one that doesn't suck.
Unfortunately, since the very essence of this game is that "dialogue" is the magic word that gets you everything, it means that there really is only one choice for the discerning amnesiac wanting to level up before he dies for good, and that is to max out Wisdom and Intelligence and dump the rest of your points into Charisma, doing whatever you can during the game to boost those stats, in that order. And that talk of dying brings me somewhat neatly to the focus of the very game itself. In other words, the plot.
Put simply, you cannot die. The Nameless One has a nasty habit of regenerating from injuries, and it would appear to extend so far as to allow him to regenerate from death. The only problem there is that you lose your memories with each death (It doesn't happen in the game itself, presumably for that little reason known as 'gameplay'), and it seems that someone... or something, is out to get you, for whatever reason. Actually, that's wrong. As in most games, every being and object in a fifty-mile radius wants to kill you, but at least there's pretty environments and spells to look at while you lay the smackdown on yet another Hive Thug who attacked you for the crime of being in the area when their ThugViolenceTimer counter ticked down to zero.
The world itself is very vibrant and full of life, from the squalor of the Hive to the splendour and finery of the Clerks' Ward. Even at the craptastic resolutions that the game displays due to its age, the graphics themselves are extremely good-looking; and the sound is pleasant to listen to. The characters you meet could all talk both hind legs off a donkey, and even the generic filler NPCs have quite a lot to say, none more so than the infamous "Elderly Hive Dweller" who is prone to launching into anti-adventurer rants the second anybody dares to interrupt her scripted marching. But none of that really matters in Torment, as your main concern as the Nameless One appears to be side-quests.
From the very minute you find yourself in the Hive for the first time, to the moment you pass the classic "Point of No Return" when you're almost at the very end of the game, you are assailed by all manner of side-quests. Some of them are entertaining. Some of them are informative. Some are downright inane. Hands up all those who actually took the time to find Nordom and increase his stats. Oh, five of you. Hands up all those who travelled with Vhailor for any real length of time. Didn't think so. That whole "carving everybody in twain just because they're not as Lawful as I am" deal made collecting quest rewards a bit of a pain, more so when he decided he wanted to kill me.
And since the side-quests are the main focus of the game, with every area full of quest NPCs of one manner or another, and you just want to get through the plot as quickly as possible, that means you need backup of a sort. You need allies. You need meat shields (Doubly so if you change the Nameless One to a Mage, but more on that later...) who won't try and kill you. You find them scattered around the place, and most of them seem to have known you, in one previous incarnation or another.
They range from a disembodied, floating, talking skull whose mere presence will intrigue curious NPCs and cause him to inflame the tempers of others, not to mention cause you to wonder just where he keeps his inventory, to a chaste succubus who owns a brothel of mental stimulation, an insane, burning pyromaniac who has never been happier and a living suit of armour who simply refuses to acknowledge that he's dead. You can't accuse the character designers of not being creative, and in a game that's heavy on dialogue, an impressive amount of it is from your allies themselves.
To summarise, the gameplay can be described as follows: You and up to five experience leeches wander around and talking to random people, picking the longest and wordiest dialogue option as your character's 25 Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma finish the game for you. On occasion, you will be unable to talk your way out of a situation, which is when the experience leeches finally prove themselves to be useful, but had you not picked them up at all you'd probably be unstoppable in physical combat as well, due to the extra experience allowing you more stat points. The maximum level cap is 127, after all, and though nobody in their right mind would get to that level without the Tome o' Cheats, it's hard to argue with a level 12 Fighter's ability to put five points in the skill of "carving your flesh from your bones".
Unfortunately, however, since many of the bonuses and flavour dialogue rely on the presence of the leeches, unless you want to swap them out constantly and therefore put up with some truly impressive complaining and guilt tripping, it's better just to leave them in the party. Most full parties will consist of the same five characters, however, as two of the seven potential choices are less than suitable for normal players. Personally, I only ever take them for as long as it takes me to wring every last bonus out of their dialogue trees, before ditching them in favour of the five characters who won't try to murder you if you choose the wrong dialogue option.
I touched on the class system in this game earlier, and here is where I am going to explain it. While normally in a game with a class system, (And especially in the other Infinity Engine games) once you've chosen a class, you're stuck with it for the rest of the game. In Torment, however, the Nameless One can be whatever you want him to be... as long as your definition of "whatever you want" is limited to the choices of Fighter, Thief and Mage. There is a single Cleric you can recruit to your party, but that's it. While the other NPCs are stuck with whatever class they have chosen, some of them have the advantage of being two at once.
I just wish that the only Thief in the game was single-classed, and not a Fighter/Thief. It arguably makes her more effective in combat, but when you include the Nameless One in the count, that makes six characters with the Fighter class in their description, two with Mage levels and only the one Thief. A little more attention paid to the class system would have been nice, especially if there had been a Thief/Mage to balance out the numbers somewhat. Sure, the different characters may have different ways of being Fighters, such as Nordom's 'gear spirit' crossbows, Morte's teeth and Annah's punch daggers, but at the end of the day different tables have different ways of being tables. There's just one or two too many Fighters, although thankfully not too many characters that you feel as if you're missing out on something no matter who you decide not to take along.
The Nameless One, however, as he's a 'special' case, can change his class at almost any time. This allows him a great deal of flexibility when it comes to his class, but like I said before, you are somewhat restricted in terms of party members who don't want to gut you, and as such that restricts the viable classes you can choose somewhat. Changing classes is encouraged in order to allow access to some of the NPC-related bonuses, but if you do it too much then your Nameless One will have too much experience invested in his inactive classes, making him somewhat weaker overall. He's not too much cop as a Thief until he starts overtaking Annah in terms of levels and Dexterity bonuses, and as a straight Mage even Pele can outlast him until you start getting your hands on spells such as "Mechanus Cannon", at which point Dak'kon is still a better character to have learn them, simply because he will always be a Mage and can therefore always use them.
The game itself is a beautiful piece of work, despite its inability to run effectively on any modern system. I am forced to remove all but the most basic of graphical settings before I begin playing, lest I want various spells to cause my computer to hang near the end of the animation. Unfortunately, this does cause some other graphical issues (And a form of stuttering problem with the NPC command confirmation sounds that I only managed to remove from Baldur's Gate 2), most notably visual corruption whenever the mouse passes over certain unimportant parts of the screen.
Even after a number of unofficial patches and fixes, some problems still remain, especially certain options in Dak'kon's dialogue tree that you must choose the first time around or lose forever. Despite the bugs, however, I recommend Planescape: Torment to anybody who wants more talking and interaction in their RPGs, to the extent that the protagonist suffers a very heroic case of lockjaw.
The story itself is well developed, which is necessary for me in these days of vapid, cookie-cutter heroes and soulless, robotic antagonists. Even some of the side-quests raise important questions, not least that of the Godsmen and the Anarchists. Do you side with the Godsmen, a faction dedicated to improving oneself through hard work and perseverance, who are developing a weapon for the demons to use on the devils (Or is that the other way around?), despite the implications that could have for the rest of the multiverse?
Do you side with the Anarchists, a faction dedicated to tearing down everything in pursuit of a clean slate from which to rebuild without corruption, who seek to destroy the weapon before it has a chance to bring misery to the multiverse, regardless of the damage that they need to do to others in order to bring about such an end? Or do you ignore the situation and carry on with your quest?
On a personal note, I sided with both factions. Not only did I manage to get in good with the Godsmen, I was able to join the Anarchists as well, betray the Godsmen by destroying the weapon and still have full access to the supplies of both factions. Now, if joining the death-seeking Dustmen turns out to not require me to renounce my vows to the Godsmen, then I can effectively join all five playable factions.
The biggest question that the game raises, however, is one that crops up again and again. It is simply this: "What can change the nature of a man?" Everybody has their own answer. Trust, regret, suffering, love, torment, death, life... However, I still believe that there is only one true answer to any question, and this is no exception. My answer? Alcohol.
Conclusion: Buy it.
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