Author’s note: This review is as spoiler-free as we can make it, but be warned that while we’ve tried to be as vague as we can, there is mild discussion of the premise of the game.
You emerge from the forest gasping as arrows soar past your face, barely missing you. Your legs have carried you as far as they can, but they’re not going to carry you much further. Ahead of you is a cliff edge, behind you an angry group of outlaws. You approach the cliff edge and look at what lies below. A pool of water littered with jagged rocks awaits 50 feet down, but it doesn’t look very inviting. You hear footsteps behind and turn around; the bandits have finally caught up to you. “Your money on your life!” the bandit leader cries. The outlaws don’t appear to have any intention of letting you live, but you don’t particularly feel like dying today. What do you say?
- I mean, are they both mutually exclusive? (Persuade)
- I don’t want any trouble. (Pay 3000 shins)
- I was having a boring day anyway. (Attack)
- Bye! [Jump off the cliff into the pool of water 50ft below)
If you feel like you’ve stepped into a choose-your-own-adventure novel or stumbled into a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, then you wouldn’t be wrong. Torment: Tides of Numenera is a game that harkens back to old school RPGs, and if you’re into that sort of thing then you’re in for a wild ride with inXile Entertainment’s latest offering. Between the releases of Horizon Zero Dawn and Mass Effect: Andromeda you might think that Torment: Tides of Numenera doesn’t deserve a look in, but you’d be wrong as Tides is a totally different beast that’s a welcome addition to the roleplaying games that have opened 2017.
In Torment: Tides of Numenera you play as a person who has cheated death, and they want to move on with their life. The world is your oyster, and it’s up to you to make your mark on it. While this all sounds fine and dandy, not everyone’s happy to see you alive, and you’re going to have to keep your wits about you and find strong allies if you want any hope of surviving. Don’t be fooled by our vague descriptions though, the story is rich and there’s more to it than meets the eye.
The choice and consequence system is a refreshing take on failure and punishment. Failure is a frequent occurrence in Numenera and it can range from a trifling inconvenience to a tragic turn of events, but the great thing about consequences in Tides is that they rarely make the player feel punished. Even if things don’t go your way, events can unfold in an intriguing manner and give you a more satisfying sense of closure than you otherwise may have got if you succeeded. The world feels alive in this sense, rather than adopting a binary view of “you failed so nothing good will happen” versus “you succeeded so everything went perfectly”.
There are three classes to choose from in Tides (Nano, Jack, Glaive) and each with their style of combat, but your choice doesn’t matter too much because more emphasis is placed on roleplaying than combat. While combat situations do exist (they’re called crises), they’re few and far between and the majority of combat can be avoided using social skills. Of course if you want to go in guns blazing (metaphorically) you can do so, and this opportunity to tailor your playstyle gives Tides a lot of replayability. The combat system in Tides is fairly simplistic and isn’t particularly innovative, but what stands out about it is that if you lose the encounter and your character is defeated, you don’t always repeat it. Rather than having to reload your last save, events will instead just play out from your defeat, which often means that they won’t play out in your favour. This provides a real sense of unpredictability and mystery around combat that makes it fun regardless of whether you win or lose.
Tides isn’t without its flaws though, and one of its greatest strengths is also its greatest weakness. I’m referring to the huge mass of material on offer in the game, which is ridiculously dense. On one hand, the game has an interesting story and the level of dedication shown in writing so much content should be applauded, however, unfortunately the sheer amount of text but can be a turn-off at times. The player isn’t obligated to go through all of the dialogue options and can skip through the text, but regardless being bombarded with paragraph upon paragraph every other second quickly becomes intimidating.
In the beginning I was clicking through all of the dialogue options because I felt like I had to in order to learn about the story, rather than exploring the options because I wanted to find out more, and the game could definitely benefit from delivering its story in more digestible bitesize chunks. Tides is basically an interactive novel, but unfortunately the prose doesn’t always flow smoothly. It doesn’t help that loading screens on the PS4 are frequent and last a long time, so you’re spending most of your time watching loading screens or scrolling through paragraphs of text, which doesn’t make for the most exciting gameplay experience.
Importantly though, the one thing that Tides definitively does not lack, is character. While learning about a companion’s backstory suffers from aforementioned exposition issues, the game’s writers nevertheless really shone in bringing the player’s companions to life. In a game that prioritises story over gameplay it’s important that the characters really speak to you, and the companions in Tides of Numenera are truly memorable, with their insights and colourful one-liners really enriching the gameplay experience.
Whether you should buy Torment: Tides of Numenera essentially boils down to how much you like reading. If you play video games as an alternative to reading a book, then Tides likely isn’t the game for you. If you’re an avid reader though and are looking for something a bit different to your standard video game RPG, then this game could be right up your alley. Our verdict? The Tides are shifting, and they’re in Numenera’s favour.