Guest Author - James Shea
Considered one of the most well-written games of all time by most reviewers, Planescape: Torment is now available for download through GameTap. With this, it is possible for people on newer computers to run this old, but beloved, game.
Torment has you taking the role of The Nameless One, an amnesiac, apparently immortal wanderer who keeps finding shadows of his apparent "previous lives". Set in the Planescape setting, specifically the City of Sigil, Torment revolves around the interactions between the denizens of the various planes. An RPG in the vein of Baldur's Gate, Torment also features a huge amount of character interaction and choices. Instead of the simplified mechanic of many games, which boils down to "be really nice" or "be really mean", Torment's character interactions involve many different rationales and reasons. Furthermore, your personality affects your alignment, not vice-versa; unlike Baldur's Gate, where you can be "Lawful Good" but also be a jerk to everyone around you, Planescape: Torment actually lets you mold a character based on your choices. In addition to "good" and "evil" there's also "law" and "chaos" to think about, as well as the various neutral choices. So, if you're trying to be Lawful Good, but end up lying to a bad guy to protect some innocents, you're more than likely going to get some chaotic points despite his evil status. This makes the game a lot like a personality quiz - you can see what your behavior gets you, instead of picking some random alignment and then just ignoring it. It almost forces you to roleplay, because you won't get away with acting "out of character". Not that you'll be punished, but rather you'll be shifted to something more appropriate. Later in the game, The Nameless One can join one of the game's many factions - basically, groups united by a common philosophy - and flesh out that aspect of himself.
The writing, as mentioned, is probably the best in gaming ever. The game's cast of characters is wide, varied, and deep. The recruitable NPCs are all much more than "fighter", "mage", or "thief"; the first you encounter is a floating, talking skull who attacks by biting, is only equippable with teeth (which can be replaced with new, sharper teeth), and has the special ability to taunt enemies with various curses which offer different effects. The characters all have developed backstories, motives, and means with which they carry out their orders. The setting, as mentioned, is Sigil, in the Planescape world, which gives it a unique feel from the lower-class Hives to the upper-class parts of the city. One reflection of the game's gritty, grungy feel is the fact that there are no swords in the game (apart from a few specific magic items) - players can use axes, clubs, knives, and many other weapons, but not the traditional weapon of chivalry and fantasy. The characters also have a distinctive accent based on the lower-class talk of Medieval and Renaissance times.
The gameplay and graphics are not as developed as the writing, unfortunately; the former being a little bit clunky and difficult and the latter being not very well developed or executed (despite the great style of Sigil and its inhabitants). The sound is excellent, whether in the form of the soundtrack or the voice acting. The actors make the script really come to life, and there's not a bad job among them. The various quips and comments during battles are excellent.
This game definitely still holds up despite its aged graphics. Since graphics were never its main focus, it's still just as good as it was back when it came out. It's definitely a classic, and worth picking up for any real fan of writing and storytelling.