Retro Throwback – Planescape: Torment

With Torment: Tides of Numenera currently in Early Access on Steam, I’ve been extremely anxious to dig back into the realm of Planescape. Since the last few Early Access games I purchased were somewhat underwhelming, I decided to reinstall the original cult-classic Planescape: Torment and get reacquainted with the planes. Originally released for PC in ’99, Planescape: Torment is a truly original RPG with a large focus on choice and morality. Although the game wasn’t originally a commercial success, it has since received critical praise from many classic RPG fans and continues to receive attention to this day. With the sequel currently being developed, I figured now would be the best opportunity to remind my fellow gamers of the magic of the planes, and perhaps inspire those who haven’t experienced this masterpiece to find out what they’ve been missing.


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Systems: PC, Linus, Mac OS X

Developer: Black Isle Studios

Publisher: Interplay Entertainment

Release Date: December 12, 1999

Price: $9.99 (on GOG.com)


The Gameplay:

The game begins as the player character, generally referred to as The Nameless One (or TNO), awakens on a slab in the Mortuary mistaken for a corpse. After awakening with no memory, TNO is approached by a friendly face (a floating skull, rather) who warns him that the employees of the Mortuary will have him cremated unless he can escape. After interacting with the inhabitants and finding one of the multiple ways to escape, TNO finds himself in Sigil along with his new floating friend. This is where the game really begins as TNO comes to the realization that he is immortal and embarks on a journey of self-discovery.

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The initial area you enter after exiting the Mortuary, known as Sigil, is an excellent example of PS:T’s excellent setting. Sigil is known as the center of the planes; A place where all worlds connect through various obscure portals. These portals are everywhere but each requires a specific key to enter. Sigil is also home to various factions and interesting individuals to converse or combat with and is broken down into several districts. The majority of the game takes place within Sigil, but fear not! TNO’s adventures also lead him throughout various other planes on his search for truth; each with their own unique design, inhabitants, and enemies. Each plane generally represents a different alignment. Some planes are chaotic, some lawful, and others are pure good, neutral, or evil.

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Although TNO looks like a half-nude barbarian, choosing what skills he excels in is up to you. I played a mage during my playthrough and it was very enjoyable. Nearing the endgame I wished I had invested more into my constitution stat due to the fact that enemies could kill me very easily at close range. Luckily for me I had recruited a team of companions who usually soaked up the majority of the damage while I attacked enemies from afar with high-powered spells. You may also choose to increase dexterity or strength and try your luck as a thief or warrior. Having high strength and dexterity can also come into play in conversation; sometimes to perform feats of strength and intimidation, or to test TNO’s reflexes. Thieves also have access to typical skill sets, such as lockpicking, pickpocketing, and stealth. Regardless of how you level, keep in mind that the various companions you meet during your travels can make up for most skills you lack. I would recommend putting points into wisdom regardless of the class you choose. Wisdom has a massive influence on the choices you are presented with during conversations and also grants a bonus to experience points which helps to level up more quickly.

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The available companions in PS:T are extremely well written and add an additional layer of depth to conversations. Many of them have had a connection to TNO in the past which can only be discovered by traveling with each companion and conversing with them. Companions in PS:T are far from average. Aside from the floating skull mentioned earlier, you may encounter plenty of other unusual potential companions such as a demonic temptress, a human torch, a robotic automaton, a living suit of armor, and more. Each companion has some very interesting things to say and can also help TNO uncover lost memories. Some companions even have the ability to increase your skills or teach TNO new spells and abilities. Although these companions can be extremely useful, none of them are necessary to complete the game. On the other hand, none of the companions are completely trustworthy and some may even attack TNO if not treated with respect.

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Combat in PS:T is similar to the combat in Baldur’s Gate, but with some noticeable differences. Instead of having the portraits along the side and the action buttons across the bottom, PS:T has all of the portraits along the bottom of the screen and different commands are accessed by right clicking anywhere on the screen. This was a bit different than what I’m used to, but the controls are very easy to learn. The game can be paused at any time during combat so that you can take a moment to decide on which strategy to use. There’s a variety of weapons and equipment available for each class including unusual things such as tattoos, removable eyeballs, severed arms to use as clubs, and intestine wristbands. Many weapons in PS:T have similar damage dealing potential and the main difference is what type of damage the weapon deals. There are exceptions to this rule that include certain powerful weapons and artifacts. Make sure to identify unknown weapons before equipping them because some have devastating negative effects or curses on them. There are also a decent amount of spells for mages to learn. Some of these spells can destroy entire groups of enemies on their own and some have animations that are unique to PS:T.

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After finishing the game last night, I feel like I’ve read an entire book. This is a huge bonus to some, but may deter others from finishing or even playing. In my opinion, the storytelling was amazing; perhaps the best I’ve ever seen in any game. There is so much lore to be found about the world and it’s inhabitants that there is always something new to discover. The locals speak slang, sometimes with broken speech and unfamiliar terms, which takes a while to get used to. I wouldn’t count that as a bad thing however, because it really adds to the immersion of the world and gives you a feeling of what it would be like to live in the Planescape universe. Outside of conversations, sometimes the cursor will change into a question mark. Clicking on objects and scenery with the question mark will display more information that isn’t always obvious due to the old school graphic style. I would guess that PS:T has more text than both Baldur’s Gate games combined, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

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The graphics in PS:T are similar in quality to many other RPGs of the era. Despite the older style, the sprites and backgrounds are very detailed and still look great. There are also a handful of cinematics that are surprisingly good for their time. In order to play at a better resolution, I downloaded a Hi-Res patch (I’ll include links at the bottom) and it looked much better. PS:T also uses the popular isometric view which I always enjoy, so navigating the world is also similar to the Baldur’s Gate series. The game performs well except for a few issues that similarly affect other games of the genre, such as awkward path-finding and unresponsive NPCs (which can usually be solved by exiting to a different map and returning). The voice acting was excellent but I really wish there was more of it. The soundtrack was atmospheric but otherwise nothing to write home about. One thing you can expect from PS:T is a classic role-playing experience in a very strange and interesting setting.


 

Final Judgment: 92%

Planescape: Torment was an overall amazing experience. If I was judging on lore, setting, and originality alone, I would give it a perfect score. The gameplay is up to par as far as 90’s era RPGs are concerned, but there are some obvious flaws. One of the biggest issues was the bugs and certain things not working correctly. Luckily, many of those issues have been fixed by fans (I’ll include links below), so they are no longer a problem as long as you can get the patches downloaded correctly. Another downfall was the path-finding that sometimes was annoying and awkward. I really loved the idea of having different body parts replaced or recycled into weapons and equipment. This game had me immersed from the first few moments of playing, right until the ending. That’s not something that can be said for many games I’ve played lately. If you happened to enjoy any other Black Isle games or isometric RPGs, then this is a game you cannot afford to miss out on. Even 24 hours after completing it, I’m still asking myself, “What can change the nature of a man?”

Pros:

  • Amazing setting
  • Top-Notch storytelling
  • Well-written characters
  • Great voice acting
  • Choices matter
  • Multiple ways to solve problems
  • Interesting lore
  • Creative weapons and equipment
  • TONS of dialogue!
  • Cool alignment system
  • Handy journal to help remember events

Cons:

  • Wonky path-finding
  • Buggy (without fan patches and fixes)
  • Not enough information during character creation
  • Some classes restricted to followers
  • Reused character models

 

LINKS TO FAN-MADE PATCHES AND FIXES!
https://www.gog.com/news/mod_spotlight_planescape_torment_mods_guide

 

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