(This is a continuing series detailing my playthrough of Planescape Torment. You can check out the whole run on the Nostalgia Lane page.)
Time isn’t usually kind to video games, even ones you used to hold up as classics. We don’t realize how much we get used to new systems, new features, and slicker technology until we jump back in time five, ten, or even twenty years to play old favorites. Planescape Torment has a few crow’s feet around its eyes, that’s for sure. The combat is pretty dull (I usually just trigger the attacks and watch static dagger swiping until I win while occasionally healing) and the model graphics are too small to get a good feel for the characters.
Yet what does hold up admirably well is its sense of world and quality of writing. The writing, both in the descriptions and dialogue, fills the graphics gap, offering up terrific mental images of the people you meet. What is even more captivating is the world itself. I always loved Planescape because it’s so anti-typical fantasy to its very core, yet it’s still fantasy. Everything about this bizarre world has internal logic that holds up, but you can’t depend on familiar tropes to navigate it. You have to learn about the lay of the land and its people, figure out the slang, and piece together who you are and how you belong here. This works in parallel between you and your character, so if you’re feeling a little off-kilter about the weirdness that surrounds you, it’s OK because so does your amnesiac immortal nameless one.
Plus Sigil just has so many concepts that engross me. Two of them came up in today’s play session: portals and the ugly economy of Sigil. Yup, I’ve finally arrived at Ragpicker’s Square, the supposed home of my main quest target Pharod. Who is this guy? Is he a friend or foe? And does he have my journal? I want answers, darn it!
Over the course of the past few play sessions, it’s become clear from talking with NPCs that Pharod — a “collector” who rounds up corpses to sell to the Dustmen — has come upon a seemingly unlimited supply of dead bodies and is making a fortune off of them. About three characters have tasked me with figuring out the secret behind this, so I’ve added it to the list. Between harlots, thugs, thieves and corpse sellers, there aren’t many people making an honest living around this place.
I stumble into an empty house in Ragpicker’s Square and find myself trapped in a one-room abode. What’s happened is that I’ve accidentally gone through one of the thousands of portals that make up Sigil, and I lack the key (whatever it may be) to open it back up. A jerk shows up to shake me down for a return trip, but I slaughter his face and loot his body for it instead. Man, I have really abandoned the whole pacifistic route thing.
Another potential portal presents an obstacle to getting to Pharod, as a rubbish-filled doorway blocks my access to the underground warren where he lives. A little detective work finds out that the key for this portal is… junk. Actual junk. The stuff I’ve been finding everywhere and discarding because it’s worthless. So I grab some more and pop through the portal, making my way into the warren for the first time.
Hellooo! Anyone home?