What can change the nature of a man?
It has been 13 years since Planescape: Torment was released and the game still manages to win new fans. I learned of it from a colleague back in 2000, decided to give it a shot, and … well, I never looked back.
The game was created by Black Isle Studios, the same company that also created the Baldur’s Gate series, and has been characterized as one of the best adventure books of the 90’s, which just happened to be released as a computer game. The storytelling is the main reason the game captured me big time. Unlike most other adventure games, Planescape: Torment doesn’t rely on combat; in fact it rewards you more for avoiding combat than for throwing yourself into the fray.
The story begins with you waking up on a slab in the Mortuary in Sigil.
You don’t remember how you got there, in fact you don’t remember much of … anything! Not even your own name! You are The Nameless One. Fortunately for you, a companion has been locked up with you – Morte, a flying skull. He seems to know you but is rather tight-lipped (or maybe I should say tight-toothed, as he has no lips!) about what he chooses to tell you. He reads a message which you left for yourself, tattooed onto your back. You are to find somebody named Pharod and learn from him what is going on.
From then on you are on a quest to learn about your past. Which turns out to be longer than you suspected at the start; for you have lived hundreds – if not thousands – of lives. You are immortal, and you will have to find out what has happened to your mortality.
The hunt for the truth will send you all over (and under) the city of Sigil, to one of the Lady’s mazes, to the cursed city of Curst, and to two different versions of Hell. On your way you will meet an odd(ball) collection of possible companions (a floating skull, an enslaved Githzerai, a chaste Succubus, and a rogue Modron just to name some of them), and you will have to solve a variety of large and small quests to advance the game. But don’t worry – (almost) nothing can kill you. At least not permanently.
And, you will get to hear some of the best music I have ever heard in any game. This one is my favourite. It is played whenever you meet the ghost of a woman you seem to have known in an earlier life. She still remembers you – and still loves you, despite the fact that you weren’t exactly nice to her.
The storyline is rather linear, as with most books, but unlike a book you get to write a lot of the story yourself. You decide what kind of person you want to be – whether you want to be good or evil, truthful or the multiverse’s biggest liar – whether you will do small quests for free, or demand payment – whether you will talk your way out of a situation, or beat up the other guy! Just remember that your choices may have consequences down the line!
As you progress with the story, you will most likely remember things about your earlier lives. About the times you were a complete jerk, the times you tried to make amends, and the times when you were just stark raving mad!
You may also learn more about your companions, and how some of them fit into your past…
And you may learn to speak with the dead. (Why not? After all, you have died yourself. Many times.)
Meanwhile, someone is hunting for you, sending his shadows to kill you, despite the fact that you cannot be killed. He is the one you must face in the end, and the one you must defeat – by words, or by blows!
And you will hear the same question asked again and again: What can change the nature of a man? It is up to you to find the answer, whether the answer be “Life”, or “Death”, or “Nothing!”
The answer may just turn out to be “Planescape: Torment”! :-)