With an RPG pedigree like Neverwinter Nights 2, Knights of the Old Republic 2, and Pillars of Eternity under their belt, you know you’re in safe hands with Obsidian.
And Tyranny is a wonderful celebration of everything they’ve ever got right with the genre.
First though, we should point out that while Tyranny uses the same engine as Pillars of Eternity and delivers mechanics that will be familiar to those players, this is not a sequel. In fact, the games aren’t even set in the same universe.
In the world of Terratus, you play as a Fatebinder, and it’s your duty to serve the will of the Archon of Justice, passing out judgement on those who dare to break the law of Kyros. Or in laymans terms, don’t piss off an evil, bad ass, female overlord.
The game takes place in the final unconquered part of this world – known as the Tiers – a location that has historically managed to resist the might of Kyros’ armies. The two armies fighting for control – The Scarlet Chorus and Disfavored – are at each others’ throats and this is causing the siege to fall apart at the seams. The Scarlet Chorus border on the chaotic, while the Disfavored hold themselves to high account and are much more disciplined. As you can imagine, they don’t get on very often.
Out of frustration, Kyros has sent the Fatebringer down to sort things out and ensure the armies find a way to coexist. If they can’t, the Fatebringer has been given permission to use a very powerful ancient spell – known as an Edict – which ensures every living thing in that region is obliterated. So, yeah, pretty powerful.
We could be heroes … just not on this day
You may already know – or can guess from the way this has been written – the good guys are a dying breed. They’re being wiped out and it seems highly unlikely that anyone is going to be able to stand up and stop the eventuality of global domination.
Tyranny is a game that celebrates being bad and that plays in beautifully with its multi-choice dialogue system. There’s none of this Paragon and Renegade schtik where your character spouts out some purified puff that even Gandhi would quirk an eyebrow at. Whatever you say or do in Tyranny, ultimately, you’re going to piss someone off, whether it’s a team mate, a stranger, or an entire army.
And the conversation pieces matter. What you say to one person determines which missions you take on, how you tackle them, and how the story will ultimately play out. You can even level up certain attributes and have them fundamentally change the way quests play out. For instance, if you have high athleticism you can quickly grab an enemy commander by the scruff of the neck during a heated debate and force fealty from them.
On the flipside, if your lore level is high enough, you can use your knowledge of the world and its inhabitants to make others question their aims and ambitions and see things your way.
Of course, this all starts from somewhere and that’s where Tyranny’s Conquest mode comes into play. At the start of the game, you can either choose the default, pre-determined circumstances, or you can determine the events of the past like a choose your own adventure history book. It’s similar to the Dragon Age catch-up game Bioware used for Inquisition where you are faced with a series of multi-choice options which define the layout of the world. You can determine which outposts were sieged, how the armies responded to your rule, who’s point of view you tended to favour, and if certain locations were ultimately destroyed or preserved in your conquest. Naturally, this also encourages multiple playthroughs as it affects the locations you can and can’t visit in the game, as well as their overall aesthetic.
And if you forget any details about the world – location names, character biographies, historical significance – the game actually highlights phrases in Orange during conversations, enabling you to hover over them and get a refresher for further context on how they relate to your current conversation. This is such a brilliant, simple way of keeping track of what’s going on and needs to become a mandatory staple of every RPG going forward, especially for deep and heavy lore-driven experiences like Tyranny.
Speaking of conversations, Tyranny’s dialogue, characterisation, world-building and description is astonishing. Much like Pillars of Eternity, this RPG achieves a level of immersion that few before it have been able to accomplish. It works hand in hand with the games’ beautfiul graphics to really bring every character on screen to life, detailing everything from an inward curling of their lip, to a sneaky sneer that could reveal more about their intentions than you pick up through the voice acting. In a world where Virtual Reality is bringing us closer to games than ever before, there’s something about the way the game is written that is not only incredibly immersive, but brings you closer to the cast than any other game released in 2016.
Which is important, because they don’t just feel like spare parts who follow you around, attacking aggressive mobs on a whim. They will respond to your every action and butt into conversations you have with others. If you take drastic action in a quest, or speak to a merchant slightly out of turn, they’ll punish you for it with their responses. They may praise the way you handle a certain situation, or become fearful if you murder someone in cold blood. It’s worth pursuing strong allegiances with characters either way as they learn new abilities dependent on which tier of loyalty or fear they have for you. They can even perform combo-attacks with other allies if forced to train together. Particularly funny when you have a member of the Scarlet Chorus and the Disfavored clashing swords.
I know many games tout the ‘every action has a consequence’ tagline, but in Tyranny, Obsidian genuinely mean it.
I even prefer aspects of Tyranny’s UI to Pillars of Eternity. For instance, the mini map is available to you on the bottom right of the screen, making it easier for quick glances to see which areas you’ve wandered through. You can also see every necessary icon at the top of the screen in one long bar, which enables you to quickly track from your inventory to the ability tree and even the favour screen to see how your allies, armies, and other factions are responding to your actions. This takes up less of the screen compared to Pillars and seems much less congested.
Having said that, the inventory management does appear overly cluttered. You’ll be picking up lots in Tyranny, almost too much. This means the screen – and your pack – quickly become over-encumbered. In Pillars, it was clear where to assign equipment and weapons to your character and entering the screen never seemed too overwhelming. In Tyranny, you sometimes feel like you’re going blind for looking at too much at once. You’re not just looking at the overall pack, but also the pack of all four members of your party. While this system certainly encourages you to carefully place items – making sure relevant ones are placed with appropriate party members – I didn’t find it as easy to navigate as others in the genre.
I also found that a lot of the weapons – earlier ones, in particular – were often as good as each other and there was rarely a clear ‘better weapon’ to upgrade to. This isn’t necessarily a negative as there are a lot of stats which need to be considered when choosing a weapon, for instance the DPS output, recovery time after each attack, as well as accuracy and armour penetration. In the early stages, you’ll find one weapon in your inventory is clearly superior at one attribute, but is significantly worse at another. In that regard, the game forces you to make choices on the specific quality you want from your weapons and stick with them. Compared to RPGs this is actually quite refreshing. Generally, there’s always that one weapon which blows everything else out of the water. The same also goes for armour with deflection and disengagement defense, amongst other things to consider.
Unfortunately, there are some concerns with the game. For instance, loading screens are unusually slow and occassionally prone to crashing. This definitely isn’t due to my system as I’ve been running all major releases this year on Ultra Settings. Sadly, making it an exemption on Windows 10 Defender didn’t seem to fix the issue either. There just seem to be some problems akin to those found in Civilisation 6, but nothing a patch or two can’t fix.
Which brings me to combat. To me, this is probably the weakest part of the game and not because of the change from the class system introduced in Pillars to a much more customisable talent tree, but because characters regularly get stuck on environments and other characters, affecting their pathing when assigning them to an attack. When they do get to strike blows, early on it feels quite flimsy and ineffectual and often the time delays between strikes seem overly long. Naturally, things change when you get new weapons and equipment, but only when you start getting spells and more powerful strikes does the game really start to come to life with bodies exploding under the weight of thunderbolts and forced fatalities with axes and swords. It follows the same ‘pause time to strategise’ model found in Pillars, and this has always been my prefered method of combat in an RPG as I enjoy taking the time to consider my unit placement and how to break down an enemy front. However, some of the aforementioned issues mean it doesn’t pack the same punch I found in games like Divinity and Wasteland, lacking some of that same sweet satisfaction.
Another minor gripe is that the voice acting is bizarelly quite sparse. Only certain lines are spoken where others remain silent, which creates some odd lulls in conversations. Admittedly, I do skip through some dialogue if I’ve already read the line, but the effect does sometimes get lost if you’re getting used to hearing someone speak one minute, then you get silence the next. That said, the voice acting does serve to draw emphasis to particular lines and ensure players don’t miss critical plot points.
And to be really picky, the side-quests don’t really seem to have much narrative meat on their bones – generally boiling down to simple fetch jaunts or big fighty confrontations – both of which you get plenty of in the main campaign.
All that said, there’s so much to like and enjoy in Tyranny that you’ll scarcely notice the issues once you’re fully immersed in the experience.
Honestly, I could fill this review with another few thousand words, talking about other neat and fun features in the game – like the customisable Spire tower where you can add class trainers and buildings, and the spell creation system which lets you craft devastating weapons that can work a treat for end-game content. Not to mention the game’s beautifully melancholy musical score and wonderfully detailed visual style. There is just so much to digest here, along with some genuinely clever, original ideas that set the bar for all other RPGs to follow.
The combination of Obsidian and Paradox is the closest thing to a gaming dream team we can imagine and the result of that partnership definitely does not disappoint. It’s not perfect – few, if any games are – but it’s enriching, polished, and utterly compelling.
Simply put, Tyranny is the finest RPG to launch this year and I love it.
+ Great choice and variety worth multiple playthroughs
+ Beautifully melancholy musical score and aesthetic.
+ The best RPG we’ve seen this year!
– Side Quests are a bit flat
– Loading screens overly long and prone to crashing
– Combat suffers from pathing problems and sometimes feels underwhelming
9 out of 10
Platform review on :- PC