Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS, Android, Linux, and MacOS
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 05/26/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Planetscape: Torment was a gift from my friend Aaron after he read my review of Torment: Tides of Numenera. As I said in that review, I’m not a big 90s style CRPG fan, and unlike Tides of Numenera, this one is past old enough to drink in the United States, so I was more than a little hesitant going in. Planetscape is definitely a lot rougher around the edges than Tides of Numenera even with the “enhanced edition” that added some minor upgrades, but as with Tides of Numenera, the game grew on me over time.
Planetscape: Torment is played from a top-down perspective where the player clicks to move characters around the world, attack enemies, talk to NPC, and interact with objects. This is honestly one of my least favorite control schemes, but it works decently. The premise of the game is that your main character, a man who cannot die named The Nameless One, wakes up in an area called The Mortuary with no memory. He awakens near a floating talking skull named Morte who decides to tag along to help him escape. His back is covered in tattoos which Morte reads for him; it tells him to seek out a man named Pharod to ask about his past. As you cannot, die, every time your HP hits zero, you just wake up back in the Mortuary with no real death penalty aside from having to walk back to wherever you were.
As you explore the city of Sigil, you can take on a number of side quests, interact with a variety of different characters and factions, and recruit people to your party. There is a TON of lore and small tidbits of story to be gleaned from these NPC conversations, but truthfully, I found most of the ancillary stuff to be relatively uninteresting. I might have appreciated it more if I’d had any familiarity with the Planetscape D&D campaign setting, but as a Dungeons and Dragons virgin, a lot of it felt like pretty generic sci-fi fantasy dialogue to me. The main story, however, I did find fairly interesting, so I paid much more attention to the dialogue and text relating to that.
With the exception of some parts in the latter half of the game, most everything takes place in and around the city of Sigil. I’d have liked to have some more varied areas to explore, but there are enough sections of the city that the game never feels cramped. The visuals are solidly okay with a few sweet craptastic late 90s CGI cutscenes; the music, on the other hand, was rather impressive as was most of the voice acting. It set the tone and mood of the game nicely, and for a game with a tone as dark as Planetscape, that’s important. I may not personally have been as enamored by the game as traditional CRPG fans usually are, but the dark themes of the game and brilliant writing have to be acknowledged regardless of personal tastes. The element of choice also needs to be pointed out and praised especially given the age of the game. There are seemingly countless choices to be made during the game. Some of those choices have major impacts on your game down the line, and some of them change literally nothing; with no way of knowing exactly which choices will have major consequences and which won’t, you have to make your choices carefully and keep in mind the way you want to play and the type of character you want The Nameless One to be. That aspect of player choice and agency more than anything kept me interested.
Planetscape: Torment is not my type of game, but I can recognize it as an excellent game despite that. My biggest issues with the game were a handful of random crashes that I experienced and some things that I felt were a bit unnecessarily and overly cryptic. Half of those cryptic things weren’t even puzzles I was too dumb to figure out but interactable objects or doorways that I didn’t notice because of the muted color scheme and dull building designs. Fortunately, though, little criticisms like that are all I can really levy against the game; as far as writing, character design, and thematic presentation go, the game is superb. The CRPG sub-genre just isn’t my cup of tea. For those who are into that type of game, I doubt you’ll find many better than this one.