Dungeons & Dragons has a long, storied history in gaming. The classic pen and paper game has had several successful digital counterparts,and its approach to role playing has influenced and been repackaged as everything from Final Fantasy to Skyrim. If you’re only familiar with modern role-playing games, you could be forgiven for assuming that they’re all about crafting and loot, leveling and growing stronger. In truth, D&D’s many progeny have simply sidestepped what makes role-playing games one of the most powerful, affecting genres.
Torment: Tides of Numenera seeks to take role-playing back to its roots. Gone are the bombastic power fantasies. Gone, too, are cluttered inventory screens and complex crafting. Instead, Torment is about you taking on the role of another. Reductive as that might sound, the distinction underscores what modern RPGs have been missing for so long–actual role-playing.
Set more than a billion years in the future, Torment blurs the line between science fiction and fantasy. While everything is ostensibly technological, it’s often so advanced that it might as well be magical. It’s against that backdrop that your character pops into existence. You’re thrust into the body of the Last Castoff, a husk of a person created by a god seeking a perfect vessel. You begin your new life falling from space, with only a few broken memories ripped from the god who made you.
Character creation comes as a series of scenarios that encourage you to choose not just who you are (i.e. your gender or class), but what kind of person you want to be. Your backstory is set, but you can choose how to respond and explore the alien world into which you’ve just been born. From the outset, Torment encourages you to internalize motivations for your character.
When you play an RPG, you’re shaping the experience as much as the game’s developers did. They’ve authored the text and crafted the structure, but from those pieces, you construct your own adventure. It’s a blessing, then, that Torment’s pieces are phenomenal. Its environments are rich and detailed, packed with strange creatures and wondrous animated effects. Surreal, atonal music billows from these far-future locales, setting an uneasy tone. Torment’s true strength, though, is its writing and the beautiful twists it brings to classic RPG concepts.