The fictional setting of Numenera is set on Earth roughly one billion years into the future. This takes us to a strange world in a somewhat apocalyptic state as the current world is built around the remnants of many civilisations that have fallen over the years past. With not much left regarding technology and infrastructure, the people live in a somewhat nomadic state amongst ruins with all sorts of advanced, unheard of technologies littered throughout current age, referred to as “The Ninth World”. These artefacts, called Numenera, are either broken beyond the point of repair or those that do still function are so far beyond the current ages level of understanding that they are simply thought to be magical and appreciated only by those of superior intellect of the old worlds, such as scholars.
You play as someone known as The Last Castoff, and the human body you reside within is merely the discarded and out dated vessel of a man known by most as The Changing God. This name is fitting as he is able to use Numenera artifacts and the technologies of this strange world to simply discard his current body and transfer his consciousness to an entirely new one. The old, discarded body then adopts a new consciousness to take his place and thus a new Castoff is created. Hence where the player comes in, being the latest addition to the Castoff family having fallen from the sky and crashed into Earth. No, I mean literally. This happens with little explanation as to how that came to happen or why someone might be able to survive such a fall. Regardless, upon recovering from this seemingly unbelievable fall you are not long after informed about being hunted by a beast called The Sorrow, who tirelessly hunts The Changing God and any of The Castoff family in what one could only assume to be a means of restoring balance to the world by preventing the possibility of immortality itself. Is it possible to cheat death? Does The Changing God deserve to live forever? Can he and the horde of Castoff beings defeat The Sorrow or will their fates inevitably catch up to them? Only you, The Last Castoff, can hope to find out on a journey to answer the ultimate question: What does one life matter?
The first thing players really ought to know about TTON, especially if they’re not too familiar with role-playing games, is that it’s very story-heavy with lots of reading. Like, lots. By the end of the roughly 30-hour campaign you’ll be left feeling like you’ve read a whole series of novels. This can be both good and bad and really does depend on the preference of the player themselves. The game plays with you, the player, navigating your character through a relatively open world exploring and completing quests at your leisure. With most actions, you are given the option of choosing how much ‘effort’ to apply to them, and each action falls under one of 3 skills; might, speed and intellect. This influences things such as persuasion attempts and hit chance in combat with the more effort points applied the higher the chance of success. This is about as far as the players input contributes to games action unfortunately. If you’d prefer an RPG with plenty of action then this may not be the most suitable game for you. In fact, I would say overall combat is a very small part of this game. But if you’re after a good story and combat is not the key point of sale when you look at buying a game then this may be a good choice.
Like any good RPG most of your actions come paired with a series of consequences making for some rather intriguing outcomes; something as simple as dying may not go as you would have expected it to. Creating your character and levelling is very like any RPG really; you choose a few base skill sets learning towards a particular style of play be it combat focused or favouring more towards something intelligence based or somewhere in between. There is no visual customisation to the character you play as aside from choosing gender, which would seem perfectly fine as you can barely see your character in game anyway being a top-down style of gameplay avoiding any kind of cinematic or close-up camera moments. You do however get to change items such as armour and weapons which can all be seen visually.
This game’s primary focus revolves around exploration and character interaction. This is complimented by the fact the environments are plentiful on loot and quite interesting to look at and you can easily find yourself forgetting quests entirely and wandering aimlessly whilst taking in the sights of the world around you created using the Unity engine. The other thing that really immerses the player into this universe is that the level of creative writing that has gone into the characters can be quite fascinating. Whether it be due to the novel-like level of description that is explained about each character before and during their dialogue sequences or the level of engagement they appear to have when discussing things within the game universe, be it lore, quests or otherwise. Having such a unique setting is always a nice way to grab a player’s intrigue and grant them the ability to dive into a game head first keeping them interested for extended periods of game time instead of getting bored and moving on to playing something else instead.
With any game, the good points are almost always accompanied by some bad and TTON is no exception. Having most of the game revolving around conversing with various characters immediately means a few things. Firstly, having the gameplay so broken up by standing around talking can really slow everything right down and even make certain sections or quests feel really dragged out unnecessarily. Furthermore, having so much dialogue requires the player themselves to have a lot of imagination as most of the ‘action’ is supposedly meant to be happening while the player is reading, meaning you won’t actually get to see anything happen at all or sometimes you’ll get some very simple animation happen between pieces of conversation. In other words, this feels less like a video game and more like a method of interactive story telling.
The combat feels so unimportant that I honestly believe they could have almost completely scrapped it with little consequence. As mentioned earlier there are very few combat sequences and after trying your hand at a few you’ll almost come to appreciate this as they leave much to be desired. Upon stumbling into a combat scenario the gameplay will switch from a free roaming style of gameplay to turn based, much like a lot of games of this genre. This can be an effective tool with role playing games as you are normally accompanied by a few companions with their own unique combat skills and abilities but this also usually means they’re a key component to the story as well. Instead TTON gives you the option of exploring the game completely solo which makes sense regarding the story but after dying in combat a few times you’ll come to realise this is pointless as you will just be outnumbered and killed in almost every battle. So, you’ll then recruit a couple of companions to aid you in your endeavours however this doesn’t exactly make sense from a narrative point of view as these companions likely have no interest in one another and are aimlessly following you around because, why not? Maybe that’s just my humbled opinion but as far as role-playing games go that’s something that has never sat well with me personally.
Another thing that stood out to me early in the game is the lack of a good tutorial or any kind of explanation that really sticks and doesn’t bore you to death with a heap of big words that have little meaning to someone who is still learning the ropes. The actual tutorial that kicks the game off makes very little sense at first and you’re more taken back the fact heaps of things are happening, only you see none of it and just read about it. You’re then trying to make sense of your character’s surroundings and why it all looks really confusing only to later discover it’s an interpretation of your characters subconscious as you explore your own mind. Sounds good in theory, but could have been executed a little better perhaps. Overall Torment: Tides of Numenera is not a bad RPG but certainly isn’t the best on the market either. When stacked up against titles of the same genre it doesn’t really stand out at all as it doesn’t do anything ‘better’ than any of the others which is a bit of a shame considering the vast amount of potential it has shown. With plenty of unique locations to look at and particularly interesting NPCs to interact with as well as a lengthy campaign to sink a lot of hours into this game could be quite satisfying to someone who frequents this style of game or just really f***ing enjoys reading. That being said, if RPG style games have never been your calling and you’d rather just pick up a game that doesn’t require much thought or time then perhaps give this one a miss. TTON does have a few simple bugs such as having difficulty navigating the world from getting caught on objects when trying to walk around but I found there was nothing overly game breaking. This is far from the worst game I’ve ever played, but it isn’t for everyone.