Planescape: Torment has a lot of things going for it. Unfortunately it also has a lot of things against it. These competing factors seems to be in constant battle as you play the game. The advantages outweigh the negatives, but not by much.
In the advantage category is that the game uses the same engine as the hugely popular Baldur’s Gate. And with Baldur’s Gate II still pretty far out in the future, those million or so gamers who played through the game and the Sword Coast expansion pack are going to need something similar to get their fix.
Another advantage is that the game is beautiful. Sure it uses the BG engine, but the scenery has really been given a facelift. Whereas BG had impressive graphics, Planescape is at least twice as good. Your eyes will really pop out when you see some of the gruesome and foreboding landscapes the game has to offer.
Characters too look really nice. From humble NPCs to terrible monsters, just seeing the variety of cool beings to encounter is a lot of fun. Each one walks a bit differently too, from the shuffle of the undead to the false pride stride of city goons.
Unfortunately, the game has two major things going against it. The first is the game’s setting. The world of Planescape is one of the most convoluted worlds ever created for the pen and paper Dungeon & Dragons game. Even TSR barely showed any real support for the world, releasing one source guide and barely a handful of modules. Role-players universally hated it.
Personally, I played two games in the pen and paper Dungeon & Dragons world of Planescape with an experienced dungeon master. Both times the group I was with spent the majority of our time waiting for the DM to look up rules. The world is just silly. Traditional role-players who know about Dungeon & Dragons (read: all of them) are going to be hesitant to purchase a game based on this game world. And I don’t think it will appeal to the mainstream consumer. In Baldur’s Gate they could at least get their head around the swords and sorcery concept, but to ask them to figure out the rules of the various planes is a bit much.
If Black Isle wanted to set their game in a horror-type setting, they should have used the Dungeon & Dragons Ravenloft Realm. Ravenloft, named after the most famous horror pen and paper dungeon ever, is a realm where the players could travel within the twisted realm of whatever powerful entity is controlling their sector, fight vampires and other creatures of the night, and explore strange worlds. And vampires always appeal to the mainstream for some reason.
The second thing that goes against this title is that it feels a bit rushed. And not the kind of "gee, isn’t that cute, the back of my car fell off in the last town" rushed feel either. I mean a lot of highly noticeable flaws that creep up the entire time you are playing.
For example, even the weapons don’t quite look right when you character is holding them. Right near the start of the game, if you choose the correct options an older zombie is going to fall apart near you, leaving his arms, long since hardened by rigger mortis, behind. As bad as this sounds, equipping his arm as a weapon offers the most damage of anything you can find up to that point.
So when I put the arm in my character’s weapon slot, I was surprised to see the picture of a giant spiked club appear in this hands as the character portrait. In fact any weapon that did blunt-type damage ended up looking like that club, which by the way in its current configuration with all the spikes would actually do piercing damage under AD&D rules..
You get one picture for each weapon group and that’s it. In Baldur’s Gate one of the fun things was to see what your character looked like holding a variety of weapons.
Another problem is that you only get one choice for the way your character looks. Sure you get to monkey with his stats, but you have to play a male, and an ugly looking one at that. Your character looks like an undead Rastafarian version of the Incredible Hulk. I’m used to playing suave thieves or studious wizards and just could not identify with this guy at all. I don’t see how many people, especially mainstream people, could.
But there are many cool things about the game that help overcome some of the negatives. If you like quests, this game has got your number. One of the most thrilling aspects of the game is that just about everyone you bump into will have a quest for you of some type. And many of the quests can only be solved once you complete others that you might not have even been assigned yet.
From a role-playing aspect, the quests and interrelationships between the various characters is fascinating to uncover. But here again, I think the mainstream gamer will get bored quickly with all the question and answer sessions with everyone in the various places you visit.
If you really liked Baldur’s Gate, or I should say the interface and overall gameplay style, then give this title a try. The graphics are enough to make it a good addition to any collection.
However, if you consider yourself to be a mainstream gamer who was attracted to the popularity of Baldur’s Gate, then perhaps you should hold off until the actual sequel, Baldur’s Gate II is released.
The game is more good than bad, but I would be surprised if it appeals to an audience beyond the hardcore role player. It earns an above average 3 1/2 GiN Gems.