Skip to main content

Great moments in PC gaming: Visiting the Sensorium in Planescape: Torment

(Image credit: Beamdog)

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Planescape: Torment

(Image credit: Interplay)

Developer: Black Isle Studios
Publisher: Interplay Entertainment
Year: 1999

In the impossibly interdimensional city of Sigil almost everyone belongs to a faction, which is like a cross between a philosophy and a football club. It's something to believe in and it's also a reason to pick a fight down the pub. There's the Dustmen, who believe we're all dead and trapped in a purgatory that can only be escaped by accepting our fate and ridding ourselves of emotion. There's the Xaositects, who believe chaos reigns and speaking in normal sentences is for losers. And there's the Society of Sensation, who think the only way to understand the multiverse is by experiencing it.

They've got a reputation for being hedonists, but plenty of them are erudite and skilled. Their Civic Festhall has lectures and training halls, and at the brothel run by one of their members (redeemed succubus Fall-From-Grace) conversation is the only thing on the menu. In the Sensorium, the Sensates relive learning moments experienced by others in a kind of magic VR.

This all happens in text, of course. Planescape: Torment has a reputation for being one of the best-written RPGs around, and while the quality takes a dip near the end, around when you leave Sigil, the descriptions of recorded experiences in the Sensorium are some of its peak writing. These are essentially audiologs in script form, and you can happily lose an hour just working through them one by one.

One of the highlights records the sensation of "horrible regret", narrated by an admiral standing on the deck of a flying ship as his fleet bombs an entire continent into nothing. Another sensation, "longing", is narrated by Deionarra, a woman in love, and while the previous recording was sweeping and massive this one is personal but no less heartbreaking. In this memory, you recognize the man she loves as yourself—or at least an earlier version of you, before amnesia wiped your mind clean (it's a whole thing). As Deionarra experiences longing you dimly recall the other side of this conversation and realize this previous you is manipulating her, playing on her feelings while pretending to share them. And given that Deionarra's ghost is one of the first NPCs you met in Torment, you know things don't work out well for her.

Estimates of Planescape: Torment's word count go up to 950,000, which puts it close to the length of the Bible. Not all of those words are mind-blowing, but in the short story hub that is the Sensorium, Torment nails it more often than most.

Jody is that guy who will try to convince you to play some indie game you've never heard of with a name like Extreme Meatpunks Forever. He is also on a doomed quest to play every Warhammer game.