Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition – an elegant remastering, with a few exceptions

Surprise classic RPG remastering attack! Mere weeks after revered 1999 philoso-roleplayer Planescape: Torment [official site] enjoyed a belated spiritual sequel in the over-lored but otherwise strong Torment Tides Of Numenera, it gets itself a modernised re-release too. It’s due out April 11, but I’ve got the thing updating my hard drive’s journal and changing the nature of my VDU right now.

We’re not going to run a full review because we all played PST a thousand years ago and know full well it’s a solid-gold classic of narrative’n’choice-led games, but I do want to look at what’s changed in Beamdog’s ‘Enhanced Edition‘ and whether it’s a meaningful improvement. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, though the net result is the most playable and best-looking version of PST to date.

In terms of what it’s trying to do to the old man Torment, the Enhanced Edition has three primary goals. One! Compatibility and bug-splatting. GOG’s already sorted out some of the former, but PST always had a few nasties built in. Having not played the remaster from start to finish I can’t entirely attest to all being smooth sailing, but I’ve certainly not hit any howlers while jumping between savegames set in various key areas.

Click to enlarge. Zoomed in, sprite outlines turned off, filtering still on. Looks a bit messy, though you can’t tell that from just this thumbnail.

Point the second is quality of life improvements, and this means something of a do-over for the user interface. First and foremost of those is resolution scaling for the action bar, fonts and whatnot. We’ve been able to bump PST up to HD and beyond with fan-made utilities for years, but the UI and text ended up tiny and mangled as a result. There were fixes upon fixes, but you needed to be patient and committed and risk it all going horribly wrong part way through. So the main draw of the EE, as far as I’m concerned, is that all of this stuff is part and parcel and just works out of the box.

Newly added elements, including a limited zoom, tab-to-highlight interactive objects, an auto-loot button and how-to-play pop-ups, I can take or leave. Nice to have and perhaps shave a few extra years off a near-20-year-old game, but they’re timesavers rather than true reworkings.

Click to enlarge. Sprite outlines off.

Tab-to-highlight is the biggest win there in my experience so far, while on the other side of the coin, the how-to-play stuff and other added menu/loading screen stuff looks as it if were transplanted from another game entirely. I’m sure it will help people who’ve only heard the legends and so lack the years of putting-up-with-bonkers-UIs training that those of us old enough to play PST back in the day have, though.

And the third, most obvious rejigger is, of course, graphics. Specifically, the resolution. Unmodded, original PST is locked to 640×480. Not quite as unbearable in practice as it sounds, but a greater tragedy than the softness inherent in stretching this across a high-res LCD monitor is that it only allows you to see PST’s wonderful, elaborate, weirdo 2D environments in small chunks. PSTEE simply adopts your desktop resolution (there are no in-game resolution options), and apparently supports 4K, although I’m afraid I don’t know what happens beyond that. It all works fine on my 3440×1400 screen, at any rate.

Click to enlarge. Sprite outlines and filtering turned on, which has mixed results as you can see.

The beauty of higher res is that you see huge swathes of the environment all at once, what would have been single screens in the vanilla version now stitched together into whole places, and their hand-made sensibility gives them a visual fidelity that is rare even by today’s standards. PST is most famed for its maudlin, introspective, questioning writing, but it was always the places that locked in my memory. It’s these that most benefit from the EE.

The downside of higher res is that, if you go beyond 1080p, the spell starts to break. Not in terms of compatibility or anything like that – simply that 1440p and above seem to be exceeding how much the game can display without having to enlarge its tiles and textures beyond their original dimensions. At 3440×1440, PSTEE’s pixels really show, like I zoomed in too far in Photoshop.

Click to enlarge. This is the game running at 1440p (then downscaled to 1080p to be more browser-friendly) – you can see the pixelisation and aliasing I was on about.

One cannot expect miracles – this is a remaster, not a remake, and as such it’s using original assets rather than rebuilding them from scratch – but though I accept the necessary reality, I can’t help but feel a little saddened that I did not get the ultrawide sprawl of gorgeousness I’d hoped for. (Never, ever buy high-end hardware, kids, it’s only ever making yourself a victim of your own expectations). Perhaps some sort of filtering could have helped, but that option for backdrops is not there. However, on a 1080p monitor PSTEE is just the ticket. There’s still some grain and aliasing, but by and large it looks like Planescape was always built to be this way.

On the other hand, the optional zoom-in feature only makes everything look low-res and nasty. Once in a while, scrolling in a couple of clicks might help your cursor to find a smaller interactable, but by and large it both serves no purpose in addition to the game very obviously not being made for this.

Click to enlarge. Here you can see how PSTEE doesn’t look too rosy if you zoom in all the way.

Character sprites are more broadly problematic. They were pretty low-detail and pixelly even at the time, and blown up to high res then with a few new post-processing effects applied they only look more like soup pressed into bipedal form. The good news is that turning off said post-processing makes a big improvement. Better to look like crisp pixel-people than the blurred, excessively outlined splodges the EE makes them by default. They might not look modern, but they do look natural.

The effects – a smoothing option and a dark outline intended to make sprites stand out more – remind me of the filters you might try once then turn off forever in, say, a retro console emulator. They’re not awful, but it simply looks better – sharper and less artificial – with them off. Their effects are also worsened above 1080p.

1080p, cropped, character outlines on. Me no likey.

Other than those and the zoom, I left all the new EE features turned on, but the option to have it running in, essentially, vanilla mode is there if you’re a crazy purist and/or still own a CRT monitor. All told, my short-term impressions are that, yes, this is the most easy-to-play and best-looking official version of Planescape: Torment to date, able to smooth off enough rough edges that you won’t truly feel as though you’re wrestling with an 18-year-old videogame.

You probably won’t feel as though you’re playing a 2017 videogame either, but the important thing is that we get an RPG masterpiece made more or less modern without sacrificing anything important in the process. I’d love to see a more thorough reworking, of course I would – more specifically, new sprites and more VO, not that the latter is realistic – but I rather suspect that the core game is, in the main, so well-realised that that there’s little extra to be won anyway.

Click to enlarge. 1080p, zoomed out all the way, sprite outlines and filtering off – the best way to play, IMHO.

Which leads me onto my final point – yes, a few hours with PSTEE reminded me of what a good videogame it largely is (combat’s a weak point, and some of the character designs are a bit too wanky, in both senses of the word). I enjoyed last month’s Torment: Tides of Numenera, but at times it almost chokes on the volume of its own words, losing clarity and punch because it comes across as having been unwilling to edit down its lore and its pomp. This is particularly true of its opening sequence, which is a barrage of fantastical neologisms and exposition, and an excess of second-person commentary.

By contrast, PST’s cold open has you waking up in a mortuary, immediately addressed by a wisecracking skull who informs you you were dead a moment ago, and tasked with finding a way up. You’re introduced to some of the weirder aspects of how its world works as you play, a tertiary focus to a clear goal and the overriding mystery of how and why you came back from the dead.

Click to enlarge. 3440×1440 (downscaled after the fact), which gives a good sense of the sprawl of the environments.

Though PST is famed for its word count, the mandatory opening dialogue is tight and sparing, rather than verbose for the sake of verbosity. I know how the story plays out already, and sure, what seemed like high literature to me 18 years ago has a more obvious pulpish quality to it now, but even so, the sense of mystery and strangeness and character grabbed me all over again.

Not played PST before? PSTEE is all the invitation you need. Native high-res support, scaleable UI, a few helping hands and most of all it just works. Played PST before? Well, like me, the last time round you probably did it modded, and as such PSTEE, though a smoother ride, won’t feel particularly revelatory. If it’s your first time back since 1999, however, rest assured that it treats your memories well.

Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition is due for release on April 11, for Windows, Mac and Linux via Steam, GOG and Beamdog. It’s getting mobile versions too.

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53 Comments

  1. Jokerme says:

    Aha! The game I was waiting for. It’ll be my first time playing this and my expectations are high. Let’s see how it’ll turn out.

    • Hoot says:

      All I can say is try and approach it in as open a way as possible. When I first played it I hadn’t been exposed to all the hype, I was simply googling “games like Baldur’s Gate” and up it popped.

      It’s very different to Baldur’s Gate, but in a good way.

      If you like games with a strong narrative, I can guarantee you that as soon as you hit the scene where “Deionarra’s Theme” plays for the first time you will be hooked.

  2. FurryLippedSquid says:

    I’m one of those freaks that hasn’t played it yet.

    I intend to remedy that with this!

    • Fadaz says:

      You know, you say freak but people have almost completely forgotten that nobody bought the original. It was a commercial flop. I remember buying it when it came out and no other gaming friends did. It took a few years before the legend of Planescape: Torment really became a thing and it even became available again. For all its qualities (and they are many), the fact is that there still aren’t that many that have actually played the game.

      You have a lot to look forward to.

      • Jackablade says:

        Yeah, I was completely unaware of it when it was released, despite it going on to become my favourite game of all. I hauled it out of a bargain bin having no idea what it was.

        Best bargain bin find ever.

      • Razgovory says:

        I was one of the people to buy it when it first came out at full price. I was in high school, and we were already playing the Pen and Paper version, so it was a no-brainer. Great setting. The books had some of the best art for a roleplaying game I’ve ever seen. Especially the work of Tony DiTerlizzi.

        • Fadaz says:

          Pretty much exactly the same with me. As the years have passed, I get even more impressed with the entire design of Planescape, not just the amazing Tony DiTerlizzi pictures. He’s making incredibly beautiful children’s books now.

  3. DashingDorm says:

    Well then, sounds good. Decision to not replay PST before TToN payed off. Wonder if there are more subtle additions though, and what exactly Majestic Chris Avellone’s curation implied.

  4. Alien says:

    The colour palette and overall art design of Planescape Torment looks so much better than that of Torment Tides of Numenera…

    • v1tr1ol says:

      Yeah it does, because they tried to implement 3D objects into 2D world. It just feels out of place. Whole world is weird just for the sake of it with zero-depth in my opinion. Animations are terrible, like when leaving the port on the airship. Before meeting Inifere…what the fuck were they thinking about adding the Cheshire Cat mouth to the fight. Game’s lame, boring and ugly. The most fun I had were the text-only adventures and merecasters “memories”. Looking forward to play enhanced PST.

  5. PancakeWizard says:

    I’m sort of amazed they didn’t see fit to replace the 3D character snapshots in the character window. I don’t think anyone would’ve complained, and they are one of the most dated aspects of the game reminiscent of games at the time flirting a little too much with pre-rendered 3D cutscenes.

    That said, I think I was the only one that liked Beamdog’s picture-book replacement cinematics in BG1 so maybe they got scared of touching things too much.

    • AndyR says:

      As I understand it, the originals weren’t available so they couldn’t. Can’t see why they could take replace them with something else, unless the stories abut the purists and pitchforks really are true…

    • Zekiel says:

      They always reminded me of Doom – they even got more and more beaten up as the character got hurt. It was not a good look.

  6. Premium User Badge

    TheBloke says:

    Could we please have these click-to-enlarge images on every post/review? Pretty please?

    For a long time my only meaningful complaint about RPS has been that the images are always too small, showing too little detail with no way to view the originals. I have a Chrome browser plugin that turns “click to enlarge” into “hover the mouse over to get the larger as a popup” which is awesome, and works on practically every single site except RPS.

    I am pretty sure enabling this would be almost no extra work compared to what you already do, as I expect you already upload the original images and WordPress auto scales them for the page template. The only difference is enabling the click-for-original as has been done here.

    Would make a big difference to me, for one. Cheers!

  7. Person of Interest says:

    I would appreciate some discussion about, or a screenshot of, of the in-game text scaling. Is it tiny, blurry, pixely? I only played the intro of the PST original edition, with various HD/widescreen mods. But, as with games like CK II or KoDP, I longed for sharp and easily-readable text, so I didn’t make it far into the game.

    • oWn4g3 says:

      The enhanced edition offers different font sizes you can choose from. I would guess that they should appear sharp.

      • hfm says:

        Having re-played BG1, played Dragonspear, and having gotten about 15 hours into a BG2 replay with the EE’s I can wholeheartedly exclaim that one of the BEST things about the EE’s is the fact that the fonts look spectacular in HiDPI. I play at 3200×1800 and the fonts are super crisp and there’s plenty of scaling options to tailor it.

        It really helps for how text-heavy these games are.

      • yosoyines says:

        I am glad someone answered this, since the only problem I had with the original version was the font size on a text heavy game, couldn’t get past the mortuary because eyes were sore

  8. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Well neat. I guess I’ll buy it on the 11th and actually play the game seriously for the first time.

    I hope I can get back the wacky-zany floating head nonsense this time.

  9. KillahMate says:

    Alec, can you say what, if any, of the ‘Unfinished Business’ quests have been integrated into the game? I understand that the full Unfinished Business mod has not been used, but have they chosen to restore any previously incomplete material whatsoever, or is it strictly a vanilla PST experience with bugfixes? Some of the Unfinished Business stuff seemed pretty great, but I guess Avellone might disagree.

  10. Jane Doe says:

    No added content like out-of-place followers? I’ll buy it instantly.

  11. left1000 says:

    The question I have about all this beamdog stuff is. Okay, so it runs. So what? I’ve still got my original discs, and fan patches are free.

    Why is it worth the money to me to pay beamdog money? so they can profit off of a masterpiece I already paid for in the 90s?

    If beamdog’s EE was the same price as GoG’s original, then I’d understand. Why pay extra though for a professional UI mod that’s barely better than fan UI mods?

    • Kolbex says:

      Why should any of us spend our time convincing you to give Beamdog money? That’s the job of their advertising department. Buy it or don’t.

    • hfm says:

      +1 to the above comment.

      I’ve probably bought nearly all the infinity engine games at least 3 times each since they were released. The EE editions are (IMO) the best ones.

      If you’re on the fence just wait until a steam/gog sale or something. They were money well spent IMO.

      And for those that are all “Beamdog, screw those guys making money off backs of blah blah”

      The guy who Minsc’s character was in the D&D campaign that brought him to the original BG works there. Trent Oster worked for BioWare.. there’s a bunch of the original crew or bioware of after there. It’s not like these guys are a bunch of freeloaders.

    • thelastpointer says:

      I too am wondering if it’s worth it. GOG has a 30% discount if you already have the game there (which I do), so you can get it for $15. That’s a bit much for a game that I already own on the same store, and this is a discounted price already…

    • welverin says:

      Because you don’t need to bother with the discs and more importantly don’t have to faff about getting a bunch of mods to work, you just install the game and get to playing because everything is in one package.

      It’s up to you to decide if that’s worth the money or not, and not anyone one else to convince you of anything.

    • Austincovello says:

      That’s a pretty good point. I don’t think I’d get it for PC, necessarily. The mobile version, OTOH, I’d love, since it would allow me to play Planescape on the go. How awesome is that?

  12. bandertroll says:

    So strange there is no Russian language. It’s exists, official as I know, but not implemented in EE.

  13. Premium User Badge

    reddog says:

    In Baldur’s Gate EE they redid the cutscenes with worse ones, very cheap and cartoony IMHO. I remember there being at least an intro movie in PST, have they done something similar to videos in PSTEE?

    • PancakeWizard says:

      As I said above, I actually think the ones they did in BGEE were better than the original. Who the hell wants ropey 90s CGI? The moving picture-book 2D ones they did were more timeless and in-keeping with the game’s longevity, IMO.

      There was a backlash similar to your comments, however. and they didn’t bother changing anything in BG2EE, so they probably haven’t here either.

  14. Jason Moyer says:

    Is the integration of the context menu into the hotbar something new or is that achievable via mods? One of the things I hated most about PST was that stupid floating interface.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Don Reba says:

    It’s weird, I noticed it even during the Kickstarter, that Tides’ graphics are often worse than Planescape’s.

  16. Hoot says:

    When I first bought it (or should I say when the zoom feature first came out) I tried to find that sweet spot and kept having to re-zoom after every area transition.

    Then, just today, I realised if I just play it with the zoom option locked at 1080p with sprite outlines ON, it just looks and feels a whole lot better. Granted, I had to let my eyes adjust to it for 5 minutes because it was so different to how my mind remembers Baldur’s Gate.

    I’m sure I’ll do the same with PST:EE.

  17. XYZ says:

    Should I buy it on Steam or on GOG?

  18. exeeter702 says:

    Can we have any insight in regards to the audio? Seems silly i suppose but does it have more clarity? The original encoding was pretty low quality.

  19. Goral says:

    Beamdog is a parasitic company, they’re taking credit for something they didn’t do. Look at Bethesda to see how it should be done. Just because whole Fallout brand belongs to Bethesda now it doesn’t mean they don’t give credit where credit is due and Interplay is mentioned as the company that made it.

  20. Chris Cunningham says:

    Would it be too much to ask that these reviews be given to someone who isn’t going to waste three quarters of the article going on about stuff that the target audience already knows? The graphics options are lifted directly from the BG:EEs, of which there are now three.

    Anyway, this is fabulous news, as I was literally ready to dive into GOG’s “how to make PS:T look good on modern machines” guide as my next gaming project. (I’ve got the new Torment, but I’m leaving it for a few months for the bugs to shake out before I even bother looking at it.)

    • Premium User Badge

      Drib says:

      As someone who likes old CRPGs but hasn’t played BGEE, that going on about visual options was nice.

      Not everyone is you. Some people don’t know the same things as you.

    • Fry says:

      1) Install the widescreen mod
      2) Install ghostdog’s UI mod
      3) you’re done

      I’ll buy the EE because I’m a silly completionist with no self control but, really, the only thing Beamdog have done that appears to improve the experience over easily installed mods is tab-to-highlight.

  21. Jekhar says:

    Without an option to filter background graphics, the sprite smoothing seems useless. Filtering one without the other just creates an ugly mess. I would prefer everything unfiltered and crisp anyway, but either provide a completely filtered image or don’t do it at all.

  22. Zekiel says:

    But you haven’t address the most important question of all: does it still have the most stupid cursor in the history of video games?

    Man that thing was annoying.

  23. bill says:

    The Mortuary intro to Planescape is terrible – at least as an intro. I know so many people who bounced off it at that point.

    An enhanced edition sounds nice, but since I already own the original and can’t get very far into it, I cant really justify buying it again.
    I keep meaning to reinstall it, mod it up and then give it another go…

  24. Gomer_Pyle says:

    I am also one of those freaks that has never played this, so I’ll definitely be getting this when it comes out.

  25. Austincovello says:

    “I’d love to see a more thorough reworking… more specifically more VO, not that the latter is realistic…”

    This, I whole-heartedly agree with. In fact, I would have loved to hear alignment-based voice-overs/interactions between TNO and Morte. (i.e. If TNO is Chaotic Good, he starts cracking jokes with Morte; if he’s Lawful Evil, when Morte says something to him, he’d say, “Stow it, Morte. When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.” Chaotic Neutral, he starts talking to himself and generally being insane. But either way, it would have been better than just hearing Michael T. Weiss say “Updated my Journal” all the time. (Speaking of Mr. Weiss, it would have been hilarious if, as an easter egg, they overdubbed the audio of “The Pretender” Season 2-3 intro with a video montage of PST gameplay. It would almost fit.)

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