In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog, I uncovered my real name.
So after roughly a decade of failed attempts to finish Planescape: Torment, I have finally reached the end. When I sat there watching the credits roll, I felt a mixture of relief and sadness. It was like I was Ishmael and the game was my White Whale. It was always there, taunting me with its alleged brilliance but its age and my own immaturity stopped me from playing it. Well that’s all in the past now and now I can unequivocally say that Planescape: Torment has lived up to the acclaim that has been lavished upon it all these years. The game is impeccable and the ending just strengthens that opinion even further.
I left the last part having just killed the hag Havel, having discovered that the Nameless One’s mortality still exists in some plane and that a Deva (god) knows its own location. So he fled the oncoming Shadows to a place called Curst, a town situated between Chaos and Order, and set about finding this Deva. This is where the potential within the setting finally shows itself. Nameless travels all over the dimension in search for his mortality and his memories. First stop was a dour underground prison that had a similar structure to Dante’s Hell to find Trias, the Deva. Then it was to the truly neutral Outlands near the skeleton of a giant beast that created worlds (I believe). Then the party had to travel to Avenus in one of the levels of Baator, which is essentially Lawful Evil Hell, in order to talk to a Tower of Skulls, then it was back to the Sigil as a final goodbye before travelling to the Fortress of Regret. Each of these places, especially Baator and the Fortress, felt unique. I’ll certainly say that Planescape Torment‘s ambition with the setting came to fruition in the final third.
As with most finales, the ‘plot’ was essentially over, in a sense, and its all about how the characters react to the revelations that are to come. Well this is, yet again, where Planescape’s utter brilliance continued on. The things you find out about The Nameless One and Morte, along with how the rest of your party reacts to these revelations, is perfect. Morte, it turns out, had been placed in the Pillar of Skulls by one of Nameless’ past incarnations and then ‘rescued’ (twice, I believe) by subsequent versions. The reveal was truly chilling due to the Pillar of Skulls generally being terrifying and Morte, a character who had always been sardonic to every horror the party had encountered, was actually cowering in fear as I was talking to it. But the best reveal was saved for the Nameless One, of course. It turns out that the entire Fortress of Regret had been constructed by the physical manifestation of Nameless’ mortality using the regret felt by the actual Nameless One.
Whilst exploring the Fortress, you watch as your mortality kills every member of your party and you’re forced to avoid shadows (which, it turns out, are the souls of people who have died whenever the Nameless One was ‘supposed’ to die) in order to confront it. And just before you do, you meet 3 manifestations of the Nameless One’s previous incarnations. I was lucky enough to find out that one of them was the ‘original’ Nameless One and I was told my name, which, sadly, the game doesn’t tell you. That reveal was just one of a whirlwind of twists and turns that come at you quickly. And, I have to say, I don’t think I have played an RPG with a grimmer final area. Everything you see creates this atmosphere of overwhelming sadness. The Fortress of Regret certainly lived up to the name, everything was so…sad. And the actual ending was the very definition of bittersweet; I got the ‘Good’ ending and it didn’t even feel like it.
All this good stuff almost almost makes up for one problem; the one thing that has been the biggest issue throughout my playing of Planescape Torment: the combat. All those cool locations I mentioned earlier? I had to go through dungeon upon dungeon of killing difficult enemies whilst exploiting, best I can, any area where I can rest so the party can heal up. Even the cool spells I learned didn’t make me enjoy the combat all that much, especially as the more powerful ones start-up a FMV cutscene that just slows down the combat even further. I will say that I enjoyed the duel with an ex-party member (Ignus, for me) because it felt like something out of ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Harry Potter’ with two extraordinarily powerful wizards throwing magic at one another. The final fight with your Mortality was also fun, right up until the game actually crashed. It was probably caused by the aforementioned FMV conflicting when we both let loose our spells. Luckily, that let me try a different tactic of ‘defeating’ him that was much more satisfying. It is this aspect is really the only flaw that stuck with me throughout the hours of playing the game, everything else was consumed by the brilliant writing.
Honestly, I have run out of things to say about Planescape: Torment. It is the gaming equivalent of a Tolstoy or Dumas novel with its rather wordy and dense prose and general old structure that can put off many people (especially right at the beginning). But the game gradually ramps up into an exceptionally satisfying experience until you are left a husk of a person once it’s all over and there is no more to play. It’s not for everyone, but I wholeheartedly recommend Planescape: Torment if you can look past its slightly crusty shell to see its profoundly special core.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: Mark of the Ninja