Another dark world...
It has been a long time since a game this good appeared on the market. One can freely say that not even it's predecessor, "Baldur's Gate" can be compared to Planescape concerning complexity and atmosphere. There is not even one aspect of it deserving disapproval, and it is with extreme partiality that I claim that it is one of the best RPG games ever made. But, we need a small introduction first in order to get familiar with the game itself.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is a collection of rules owned and generously leased to software companies by TSR. The world of Forgotten Realms has always been the favorite setting when it comes to making video games, while the rest of the AD&D worlds were usually cast aside. It's a pity, because other worlds (settings) offer much more interesting adventures than the usual slice-the-dragon/Talkienesque monsters type of games. There is a wide range of worlds, some of which have been published as video games (Al Quadim, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, Dark Sun). These worlds are also called planes. All the planes are connected through outer planes as well as one specific plane, that is an intersection of all planes, called Planescape. In the center of Planescape there is mysterious city of Sigil ruled by a strange deity The Lady of Pain. In the outer plains a thought can mean power, and there are no simple tasks like rescuing a lost princess in distress. Every quest has much more meaning than usual activities in FRP, the atmosphere is much darker and the relationships among characters are much more sophisticated and philosophical than the common fighting/informative dialogues. Such is the world in which our hero must face his destiny, and complete the given quests.
Torment uses a refined Infinity engine from Baldur's Gate. Still, the improvements are more than obvious. Characters and buildings are bigger. Now you can see even the smallest of details on both characters and objects. The designers and artists took some liberty whilst creating the ambience of Planescape. The dark tone of the game was achieved using a lot of dark and gray shades. Bringing the camera closer to the ground is justified: there is not much long-range combat Torment (the spells have been adapted to short-range) all the fighting is done hand to hand.
The game starts with character creation, much like all RPGs. This is where some of the game's adventure-genre elements tend to surface. You only have one, relatively defined character, and a possibility to add some points to his basic character profile (strength endurance, charisma, constitution, wisdom, intelligence) thus rendering him somewhat more powerful. Now you have your nameless hero at disposal (The Nameless One being his name, and the biggest mystery of the game). He wakes up in the morgue on a common mortuary table with no recollection and obvious nausea. The Nameless One is immortal, but each time he dies he loses his memories. Besides him flies a scull that likes to refer to itself as Morte. That is your first companion to follow you on the path of reclaiming your identity.
The main characteristics of each RPG system are the classes that determine what the character will be; for instance: wizard, thief, cleric... Planescape does not allow that sort of specialization of your character at the beginning of the game (you are automatically set to warrior class). Class specialization is made possible later in the game after completing certain tasks. Acquiring experience points is as important as it was in Baldur's Gate, for it serves character advance. In contrast to other games where EXPs are gained through fighting, Planescape uses a much more imaginative approach. The way to get most EXPs is to avoid conflicts and discuss things in detail. This solution will be a major disappointment for Diablo fans, used to chopping adversaries with not much thought. Characters in your group are a useful source of information, so it is important to talk to them as much as possible. Sometimes, they might bring you some additional EXPs; sometimes they make a quest easier. Conversation with the characters in your group can reveal vital information about a quest or area.
The text behind the game is rich and imaginative providing a plausible story and a lot of fun at the same time. The designers used a good old Hitchcock's notion of avoiding to show faces of monsters and villains, thus allowing the imagination of viewer to create its own illusion of the creature. Likewise, the designers of Planescape used only text to depict certain events or objects. The characters are far from being simple; they are very dark, and often rather sad. All the usual concepts are turned upside-down and gazed upon philosophically. The best thing about Planescape is the unraveling of the story; the anticipation and the layout of plot elements. The Nameless One's diary is of great importance for the plot. All the quests are recorded in the diary in two groups: completed and not completed quests. This gives you an easier insight in quests. Every new piece of information that might prove useful is recorded with Nameless One's comment. Quests vary in difficulty and relevancy to the main storyline. At one point you will be avenging a murder of three little girls, at another return a rosary to a priest, at yet another release a zombie from black magic.
The main locations in the game have been pointed out on the map; still you may add your own comments anywhere on the map. This makes finding objects and characters much easier. NPCs will not join your group easily. It usually takes a lot of conversation or even a quest to do the trick.
Every character in your group has an inventory in which he/she can carry different objects. Unlike in some other games, you can equip your characters with all sorts of things, from earrings to boots. Some characters, on the other hand, do not allow you to change their weapons or armor and use only specific equipment. For example: Morte wears neither armor nor weapons, he only attacks with his jaw and insult spell; Dak'kon uses only his mind controlled sword; etc. Another improvement in respect to any other real-time game is the way characters are able to find their way. It is astonishing how smoothly and perfectly characters find their way to given destinations, and it only goes to prove that it is easier to debug and optimize a program than split atoms. Just like Baldur's Gate you can always pause the game and give orders, which is quite useful in combat. The combat has been made easier because accessing items in the inventory does not break the pause.
The status of your character in relation to the rest of the world that you are in is not as undefined as in Baldur's Gate, as you already are a famous warrior with great experience. Unfortunately, so is the most of your enemies, so that it is not much of a bonus. Torment is not as difficult as some RPGs, but it is still far from being easy. Character advance is simple and swift, so that you can accumulate great power in a short period of playing. Some quests require several hours of active play and thinking, which is what the game requires in the first place. If you do get killed in a fight, you get back to the Sigil morgue with your friends around you. Inventory and experience are not affected by death.
Sound is as good as graphics. Music themes keep following the action rather than inheriting a bad feature of Baldur's Gate to stop after a certain time. The voices are fantastic, especially Nameless One's and voices of recruitable NPCs. Every NPC starts a dialogue with sampled speech, with the voice-over fading shortly afterwards. Why did Black Isle decide to leave this segment unfinished, with the rest of the design being so complete and well rounded? It was probably a matter of room it would take up on the CDs.
Planescape: Torment proves that it is possible to make an inventive, fun and refreshing game in this "sea of clones". Creating a computer edition of Planescape system is another triumph for Black Isle Studios.
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Inventive, fun and refreshing, one of the best RPG titles around;
Lack of complete voice-overs during dialogues...