A look back at Planescape: Torment as it celebrates its 20th anniversary

As we get ready to close out on a decade, we thought it would be fun to look at a game that is about to celebrate two decades of existence - Planescape: Torment. The roleplaying game from Black Isle Studios first released on December 12, 1999, and helped define the isometric RPG genre.
Planescape: Torment took the Infinity Engine - made popular by the original Baldur’s Gate - and tweaked it to deliver a story-driven game set in the Dungeons and Dragons’ universe of Planescape. During your journey as The Nameless One, you’ll meet other characters and try to solve the mystery of your immortal past. Being immortal sounds cool, but there’s a catch: each time you die you forget your past memories.
The game was met without much fanfare when it released, but many critics stated at the time that it was the best RPG to release that year. You can even find it on many “Top Games” lists thanks to its unique story and robust in-game worlds. Now, the game is considered a cult classic and if you are a fan of the genre, it is absolutely a must-play.

What helped set Planescape: Torment apart from other RPGs of the time

During its development, Black Isle Studios helped differentiate the title from other fantasy roleplaying games by removing many of the staples of RPGs of the time - there are no elves, goblins, or other typical “high fantasy” elements in this title. Instead, the game’s designer referred to the title as an “avant-garde" fantasy. It also removed the whole “save the world” element found in many titles and instead focused on you, the player, and your efforts to figure out just who you are as The Nameless One.
Much of the love for this title came from that unique approach to the genre. Whereas titles like Fallout (released in the same time frame) and the aforementioned Baldur’s Gate focused on being a savior, Planescape: Torment wanted to tell a story to the player and challenge the status quo of the genre as a whole. Chris Avellone, the lead designer of the title, tells Vice in an interview, “I think it was that the setting encouraged a philosophical/thoughtful approach to questing and exploration so that in itself may have given it an innate sense of maturity than simply hacking orcs with swords."

Planescape: Torment’s impact on the genre

This new way of looking at the genre inspired future RPGs to look at themselves and the stories they were trying to tell and we can still see that influence in various RPGs today - isometric or otherwise. Neverwinter Nights 2, and specifically the Mask of the Betrayer expansion, sees a heavy influence from the title. Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Tyranny, as well.
While Divinity: Original Sin 2 might have more fighting than Planescape: Torment, it still very much focuses on the stories and the characters and not just an overarching theme of good versus evil. If fantasy isn’t necessarily your cup of tea, then Disco Elysium is another great isometric choice that highlights characters and stories over pure action or grand adventure.
If sci-fi is more your style, then some of those philosophical and story elements of Planescape: Torment can be found even in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II.

There is a spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment and it released somewhat recently

A sequel to Planescape: Torment began development around 2013 and was funded on Kickstarter after reaching its funding goals within an astounding 6 hours of launching the campaign. Torment: Tides of Numenera was eventually released in February of 2017. The story differs a bit from the original, but it features Chris Avellone as the lead designer (just like PST) and features many of the same influences as the original.
While Planescape: Torment may be considered a cult classic, it’s hard to not see just how influential it was on the genre and gamers in general. Not only did a spiritual successor reach its funding goal in almost record time, but we are still seeing story-driven isometric RPGs being released today that focus on the player, the story, and the world around them.
So, if you are looking for your next great RPG adventure and haven’t had the chance to experience Planescape: Torment, there’s no time like its 20th anniversary!
What do you think? Have you played the game? Did you feel it was as influential as we did? Any great memories from the game? Comment down below and share your stories with us!