The isometric RPG is a genre I've seen much more than I've played. I saw them a fair amount in my youth, as friends would talk about the likes of Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. These were friends who had the income and the knowledge to build their own PCs to play these games, and the likes of Fallout too, whereas I was just a console peasant, thoroughly enjoying that side of video gaming.
But I won't lie - I've missed out.
Having a lot of these games based on the Dungeons & Dragons license appeals to me because I'm familiar with the pencil and paper RPG, and Planescape: Torment is one such title. I'm not familiar with the Planescape setting, however - a bit before my time, I suppose - but we should be able to get right into this without too much trouble at all.
I have absolutely no idea what the backstory is, as any button press skips the intro movie, but our new character - The Nameless One - is indeed based on your six well-known attributes. I don't know how they'll be implemented, mind you. All I've read about Planescape: Torment is that it's not combat focused, so I'll use Strength as a dump stat and see how far I get.
We are dead, or perhaps immortal, or probably both, and like many other RPG protagonists, we have amnesia. Lucky for us, we find ourselves in a Mortuary with a floating, talking skull that will help us out.
I've barely made it off my dissection slab and I'm already liking where this is going, based on the writing. It's not outright humour - it wouldn't fit the setting, I suppose - but it's engaging and interesting. I suppose it being delivered by a floating skull helps...
My first task, other than the obvious 'find out who I am and get out of here', is to arm myself with a scalpel, which should be easy to find around here.
This isn't a tutorial, but it is a laid back introduction, so you're left to your own devices to see what various buttons and mouse clicks do, but it's quite obvious, thankfully. Click to move, click to open, click to investigate and right click to fine-tune your action or take an alternative one.
Soon enough, we find a scalpel, but it's no use in our backpack, so it's into a barebones tutorial on our inventory, which amounts to 'put it in this slot here'. Simple.
Armed and ready, we need to slice up some zombie workers to find some keys to these gates, and again, attacking is as simple as pressing 'A' and choosing a target. The Nameless One will go about his business, though it's not much to look at, it has to be said.
We're free to explore from here on, though we are still stuck in a mortuary, so finding some doors out would be nice. Finding someone who can help would be a plan too, but some of these folks are a little strange.
Finding a set of stairs we move upstairs, ideally closer to an exit, and encounter a few more of these Dustmen. They're some kind of worker here, with much more grey matter than the zombies and skeletons they employ to do the menial tasks around here.
They might want me - and everyone else - dead, but if they could just answer a few questions for me first, that'd be great.
Well, that was unexpected. And yet the dialogue suggests I'm used to that sort of thing, casually snapping peoples necks. I might not be used to lying, but I'm sure I'll practice that over time. We're getting somewhere. I'm hidden in plain sight. I still need a way out, however.
At some point in my clicking, I find a scrap of paper with the beginnings of a sidequest on it. Your journal gets filled in with all sorts of reminders and quest logs as you progress through the game, and especially when you talk to people and discover new things. As far as RPGs go, Planescape: Torment is on the wordy side, but I don't think that's a problem here.
The problem I'm having is one of navigating this dark place. The map screen points out some useful places, like stairs and key rooms, but finding your bearings can be a nuisance. Exploring the world and wafting away the fog of war is a must, as is looking at everything and opening every chest and cupboard and the like, but I've not been doing that at all.
I sense I need to go back to the thing that was sat in front of a massive book, and once I found that on the map, the game is so laid back at this point that I can click where I want to be and just wait for my character(s) to get there. Their pathfinding is fine, so far at least.
After a huge conversation with this guy, I learn some things, certainly, and find out that there are potentially others in this mortuary whom I may know. Where they are, and who they are, and who I am, still escape me. At this point, I just want to get out of this place. I want to see the world this mortuary exists in, not how grimy the mortuary itself is.
I had to find a guide to give me a clue as to where I was going wrong (I couldn't find the stairs to the first floor, let alone see that I needed another key to get there), and it was skim reading that that lead me to realise just how much I'd missed in the mortuary alone. That scrap of paper, for example, was indeed a sidequest that I'd have to finish using my own dumb brain. The people I'd met had their own tasks for me too, should I have gone into conversation with them, rather than snap their necks.
Looking at my own journal - at what the game said I've got as quests - I can't help but feel I'm not playing this game as intended. Assuming we can come back at a later date, I still want to get out of this place. That's my priority.
After hunting for the damn thing, I get the story of my Planescape life: a locked door. But this time, I've remembered that you can just ask the guy at the door to open it. No combat necessary. That'll be good.
Further Fun Times
Now that's unexpected. Props, Planescape. Well written, well done. Gotta get out of here quick, though, because I suspect that fight caused a scene, and I don't think I'm prepared for a scene.
Nabbing the keys, I dash out of the door and into a cutscene.
I've no idea what it was showing me because any button is the skip button. But I'm out. I can see. I hope the locals are used to floating, talking skulls...
Thus concludes my first short stint with Planescape: Torment. Scratching the surface is perhaps the wrong phrase. I've seen the surface, and have just made contact with it, but scratching? Nah. I don't think I've scratched.
I know how it plays, however, and I'm more or less comfortable with how it plays. I'd like to swing the camera around sometimes, but that's not exactly going to happen any time soon. I wouldn't mind some pointers related to my quests either, but that probably makes it more of a game than a story, and Planescape: Torment is very much a story.
This world is weird and unusual but is accessible. That might change when combat and increased difficulty comes into play, but as far as starts go, this is dropping you into a place you can safely explore, and letting you get familiar with the core gameplay before unleashing you into the world.
I ignored that, sure, but I'm stupid. If I was patient, I probably would have looked around more. I would have spoken more. I would have taken more information in. But I had the freedom to not do all that, I suppose. That playstyle might not last as the game goes on, but it was catered for.
This is clearly a title that deserves a lengthy play - I don't even know what half of the HUD refers to, there are spells and plenty of item slots for lord knows what else to go on in this world, but I'm just a mostly naked immortal deadman with amnesia so I can be forgiven for not knowing everything yet, right?
While I'm not sure if I'll get around to playing it myself (because I did need a guide, remember, and it was an eye-opener to how blind I was), I do want to see where the writing goes. It's the writing, more than the plot or the setting that is of interest to me here. Or maybe it's just the way that you are allowed to interact with the world that interests me.
You know what, I don't think I know what I'm talking about anymore.
The developers wanted to turn the traditional approach to RPGs on its head. There isn't always an obviously right answer to an issue, and sometimes you've got to be morally grey to get things done. In the end, the game ended up as a quest to understand who you are in the world, not to be the one to save it.
Planescape: Torment, developed by Black Isle Studios, first released in 1999.
Version played: PC, 1999.