The Let's Play Archive

Torment: Tides of Numenera

by TheGreatEvilKing

Part 24: Bonus Update #2: Part 1 Postmortem

Bonus Update #2: Part 1 Postmortem
Or: We can't fix this game.

As of this writing, we are a third of the way through the game. The next third takes place in the Valley of Dead Heroes (where we are) and then we go to an as-of-yet-unrevealed location for this game's not-so-thrilling conclusion. We have seen so far that almost nothing in the game provides an enjoyable experience. The bloated writing couples terrible prose with a sheer deluge of pointless and redundant words. The combat system is actively painful to play, and the skill system is swingy and rewards constant reloading. This has been demonstrated throughout the various updates of this LP and needs no reiteration here. However, these are all implementation details. In theory, McComb and company could have hired actually good writers, come up with a combat system that was fun to play, made a class system that was fun and allowed experimentation, and made a not-garbage skill system that made it so that your Charming character who Brandishes a Silver Tongue isn't constantly failing Persuasion checks.

Unfortunately, this game was doomed from conception and quite frankly the initial choice of story and setting boned this game over hard.

The Setting Does Not Work With The Story They Want To Tell

We don't have the whole picture yet, but we have enough to start drawing some conclusions. The Changing God is ultimately a man who tried to take the powers of a god so he could bring his daughter back from the dead, and from what little Oom's shown us we can make the reasonable guess that fucking with the Tides to do this drew the attention of The Sorrow. Literature is full of mortals aspiring to the power of gods and being undone by their hubris - Daedalus and Icarus, Phaeton driving the sun chariot, Frankenstein, the Tower of Babel, and so on. The overriding theme is that while you may gain divine power, mortals do not have the wisdom of the gods and step above their station by elevating themselves. It's a classic story.

The problem is that it slams right into the Numenera setting and stops.

Into the Outside, a Numenera splatbook posted:

Of course, a traditional afterlife, places of spiritual punishment, and similar concepts don’t fit in Numenera.

The big gimmick of Numenera, as shown by this game is that there is no God or "real" magic and everything can be explained by science the player characters don't understand. Nanos map easily to Dungeons and Dragons mages because the game designers are uncreative, but they actually just have the ability to command nanomachines to do their bidding and don't have supernatural powers at all. They don't need to bargain with higher powers, they don't have secret knowledge of the gods, they just have sudo access to a little pile of nanomachines they can order to attack people. There is no divine law that sets morality, morality is universally agreed upon by the various humans and aliens that roam the "nanite-infested" Earth. Thus, there is no First Commandment to transgress against, the only limitation on the people of Numenera is their ability to build wonders, not the wisdom to do so. There is no God to transgress against, and thus the Changing God's sin isn't that he strove too high, but that he's having difficulty finding the password to log into the old civilization's internet. This isn't divine wisdom that people can't possibly comprehend (like the problem of evil), these are concepts that used to be quite familiar and well-understood until Monte Cook decided that was too interesting and it was time to go back to Dungeons and Dragons.

The setting does not deliver nearly enough to the story to compensate for this fundamental flaw. insanityv2 had this to say in the thread, and I think it bears repeating here.

insanityv2 posted:

Reading this LP, I've really begun to notice exactly how much of this game's "weird science" revolves around precisely one motif, though I'm having a bit of trouble articulating it.

Like first, you start with some form of multiverse theory. Maybe its infinite multiverses where everything that could conceivably happen has happened somewhere, or maybe its more limited like where a parallel universe/timeline appears every time you make a consequential choice. Doesn't matter.

Then you BS up some ancient technology that can pull shit from those alternate dimensions into this dimension. Then you're all like "woah man, these things that contradict each other are both true, can you wrap your head around that? Is your mind blown yet?"

The Game's Kickstarter posted:

A World Unlike Any Other. The game has a fantastic, original setting, with awe-inspiring painterly visuals, imaginative locations, truly offbeat items, and massive feats of magic. In Numenera, however, “magic” is actually something surprisingly different.

The game is convinced that its transdimensional shenanigans are something truly mind-blowing that make Tides stand out from the crowd of Infinity Engine Renaissance RPGs, and they're not. The weird dimensional science becomes overused very quickly, and thus the player's reaction to yet another NPC announcing that they came from another dimension where people's only food are each other or that they came from the Weird Science Alien dimension is an exasperated sigh as said NPC begins to ask you whether the life of a person is worth the life of five quantum space dogs.

The Kickstarter Campaign Set Them Up To Fail

I've mentioned the kickstarter campaign before. It is very much a cargo cult of Planescape: Torment, where if you pledge more money more of the original crew (and known terrible writer Patrick Rothfuss) can come together to make a new Torment game, because all these people worked on the last Torment game and maybe lightning will strike twice. The problem is, of course, that you have a ton of writers running around, now with limited guidance because the head people - like Colin McComb - are directing them all remotely and insisting that, well...

Kickstarter, again posted:

A Deep, Thematically Satisfying Story. The philosophical underpinnings of Torment drive the game, both mechanically and narratively. Your words, choices, and actions will be your primary weapons.

This is why we have so many Trolley Problem quests, and why the sidequests so far feel like a children's essay contest touching on the Trolley Problem. My guess - and I can't prove it, but it fits with statements by Ziets - is that they handed out Colin McComb's rambling on abandonment and the prompt "What does one life matter" to a bunch of writers and didn't do any work tying them together. It's why the Changing God's inability to resurrect his daughter is a major plot point throughout the game, but a random man with a purple hair fetish can easily pull off a resurrection to get his dick wet. The game badly needed an editor who could step in and stop the overwritten garbage from plaguing the player and force people to keep some kind of consistency, but we didn't get that, we got more trolley whistles.

Heck, you want more proof that these people had no capacity to execute their vision? Who is being tormented?. Certainly not the Last Castoff. After the Sorrow rudely invades our head while we're falling from space and deposits her black demon seed in our head, we only see her through the mad sculptor, the portrait on the wall of the Changing God's hideout, and Oom's flashbacks that were patched into the game. The only time the word "torment" is used is when Oom describes his treatment at the hands of the Changing God. If anything, the Last Castoff is having a grand old time - making new friends, exploring new places, learning new languages, getting new powers, and learning about herself. The Last Castoff certainly isn't tormented...but the player is.

In the end, I can't think of a change I could make to the game that would be able to satisfy all these contradictory criteria. You could make a game about a man seeking the power of God and suffering the consequences for his hubris, but you couldn't set it in Numenera. You could tell a very interesting story about a Changing God style scientist who is busily trying to restore the knowledge of the old world and pull humanity out of the dark ages...but that wouldn't be the story Colin McComb and the gang want to tell. You could give the material to a good writer, and I suspect they would still have issues trying to reconcile Arachne-style hubris with a world where there is no god but the works of man. Even if the game was executed competently, it would have this glaring flaw even if it was fun to play. This was never going to be good.