From the Vaults: Planescape Torment

Here’s a double-shot of “forgotten greats” to make up for my lack of “vault” posts for the past week or two. This time, I look at the classic D&D Computer RPG, “Planescape Torment.”

Torment cover

What can change the nature of a man?”

(Spoiler Warning)

Planescape Torment is hailed as one of the best games from Black Isle, if not one of the best D&D video games.  It is recognized for not only an excellent voice cast, but brilliant writing rarely found in gaming titles.  This game, released in 1999, was created as a prequel to the future of Planescape in a way, hinting at the less than savory “Faction Wars” and “Die Vecna Die”.  Besides that, it’s considered the successor to previous D&D titles such as “Baldur’s Gate.”

From the beginning, you’re brought to a fantasy game unlike any other.  The opening cinematic displays a zombie minion bringing a body on a slab into the Dustmen mortuary.  He awakens to be greeted by a magical floating skulls, Morte.  The strange structures around the body slope, weave, and shape in bizarre ways.  You have succumbed to amnesia, only remembering that you owned a journal holding the key to your identity.  Alone and confused, you aid the babbling skull in hopes of reclaiming yourself in this weird new world.  And so, you begin your journey after death and seeking escape from said mortuary.  Upon exiting, you encounter a city like no other in D&D history.  Even more stylized strangeness, buildings with extraordinary proportions, and cosmic portals that can open with the most random triggers.  This is Sigil, the City of Doors.  Through this game, we witness the “homebase” of the Planescape Campaign Setting become unveiled with fascinating and vibrant visuals.

This game utilizes the system used in the Baldur’s Gate series.  There’s a variety of action menus while the game is paused in an otherwise real time environment, similar to the AD&D play style.  Controls are mostly point and click, with some keyboard short cuts to make combat less frantic.  Actions play out in real time, but can easily be modified via pausing menu screen.  After a short set of commands to your team, your actions will play out.  In combat, weapon based tactics are often continuous, while spells are single action/turn, unless special factors apply.  Interactions provide a list of options to choose from, often with consequences ranging from how hostile the target becomes to even your alignment changing entirely.  Of course, there are many other factors that come into play in regards to both, such as the presence of certain party members.

The game is mostly driven forward by quests which add more and more to the story and the main character, The Nameless One.  The Nameless One is a cursed being forced to die over and over again, suffering amnesia after continuous wasted lifetimes of sin and corruption.  The only way to regain your memories is to explore the dream like landscapes of Sigil, the City of Gates.  As you encounter more and more “familiar faces”, you gain insight into some of the foul deals you must eventually fess up or if you desire, repeat.  The gates in question are portals that lead to other points in reality, with a variety of creatures with different views and morals.  And with this game, you’re not so much fighting monsters as fighting philosophy of Sigil and its civilians.

The other characters in this game are truly something to behold.  A couple truly stick out to me.  Dak’kon is truly a slave to The Nameless One.  He may want to prove himself under the knowledge of Zerthimon, but he only ends up under TNO’s control.  Annah tries to cope with the fact that the man who raised her (when no one else probably would) is not the man he presented himself as.  He is no gentleman, but a completely mad thief evading death as long as possible.  Mebbeth comes across as a kind old lady.  She’s caring, willing to provide teachings in healing and provide charms and healing items for sale.  She is the midwife in Ragpicker’s square.  However, there’s a dark twist to her.  She’s merely a shade of her former life, Ravel the nighthag.  This shard was one of the only “good” aspects of this hag, now stuck in a maze in the Grey Wastes.  After Ravel fades with Mebbeth as well, revealing this wicked hag did indeed have a good side at one point.  Morte disguises himself as a Mimir, when he’s really just an animated skull who knew all about TNO’s misgivings and foul deeds since the beginning, and chose to stay silent so TNO can grow and learn the errors of his ways.  Fall from Grace attempts to separate herself from other succubi following her imprisonment by devils.  While it was implied she suffered much abuse, she learned to accept the notion of evil while appreciating the power of law, hence her lawful neutral alignment.  Because of this, she is widely hated by both devils and her demonic brethren.

The actions of you and your team deeply matter in this game.  If you act upon impulse and fuck things up, it will come back to haunt you.  This can be in angering a whole faction to a nightmarish reveal involving shadows.  To make matters worse, you aren’t quite “immortal” in the literal sense, so much as other people die in your place.  This is made truly horrific when you pay someone to “kill” you.  Or rather, you gain 1000 gold for inadvertently murdering someone.  In fact, one of the main themes is redemption.  TNO is eternally damned in a cycle of immortality due to the sins of his past.  You are given the choice to redeem him through benevolent actions and ultimately fess up for your sins or you can further damn yourself.  Of course, these are only a couple of many possible outcomes for Planescape: Torment.  No which path you choose, you will have to face the consequences of his actions.

The atmosphere of PS-T helps to create a truly immersible experience!  The sprawling lands of Sigil are a creative wonderland of bizarre creatures and downright insane architecture.  The layouts range from stylized artful structures to downright surreal and absurd pieces that make no sense at all. The civilians are equally as interesting in their own unique way.  In fact, this game truly brings the aesthetic of Tony Di’Terlizzi, the artist of Planescape, to life in this cosmic weird-fantasy dreamscape.  Throughout the city, creatures of the planes and creatures with planar heritage wander.  You may find a goat-like Bariur hanging out with an elemental-blooded genasi or a celestial-tinged aasimar locked in a fight with a fiendish tiefling.

The music ranges from adrenaline packed “D&D combat” music to droning ambiance to even a piece resembling classical music.  No matter, what the theme, you are helped kept in the game was a constantly intriguing soundtrack.  The quirky characters and interesting NPCs help support the general weirdness of Torment.  Each personality brings something different to the game and helps to enrich this unique setting.

The wonderful and weird world of Planescape are a pleasure to explore, by a character whose dark past can ultimately build up to a variety of endings.  The lands of Sigil and beyond are vibrant, unique, and surreal, while subverting many common fantasy and “D&D” tropes.  In general, Planescape Torment is a fantastic title to tickle the fancy of many fans of the whimsical, dream-like, and bizarre.  In fact, if you’re looking for an intellectual game that challenges the mind in addition to the controller, this game succeeds in this field as well.  Even if you’re considering looking into the Planescape Campaign Setting for a new mode of adventure or just for content to sample, I can’t recommend this game enough. 

So please, get this game!  GameStop has the D&D Classics collection and GOG (Good Old Games) has Planescape Torment available in their library.  So, what are you waiting for?  Sigil awaits and the fate of The Nameless One is in your hands!


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