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Review by: Chris Harding
Published: December 24, 1999
I was mildly shocked when Interplay’s Black Isle division announced the development of Planescape Torment. Having been an avid pen and paper “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” player since early adolescence, I was fairly confident they had bitten off more than they could chew. To my knowledge, no one had ever developed a computer role-playing game set in the Planescape realm, and considering the scope behind such an effort, I was certain it was doomed to fail. One of the unwritten rules of the pen and paper sect is that to have a successful campaign based in Planescape, your party and dungeon master have to be either highly experienced or very naive. A lot of newbies are attracted to the realm of gods and gateways, and due to Planescape’s built-in complexities and general weirdness, most games played by non-experts fail horribly. Therefore, when I heard it was being brought to the computer screen, I didn’t have a lot of hope. Because the world in which the computer title exists is so vastly different from anything CRPG fans have experienced before, a little explanation of the environment and history is in order.
What most people consider to be “AD&D” is derived from its most popular universe, “Forgotten Realms.” Its medieval worlds are well established, structured, and almost rigid. Some of the most popular fantasy novels are based on ideas and familiarities associated with “Forgotten Realms,” which is arguably the closest to the creations of J.R.R. Tolkien. Most computer adaptations of the “AD&D” universe have come from this realm, and include last year’s award-winning RPG, Baldur’s Gate. Other “AD&D” realms have been adapted for the computer as well, such as SSI and Dreamscape’s Ravenloft: Strhad’s Possession and Stone Prophet. The multi-verse system is designed so that all of the realms, also known as planes, are connected via a large city called Sigil, which exists in center of Planescape. Located on the Outer Planes, beliefs become power, and rather than tackling quests such as rescuing the kidnapped maiden, the tasks and daily activities become much more complex, darker, and a little more philosophical. Success is determined as much by emotion as it is by strength, and words carry as much weight as a broadsword. The Outer Planes are quite varied, and home to creatures and beings from all over. Nearly every philosophy, belief and faction is represented in some way or another. Also home to the Outer Planes are many of the gods and deities of the other realms. Needless to say, it’s an interesting place.
Torment uses the same raw engine as Baldur’s Gate, but the folks at Black Isle have made some improvements, the biggest being perspective. In Torment, the camera is much closer to the characters than in Baldur’s Gate; therefore, everything is much larger. With this option, the artists have been able to strut their stuff and show off an incredible amount of detail and scalability. All of the buildings, paved roadways, and characters are much more defined. Because of this feature, the game takes on added personality that Baldur’s Gate now seems to have lacked. The up-close and personal nature of the entire experience is a pleasant change, and overall, I like the look. There are a few drawbacks. The proximity of the characters to buildings and one another is so close that combat is almost always negated to some sort of melee fighting. There are very few ranged weapons included and the spells offered are also designed to be used in tight quarters. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it could have been avoided had they not tried to cram so much stuff into a single scene. Overall, it’s not that big of a deal.
The game begins, as most RPGs do, with character creation. Black Isle might ruffle some feathers with their decision to restrict the player’s character to a pre-defined history and race, and the way in which they’ve handled character creation is definitely unique. Starting off, you’re given a number of character points that can be used to improve stats, including strength, intelligence, charisma, constitution, wisdom, and dexterity. The character you are playing is called the Nameless One, a human apparently killed in the realm of the living that has failed to achieve proper death. In truth, the Nameless One cannot die, and has almost no memory of his past. As the player, you grow and develop according to decisions you make during gameplay. As you progress, your memory will begin to return, up to an eventual full disclosure of your fascinating past. Class, unlike in “AD&D,” is also determined from choices you make. The Nameless One begins as a fighter, but can become any class by choosing to train in the correlating subject. Some available classes include wizards, thieves and priests.
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