Planescape Torment: Enhanced Edition is something necessary and, at the same time, troublesome. One of the issued we're often faced with in video games is that classic titles are hampered by mechanics or features that feel out of date. Contrary to other art forms, that can largely be viewed within their own context, many of today's best games are built on top of the accomplishments of their predecessors, rendering then obsolete (to some degree, at least). This is perfectly fine if you look at games as entertainment. Technology develops at a rapid pace, and games based on a core of pure digital muscle face the risk of quickly growing old and outdated. If a title is to stand the test of time, it needs to bring something else to the table. It needs to offer something greater than just pure craftsmanship and digital achievement.
When Planescape Torment was originally released 18 years ago, it didn't make much noise. Black Isle was a studio that had been involved either as publisher or developer, working on a fresh wave of games that shook the very foundations of Western role-playing games, with titles such as Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Fallout. Planescape Torment was more of a personal bet that worked on another level, a finely tuned piece of clockwork, where every tiny element contributed to a greater whole. It rapidly became a cult classic, admired and honoured by many. It is still regarded as one of the very best role-playing games of all time, if not the best. Which takes us to 2017 and this Enhanced Edition.
Planescape Torment: Enhanced Edition was necessary because playing the original today would divert the user's attention from what's important. A slight visual improvement was a must, an update of those animations and environments that made us shiver almost two decades ago. But it's a fine balancing act; too much tweaking, trying to introduce too many new features, could've ruined it. However, thankfully, Beamdog has shown a great understanding of the source material, and how a title such as Planescape Torment deserves to be treated.
Thus, this Enhanced Edition is perfectly aware of its role and doesn't stray from it. The tweaks and changes are only minor, with the focus instead firmly on visually updating the game, fixing that small errors that were scattered here and there and, all in all, solving a couple of minor issues. The rest is pretty much left intact. Adding new characters or plots would've altered a finely tuned masterpiece, whereas modifying dialogues or adding new areas would've impacted its pace, and risked diluting what's already there.
It might not be enough for some. There'll be those who would've preferred something along the lines of what was done with Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II, but these are games that required a different approach. Planescape Torment was obsessively measured and aligned, and was more of a novel than any of the other projects developed with the Infinity engine. The player enjoys the freedom to explore and develop their character, to dig into the story as much as they want, but always within the established framework. In reality, there's not all that much in terms of player-choice, nor is there a thousand potential endings. The decisions you take throughout your journey link to the dialogue, giving you options when dealing with the world and its characters, and they don't have as much to do with actual variations of how the story unfolds. You'll always visit the same places and meet the same key characters, no matter how you choose to play.
That said, Planescape Torment manages to make you feel completely in charge of a credible story, and that we have full control of what's going on. Every character, situation, and mission turns into something seemingly unique for your playthrough. Each milestone feels important and leaves a mark, choices must be calculated, and different elements combine to deliver a great adventure where all possibilities and outcomes have apparently been considered beforehand.
Planescape Torment: Enhanced Edition respects all of this. It improves screen resolution, which at the same times widens the player's field of vision, but it also lets you play with the old camera, with those huge, well-animated characters. To some degree, we lose out on the closeness that brought a more intimate atmosphere to every scene, but we're talking about a game that was released with 640x480 resolution. Thus, given the quality of modern screens, it looks a lot worse when the camera is zoomed in on the action.
Apart from the visuals, this is the exact same adventure that we played back in 1999, an adventure that plays out in one of the most incredible Dungeons & Dragons settings, complete with fantasy and gothic horror elements, along with thought-provoking storylines that make you reflect on philosophical and religious issues. You won't find any of the usual clichés here. Side characters you'll run into along the way have their own deep stories that unfold. Wanting to know more about them is something that feels natural, without the need to lead you forward via the promise of sexual relations.
Planescape Torment: Enhanced Edition is a text-heavy video game. Really text-heavy. You should, therefore, take your time to explore and talk to every single character before making any decisions. Only seldom do you have to fight if you choose the diplomatic path which, at the same time, feels much more rewarding. Make sure you enjoy the brilliant writing, the jokes and comments. Admire how it elegantly it avoids convention, adding a twist to every situation in order to surprise the player.
At the end of the day, Planescape Torment: Enhanced Edition is just like the original, which means we're dealing with a masterpiece. Its script, its characters and its atmosphere, the three core elements that took it to new heights, have been left intact, so it's still an amazing game that feels like it hasn't aged at all and that promises many hours of fun, fascination, and exploration of the unknown. This is the perfect excuse for veterans to relive, or newcomers to discover for the first time, one of the best role-playing games of all time.
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