If you only take combat into consideration, Planescape: Torment isn’t a difficult game by any means. You can save anywhere outside of combat, and enemies don’t usually pose much of a challenge. Besides, it only takes one character entering a different area to bring the entire party along, so there are instances where you can simply sneak through (e.g. with a hidden Annah) and avoid combat entirely. If a character bites it, Grace or The Nameless One can revive them, or you can always go to a temple. And if TNO bites it, he’ll come back to life in the Sigil Mortuary straight afterwards, so there’s really not much to fear. Heck, he even regenerates HP all on his own, so with a high enough Constitution, he’s pretty much unkillable.
The real challenge – and also what gives PST most of its charm – lies in everything that happens outside of combat. Most of your EXP and worthwhile items will come from TNO’s conversations with NPCs, which are heavily dependent on his less ‘belligerent’ stats: Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma. Wisdom not only opens up more interesting and/or rewarding conversation choices – it will typically allow TNO to notice that a character is lying or make him recall memories for EXP – it also applies a bonus to all EXP earned. Intelligence also helps with navigating conversations and recalling memories, albeit to a lesser extent, and is also very important when conversing with several companions. Finally, Charisma covers what the other two don’t, allowing TNO to charm his way out of difficult situations and also increasing some of the rewards he gets. Dexterity also comes into play a couple of times, when dealing with pickpockets, for example, but it’s nowhere near as prominent as the other three.
I find this emphasis on what are typically ‘dump’ stats in most D&D games particularly refreshing. Not only does it break with the established routine, but it also does it in a clever way. It makes sense that a greater perceptiveness or more smarts would allow TNO to react better in conversations. What’s more it enriches TNO’s interactions with his environment, putting the brunt of the game’s emphasis on meaningful, involved conversation trees where choices have a tangible impact on how the game proceeds. Something that its peers from the RPG genre, or even other genres, tend to shy away from more and more. Of course, this means walls of text at times, and yes, I’m fully aware that people just don’t have the same patience for exposition – especially non-voiced exposition – in games nowadays. But the wit, (dark) humour and overall quality of the dialogues is top-notch, and this is what truly makes PST shine, even after all this time and in spite of its imperfections. In fact, this is the only game I know where the best way to deal with the final boss is not a fight, but a cleverly conducted conversation (there’s something similar in the Hordes of the Underdark expansion for Neverwinter Nights, but not quite). Granted, you can still opt for an old-fashioned fight, but the results – and the ending – will be different. There are three possible endings in total: a bad one, a ‘neutral’ one and a good one, although I’m not quite sure ‘good’ is the right term for it, really.
This means that you need to allocate TNOs starting stats in an unorthodox manner, as already mentioned, but also puts a greater emphasis on sidequests. Consequently, the beginning of the game is largely non-linear, but, thankfully, an in-game Journal keeps track of things for you, and TNO certainly won’t hesitate to notify you when it gets updated (“updated my journal”…get ready to hate that line). This is also where you’ll find general information about the multiverse to keep track of the sheer variety of races and factions you’ll run across.
Factions are basically sects or groups that people of similar beliefs can join. For example, the Society of Sensation, or Sensates, which Grace belongs to, believe that the multiverse can only be experienced fully via one’s senses (in other words, touch, taste, smell, look and listen to anything and everything). Some are more restrictive than others (e.g. the Dustmen), some grant you special abilities (e.g. the Sensates), but despite the fact that Morte warns TNO early on not to “sign anything”, joining the various factions can turn out to be beneficial, both in terms of EXP and other goodies. TNO can only be a member of one faction at a time, but there’s nothing preventing him from changing to a different faction if he finds one that better suits his tastes or purposes.
The game is subdivided into areas, which you can locate via a map that looks suspiciously like some pieces of skin sewn together. There’s a day-night cycle, which, apart from cosmetic purposes, also affects which NPCs are present in a given area at a given time and may come into play in sidequests. Each area is initially obscured by what is known as the ‘fog of war’ (i.e. the screen is black), which is gradually removed as you explore it, although I’m not entirely sure what purpose this serves, since any characters or creatures beyond the party’s field of vision are not visible anyway. Travelling is mostly done on foot, which, due to the size of the areas and the leisurely walking speed of the characters, may become somewhat tedious at times, and not just for you, the player. Keep it up for long enough, and your characters may complain about being tired. This will gradually affect their Saving Throws, so you’re encouraged to have the party rest ASAP if that happens. Apart from that, you do sometimes get to use portals, either between different areas of Sigil or between different planes, but the latter occurrence is, sadly, nowhere near frequent enough for my liking, as I’ve already remarked. There’s just so much variety to the multiverse that it seems a shame to be stuck in Sigil most of the time. On the other hand, Sigil is the main crossroads of the planes, so it does make sense that the action is centered there. But it’s a testament to the quality of the game’s world that I would have wanted to see more of it.
As far as items are concerned, things are mostly identical to Baldur’s Gate, albeit, again, with a few simplifications. Some items require identification, either via a spell, an item or by paying a shopkeeper, which is still something I find annoying. Some weapons are breakable, which is another aggravating detail. Also note that merchants won’t buy stolen items, so there’s no point pilfering anything you’re not going to use, especially since inventory space is also still limited. You do have a more generous margin than in BG though: 20 slots of general inventory per character, plus five quick-item slots for consumables which can be used in the field (e.g. healing or offensive items), but each character still has a weight limit, determined by their Strength, overshooting which will slow them down or make them unable to move altogether. A more notable, beneficial difference with BG, however, is that characters are allowed to equip more than one accessory that affects AC. Moreover, neither TNO’s alignment (since there’s no such thing as reputation in PST) nor his Charisma will affect merchant’s prices, so there’s no need to worry about those.
Final word of advice: do keep Annah (or a Thief TNO) on point when exploring dungeons or looting. You never know where a nasty trap could be lying in wait.