Nostalgia Lane: Planescape Torment

Some games you love and remember for the world alone.

I don’t think anyone, myself included, would accuse Planescape Torment’s combat and stats system as being the deepest body of water in the world.  Nay, it’s an adequate puddle for splashing into if one is out on a hot day, but that’s not the point of the game.  In a genre where most problems are solved with a flaming firebolt or a mace to the face, Planescape Torment asks us to actually roleplay — to get inside the head of a mystery and figure out his place in the world.  It’s an RPG where, no lie, you can go from start to finish with only having to fight twice if you’re clever enough.  And that isn’t even the most surprising thing about this game.

While Planescape Torment came out in 1999, I avoided buying this box for years and years after.  In my defense, it’s one ugly, unappealing package.  There’s this shriveled angry guy face with dreds looking at you and a whole bunch of nonsense on the back.  In comparison, Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale (both made on the same game engine) looked to be thrill-a-minute RPGs.  So I kept procrastinating and procrastinating until I finally broke down and bought the thing for a song about four years later.  It’s safe to say that within an hour I was completely in love with what became my favorite Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting of all time.

Unlike most of the high fantasy/exotic fantasy D&D campaigns, Planescape is just bizarre.  It’s main location is an enormous grungy city where every concept you have about fantasy is turned on its head, where doors can lead to surprising places, and where people are brought back to life to work off debts as zombies as standard routine.  It’s kind of the film noir of the D&D world, and it’s absolutely delicious.  The whole place begs to be explored because you really don’t know what’s around the next corner, and elves are mercifully nowhere to be found.  It’s a city where brothels exist for the mind, not the body, and where sewing on someone else’s dead skin to yours can give you powers.

So anyway, the story is that you wake up on a slab in a giant mortuary not knowing who you are at all.  A floating skull nearby informs you that he’s a companion of yours, you’ve died many times before (and are apparently immortal), and that you’ve got a mother of a message tattooed on your back.  From there you start searching for the real story behind everything: who you are, who your companions used to be, what you’ve done in the past, and what you need to do now.  It’s the old amnesia plot twisted around and around until it takes on a new shape.

Because the developers of this title went completely against the grain of the genre to make what has to be a flash-in-the-pan cult classic, you’re always given choices to fight or not to fight.  If your character is smart or charming enough, you can wade through conversations and figure out diplomatic, crafty, or compassionate ways through most everything.  The conversations, laden with the world’s lingo and grisly humor, are just a joy to behold.  Some of it’s voiced (and well, I might add) while a bunch is just text, but you’re almost always rewarded by taking the time to really talk to these people instead of just using them as punching bags.

I’ve only played Planescape Torment through once, and that time it was all the way through.  Recently, I discovered it on GOG.com (I lost my discs a long time ago) and re-purchased it.  One of the reasons I love that site is that there’s tons of support for these older games, and in the case of Torment, there’s a whole page devoted to walking you through modding the game so that it looks and plays the absolute best on modern computers.  So it’s time to go through Sigil once more!

9 thoughts on “Nostalgia Lane: Planescape Torment

  1. Kadomi May 9, 2012 / 12:07 pm

    I never finished it back in 2000 but bought it on GOG as well. Time to check out that modding page and get back to it. It is really a classic. I think Spinks actually had a link to a PDF with all of the dialogue of the game, if you’d rather read it like a novel. That’s how much story is packed into the game.

  2. tjedgar May 9, 2012 / 12:14 pm

    From an Era of ground breaking RPG games Torment is my favourite and if done properly the sequel would possibly be the first game ever I would actually seriously consider paying the £1billion uber special collectors edition that seem to be becoming standard these days.
    The writing of the dialogue, the flow of the quests the whole package was just sublime.
    Your right though the PR at the time and the packaging was it’s undoing, it was kind of like taking the ambrosia of the gods and marketing it like it was cat food.

  3. Syp May 9, 2012 / 12:22 pm

    The soundtrack and that novel is available upon purchasing the game from GOG.com as well!

  4. Yeebo May 9, 2012 / 1:11 pm

    I too never finished it for some reason, but what I did play was absolutely fantastic. Going on a trip soon, I bet even my crusty old traveling lap top could handle it…

  5. Stabs May 10, 2012 / 1:00 am

    I finished it. Super game.

  6. Windsoar May 10, 2012 / 2:18 am

    In a similar spot, I avoided this game for years, playing other prettier D&D inspired games, but when I finally let my hubby talk me into this *must-have* I finally found out what all the hype was about. It’s an absolutely fabulous game, and it really makes you think about the making *choices* not just hitting /accept and running to bash in the next skull.

  7. tjedgar May 10, 2012 / 2:58 am

    You know I am tempted to break this out again and go for the ultra pacifist route, should be a lot of fun.

  8. mbp May 10, 2012 / 11:27 am

    I am ashamed to admit I never finished the game. I recall geting bogged down somewhere in the Town area and sort of stopped playing.

    An interesting point of gaming trivia is that fo several years Planescape was tied up in legal limbo and it was hard to get a version legally short of buying an old one on Ebay. I think this unavailability added to the games near mythical status. Thankfully it was all sorted out and now it is widely available again.

  9. Telwyn May 10, 2012 / 1:17 pm

    I never got into this game, not because it wasn’t good, but because it was single-player only. At this time I was heavily into LAN RPG gaming with my partner – if a game didn’t have decent multiplayer (looking at you Pools of Radiance!) then it was struck off the list.

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