“Kyros’s Will has swept over the land, crushing all who oppose him. Soon there will be none left to stand in his way. Noble warrior, you must rise up, and stand for freedom, even if that stand will be your last!”
That’s what I assume the rebels in this game hear just before I summarily murder them as the game’s protagonist. Welcome to Tyranny, where no matter who wins, the good guys lose. This is the 2nd CRPG effort from our friends over at Obsidian, following last year’s beloved Pillars of Eternity, and, boy, is it a doozy. Once again, Obsidian creates a fully fledged, original mythos for us to stomp around in, except this time we’re burning it to the ground.
Violence: There’s a lot of fighting in this game, but nothing too gruesome. Enemies may occasionally erupt into fountains of blood, but otherwise, the top down view keeps the gore relatively tame. The blood of your enemies may give the floor a nice crimson sheen, but even as I drove ice spikes from the ground through my foes, they most often simply fell to the ground after death.
Language: The game definitely contains some harsh language and a few crude jokes, primarily coming from your more playful companions. One in particular that sticks is “I’m going to take this staff, and repeatedly jam it into your backside until you prolapse.” I’d rate it TV-MA, but not Game of Thrones TV-MA; more like an FX show that comes on after 10 PM. There are few instances of the f-word s-word, and b-word. You’ll mostly be seeing “d***” and the p-word.
Sexual Themes: A few of your companions make it clear that they’d like to get intimate with a few of your other companions. For example, one of your companions is trapped in a suit of armor, and another makes it clear that she very much wants to know how things are underneath that armor. Nothing too graphic.
Positive Content: Though you’ll soon be ending they’re lives, the bravery and steadfastness of some of the rebel factions is admirable. Many are fighting an oppressive regime right down to the last man. It’s commendable, if futile.
The tale woven by Tyranny is grand indeed. The game takes place in a region called he Tiers, the last area of the continent left unconquered by the Overlord Kyros. Kyros is served by two armies: the ravenous Scarlet Chorus, who thrive on Chaos and defeat their enemies using brute force and sheer numbers, and the disciplined Disfavored, a group of elite, well-equipped fighters each worth ten regular soldiers. Each army is led by an archon, who possesses immense magical talents. The Chorus is led by the Archon of Secrets, the sinister and delightfully insane Voices of Nerat, while the Disfavored follow Graven Ashe, a gruff battle-hardened type that treats his soldiers as his own children. As you might imagine, these two frequently find themselves at odds. That’s where you come in. You are a Fatebinder, a special agent of Tunon, Archon of Justice, that serves as an executor of Kyros’s Will. It is your job to mediate between these two knuckleheads as they conduct the final conquest of the Tiers.
To spice up the situation with some urgency, Kyros has sent you with an Edict to declare. Recited by Fatebinders, Edicts are extremely powerful magical spells with the strength to ravage a region for millennia. For example, the Edict of Storms turned the realm of Stalwart into a ruin of blighted land and broken weapons now known as the Blade Grave. The Edict Kyros sends you with dictates that if the region is not conquered within 8 days, everyone in the area will die. That’s a real time limit. If, for whatever reason, you can’t make it happen in 8 in-game days, it’s game over.
That’s just the beginning! Or rather, the second beginning. One of my favorite parts of Tyranny is the prologue feature, Conquest. When you start your game, you create your character, choose a backstory, pick some skills and bonuses to start, and so on. Then Tyranny shakes things up, staring the game mid-war. Your character has been manifesting the will of Kyros for some time now. Conquest allows you to determine how your character handled their role in earlier parts of the war. Your decisions here affect your reputation and dialogue options with different factions during the main part of the game. It allows the player to have a hand in shaping the incredible world Obsidian has created before they even start killing things.
The Conquest exemplifies the two main areas where Tyranny outshines Pillars of Eternity: the writing and presentation. The world of Tyranny is much more immersive from the start. Characters, even the throwaway ones, are full of personality. It would take me more than one hand to count the number of times I assumed a character would be important because of how distinct their personality was, only to see them exit stage left minutes later. Some of these were due to my choices, but many times that character was meant to die and Obsidian decided to lovingly craft them in spite of that.
If the throwaway characters are full of depth, you can imagine how interesting the main characters are. Your companions are a motley crew, each with engaging backstories that are revealed as you get to know them. As a result of the new reputation system, your party members will open up and share their innermost secrets the more loyal they are to you. Since you start somewhere on the dark side of the coin, morals become a lot more relative. Different companions like and dislike how you accomplish your goals, becoming more loyal or fearful of you accordingly. This extends to the different factions you’ll encounter, either currying favor or wrath (or perhaps a bit of both). Gaining both positive and negative standing with your companions and factions grants you new abilities with which to crush your enemies.
The combat in Tyranny is fun, but it’s definitely been simplified compared to Pillars. You now manage a party of four, and because most enemies are armored humans rather than the varied beast of Pillars, battles require less creative problem solving. I found the game substantially easier that PoE, which isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Tyranny is still challenging, yet much more accessible to players without much CRPG experience. Even though I’d happily mow down armies to get more of the story, the abridged combat was a bit disappointing. While combat on its own isn’t quite as exciting, it’s helped by the spell crafting system. It allows players to mix and match base elements like frost or fire, expressions (Area of Effect or single target), and accents that do everything from increasing range to adding special damage types to spells. I had so much fun mixing and matching spells, I shifted focus from the sword-and-shield warrior to more of a battlemage role. Due to Tyranny’s skill system being a sort of a Skyrim/Fallout hybrid (your skills improve as you use them, but you also improve skills and pick talents through leveling up), this was easy to do. I was easily able to pivot my character into the team’s most powerful mage, despite having multiple magic-centric party members.
Tyranny‘s combat is also assisted by the creative flare Obsidian has added to the game. Thanks to sound design, visual design, and selective use of screen shifting, attacks feel like they have weight, and spellcasting and special abilities carry a sense of visceral impact. It’s always super satisfying to hit an enemy with an ice spike or explosive arrow. The upgrades to the presentation are also noticeable in the detailed environments, a few of which I’d go so far as to call “stunning,” and a soundtrack with some beautiful compositions. The game still won’t be putting much of a strain on a good graphics card, but, thanks to the art style, it is still quite visually appealing.
There are a lot of great things about Tyranny, but a few really annoyed me. This is a game full of choices, most of which you can’t take back. Sometimes that results in being locked into a course you never could have foreseen. One of my early choices was to ally with the Disfavored. While I had a fair share of autonomy, throughout Act 2 I felt like a lot of important choices were being made for me. There were occasions where I had to kill characters I liked and essentially destroy certain factions, with few dialogue options that could get me out of it. These moments were infrequent, but really got on my nerves. Things opened back up in Act 3, which sort of made up for it.
My biggest problem with Tyranny, however, is its ending. The third act of the game is incredibly fun and intense with twists I never saw coming and major conflicts rising to a head. However, just when it seems like the game is going to culminate in a spectacular climax, it ends. Yup, it’s a cliffhanger. There were a few clues along the way–my companions’ character arcs didn’t seem to be wrapping up, I still didn’t know much about Kyros, etc. For the most part, however, it felt like this narrative could have been wrapped up in this game. The abrupt ending squandered momentum that had been building since the end of Act 2. I trust Obsidian to deliver wonderfully with the next part of this story, but this ending definitely should have been handled better.
All that being said, I would highly recommend Tyranny. Honestly, I had a better time with it than I did with Pillars of Eternity. This is a much tighter, more streamlined experience, and it benefits heavily from that. In-between excellent world-building, a captivating story, and the enhanced presentation, there are few down moments during Tyranny‘s 30 hours of gameplay. The experience isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly a heck of a ride, and one that I cannot wait to continue. You owe me a proper conclusion, Obsidian. I’ll be waiting.
Review copy provided by Johnny Atom and Paradox Interactive
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The Bottom Line
While not without its faults, Tyranny is an exciting, streamlined RPG experience with an incredibly immersive world and surprisingly deep characters. Between excellent presentation, skill and spellcrafting systems that are tons of fun to tinker with, and a story that will most certainly leave you wanting more, Tyranny stands on its own as another terrific showing by Obsidian.