#416 Planescape: Torment

Posted: 11th February 2011 by Jeroen in Games
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28th game played so far


Genre: RPG
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Black Isle Studios
Publisher: Interplay Entertainment

Vigilant readers of this blog may have realised that the last six games that we covered were all exclusively found on a Nintendo-made console. As you can probably guess we both felt the need for a change of venue when choosing the next game to cover. At the time of writing this we were close to Jeroen’s birthday so he chose an RPG which is loves very much indeed (and that is not only because I got it for him for Christmas 2 years ago).

Since this is a genre and gaming engine he knows well the majority of the write-up for Planescape: Torment will be done by him since he knows more of the technical details. I will be interjecting mentions of necrophilia and prostitution (seriously).

Our Playthrough

We played through the game for a few hours, finishing the introductory mausoleum area and dealing with some quests and things in the Hive. We’ve also had a lot of discussions – I’ve finished the game several times already, so I knew quite a bit about it. This way I could show and explain some things we wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise.

Our Thoughts

What can change the nature of a man? Is it my homemade Anjou pear cake? That’s not an option of the game, but it gives many different options… love, hate, belief, knowledge, regret… I’m sorry, we never got far enough for that to matter to you. I guess that’s a slight issue with our 5 hour system but there are so many games to play and to be played that we can’t complete them all, despite how much we may love some of them. Yeah, and this is also why we’re going to play some games further down the line when we feel like it.

There are few games that have inspired that for me but I know for a fact that Planescape: Torment will be one for you. To be fair, it always was for me, and I’ve loved it since I first played it and probably know more of it than what is necessary. This is why everything, apart from my genius introduction containing inspired words of genius (ok maybe not) has been left to you. This is your soapbox Jeroen; show our readers how much you love this game. Where do we start?

First, I love the Infinity Engine, which was used in several games, with Planescape: Torment being one of its peaks – Baldur’s Gate 2, which we’ll discuss in the future, the other, and the Icewind Dale series just being plain fun. The gameplay is traditional, and may not have all you want, but it works. It’s controls are easy, you can pause whenever if you feel the need but mostly there is a real-time combat system that makes the action flow fast. The combat system works but is in no way a highlight unlike the gameplay that lies outside it.

Planescape: Torment has excellent scripting facilities, which show through in the cutscenes used, but even more so in the dialogs. They are huge, funny, highly readable, and while the game contains several novels worth of text, they come together in far more easy to read dialogs. Even though you need to keep your eye on them or else you’ll miss out. It’s a game that doesn’t follow the rule of show, don’t tell… it tells a lot, but the graphics rarely match.

I do love Morte aka a floating skull who follows you around and wants to have sexytime with female reanimated corpses. Well, he wants more than just that, but he’s a skull who enjoys life, despite being dead for probably several centuries. I guess that’s how he learnt all those fantastic insults. The characters, especially joinable PCs, are set up amazingly, written with a lot of personality. Morte is the one you encounter first, and he’s possibly the best – both as a fighter and as a comic relief. He’s witty, lecherous, and when he doesn’t want to make out with female zombies, he’s looking at the skeletons so he can use their bodies for himself. He misses having arms. Despite this his backstory is more complex than that and is slightly sad – the game title contains ‘Torment’ for a reason. Morte is a character where it shows, and for the sake of spoilers, I won’t explain why. Good show.

On to your goal – in this RPG we’re not going to save the country or world, or save girlfriends, or anything like that. No, the story is that you have to die. That’s it. It’s not as easy as it sounds. You see, you’re an amnesiac ugly, scarred dude who can’t die. He regenerates his own wounds and when he dies, he just wakes up in a nearby safe place and you continue playing. This makes the game easy, in a sense, but could also be said to just be a good way to prevent an endless load-save cycle.

Even though it does sound like a bit of a cheat (even just a lil bit) it fits in well with the general lore of the Planescape world. With the exception of the lush graphics which accompany the spells you (or your mage category companions) conjure this is probably the best aspect of the game and does help to set it apart from a lot of other RPGs. I mean as much as I loved Final Fantasy X (the only game to move me to tears) it’s mythology amounts to a fraction found in this. When you consider that this as non-linear as you can get for a pre-2000 RPG it’s pretty impressive.

It sort of is. Now, the mythology does get quite a boost from its outside source here, although it’s likely they’d have tried to get as much of it in the game even if it wasn’t there. But the game is based on a Dungeons & Dragons setting, appropriately called Planescape. It’s not the general sort of fantasy world, but it’s got steampunk influences with ideas of alternative worlds, the afterlife, and a far larger focus on thinking, philosophy and talking instead of fighting than you get in most normal fantasy RPGs. This game is one where the designers have done their best to translate it to the game and it works well, feels natural and unforced.

The game itself was created by some of the giants in the western story-based RPG world (as opposed to the sandbox games like Oblivion or the eastern RPGs like Final Fantasy series). Fallout, another game we’ll be covering down the line, being another one of their successes.

Now, down to a bit more mundane things, the looks and sound (yay). The graphics of the game are interesting. The major hindrance I’ve seen mentioned more often is the low resolution of the game – 640×480 feels very zoomed in, and mods that were later created to allow you to play the game in a higher resolution allows for seeing more of the prettiness. The spells, as mentioned before, are especially pretty. While even the mundane ones look awesome, the high level spells feature amazing movies and graphics that impress and suit their power. That one where your enemy is dragged to hell (sideline: Drag Me To Hell is an excellent movie) is especially impressive for a minor spell.  The one that really takes away the award is Celestial Host. It contains so many beautifully rendered stages with vengeful angels that culminate with the appearance of a rather pissy dragon and deservedly so. It’s all the heavens coming down on your enemy. I thought that was the meteor storm one… different type of heaven.

The graphics outside that are good. Sure, somewhat dated, but the style allows it to age, and the (mostly) hand-painted background in the areas your visit are gorgeous. The characters are pre-rendered sprites that are somewhat limited in what they can do, but do allow for better aging than what proper 3D graphics allowed at that time. The great thing about the graphics is that, in many ways, they are stylised. That way they do not age as quickly as other games which were attempting to use the best graphics available at the time. I mean look at games like the first Broken Sword or Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, they won’t graphically age for well over a decade. Maybe even longer. It also helps that most of the creatures and items you meet are so ‘out there’ – if you have nothing to compare to, then how can they look dated? Such as The Lady of Pain… who may or may not be a trio of levitating squirrels. Yes, you will have to play the game to get that reference and it’s explained further if you know the campaign setting.

 

The sounds were described as very good as well, and I can echo that. Walking past a bar makes it feel that way, as you hear the crowd talk. The music is a lovely classical soundtrack with a theme for every major character and several areas, and a sweeping battle track. As outstanding, however, is the voice acting. It’s done well, and you’ll see why when you see the names of some of the people involved. Jennifer Hale is a staple – she’s done lots of video games, including I believe voices for all the Infinity Engine games. But then there are bigger names. Tony Jay, Michael T. Weiss, John deLancie (Q from Star Trek, Rob Paulsen (Yakko Warner from Animaniacs), Sheena Easton. Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson). It’s an epic cast, and yet barely publicized. The box art did not help things much there… The box art is horrible in that sense, and you shouldn’t let that frighten you. It’s the main character (although a rather bad version of him), and he’s ugly, that’s the point. It’s what you get when you’ve lived that long. But the inclusion of a few other characters would’ve worked better.

It’s an amazing game. I’ve always liked it. It’s not exactly my cup of tea but I really can see why it got most of it’s accolades.

Final Thoughts

I love this game, and consider it one of the best RPGs and games ever made. Few are beating this combination of story-telling and gameplay. It’s interesting, intellectual, has a challenge, gives you choice but tells a lot. The graphics work, the sound is good, the gameplay is very nice, but the story and storytelling is what stands out.

As an aside

I love the Infinity Engine games, as said before. One of their major plus points is that throughout the years, people have found out a lot about the games and all the datafiles have been analysed. Because of this, and some design decisions made when creating the games to make patching easy, it’s easy to mod the games and write extra content for it, as well as to browse the files and find out how several things worse, another thing I just enjoy doing.

The modding, however, has led to an even greater amount of possibilities. I’ll go into a lot of recommendations when we get to Baldur’s Gate (2) about the possibilities for that game, but Planescape Torment has a few I’d personally recommend. First, to fix all the bugs, get the Planescape Torment Fix Pack. Some fixes might be debatable, but overall they work.

Tweaks and extra quests are always a dubious thing, as you’ll also want to experience parts of the game as they are, but the Tweak Pack will remove some frustrating elements from the game and allow access to a few more. PS:T Unfinished Business restores several quests and other items the developers didn’t have time to finish fully and were removed from the game. It’s very much worthwhile to try out later to get some more content in the game.

Last, the resolution issue I mentioned the game has is also fixed in a mod, and it makes the game just that much more playable. There’s two parts to this. First, there’s the Widescreen mod, which actually increases the resolution. Second, Ghostdog’s UI mod adds to and updates the graphics to work and look better on higher resolutions. Both worth a good try.

Another thing to promote here is the Icewind Dale series. Both parts are not as great as the other mentioned games, but these too have several mods. For all the Infinity Engine games, the mod list has a full list. Icewind Dale is also fairly underappreciated here compared to the Baldur’s Gate series, but it’s a nice hack and slash game with lots of looting and simple fun times. The story is still nice, the graphics are, it’s all good, and if you’re interested in the above games, go for Icewind Dale too. You won’t regret it.

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