Planescape: Torment (PC) review
"Sigil is the City of Doors. It lies at the nexus of the multiverse; its portals touch countless worlds, and those with the correct keys can reach anywhere from Sigil. To the rest, itís a prison. It floats above the infinitely tall Spire in the center of the Outlands, a neutral zone between the Outer Planes of good and evil, law and chaos. Itís indifferent to outside conflicts, its impartiality guarded by the Lady of Pain, an enigmatic sorceress who wears a bladed mask. "
Sigil is the City of Doors. It lies at the nexus of the multiverse; its portals touch countless worlds, and those with the correct keys can reach anywhere from Sigil. To the rest, itís a prison. It floats above the infinitely tall Spire in the center of the Outlands, a neutral zone between the Outer Planes of good and evil, law and chaos. Itís indifferent to outside conflicts, its impartiality guarded by the Lady of Pain, an enigmatic sorceress who wears a bladed mask.
Itís in this city that you find yourself Ė or more specifically, in its mortuary. You awake on a cold metal slab encrusted with blood; corpses lie on other slabs around you, flayed and gutted by nightmarish machinery, and half-decayed zombies shuffle around the room, attending to the dead. Your skin is ashen, your body a mass of scars and tattoos, and you reek of embalming fluid. You have no idea who or where you are, and your only clues are a message written on your back, instructing you to find your journal, and a garrulous, wisecracking skull named Morte that flies at you the moment you wake up. He fills you in on your current situation, remarking casually that he thought you were definitely dead. Only the dead reach the Mortuary, and Morte was indeed correct: you were no exception.
But you are immortal. Your body regenerates at an incredible rate, and given a few hours, even death is no more than a minor inconvenience Ė except for the fact that you lose your memories every time youíre killed. Planescape: Torment is your journey to find out who you are and, if you can, reclaim your humanity.
The plot is dark and mature. Woven around subtle but thought-provoking themes, often with philosophical undertones, it examines the importance of identity and the power of guilt and redemption. Itís compelling and masterfully written; every tantalizing scrap of history you stumble across drives you to seek out the rest of the story. As you assemble a more complete picture of the people you used to be, you have to come to terms with their sins and the events that led to your immortality. The twists are often startling, but they're always executed with the level of storytelling youíd expect from a novel.
Your party members get a similar treatment. Your companions have multilayered personalities, barring a couple lunatics, and deep pasts. Fall-from-Grace is a cultured, erudite succubus who spent centuries in slavery before founding the Brothel for Slaking Intellectual Lusts, where the only intercourse with the lovely ladies is in the form of stimulating conversation. Dakíkon, a githzerai warrior from the planes of chaos with a sword whose form he controls through sheer force of will, bears the weight of an obligation he cannot escape. The conversation with Morte that reveals his reasons for sticking with you is both touching and disturbing. Your relationships with the characters develop as you learn more about yourself and each other, and they feel real despite their fantastic nature.
The world, too, is fleshed out and believable. Torment is an AD&D game, and it draws on the rich lore of the Planescape campaign setting Ė so much so that even though you donít visit most of the places discussed, youíre left with the feeling that there really is an entire multiverse out there. Each of the Outer Planes has its own character and history. The plane of Limbo is the stuff of raw chaos, but the ideas of the githzerai shape it into magnificent cities. It wasnít always like that, however; for centuries they were enslaved, and although they eventually overthrew their overlords in a bloody war, their race was bitterly divided afterwards. On the opposite side of the Outlands lies Mechanus, a single machine thatís an entire city, the ultimate distillation of order in the multiverse. Itís the home of the modrons, cubic robots who are so locked into their bureaucratic hierarchies that they canít even recognize the existence of modrons who are not their direct superiors or subordinates. The depth of detail in the setting far surpasses what most RPGs manage to accomplish.
But all the same, Torment is certainly not a game for everyone. Those who donít like reading will loathe it, as itís exceptionally text-heavy. Thereís little actual gameplay Ė in fact, there are only about four required battles throughout the whole game. When you do fight, itís on the same map as the city or dungeon; fans of Baldurís Gate and Icewind Dale will recognize the engine. Combat basically involves whacking things until they die, occasionally unleashing arcane spells that send shockwaves or gouts of fire and ice streaming across the screen. This is quite entertaining in small doses, but the combat isnít particularly deep and the interface is a bit clunky to boot; nevertheless, it is perfectly adequate for the role it plays in the game.
You always have a plethora of dialogue options to choose from, determined by everything from your intelligence and wisdom to your alignment, and your choices shape the kind of person you become. You don't pick your alignment during character creation; rather, it's determined by your decisions and actions in the game's many events and quests. You spend most of your time (and get most of your experience from) completing quests, which range from splitting a man with a Jekyll and Hyde complex into two separate people to rescuing a hapless zombie from the clutches of a man who wonít stop talking the poor thing to (another) death. Sometimes the outcome lies in your hands; if you decide to join the Godsmen faction, you have to solve a murder case form them in which you must use your own discretion to decide who the killer is after listening to the testimonies of the suspects.
There are several factions you can join, each with its own unique character. The Dustmen run the Mortuary and care for Sigilís dead, believing that the nothingness of the True Death is the ultimate form of existence, while the Sensates advocate personal growth through experiencing as much of what the planes have to offer as possible.
And thereís a lot. Despite a few negligible flaws and an average battle system, Torment as a whole is an incredible experience, rich and refreshingly different. Itís a cult classic for good reason; if youíre a fan of plot-driven RPGs, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
Community review by viridian_moon (August 10, 2006)
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