The third and final part of the Torment: Tides of Numenera Alpha Systems Test is out, this time the test focuses on the combat or Crisis subsystem. Because dealing with violent conflict is a key part of pretty much any RPG. The developers opted to go for a turn-based combat system rather than follow the real-time with pause system used in Planescape Torment. I am pretty happy with the idea, it makes for a slower, more thoughtful combat experience without having to manually pause/unpause all the time. It also allows the developers to stick more closely to the pen and paper system that this game is based on. Frankly I have been really surprised and impressed with how much they have used from the cypher system. The game even sticks with the rule that players roll all the dice, even though all the engine obviously handles it all in the background.
The downside of all of these details is accessibility, I do not think that these tests have spent enough time explaining the fundamentals of the stat pool and effort system and could have some pretty significant knock-on effects. For example, I don’t remember this test explaining why my enemies have hitpoints, but the none of the party do, instead damage is taken from our stat pools. The same stat pools we use to activate combat abilities. The same stat pools that were used in previous tests to perform tasks and solve puzzles outside of the crisis. The tests have been kind enough to start us off fresh each test, but in the actual game there is the very real possibility of accidentally exhausting your character and running into your first combat in a very vulnerable state.
I also ran into very basic problems understanding the combat, why did my target numbers change so frequently? I honestly have no idea why sometimes it was really easy to hit my opponent and other times I needed 12+ or even 18+ on a d20 to hit. I don’t even know how to get surface that information, so I can’t fix it in the future. They really need to work on that if I can’t understand the basics then I will find it very difficult to stick with the game.
The big promise of the crisis system is that each encounter and each opponent will be hand crafted. Enemies will react when combat isn’t going well, you can talk to some of them mid-fight, you can manipulate sections of the environment and events during the fight could add an entirely new menace to deal with while fending off foes. You can definitely see that here, you have a number of strange and unusual features you can manipulate and take a risk on during the crisis, sometimes you will be wasting your time but sometimes you get to do a neat thing during the fight. You also get to see enemies make their escape or surrender which is always nice to see. I hope that the game also anticipates NPCs reacting to the fight going their way, I would like to see a game that will let you actually surrender yourself if things aren’t going your way rather than every enemy intent upon your utter destruction regardless of circumstance.
Ultimately the hope I have for the Crisis system in Torment: Tides of Numenera is a smaller number of more interesting fights, both in terms of narrative and mechanics. I really would be disappointed to see the Last Castoff having to fight random mutant bears in the woods or rats in the sewers.