D20: Is Planescape: Torment as good as we all remember?

Planescape: Torment

By on February 26, 2013 at 9:36 am

In a discussion about game stories I was having a few weeks ago with some game-writer friends of mine, the subject turned, as it inevitably tends to do, to Planescape: Torment. We all agreed, as we inevitably do, that the game features one of the best, if not the best narratives in gaming — but an interesting comment was made that forced me to start replaying the game for the first time in a number of years, and re-examine my opinion.

We all agreed that the game features an amazing an engrossing story, but a single dissenting voice questioned whether that necessarily made Planescape: Torment a good game — or whether it made it an average game elevated to legendary status by an exceptional story.

Whilst I was the first to jump up and poo-poo this almost heretical question, it did give me reason for pause. In my mind, a truly great game is a combination of multiple factors. A great story can elevate something but it can’t be its only saving grace — the long-in-gestation Inquisitor is a perfect example of this. The story and the writing are fascinating and engrossing, but no matter how interesting the story it couldn’t make up for the fact that the moment-to-moment gameplay is intensely slow and unwieldy.

To test the theory I booted up my copy of Torment, to quickly discover that my friend had a point. Although the gameplay is far from average, being one of the best AD&D computer games ever produced, it does feel somewhat constrained by the rules. The Planescape: Torment story is grandiose, larger than life and deeply melancholy, as does the Planescape campaign setting upon which it is based,  but the AD&D rules set that underlays all of The Nameless One’s actions does not feel particularly up to the task of living up to the premise.

I think the problem, to the extent to which it exists, may be that what the AD&D rules need to make them feel like a living system is a mind to judge when rolls are necessary, something that cannot be had in a game.

In a tabletop game of AD&D the rules act as a framework around which the GM can construct an adventure. The GM has the ability to know when to ignore the rules in favour of story and when to fudge them to advance the action. On a basic level the dice rolls work as a randomiser and catalyst for action and the other rules are there to offer a framework but not a prison, leaving the story and players the focus instead of the system.

The problem with some computer games, Planescape: Torment included, is that there has to be a certain consistency throughout the game. There isn’t a GM ready and willing to continue tailoring the game to both suit and cater to the actions of the players. Instead there are the rules, and… that’s it. This is good from the standpoint of knowing how the game will react at any given time, but it does dampen the overall feel of the game, sometimes leaving the rules and the story at odds with each other, with the former clearly showing through the latter.

This, of course, isn’t the case with all games. There are numerous RPGs with systems that work brilliantly with the story to create a overly satisfying whole. Gothic II and The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings spring immediately to mind. Both games feature dynamic combat systems that feel as though they empower the character rather than constrain them, and the systems of alchemy, character advancement and item creation feel like they are part of the world rather than a set system.

It could be argued that many of the problems I’ve had with the Planescape: Torment rules stems from the age of the game, and whilst that may be true, I don’t think it would be any more possible to create an AD&D game today in a setting as amazing and varied as Planescape without the system feeling like a hindrance. For this reason (amongst many), I’m very curious to see what happens with Torment: Tides of Numenera, the spiritual sequel to Planescape: Torment. The game is being built around a rules set specifically created for the setting by a veteran of tabletop rules creation, and the man behind Planescape: Torment‘s original setting. If inXile can mesh the rules and story into a seamless whole they just might create a game that not only lives up to the legacy of Planescape: Torment but may, in fact, eclipse it.

12 comments (Leave your own)

I never thought it was all that great to start with to be honest. In my longest playthrough back in the day I lost the motivation to continue pushing forward a few areas after leaving Sigil.
For me there wasn’t enough story to keep driving me forward, after so many hours of gameplay I was still more or less stumbling around in the dark following bread crumbs. As fas as I could see my character had no motivation to keep going beyond the fact that he had nothing better to do with himself. Wasn’t nearly enough to hold my interest.

 
corporatedecay

I disagree with this fairly strongly. I have re-played many of the Black Isle games including Planescape over the years, and still find them a greatly enjoyable experience.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the slow pace of game play, or the ruleset it was based on, other than not much in the way of a tutorial or explanation for those unfamiliar with how it all works.
I disagree with this modern mindset that every game needs to be a 3d cinematic extravaganza throwing explosions, fireworks, cut-scenes and other distractions at the player every 5 seconds, not allowing the player to move at his/her own pace and just experience the world of the game and explore.
Not every game needs to be a first person or 3rd person shooter/action game. Some people actually enjoy a more paced, cerebral experience, this can be evidenced by the success of numerous kickstarters like Wasteland and the new Torment game (its not all nostalgia contrary to popular belief)

@Yurtles, Its not for everyone and thats fine, but there was a lot of story, both world and plot, but it was something that the player had to discover or leave as they saw fit, rather than be rammed down ones throat in an endless stream of cutscenes ala Maxpayne 3

 

I never liked Torment to the extent of the other Infinity Engine games. The combat in particular was not as enjoyable or tactical as in the BG/IWD titles. It was more like a book than a game to me – now don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with a good book but when Im playing a game I’m looking for a different form of entertainment then what I got with Torment.

 

corporatedecay,

I think the only issue the author of this article had was the rules, ie he wasn’t expecitng explosions, fireworks etc in this game. eg

…the gameplay is far from average, being one of the best AD&D computer games ever produced…

I kind of agree that the AD&D system almost seemed shoehorned into a game that just doesn’t suit. Obviously they had no choice, as Planescape is an AD&D licensed product, but it would be better to have a ruleset that was more aimed at storytelling rather than levelling/XP. Something like the WoD ruleset instantly springs to mind for example, but I’m thinking from a purely pen&paper perspective. There’s probably a better system than that for CRPGs with a story focus.

 

I played Planescape torment through in 2009, and was honestly pretty underwhelmed by it in isolation, and considering the buildup in media etc it was pretty meh.

The story is very very different to other rpg games, but i wouldnt say it was head and shoulders above every other rpg. It was in the top pack, but it wasnt brilliant.

And when the story is compared to fantasy novels, both the plot and background world are really only mediocre, theres alot more better examples in print, even going back 50 years or more.

And the gameplay really was very clunky, and only becomes worse as more better examples come out in the genre, and i’d agree with the author that games like gothic 2 run rings around planescape torment in the gameplay category.

 

corporatedecay:
Not every game needs to be a first person or 3rd person shooter/action game. Some people actually enjoy a more paced, cerebral experience, this can be evidenced by the success of numerous kickstarters like Wasteland and the new Torment game (its not all nostalgia contrary to popular belief)

I don’t think that’s exactly what Daniel intended to be taken from his analysis. The DnD ruleset IS made for a world where a GM knows where and when to be a stickler for the ruleset.

It’s also a ruleset that, over the years, morphed into a static system that had to support multiple settings.

It was a jack of all trades and a master of none. That’s fine in the PnP world but does run into issues when making the transition to games.

 

Planescape is a game where you can take as much or as little away from as you so choose. You didn’t have to delve into the story to finish the game or to even follow the basic thread – but you could delve right into it and extrapolate a lot more depth and information about what is happening and why it is happening. It’s story was a building epic, the depths of the story didn’t come easy and when it did it had big ramifications on your play. The player took on the Nameless experience, sometimes you didn’t like what you found and sometimes you were proud of what you found out and sometimes you wished you could hide and again forget what you found. The story has a beautiful narrative, the only real criticism I could lob at it was that it plodded along building an “unscratchable” gaming itch at times.

It was a game that didn’t punish you for either choice, if anything it erred on the side of pushing too much story for those who just like the blamblam! moments and looting. It had pre-defined environments and story yet it allowed things like continued class changes if one so desired it wasn’t restricted in that regard and ultimately that allowed for a lot more gameplay options.

Arguably the open nature and oppressive melancholy is far better suited to the more open interpretation of “tabletop” AD&D rather than CRPG AD&D which cannot push individually tailored story nearly as well. It is an unavoidable problem with CRPG’s even by today’s standards of CRPG “openness”.

It’s not a game for everyone, it wasn’t particularly commercially successful on it’s release and it has taken on the mythic proportionw of “Yeah played that, it was awesome” that people get caught up in (much like the “I like their old stuff” music viewpoint that some people always bring up, to infer their greater band appreciation or whatever nonsense).

It was released around the time of Baldurs Gate and the other much more action orientated CRPG’s that took off at that period. Torment is and was the beautiful black swan floating on the serene lake while it’s white winged brethren posed and pranced.

 

i still loved this game, and am playing it though slowly again now. i like the slow gameplay and the systems behind it, only wishing for a slight tweeks at times.
the story i also think is still top notch and i love the setting, going as far to say the setting for me is probably one of the most interesting.

the game i don’t think is for every one, but even then i don’t think it could be anything but one of the best story’s in gaming.
which i think for me, does so much in a game even if it is flawed.

 

I’d have to say I was always underwhelmed by the game. The story was very different and much more interesting than most, but I found the mechanics and UI in the game extremely clumsy and off-putting. Like a nasty cross between Diablo and Fallout.

Then again, I thought the System Shock 1 control scheme was brilliant and innovative, so maybe I’m just different.

 

probably the interface and some of the mechanics are probably what let the game down a bit, i find alot of people have trouble getting around the interface without hints.
and people miss a lot since the game leaves a lot for you to just find on your own, some people don’t like that so much.

one of the things i loved about the game is that some of the story stuff is realy up to you to find, with nothing stopping you getting there.
you could chance onto it, or it can be a huge adventure to get there.

 

The games story is probably the best I’ve ever seen. It is let down by a terrible combat system.

People defend it saying the game is all about story don’t bring combat into it, however I don’t see why you can’t have the best story ever made with the best combat ever made :P

 

I couldn’t get into any of the Infinity engine games at all. I didn’t play Torment very much at all, already burned out on the format with the BG’s. Its one of my biggest regrets, but every time I think I will try to go back to play through to see for myself what the story is about I just know its going to be a good story wrapped in tedious combat.

 
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