Planescape: Torment
Last seen in: 1999
Publisher: Interplay

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Planescape: Torment

Semi-amnesiac reporter Becky Cunningham writes: Why is Planescape: Torment so beloved by PC gamers? Even with its flaws (mediocre graphics even for the time, a bland combat system, and some genuinely poor examples of dungeon design), it's considered one of the greatest role-playing games ever made. Rising triumphant over the game's presentation is its content, a combination of originality, excellent writing, and compelling role-playing decisions. Set in the Dungeons and Dragons Planescape universe, Torment was unfettered from the traditional humans/elves/dwarves fantasy setting. Instead, it took place within the city of Sigil, a stopping-place for interdimensional travellers, ruled by deities with their own particular (and conflicting) kinds of philosophies. When the party's most ordinary characters are a tiefling (half-demon) and a good-aligned succubus, there's something interesting going on.

Torment's unique and compelling characters are at the heart of its appeal. Although the main character, the immortal Nameless One, is a blank slate who cannot remember his previous incarnations, his past deeds are slowly revealed to the player over the course of the game, and the player is constantly charged with making choices that shape who he becomes in his current "lifetime." His companions are not only unusual in terms of their race and culture, but are active participants in the game's story and its conversations. Morte the floating talking skull, for example, has a habit of insulting NPCs during conversations. The Nameless One also has the opportunity to have lengthy conversations with party members, and the dialog choices he makes often actively shape not just his relationship with them, but their effectiveness in combat. Although sometimes the game was a bit too wordy, most gamers agree that the extra reading was a small price to pay for the level of involvement they had in the story.

There will likely never be another Planescape game, or at least not one that's anything like Torment. Neither Black Isle nor Interplay exists anymore, and the D&D licence is in Hasbro's hands. However, the innovations from the game continue to inspire the best modern-day RPG developers. There are several elements from Torment that should be used more often in modern RPGs. Unique fantasy universes with original races and cultures need to start replacing the old, tired elves-in-the-forest settings. Non-player party members should play a more active role in games, not just reacting to what the player character does and says, but participating directly in conversations with each other and with NPCs. Finally, fantasy RPGs could use more compelling mysteries that players can uncover over the course of the game, moving the player forward through curiosity as well as a desire to defeat the Big Bad Guy. The Witcher and Dragon Age games have carried on Torment's pedigree to some extent, but developers could go farther and work harder to live up to Torment's narrative standards.

Can a new game happen?

Series Highlights

Not bloody likely.

Sadly, there was no series.

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