Monday, April 23, 2018

Planescape: Torment - Enhanced Edition

It had again been 7 years since I last played Planescape: Torment and I thought it was time for another run of the old classic. But before I got to it, Beamdog announced they were releasing an enhanced edition of the game in April (last year) and I ended up waiting for it to get cheap enough to do my playthrough in it instead.

A bit about Beamdog

Before I get to the actual game, few words about Beamdog, which was founded in 2009 by BioWare co-founder Trent Oster (not one of the three doctors) and BioWare lead programmer Cameron Tofer. They've been acquiring the rights to re-release certain old Interplay classics slightly retouched.

I wasn't impressed by their enhanced editions of Baldur's Gate in 2012, Baldur's Gate II a year after, or Icewind Dale another year after that. (Icewind Dale II isn't getting an enhanced edition because its source code has apparently been lost.) To me it appeared they were trying to resell me the games I already had and ask 20€ per title, which felt like a high price to pay for the convenience of not having to install couple mods myself if I ever wanted to replay the games again. I haven't seen anyone praising the new content Beamdog has added to the games either.

I did (re)buy the three games in the end when Beamdog decided to bundle the originals with their EEs on GOG -- to give people more choice (!?). There was a heavy discount for already having the originals and I think Beamdog might have announced their very own expansion to BGEE, Siege of Dragonspear, at that point too, which I was (and am) interested to play and would thus need the base game.

The expansion caused a small controversy upon its release but I think I'll save the details and my opinion for their own post once I've played it myself.

The most recent Beamdog enhanced edition -- that of Neverwinter Nights -- was released just a few  weeks ago. It's another title in whose re-release I don't see much value; I'm fairly certain the GOG version runs just fine still on Window 10.

What that game really needs is facial animations and more polygons in the character models. I was surprised to see that Beamdog may have actually done something to the latter when I saw a screenshot of the new Aribeth. Or are still doing since the graphical improvements aren't actually in the game yet. That may be the reason the EE is only on Steam and not on GOG that already had the Diamond Edition.

Beamdog also seems to be touchy about criticism. Many have reacted badly to the company's practices and voicing these negative opinions anywhere Beamdog hold power ends up in one getting silenced. Or at least that's what I've seen people say on different forums. I don't care all that much; I've just been following Beamdog's doings since the original games are of my most favorite ones.

But to get to the actual subject of this post . . .

Less clunky Torment

Thus far Planescape: Torment - Enhanced Edition has been the only re-release Beamdog that I consider worth it. Maybe not at full price still but at like 67% off without a doubt. The reason I think that is because they added two things modders never could do to the game: container/interactable object highlighting and reworked GUI -- no more radial menus!

The game is thus basically in line with the other Infinity Engine titles. PST was always oddly less playable than Baldur's Gate that was released before it. The EE with its improvements mostly fixes that. There are still some issues left, however.

One of them is how game logic is tied to framerate in the IE games. Changing that would most likely require engine rewrite and such. That is a a lot of work and Beamdog is obviously not going to do that. There is an FPS slider in the game but it just speeds everything up. I did end up maxing it, though, since the slow character movement speed and choppy animations bothered me more than in the IWD EE I briefly tested before.

Unfortunately at the maxed 50 FPS, some spell sounds and effects get out of sync which causes things like the spell dimming effect to get stuck. Especially the many multi-projectile spells that require you to click for each one after the previous one has been cast were particularly glitch-prone. I didn't recall spells being so annoying. There aren't that many party friendly attack spells either.

Another problem I encountered (and didn't remember from my previous runs) was Fall-from-Grace's spellcasting AI. As the only healer in the game, she's kind of a must-have party member but her AI makes her to cast all of her memorized spells if someone is injured even when out of combat.

I had to turn party AI off because that was quite unnecessary behavior. That in turn made combat require more micro-managing as your dudes won't then automatically acquire a new target after their current one has died. There really should be individual AI script options for characters like in Baldur's Gate.

The Modron Maze is also a masterclass of unexciting game design. If you desire to recruit Nordom and/or defeat the maze's boss, you have to navigate the 8x8-room maze that always has a random layout. Every room has 1 to 3 copies of the exact same construct enemy. I reckon I'll be skipping the place on my next playthrough.

The best book you'll ever play, or so they say

What makes Planescape: Torment exceptional is still there in the Enhanced Edition. And that is of course the story. It is told well; it is interesting and rewards you with either intrigue or satisfaction at every revelation. You learn why The Nameless One's memory is gone, why he cannot die, what is the relevance of the game's big question, and what is the answer to it. Even on my 3rd playthrough I was enthralled by the whole thing.

There was a forum thread I read a while back about if the choice of player class for TNO was a trap of sorts for a lesser experience because leveling up as a fighter or a rogue will cause you to miss out on stuff. Because of the class choice but also because you're likely not leveling up the mental stats that unlock a lot of stuff in dialogues. For instance, without being a mage with high Wisdom the majority of Dak'kon's Circle of Zerthimon will remain locked. Although the real truth behind is not revealed until at the end of the game regardless.

On my possible next playthrough I should try a non-mage TNO. Fighter would be nice as I then could equip the many powerful-seeming axes that always go unused. PS:T's characters are so picky what items they can equip. The itemization could be more expansive as well. At the end of the game you might not even have every gear slot filled in your party because there isn't enough stuff to go around.

For once, I decided to try out all the different endings, even the one requiring combat, but I didn't find them too different from each other. The theme of regret is strong in each one.

Thanks to the EE's highlight key I found an easily missable item in the Trial of Impulse for the first time and I was able to distract The Transcendent One long enough to resurrect all of my party for the battle. It's kind of a hassle since they have dropped all of their stuff on the ground upon death and you have to manually re-equip them. But at least that makes the battle easier.

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