Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Planescape: Torment (PC)

Planescape Torment title screen
Okay, today I'm playing critically acclaimed universally adored D&D PC RPG Planescape Torment! Actually it's set in the Planescape universe, so I suppose the title should be read as Planescape: Torment (or even just Torment). Crap, I've looked at the word too many times in a row and now I'm reading it as 'Plan escape'.

This was the second game use the Infinity Engine after Baldur's Gate (or should that be Forgotten Realms: Baldur's Gate), so I'm expecting the same sort of gameplay from it. Well, to be honest I already know exactly what kind of gameplay it has as I've played it before, though I didn't get very far. All I really remember about the game is getting locked inside a tomb and nibbled to death by an army of super intelligent rats over and over again until I turned it off in despair.

The game starts with a pre-rendered CGI intro, but for once there's no narration, no dialogue, not a single bit of exposition at all in fact. Just a dead guy being pushed around on a heavy looking slab. They really need to add some wheels to that thing, or put it on some rails perhaps .

As the body is shoved further into the mortuary, we apparently flash through events in his past.

Such as the time his girlfriend became Queen of the Zombies. Or something. I'm starting to think this is more of a bad dream than anything that literally happened.

Yep, it seems that the body on the table is only mostly dead, after being transformed into a scarred zombie-like creature through either a curse, magic, or the passing of centuries. Either way he don't look so pretty no more.

Planescape Torment character creation
Now that I'm done with exploring his nightmares I get the opportunity to define my nameless zombie-man's stats.

Character creation is pretty streamlined compared to Baldur's Gate, with no portrait, gender, race, class, alignment, skills or appearance options to worry about. I don't even have to give the guy a name! Instead I just get these six attributes to divide my fixed pool of points into.

I've heard that the game is more about talking than fighting, so I'm going to take a risk and put most of my points into Intelligence and Wisdom to unlock new dialogue options, recall memories, and get an XP bonus. I'll put a couple of points into Charisma too as a bit of persuasiveness and personal magnetism can't hurt my efforts to attain conversational superiority.

Our man Nameless One awakes to find himself naked on a cold table in a room full of corpses in various states of autopsy, with no memory and no gear. An amnesiac hero, yay. On the plus side we've acquired a zany talking skull comedy sidekick called Morte! Double yay.

Actually Morte is performed by legendary voice actor Rob Paulsen (who would have also been playing Pinky in 'Pinky and the Brain' at the time) and he's great in the role... for the two lines of voiced dialogue he gets before it switches to silent text. In fact I'd go as far as saying he's the most entertaining talking skull since Murray in The Curse of Monkey Island.

The floating skull explains that Nameless has instructions tattooed onto his back, Memento-style, telling him to READ his journal and go FIND a man called Pharod, who can explain the rest of what's going on. But that presents a bit of a problem seeing as Nameless doesn't have a journal on him and Morte claims he's got no idea who Pharod is.

"A system of rails is running through the whole room. It looks like the slabs in the room can be moved around on these rails."
Then why didn't the guy pushing Nameless around on a slab in the intro use the rails, huh, HUH?

Before I go on my epic quest for identity I'll need to arm myself. Fortunately when I scrolled over I found plenty of sharp implements on the shelves nearby. Bandages seem to be a fun alternative to health potions, so I'll load up on them as well.

The game controls just as you'd expect from a mouse driven RPG: I click on things, and Nameless wanders off to investigate, loot, or kill said things, based on his own discretion. If I was going to describe the UI with one word it'd be 'intuitive', at least to me; I'm not feeling a urgent need to crack open the manual for this one. If I was going to use more words I'd probably just start going on about the save icon being a floppy disk and how that's awesome, so I'll spare you.

Planescape Torment Nameless One inventory
A bit more searching earned me some other health items, a crowbar, and some junk (literally an item labelled junk), though the exit still eludes me. It's hard to tell exactly what my best weapon is without it telling me damage per second, but 1-6 Crushing at speed 4 sounds good, so I'll go with the crowbar. I'm keeping the junk too, because why not?

It's all traced, I assure you.
Actually it'd probably make more sense to hand it all over to my floating skull sidekick to hold on to, as he's got almost TWICE the carrying weight limit that Nameless has. Somehow.

I suppose he must work out.

Well I still haven't found the exit, but I've managed to piss off the entire staff at least. I couldn't think of a good answer to "Why are you here?" and now everyone thinks they're zombie John McClane. Incidentally this battle music is really reminding me of the Predator theme. I just thought that needed to be said.

Miraculously I actually survived the zombie onslaught, then walked off into another room and got one-shotted by a giant skeleton. Game Over.

Actually Nameless just woke up back on his slab again with Morte at his side, but with gear and memory intact this time. The guy is basically Wolverine without the arm blades; he's even got (very slow) regenerating health.

This time I around I found a disguise to hopefully help keep people off my back for a while and managed to run into a ghost by a tomb off to the side who seems a little pissed off at me. Poor Nameless has no clue what he's done wrong here, but the conversation does remind him that he has the power to RESURRECT THE DEAD*.

*Power only applicable to those who are currently travelling with Nameless in his party and who have died in his presence.

This is actually bringing back one of my own memories of playing the game years ago: I have remembered... getting my team wiped out because I never found this woman or acquired this skill. It seems pretty easy to miss for something apparently vitally important to have.

Planescape Torment Sigil
A bit more wandering and a whole lot of de-animated zombies later and I have finally escaped my mortuary prison into the murky miserable city of Sigil.

I finally have a chance to sell my junk, meet up with Pharod, and hunt for clues to my dark past.

Or alternatively I could just get chased down and kicked to death by thugs in the street. Back to my suite at the mortuary then I guess.

I've been struggling to figure out what exactly I'm looking at with these pre-rendered background, but I've got no complaints about the character models. The game is a little more zoomed in than Baldur's Gate, with larger, more detailed sprites, and they look great in motion.


Planescape Torment Sigil market
Well I can't find a single shop sign in this bloody town (a problem the game shares with Baldur's Gate), but if my intuition is correct I may have stumbled upon a market here.

Planescape Torment shop screen
The shop screen appears to be not entirely non-identical to the one Baldur's Gate makes use of, though the health potions are more in my price range this time around. Or at least they will be once I've offloaded some of these bracelets I liberated from the mortuary. Hey if they wanted to hold onto them that badly they would've searched me after putting an axe in my back.

There's also a bunch of charms here that seem to get nastier as the list scrolls down, each apparently designed to be consumed to unlock their power. Personally I think I'll pass, as I have ambitions of keeping my dinner down.

There's basically three kinds of people on the streets of Sigil it seems: first there's the harlots, who can be identified by the word "Harlot" floating over their head when I highlight them. Second there's the con artists scheming to lure me down a dark alleyway or relieve me of my coin purse, who can be identified by having any other word except "Harlot" floating above their head. And then finally there's the thugs. Sometimes they just mind their own business and sometimes they chase me down the street trying to murder me for... well, fun I guess. I've never noticed anything missing after waking up back on my slab.

I can take two or three of them on in a fight, but once any more than that show up I try to get my ass elsewhere.

Finally, someone who seems to know something about where Pharod's hiding!

After I choose to hand over the five coins, Rotten William reveals that I can find Pharod near Ragpicker's Square and that I should look out for his Collectors. Then he offers me a purse full of cash to murder his rival.

I of course declined, as Nameless One is hardly a hired killer. I mean he might have been at some point, I wouldn't have a clue, but right now he can barely hold his own against a worn out zombie. Even Morte's got more muscle on him.

Rotten William turned out to be a bit of an asshole, and unleashed his entire gang on me to punish me for not taking the job. You know, in a game supposedly about talking your way around problems, it sure is easy to get into a fight in this.

Fortunately I was already being chased by that other gang, so it wasn't long before the two sides met and suddenly no one much cared about me any more. I just stepped out of the way and let the two sides slaughter each other. Then I walked back over the corpses afterwards to claim all their dropped loot. Not a bad amount of profit from a five coin investment I reckon.

The game may not have many shop signs, but finding my way back to the market wasn't too frustrating as they've actually added some markers to the map! Such a tiny feature, but it's going to make it much more bearable for me to get around than it was in Baldur's Gate, especially as the game likes to do the same trick of occasionally hiding doors at the back of buildings, where they are entirely invisible.

I can even add my own notes, which is practically necessary with all the named NPCs around I need to keep track of. Not that they'll necessarily still be standing where I left them when I come back; they do like to go wandering.

Okay I've sold all my treasure at the market and now I need to travel to Ragpicker's Square to follow up on the lead that Rotten William (RIP) gave me. Sigil is split up into different maps connected by gates along the edge of each area, much like in Baldur's Gate (again). There doesn't seem to be any fast travel in this though, so I have to get to my destination the slow way: by walking through every area along the way.
Fortunately I'm pretty close right now, so I'll only have to hike through the top left quadrant of The Hive, and The Nameless One gets around at a pretty impressive pace. Including loading screens I bet I could make it to Ragpicker's Square in less than 15 seconds. Plus I don't even have to gather my party before venturing forth.


Excellent, I think I've just found the next step in this quest. I was told that Sharegrave is the boss of the Collectors in this area, but Rotten William (RIP) mentioned earlier that I would find Pharod's Collectors here. Either there's two groups of Collectors in this tiny little square, there's been a change of management, or the two men work together; either way I think the odds are good that he knows where I might find Pharod now.

I just have to try not to piss him off before I get the info out of him.

Oh for fuck's sake! Either I'm really bad at this, or rumours of the game being mostly combat free are greatly exaggerated.

I click on an enemy, wait to see if I win, click on the next enemy, wait to see if I win, pause and use a health charm, click on the next enemy etc. It wouldn't be so bad if I actually got any experience from defeating these enemies, but the reward is absolutely pitiful. Something like 15 XP per kill and I believe that's then split between both my characters.


Sharegrave turned out to be a dead end for me (and him) so I went off talking to strangers in the street again. Here I found a man concerned with the condition of a tree, who asked me to *care* and hope that it recovers. I was so happy to find someone decent in this nightmarish shithole of a town that I agreed to help him out without hesitation just to make him feel better.

500XP REWARD. Just for caring... uh, I mean *caring* about a tree. To be fair, belief can shape reality in this place, so I might have actually made a difference here.

I got another 1000XP for hanging around a builder and figuring out how to read his language. I've been knee-deep in combat in basically every place I've been so far, but the game definitely seems to give much greater rewards for more thoughtful solutions. Or just reading the text and then choosing the first answer really, though I'm assuming my high Intelligence score is the main reason for that.

Hey, I got a level up too! My Saving Throws have improved, I've gotten an extra 8 Hit Points, my Fighting Skills have increased etc. Numbers have gone up basically, but what's more interesting to me is that I've got an extra point to put into my attributes.

Planescape Torment character information screen
I wasn't sure what to do with my fantastic new point, so I decided to invest it in extra Wisdom. Maybe once he reaches max Wisdom he'll be wise enough to tell me where I should have put all my points.

I'll need 6712 experience points to reach the next level, so that's around... 900 dead Collectors or 400 dead thugs I guess. Or 20 good deeds.


Hello NPC #15008, do you know where Pharod is? Do you know where my journal is? No? Well that is a shock, farewell.

Hello NPC #15009, do you know where Pharod is? Do you know where my journal is? No? Well that... wait, you want to join my party? Seriously?

Dak'kon wants to join my party!

Dak'kon character art
Holy shit I just got FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner on my team! I'm a bit surprised to hear his voice really as I had no idea Mitch Pileggi ever acted in video games, especially not at the height of the X-Files' popularity.

According to IMDb, the guy only ever appeared in three video games, two of them X-Files tie-ins, but I guess if you're going to make a rare surprise appearance in a game, you might as well make it an enduring cult classic (with apparently very few lines to read out).

I guess this character list has just spoiled another two future members of my team. I've actually seen Annah and Ignus around, but they didn't seem very interested in joining up just yet. One was kind of rude and the other was on fire.

This is 'Upper Class Townie, Female' apparently, though in that armour I assumed at first that she must be a high level warrior. For some reason I thought Torment of all games would've been above this, but apparently not (though it probably has a very convincing long-winded justification for it later).


Well I talked to everyone in town and everyone who knew anything all gave basically the same answer "check Ragpicker's Square, perhaps even underneath it, hint hint." So I went back to Ragpicker Square for the 15th time and this time found a magical junk activated portal here! The funny thing is, the portal wasn't hard for me to find, it was the PATH I struggled with. It's really hard for me to tell what I can walk on, through or behind on these levels, and this wooden path just seemed to be a wall in the background. I'm starting to regret not playing with the high-res mod right about now.

Sigil has doors to every plane of reality across the multiverse, hidden in archs, doorways, picture frames, etc. until someone finds the key to activate and reveal them. Each portal has its own key, which can be anything from an emotion, a glass rose, an iron nail held 'tween y'second and fifth fingers... maybe even an actual key. And that's why it's called Planescape.

This particular portal took me about 5 meters to the left, but hey it did the job.

Well the good news is that I've found somewhere new to go that almost certainly leads to Pharod. The bad news is that I'm getting the crap kicked out of me again and I'm getting low on healing items. If this was Baldur's Gate I'd run away to a secluded corner and rest up to get my heath back, but virtually nowhere in this game seems safe for resting.

Oh by the way, if I were to select all my heroes and tell them to attack the one enemy together it wouldn't quite work, as one of them usually gets stuck behind the others and struggles to figure out how to get around. Not a huge crisis, but it's another frustration.


Well that's it, I've searched every inch of every passage down here, and there's no trace of Pharod. No trapdoors, no secret walls, and the only portal led me to a room full of super-intelligent magic-wielding rats (which I then had to bludgeon to death). Oh shit, I hope he wasn't one of the rats.

I am really honestly stuck now.

In desperation I gave in and went to look up the solution in a walkthrough, but accidentally glanced at something else by mistake. It seems that the kind old woman living next to Pharod's junk portal can actually teach me how to change class and become a mage! Well I'm pretty crappy fighter right now and I do have all that intelligence, so I guess it's worth a shot.

First though, I've got to go do her shopping for her. This is apparently essential for studying the art of magic, just like how you have to wash the fence and paint the car to master kung fu, (or whatever). Wax on, wax off and all that.


Well, I think I've finally mastered it: I can get from Ragpicker's Square to the market and back blindfolded now. Also I've taken my first step to commanding the dark arts, learning skills such as 'Magic Missile' and 'Identify'.

Unfortunately I can only learn five spells at this level and once they've all been cast I need to rest to recharge them. But I can't rest inside the dungeons, so let's just hope that I only face five enemies per dungeon from now on and they all go down in a single shot, or else Nameless will be spending most of the fights watching Morte and Dak'kon kill things.


Well my desperation I looked up where to go on a map online and it turns out that I'd actually just walked right past the correct passageway in the Trash Warrens. The fog of war made it look like there was a wall there.

At the end of the passageway I found the trapdoor I was looking for, guarded by a guy called Bish. Incredibly and amazingly I managed to talk my way through this one peacefully by picking option 6 and saying that "I was told I could locate Pharod around these parts." And thus Bish escaped the tragic fate of Sharegrave, Rotten William (RIP) and so many others, and 1200 XP was mine.

Incidentally, this is not an uncommon number of dialogue options for this game. It'd be fair to say that there's no shortage of words in Planescape: Torment.

Damn, I knew my peaceful underground stroll couldn't last.

Still, this gives me an excellent opportunity to show off the pop-up radial actions menu I have to use to cast my new spells. I'm not a fan to be honest, I prefer Baldur's Gate's static bar of spells and skills. For one thing with a static bar I don't have to open the damn thing up every time I want to do anything.


Holy shit, I don't believe it, I've finally found Pharod! The secret to my identity can finally be revealed... just as soon as I go carry out a long quest for him. I see the asterisks are back in full effect to *emphasise* certain words. Dak'kon in particular really loves those things; I'm sure if you've played the game you *know* exactly what I'm talking about.

Well I've found Pharod so this seems like an excellent place to turn this off, but it's also a good time for me to mention that I love how I'm often given two identical lines to say, though with different intent. It basically gives me the ability to lie, which is pretty handy in a game that has a morality system monitoring my actions, and it's a shame I don't see it in RPGs more often I reckon.

Alright, so here's my utterly non-controversial opinion on the first few hours of Planescape: Torment: I didn't love it, though I liked it way more than I did on my earlier attempt so many years ago.

Whether it was the game's fault or my own, I ended up spending hours wandering around the same couple of slums trying to find clues to Pharod's location, when I actually had all the info I needed and I was just misreading the scenery, and man that got tedious. Especially with Nameless saying "done" whenever I clicked a new destination for him. It's sounds just like he's saying "dumb" over and over again, and I got to the point where I could only agree with him.

But I do love the fact that it's not set in yet another generic fantasy realm of elves, dwarves, dragons, knights and archers etc. (not that I hate Tokienesque settings, I'm just a fan of variety), and there's a real effort been made to flesh out the universe and drag the player in. I also appreciated how the optional sidequests I've stumbled across have been used to cunningly introduce concepts and themes important to the game, such as the woman stranded from her universe who teaches the player about planes and portals, or the man *caring* for a tree who reveals how belief can affect reality in Sigil.

Honestly even if I didn't like the gameplay I'd be tempted to finish it just for the story. Which is good because it's tiring me out already. Walk to this guy, have a long conversation, walk to this guy, have a long conversation; it's like Monkey Island with tedious fights instead of item puzzles! It is a funny game though, when it wants to be, as its world is as absurd as it is bleak. I'm basically just talking myself into continuing with it here now so I'll shut up and give the game a star so it'll leave me alone.

I'd like to apologise about that unassailable fortress of text above, as the game appears to have inspired me to excessive verbosity. Anyway I've said my words about the game, now you can say yours, if you have any to say. And why wouldn't you, you're all bright opinionated people with unique and interesting perspectives after all.

1 comment:

  1. Tricky game to enjoy in this day and age, but it still shines brightly through the dust.


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