Planescape: Torment – The Review

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Here’s everything I accomplished this last weekend:

  • Played Planescape: Torment all the way through.

That’s it.  Two fourteen-hour days, replaying a fifteen year-old game.  Obsessively doing nothing but staring at a screen, managing artificial combat, and clicking dialogue options.
It was wonderful.
I need videogames as a cleansing reset button for my soul.  Gini does not count videogames as part of the entertainment budget, as “You get bitchy when you can’t play games.”  A diehard workaholic, even my down time needs to have me feel like I’m accomplishing something.  And so I’ll settle down for a day or three, do nothing but beat a videogame in every way it can be beat, and then return to real life.
Videogames are a form of meditation for me.  I feel totally refreshed today.
And Planescape: Torment is widely viewed as the best computer RPG ever, a game so complex it contains literally five novels’ worth of writing – half a million words buried in dialogue options.  But what makes it great?
The depth.
I think of my old buddy Jeremy, who got irritated by all these cut-scenes in Halo because he wanted to get back to the fighting, and go, “No, this is not for you.”  Planescape is gouts of story, spilling out on the screen with so many detailed characters that the characters are the story, and you’ll frequently spend an half-hour or more just picking your way among the dialogue trees to make sure you’ve caught everything they have to say.
What they have to say is brilliant.
The glory of Planescape: Torment is that it all holds together as a story.  I can think of no other videogames that are better than most novels when it comes to stories – even Bioshock Infinite, with all of its grandeur and theme, is a fairly simple tale told with a lot of bombast.  Most videogame stories are comic book vignettes strung together by action sequences, or maybe an episode of 24 strung together with action sequences.  But Torment is as complex and winding as a Gene Wolfe novel (though not as obscure), with themes and choices looming large.
They thought through everything.  Everything.  You wake up in a mortuary, not sure who you are.  Later on, if you get the optional ability to speak to the dead, and if you choose to break back into the Mortuary to talk to the corpses around you, and if you talk to the right corpse, you will find the corpse who knows the reason why you weren’t cremated at the Mortuary with the rest of the stiffs (and it is, indeed, a good and character-based rationale).  I have never seen such a sprawling videogame that is knotted so tightly – because you, as the Nameless One, are the reason for everything in the game and yet not the master of it.  There are depths everywhere, that feeling that you’re missing something because you overlooked the right corner.  Things feel like they’re spilling outside the screen, with hints and allegations of larger mysteries that you are not involved with and may never get to know.
Plus, the imagination behind everything is stellar.  The Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts, run by a reformed succubus called Falls-From-Grace, is just one of a hundred fascinating concepts.  Hell, the way the game plays with immortality – what can you do with your body if you can’t die?  How could you leave clues for yourself if you forget things? – is more imaginative than whole beloved series of other games.  This is the only videogame where STR is your dump stat, because greater Wisdom and Intelligence means that you can fathom more of the wonders around you.
Now, that’s not to say that Planescape: Torment is perfect as a game, because it has a very annoying habit of placing fetch-quests so you have to run all over the damn city, repeatedly, with piss-poor pathfinding once you get beyond three people.  It’s easy to overlook, say, critical doors, as we’re dealing with a 1999 interface in a 2014 world.   And the last act suffers from lack of variety, feeling rushed together for deadline, and Lord if I have to kill one more fucking Curst guard I am going to fling this computer through a portal.
But in the end, Torment delivers what I want: talk.  It’s a game that understands that if I have put all of my statistic points into social interaction, then I shouldn’t have to be punished with a senseless final battle.  If you’re smart enough and convincing enough, you can talk your way out of the end game, in a way that makes utter sense.  I may have to play this game as a dumb fighter, just to see how frustrating it would be.
It’s a good game to get lost in for the weekend.  And it asks a very real question: What can change the nature of a man?
A game with a philosophy to it.  It’s wonderful.

1 Comment

  1. Chad Miller
    Jan 27, 2014

    And the last act suffers from lack of variety, feeling rushed together for deadline, and Lord if I have to kill one more fucking Curst guard I am going to fling this computer through a portal.

    By a total coincidence I started this game last week and this is literally the only reason I haven’t finished it yet. It’s like I’m playing the best story-driven game I’ve ever seen and all of a sudden it turns into this rickety RTS. I actually read somewhere that Curst was developed by people who didn’t have anything to do with the rest of the game, which is believable whether it’s true or not. At least it’s encouraging to hear that it gets better again.
    Fallout 2, incidentally, had the same problem except it carried it all the way to the final showdown (I could go on for thousands of words about why I can’t stand the final “dungeon”, but just one problem is that the “diplomatic” character’s only realistic option to get past the final boss is to kill a nonviolent NPC without provocation and then not talk to the boss).
    It got me to wondering if anyone’s ever made an RPG like this, but without any combat at all. It then occurred to me that such a thing would probably be an adventure game, but I don’t believe anyone’s made that adventure game either.

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