Nothing is sacred. Life, death, immortality — legendary RPGs of olde. A good story is a good story is a good story, and that remains true here. The stories people love in Pillars of Eternity, Divinity: Original Sin, and Tyranny will remain constants, because no amount of technological advancement, evolution in game design, or quality of hardware can change how letters on the page (or screen) kindle the imagination. Just like people who treasure classic novels are enriched by reading them, video game stories make the industry and those who experience them better. However, video games are a marriage of gameplay, sound, graphics, control, and of course, story.
Oftentimes, the quality of the story and characters can counterbalance simple gameplay and rough polygons, and these features meet somewhere in the middle when scored. Planescape: Torment’s writing does more than its share to earn this classic its deserved renown. Unfortunately, regardless of how inspiring the conflict is or how vivid each character, including several NPCs, can be, the frustrations and simplicity of gameplay frequently make Planescape a chore to navigate. Fans bearing rose-tinted glasses may vehemently disagree, but those same fans may just as quickly and easily admonish Final Fantasy VII, which by today’s standards just can’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with modern game design, as heart-wrenching and moving as its story and characters are.
Planescape: Torment is a story about The Nameless One, an immortal who’s lost his memory more times than he can remember — literally. Once a mere mortal, he somehow lost his humanity and is in search of what happened to him, who he is, and why that floating skull keeps following him around. He awakens in a mortuary in a city called Sigil, whose inhabitants scrape by in squalor. Truly, no one seems to enjoy themselves in this quasi-apocalyptic city. From person to person, Planescape constantly reminded me that this world is misery. Personally, I found this fascinating, but would-be players of this heralded classic may not find this kind of environment so enticing. So brown and gray!
The houses and landscapes are well crafted, especially for the time in which Planescape was originally developed. Most places look like what they should, though sometimes understanding where you can move and enter isn’t clear. This can have a significant impact on gameplay, as evading enemies or trying to move past some NPCs can prove frustrating. The controls often make playable characters move back and forth in place, when they could easily just walk around whatever it is they can’t seem to pass. What’s worse, this happens in combat; your team members trip over each other frequently, resulting in only one or two entering the fray while the other three fidget in place.
In terms of music, Planescape offers modest complements to the dreary atmosphere, but it does little to excite or accentuate. The voice acting, while sparse and capable, still has an odd muffled quality to it, despite this being an “Enhanced Edition.” As a package, I find little enhanced about this remaster, as several in the community have already pointed out. The visuals are a little crisper and the ability to highlight objects in the environment is welcomed, but what Beamdog has done here hardly warrants releasing this nearly twenty-year-old game again as “enhanced.”
In fact, the gameplay could have used some enhancement. Getting around is fine, generally speaking, but the combat is just about as simple as an RPG can get. You point and click on enemies, and auto-attack them down unless The Nameless One dies, at which point you’ll be teleported to some designated area free of charge. If allies die, The Nameless One can resurrect them up to three times, at which point his ability needs refreshing through rest. All spells can be used once until resting. Fortunately, most combat can be resolved with simple pointing and clicking, which makes Planescape easy to complete, but the rare moments late-game that require focus on spells and maybe a slight equipment upgrade add a little spice. Areas that require combat are a chore because of this simplicity, however. Players should eagerly anticipate each dialogue, as they’re almost always engaging, though occasionally wordy. Some critics of this wordiness in the dialogue have been chastised as illiterate, but sometimes a flowery explanation from an admittedly interesting NPC doesn’t do anything to move the plot forward, which can hamper the momentum. Players should expect a healthy amount of world-building, as several happenings throughout the world are abstractly described, even if most of them have no direct bearing on The Nameless One.
Planescape: Torment will continue to be a classic — a titan standing tall in the history of RPGs. However, the Enhanced Edition has only really enhanced the price and little else. Though I have to say, Planescape itself is okay. I know I may aggravate or annoy some fans who remember this title fondly or have even experienced it again and enjoyed the trip down memory plane, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, Planescape: Torment has not aged well. The writing is as engrossing as ever, yes, but even in that regard, so much more has been done with games like Pillars of Eternity. Certainly, the gameplay and controls could be better. I’m not here to give praise for the history and importance of Planescape, but to judge it as it stands today amongst whippersnappers, like Tyranny, who likely owe a great deal to what this title has done for RPGs.