Friday, March 8, 2013

Planescape Torment and I

Planescape Torment and I have a complicated relationship.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to look at you in patient way and ask; “Baldur’s Gate? Icewind Dale?”. And if you still look like a question mark, this blog entry is likely not that interesting for you. If you remember these great titles, you ought to be familiar with the third installment of the Holy RPG-Trinity that is these three excellent games and hallmarks within the genre of PC-games.

Planescape Torment (PST) is one of those games that has generated a cult, while at the same time is somewhat underrated compared to its siblings. Odds are good that you’ll at least be able to find someone who’s heard of Baldur’s Gate, whereas you might have to look a bit longer for the PST’ers. I’ve also been lead to believe that on a purely economical level, PST wasn’t the success it ought to be.

Yet, once you do manage to find someone who made it through this game, you’ll often get that weird, obsessed look from someone so enthralled and addicted they can barely put it to words.

That’s when the real fun starts, as I tell them I’ve been trying to get into it seven times by now. Failing miserably at every turn.

Eternal Sunshine on a Sigil Mind
What I am often told by said people is that they would trade away so much in order to be able to go through what I’m currently trying. A clean mind against PST. I don’t know, maybe my brain will be worth a lot of money when I die, with my cortex unsoiled by the walkthrough that is PST.

It doesn’t take much research at, say, Good Old Games to see what opinions fans hold about this classic. Especially the story is something that has been hailed as some of the very best writing in game-history, which is certainly some claim. Initially, it can be hard to see why, as from a first-hand perspective the game looks like an ugly version of Baldur’s Gate. And while BG and IWD were both good games, I never felt their story stood out as that amazing.

Either way, PST has generated an immense amount of fans. Just look at the newly announced kick starter for a spiritual sequel; it met its goal after just six hours and the money keeps pouring in. This is a game that so many people love and worship, about to the same degree that the old school “Thief” fans remain adamant about the first two games being the utter best.
It is therefore no wonder that me, loving every great story I can get my hands on, have been craving to complete this gem for so long. And holy hell, am I frustrated it just won’t happen!

“Updated my journal!”
First things first, however. The general outline of the game is that it takes place (if that’s the proper word) in the famous Planescape-setting (well, duh..) in which you wake up as the nameless one. You have no memory of your past, why you wake up in a mortuary and where you are, exactly. In addition, someone has scribbled some information, tattooed on your body, that you should go find a journal. Along on the journey comes your own, personal talking skull, who sadly isn’t named Murray.

Much of the game consists of exploring, talking and finding out about your past, why you can’t die and about this crazy world that you’re a part of. Whereas the original version of PST was frankly ugly due to its very low resolution, newer patches and tweaks can easily turn it into an acceptable looking game.

In many ways, PST changes some of the conventions we were thought in BG. Among those I’ve noticed so far, for example, is the fact that you only create your main character and have to choose from three classes as the story progresses. Also, for once, dumping WIS, INT and CHA is a really bad idea if you want to experience the true magnitude of the game, because PST is more like an interactive book than a game. You remember in BG how you eventually would start ignoring all those idiot NPC’s that just trudged around in the city? Yeah, in PST you might easily miss out on something vital if you don’t talk to almost everyone in the damn bar. You can easily spend a very, very long time talking to people, if you want to get the entire depth of the game. And social skills pay off in this regard and help you unlock more memories about yourself.
Also, there are no swords, I’ve been told. Neither missile weapons, which is a funny detail.
It stands to reason that with such an emphasis, the writing needs to be good and durable. And it mostly is; I’ll happily admit that much. There are philosophical dilemmas, existential questions and much more for you to partake in, and at the same time, the Planescape setting is so vast and quirky it allows for some truly strange encounters. Such as living teeth you have to sweet talk and an alley about to give birth.

Logically, the game isn’t focused much on combat. In fact, it always seemed so boring and clunky. Something that needs doing so you can move on to the next talk or area. Which is fine, since this is obviously the wrong game if that’s your fancy.

So why doesn’t it work?
I’ve tried getting into this game seven times, as said. Last time was the day before yesterday, in which I sat a new record of not getting beyond the mortuary before growing bored. At first my issue was with the graphic and the fact that everything on screen was so huge due to resolution. But even after patches something is not ‘doing it for me’.

I asked a lot of people who completed the game. Mostly their first question is, “Well, how far are you?” I will tell them that I am at the mortuary, running around in the Hive, have found Pharod or am in The Dead Nations (which is my current record for how far I progressed). The same reply always applies; “Oh yeah, that place sucks and is boring, but it gets REALLY AWESOME AFTERWARDS!!”
I’d really like to know when it gets awesome?

Don’t get me wrong here! I love the side-quests, I love the small details in them. For example, discussing whether the Dustmen-philosophy can truly be applied to someone who signed up for it but now regrets. Or the portal-and-random-keys-things. And helping some guy plant trees based on belief (or something); it’s all good. But it keeps feeling like everyone around me goes “Oh hey, nameless one. You’re back, I see. What? Yeah, I know about your past. No, I’m not going to tell you anything. You have to find out for yourself.”
Some suspense is great; I don’t expect to have it all delivered to me in an instant, far from it! But it sure feels like dragging on for long enough, mostly making me feel I’m doing the Planescape version of the Hangover-quest from Skyrim.

Some adaption may apply
Another thing I needed to adjust myself to was the fact that the nameless one is more or less immortal. The game proclaims it even rewards you for dying, at times, when it comes to unlocking memories. During my first plays, I was very afraid of dying but then realized that some encounters with enemies were simply solved by running in with the nameless one and zerg down the enemies. Seeing as he would respawn anyway.
I was unlucky as well, seeing as I didn’t know about Dak’kon till my third attempt, making combats somewhat easier. Not all of them are avoidable, I’d like to add, and though I would like to play without them entirely, it didn’t seem possible. Add to that the really screwed up ways PST handles resting (some places it just seems downright impossible) and I was lost at it again.

So this time!

I’ve currently reinstalled and heading out with tweaks. Call me a cheater/noob/whatever, but with enabled ‘rest wherever’ I hope to make combat something trivial that just needs to get over with and enjoy the writing. Perhaps it really is the feeling that when I’ve written on my own books for half a night and sit down to play, I just want to take my mind off and not concentrate on any more letters than I have to?
I don’t know.

I just know that I really want to complete this game. And I can’t help but wonder whether there are other people like me out there? And how you handled it, if you did.

I assume the default answer is “Oh yeah, but after Dead Nations it REALLY becomes good!”

No comments:

Post a Comment