The turn-based Crisis system was good, on the whole. I don’t remember exactly how Planescape: Torment’s combat worked but I remember feeling like it was basically the weakest part of the game. Here, combat was interesting and tactical, and having objects to interact with in the terrain and sometimes options to talk during combat definitely added. The interface was ok but had some rough edges: it was fiddly to make sure you were making your maximal movement, and it was hard to keep track of what was a move action vs main action and mumble mumble focus. Some combats definitely used the mechanic more interestingly than others, but on the whole having every combat be meaningful instead of having random irrelevant encounters all the time was pretty classy.
The Crisis system seemed like it had cool potential for non-combat encounters, but this was really only used interesting once, in the bit with the guided tour. Otherwise, there were some encounters you could resolve by talking to people in an obvious way, and some you could skip entirely, but nothing terribly creative for non-combat.
Other than Crises, it felt very Planescape: Torment-like. You talk to people and interact with stuff by picking options from a menu, sometimes with chances based on skills. If I recall correctly, it was much more explicit about chances of success than Planescape was, and having point pools you could spend to boost your chances was cool. But on the whole, challenges were rather easy. I spent all game carrying around numenera that boosted my chances on challenges and stuff to heal my stat pools, and never ended up needing to use it. There weren’t interesting choices of “do I spend my points to succeed here at the cost of failing at something else”, because it wasn’t hard to succeed at pretty much everything.
Menu options-wise, I felt like it had less cool things like having the same dialogue line presented as a lie or a truth, but I might be over-estimating how much Planescape: Torment did that sort of thing. A lot of it boiled down to “pursue every branch of the dialogue tree until it’s exhausted”, but there were also plenty of interesting choices.
The game ended up feeling very linear. You go to an area, do as many side quests as you can, then go on to the next with no way back. I think honestly Planescape: Torment probably is more linear than I think of it as, but here it felt pretty artificial especially given no in-universe reason why you couldn’t travel more freely. This also made the artificial headcount limit on companions feel pretty weird: there was a mystical artifact you could use to summon companions, but the mechanic was telling a companion to leave, which had them walking back home despite the fact that you knew there was no route home, and then summoning another companion. The companions themselves were pretty cool, though, and I liked how they reacted to stuff that happens and each other.
The sidequests themselves were pretty good, normally including interesting decisions to make. I liked, for quests that were obviously questionable, generally having the choice to go along with it or discover a good reason to decline and geting full XP either way. (Though there was one notable one, in the Third Eye, that I didn’t find a way to do this with even though it felt like I should.)
The merecaster mechanic was very interesting, but I felt like it wasn’t capitalized on thoroughly at all. It’s made a big deal how being able to change things and not just learn things with merecasters is my unique powerful ability, and yet every change is either plot-mandated or very minor and insignificant. Having the ability to make dramatic changes in the endgame seems entirely reasonable given the build-up, so I was disappointed that that didn’t end up being a thing. (Also, the end was completely inconsistent about open- vs closed-loop time travel, which was disappointing in terms of things being solvable mysteries instead of coming out of left field.)
Plot-wise, I felt like it lacked the mystery and world-exploration of Planescape: Torment to some extent, in part because everything was so on the nose. In Planescape: Torment you’re exploring this world that has plenty of stuff that doesn’t have to do with you, and it’s a while before you find people that know anything about your deal and are honest about it, so there’s a lot of discovery about your past and situation. Here, the first people you meet are all about you being a castoff and talking about the Changing God, and also so much of the game is people talking about these things or the Endless Battle. Pretty much everything that doesn’t end up tying to the Changing God ends up feeling like random one-off numenera randomness with no impact, which I don’t find all that inspiring. I feel like the game was too direct and explicit and had insufficient twists to feel like I was discovering a whole lot about my past and the world that really mattered. (There was a twist at the end that I thought was pretty great, but I wasn’t given a chance to explore it in the context of the game, so it felt like it had weak truth and impact.)
The endgame definitely felt too linear and unpolished. For a place called the Labyrinth, it was remarkably easy to find your way around and remarkably uninteresting to. It was unclear why some people ended up there and some didn’t (did it relate to a hidden loyalty value?), and the stuff you could interact with in the side labyrinths felt very arbitrary and pointless.
For something so central to the game’s plot, I felt like the colors of tides had very minimal truth, mechanical support, or valence. Like, they seemed sorta like an alignment meter? But an unclear one that didn’t seem to affect very much? I kept expecting them to be a big deal in the endgame, especially given that bit about aligning the tides from gamestart, but it never seemed to go anywhere.
In related things, the level cap was pretty low; so much useless experience in the end-game! Maybe I was expected to swap my companions around more? And there was definitely some lack of polish, particularly some self-contradictory stuff at the end (Errtis’s dialogue after the last choice, epilogue stuff about the Bloom).
One question I kept thinking was, what distinguishes this from a Twine game purely based on text and choices, given how much of the game hinged on text boxes and multiple choice? But I do think the exploration really added, even if it could’ve been more expansive, and the threat of combat did give meaningful weight to stuff that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. It does make me think of the possibilities of exploration-plus-Twineishness as a form of interactive fiction more generally.
All in all, I’m glad I backed it and played it. It does feel like an echo of a great thing rather than something groundbreaking in and of itself, but that’s really what it was advertised as, and I do feel like it really adds to the canon of whatever sort of thing you think it’s an example of. And it was a lot of fun.