In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog, I burned my intestines to ash, snogged a half-demon and discovered what can change the nature of a man.
I’ve just finished the second third of Planescape: Torment and that high bar of quality that I saw in the first third has really continued on, in fact it has got even better. It is a meaty game that has really gone some interesting places that I expecting and yet it still surprised me. I have met some fascinating characters, some of which I have added to my party, and the ones who joined in the last part, particularly Mort, Dakkon and Annah, have only grown and developed in some surprising ways. The problems I have had with the game itself haven’t abated but the writing is so good that it still eclipses any minor issues I have.
So I left off the last ‘Breaking Down the Backlog’ with The Nameless One being told by Pharod that someone might know why he is immortal and I had just recruited Annah, the Tiefling thief. This was the first time I didn’t necessarily have a clear objective in Planescape Torment and was essentially left to my on devices. So what did I do? Well turn The Nameless One into a mage, of course. The game has a very loose class system. Nameless can become a warrior, a mage or a thief and can flip between the three providing you have the relevant people in your team to help you. But I decided to be a pure mage because a love magic in games. And I have to say, it was the right choice. Mages are over-powered as hell, it turns out, and I laid waste to just about everything and anything I came across. All the spells look and feel powerful, it’s just a shame that the minutia is bogged down in Dungeons and Dragons rules. I still don’t fully understand THAC0, but so long as enemies blow up or my teammates get stronger, I don’t care. One other thing, spells are perhaps the one place where Planescape‘s verbose style is a hindrance. You have to wade through, albeit excellent, paragraphs of spell lore before you get to just what it actually does. I love your writing Chris Avellone, but you’re killing me with your generosity.
Afterwards, I was forced to go to a new area of the Sigil (through a tense stealth mission through a house filled with ‘Chaosmen’ and helping the personification of the Sigil give birth) called the ‘Wards’. The ‘Wards’ are split into ‘Lower’ and ‘Upper’. The former is poisoned from smog caused by what is essentially a religious weapons making factory headed by the ‘Godsmen’ whilst the latter is filled with ‘Sensates’ – people who live for new experiences – and is the wealthy part of the district. This is where an extra mechanic can into play: factions. Initially I was adverse to it, but I found the Godmen’s beliefs, essentially a bastardisation of Buddhism, to be pretty convincing and I joined them. Factions are essentially a base to rest freely, a great shop and a fountain of quests. The Godsmen were pretty interesting with their ideas of reincarnation, but the faction become infinitely more compelling when I discovered the ‘Anarchists’ who were dead against the Godsmen. This faction had infiltrated the factory in order to blow up a massive WMD the Godsmen were making to destroy ‘chaos’ in some great future trans-dimensional war. I joined up with them and betrayed the crap out of the Godsmen by sabotaging the WMD to kill all those working on it. It was awesome. There are few things I love more in RPGs than meaningful choices and seeing those consequences effect the world and/or my own character. I have to say that Planescape has a lot of the competition beat in this regard.
The ‘Higher’ wards was nothing more than a collection of excellent quests. I discovered the father of the Nameless one’s dead wife from a previous life and told him about her (and uncovered some things about myself), lied my way into the Sensates, saw some terrifying visions (some of which have come true so far), met the most interesting ‘prostitutes’ in any game ever and finally met someone who could answer all the questions about the Nameless One’s immortality: the insane hag Ravel. Meeting her was revelatory in a multitude of ways: The Nameless One’s immortality comes from the Hag taking his ‘mortality’ and misplacing it, his amnesia stems from the Hag messing up the ritual, the answer to “what can change the nature of a man?” (the answer is whatever you want it to be, I said “nothing”) and the Hag tests your loyalty to your party by going from one to another and asking your opinion on them. There was a lot of choices that I made that I am sure will affect the game going forwards and how I interact with my party from now on. It was a great end to the second ‘act’ and I wonder if the proper finale will top it.
The members of your party continue to be utterly sublime, even the new ones. Morte, it turns out, have been lying to you (or being selective with the truth, as it were) and isn’t even technically a walking encyclopaedia, he is a demon. The Nameless One saved Dakkon from death and he professed his servitude until the main character dies, not knowing that Nameless is immortal. Annah is frequently hilarious, especially when she trades barbs with Morte, and has actually become my main love interest. I also recruited a wizard who is constantly on fire, the insane Ignus. He was a fascinating character who wants to destroy and burn everything, but I found he didn’t really gel with the rest of the team. Plus, I already was a powerful mage myself (along with Dakkon) so after I learned everything I could from him, which involved various parts of the Nameless One’s body being burned to a cinder, I let him go. I recruited an ex-prostitute succubus called Fall-From-Grace who also acts as the party’s healer. She is rather posh, but her soft demeanour is a nice contrast to the rest of the coarse party. I’m not sure if I can romance her after getting with Annah, which is disappointing considering she has a diary I am desperate to read. And finally there is Nordom. He is essentially, get this, a robot from a realm of pure Order that has accidentally come in contact with pure Chaos and has been corrupted in some way. He is so strange, even in Planescape, but he is very cool as he duel wields crossbows (and is voiced by Dan Castellaneta). The game has, quite simply, some of the best party members of any RPG I have played.
The problems I have with the game still continue, however. The planes you visit aren’t particularly colourful or interesting, even if their denizens are. There are some pretty dashes of colour here and there – light streaming through a baroque stained glass window; multi-coloured tiles scattered about – but I am sometimes overwhelmed with the amount of brown in Planescape Torment. The pathing is horrendous. Trying to manoeuvre your team in small spaces is an exercise in frustration, as is clicking somewhere and seeing your entire team scatter off in different directions or get stuck by a wall or an NPC. It is also ludicrously easy. I have killed multiple bosses in seconds by getting Morte to taunt them and then unleashing the most powerful spells I have. The combat has finally got fun now that I am powerful, but I am not necessarily challenged. However, since it’s an old game (nearly twenty years old I believe), I forgive Planescape Torment its issues to a degree.
Now that I am roughly two-thirds of the way through the game, I truly can’t wait to sink my teeth back into the bizarre world of Planescape: Torment. I hope the ending lives up everything I have seen so far.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: The final part of Planescape: Torment