You Have to Play Planescape: Torment. Here’s Why.

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Planescape: Torment is one of the best Dungeons and Dragons video games ever made, and now that the Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition has been announced, there’s never been a better time to play. The Enhanced Edition releases on April 11th, but Geek & Sundry was able to get a review copy and give the game a test drive. If you’ve never played Torment before, you’re in good company; this reviewer is a first-time visitor to the extraplanar city of Sigil, too. I played through the game and noted its many curiosities, its incredibly pulpy, philosophical dialogue, and its otherworldly weirdness. Let’s go on a journey together.

Stories of Infinite Worlds

The second thing you’ll notice about Torment (we’ll get the to first thing later) is its writing. The game’s alien setting allows Torment’s story to delve into the realm of the philosophical and the melancholy. The way that this story plays out may actually seem familiar to modern gamers; your character, the Nameless One, wakes up in a strange facility and emerges into a larger world to regain their memories of their past life. We get a taste of this storytelling method in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but Torment hangs its entire story on this central theme of rediscovery. This sort of self-sleuthing always makes you feel like you have a personal stake in the game, even when Torment goes into incredibly cosmic, high-concept places.

If you love cosmic, high-concept fantasy, you’ll find plenty of it in the countless worlds of Planescape. In many ways, Torment feels like a classic Elder Scrolls game—particularly the metaphysical acid trip that is The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Except while the land of Morrowind is filled with optional books you might choose to read, playing through Torment feels like you’re engaging with a singular, interactive novel.

Your Game, Your Playstyle

Torment prioritizes storytelling and player choice over thrilling combat encounters. Simply, this means that while you have only limited input over how the larger plot plays out, your actions to get there can be wildly different. Again, let’s return to the Elder Scrolls comparison. In both Torment and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, your class selection determines if you want to be a warrior, a mage, or a rogue. But in Oblivion, that choice really means “do you want to focus in stealthy combat, physical combat, or magical combat?” In Torment, if you play your cards right and choose exceptionally stealthy and diplomatic character traits, you’ll only fight enough battles to count on two hands.

All this to say, combat in Torment is only as important as you make it. (Which is a good thing, because… well, let’s say the combat system isn’t Torment’s strongest point.)

An Artifact of Gaming History

The first thing you’ll notice when booting up the game (told you we’d get back to that!) is that it looks old. The Enhanced Edition is a remaster—not a remake—of a game that was first released in the ‘90s. And that’s fine. This Enhanced Edition learned the right lesson from the remastered Star Wars Trilogy; update the graphics to modern fidelity but don’t touch the sound or visual assets. This game originally played in 640×480 resolution, and the Enhanced Edition looks pretty dang good on big screens and runs in 1080p without trouble. If you played the original Planescape: Torment back in the day, you’ll find that nothing about the game has been changed. Han still shoots first, and there’s no CGI Jabba, to extend that metaphor.

Here’s the long and short of it: being a gamer who’s never played Planescape: Torment is like being a cinephile who’s never watched Casablanca. Playing this game will help you understand games and what games can do. I’m not saying that this game made me a better person, a better game designer, and a better gamer, but I’m not saying it didn’t do all those things, either…

Stray Thoughts

Planescape: Torment isn’t perfect. Those ‘90s-era pre-rendered cutscenes really don’t hold up well, and there’s some wonky pathfinding in the combat system. The female characters aren’t as numerous or as well-developed as I’d like, compared to their male counterparts. And the game is based on 2nd edition AD&D, so some of the systems like THAC0 and old-school ability scores don’t make sense to gamers who grew up playing newer versions of D&D—though I admit THAC0 is much nicer when a computer handles all the math for me.

But these criticisms pale in comparison to what Torment gets right, biting with all the impotent fury of a gang of 1-HD imps at the ankles of a 20th-level fighter. Planescape: Torment is a wonderful game, and its Enhanced Edition is a splendid, unobtrusive, beautifying update. It’s inspired so many games, from Western RPGs like Morrowind, to Japanese adventure games like Zelda, that it always feels comfortably familiar. But it’s also incredibly alien, baffling, and intriguing, drawing you ever-deeper into the mysteries of the planes.

Did you play the original Planescape: Torment? Do you want a 5th edition Planescape setting book? Let us know how much you love the Planescape world in the comments, or tweet to @GeekandSundry!

Featured Image Credit: GOG Games

Image Credit: Beamdog/Wizards of the Coast

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