Remember… Planescape: Torment?

Remember… is a series of retrospectives, some from our magazine archives, and others from our more recent nostalgia dreams.

You wake up in a mortuary, your body grotesquely scarred and laid out upon a funereal bier, surrounded by the grim trappings of death. Shrugging off the lingering vestiges of some distant and inscrutable nightmare, you sit yourself up. There’s this really chatty disembodied skull banging around in the space just next to you. Introducing himself as Morte, this indefatigable floater swiftly designates you his ‘Chief’, and asks about the tattoo on your back. Tattoo? Yes, there’s this rather remarkable tattoo on your back – it’s a message about a journal, and some cutter named Pharod. Only, you don’t have the book, and you’ve no idea who this Pharod cove is. Come to think of it, you’ve no idea who you are. You’d better find a way to give these lurking Dustman leatherheads the laugh, get yourself out into the Cage, and tumble to the dark of it all. ‘Midst the noisome stench of rotting corpses, stale intestinal emissions and formaldehyde, you smell adventure.

Released in 1999, Planescape: Torment was somehow – scandalously – eclipsed by its then recent predecessor Fallout 2, and quick successor Icewind Dale. Thus, despite overwhelming critical acclaim and subsequent inclusion in several prestigious “Best Games Ever” lists, the game sold only a wretched 400 000 or so copies. With only a single short-run re-issue in 2001, it since became a much sought-after cult classic until the Enhanced Edition launched in 2017.

While Torment uses an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ruleset, the player-side character development system is not nearly as expansive as one might reasonably expect. You can’t even give yourself a name cribbed from Lord of the Rings or some horrible pulp fantasy novel, and instead remain The Nameless One throughout the game. You’ll start off as a fighter, and be given opportunities during the course of the game to change your class to a thief or wizard, but feats, skills, and all that other tommyrot are decided automatically by the game whenever you gain a level. Your alignment is determined by your actions, so telling fibs is better avoided if you fancy being the saintly sort. And instead of the, “Stand aside and unhand thy baubles, vile kobold, afore I cleave thee verily in twain with mine sharp sword. Oh, there I’ve gone and done it,” stuff, there’s a marked emphasis on dialogue, negotiation, and a grand tale that unfolds itself through some 800 000 words of script. In fact, it is claimed that there are only four unavoidable combat encounters in the game – all others may be tiptoed around, or talked out of. Lead designer and writer Chris Avellone explained that this heretically unorthodox approach stemmed from his own experience with RPGs, and “some conventions that I wanted to break. I also didn’t want to see any dwarves, elves, or halflings in the world, or magic swords, and I especially didn’t want the main character to save the world because I was sick to death of that crap.”

Instead, the game’s focus is simply on unravelling the mysterious mystery of The Nameless One’s past. As it turns out, his amnesia isn’t some sort of temporary and easily-remedied forgetfulness. He’s an immortal, countless centuries (perhaps millennia) old already, and for some occult reason doomed to keep returning from death, with no memory of his identity or life before. Unlike just about every other fantasy game out there, The Nameless One is no selfless hero with boyish good looks and roguish charm – on the contrary, he’s a grotesquely twisted creature with what increasingly appears to have been an extraordinarily eventful, and frequently wicked, past. 

BOGGLE YOUR BRAIN-BOX, CUTTER

The rather peculiar slang used in the game, referred to therein as ‘The Cant’, is in fact an authentic 17th century London working-class dialect. And by the time you finish the game, you’ll be telling your annoying younger sibling to, “Stop rattling yer bone-box and pike it, you sodding berk” without a moment’s hesitation.

Ghoulish industrial / dark ambient musician Lustmord was conscripted to produce an original soundtrack for the game, but at some point the project changed hands between producers, and an entirely new musical direction was decided upon. Lustmord later described it all as a “terrible experience”.

A book-of-the-game, imaginatively entitled Torment: A Novelization, was released around the same time as the game itself. It’s reputedly rubbish.

Contrary to the beliefs of many conspiracy theorists, The Nameless One does not, in fact, have a true name. Possibilities bandied about during the course of the game, including Adahn and Yemeth, are simply ad hoc conveniences.

Despite an uncanny resemblance, that weird looking dude on the box isn’t Norwegian troll rocker Mortiis. It’s game director Guido Henkel himself, sporting some heavy-duty prosthetics and a digital makeover.

In (yet another) significant departure from standard D&D fare, only three swords appear in the game. These are Trias’s Celestial Fire (only useable by Lawful Good characters), Coaxmetal’s Entropic Blade (only useable by fighters and thieves), and Dak’kon’s Zerth Blade (he totally won’t share it with anyone). Torment is also the only computer adaptation of D&D to feature an overwhelmingly steampunk aesthetic.

The tiefling, Annah, and tanar’ri, Fall-From-Grace, were inspired by Betty and Veronica from the Archie comics. Omg.

Funded by $4 million Kickstarter cash from sentimental fans, inXile Entertainment’s Torment: Tides of Numenera is very much the Planescape: Torment sequel that otherwise never was.

GET IT ON GOG.COM!

We’ve teamed up with GOG to give one NAG reader a free copy of Planescape: Torment. Simply drop a comment below and we’ll randomly choose a winner on Friday.

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