I've role-played since the 70s, and have probably played every RP game that's come out since that date, including recent reviews for BellaOnline.com. My first assumption was that Planescape would be a knock-off of Baldur's Gate, and be fun but not unique.
It is, amazingly, far more than that.
Sure, it's built on the same great engine that Baldur's Gate was. Same third person view, with the great graphics and sounds that BG is famous for. However, the developers of Planescape definitely knew what they were doing when they enhanced the system. They addressed many complaints gamers had with BG, and took it to another level.
Take death. Yes, that pesky death stuff that seems to happen to gamers when they encounter a group of basilisks or perhaps a bandit or three. No problem for Planescape - you're immortal! Not only that, but deaths actually help you sometimes, jarring loose memories that were until that point hidden. Like who you are. What you're about. Why you're immortal when apparently nobody else is.
Which brings me to another point - the storyline is great! They take an idea that has definitely been done before - you wake up with amnesia, uncertain of your past or present. Nine Princes of Amber is a famous story that does this very well. So you learn as you go, with the help of your amusing sidekick, the skull named Morte. Yes, your pal is a floating skull who follows you along :)
The game is understandably "dark". You are, after all, someone who keeps rising from the grave, wandering around a miserable little town full of unhappy people. It's probably not a game for 6 year olds, but most teenagers will easily relate to the misery of the town's occupants. You find things like clot charms to help heal your wounds, bandages to tape yourself back up. It's the same quests and challenges, but it's so much more ...
Your alignment actually alters as you interact with NPCs. Keep doing good things - your alignment is naturally good. Keep slaughtering innocents while they plead for mercy, and yup, you're bad. Your alignment then affects how people react to you. Even better - your intelligence determines what you can say or do in some cases! No more of this idiotic barbarian easily figuring out how to deal with a noble negotiator.
I was impressed!
There are all sorts of twisted plot items that are clear indicators of the amount of work the designers put into thinking this through. You wake up with a note to yourself carved in your own back. You wander outside and find a note-zombie, with notes stuck to his body. Every doorway can be a portal to another world, if you find the key. But keys can be anything - a piece of paper, a certain person, even a song sung in a certain way.
The game is definitely a thinking game - one created for true strategists and role players, who want a challenge out of a game and not just a hack-fest. For gamers who have complained that RP could never be fun on a computer, try Planescape Torment. You just might have your hands full!
NOTE: Planescape Torment is now available via GameTap!