Tyranny
O, it is excellent/To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous/To use it like a giant.
  • Release Date
    11.10.2016
  • Publisher
    Paradox Interactive
  • Developer
    Obsidian Entertainment
  • Time Played
    35 hrs
  • Windows
Release Date
11.10.2016

Publisher
Paradox Interactive

Developer
Obsidian Entertainment

Time Played
?
35 hrs
The total time played before writing this review.

  • Windows
Tyranny had a lot to live up to in the eyes of many fans. When Obsidian announced that they were going to release a follow-up to Pillars of Eternity – one of the most prominent Kickstarter success stories out there and a major contributor to the CRPG renaissance that we currently have the pleasure of going through – it meant that they had some very big shoes to fill. There mere fact that I mentioned Pillars of Eternity in the second sentence of this review is proof enough of how difficult it is to divorce this project from their previous success. After all, they look, feel, and play so similarly, the uninitiated may very well mistake them for the same game. Tyranny, by and large, needed to be more than just a decent game; it needed to be, at the very least, a good game. Anything less would have been a step back at best, a failure at worst.

In this regard, Tyranny succeeds brilliantly. It is a wonderful game, and a worthy addition to the line of wonderful CRPGs we have been getting over the course of the last three years. However, if you are coming into the game hoping for something with the scope, ambition, and detail that Pillars of Eternity had – even discounting the White March expansion pack – you may be in for some disappointment. Nonetheless, what is present is a solid (if somewhat short) adventure that delivers upon most expectations.

THE GOOD
If Obsidian’s goal is to create video games that are reactive, emphasising player choice and developing a narrative around the decisions that the player makes while actually role-playing their character as one is “meant” to in a role-playing game, then Tyranny is a resounding success. Most decisions made as one progresses through the game’s story have some sort of consequence tied into it that can later change how the plot unfolds, in both immediate and delayed means. The major decisions speak for themselves: choosing which faction will lead an assault against a fortress leaves the other feeling spurred and turning them into enemies for the rest of the game, slaughtering an entire race of creatures or destroying the last vestige of knowledge in the known world are all big, flashy set pieces that alter the story in a big way. The best example of this is perhaps the excellently-done “Conquest mode” in the beginning of a new game. It is a series of choices used to develop a backstory, in which the player is tasked with choosing from a number of different options set during the conflict that brings the region the game takes place into its knees of the Kyros the Overlord. It is here that certain factions will begin to react based on how the player conducted themselves during the war, which characters disdain the hero and which respect them, and even play a little bit into one of the major quests of the second act. It’s great for deep roleplayers like me, who love to see how all the pieces fit together in setting the stage for a grand adventure. It’s also completely optional, which means that if you lack the patience for choose-your-own-adventure style reading and decision making, you can go right ahead into a pre-generated game world. Though, why anyone would want to do that while playing a CRPG is beyond me.

It’s great for deep roleplayers like me, who love to see how all the pieces fit together in setting the stage for a grand adventure.

But what was more impressive to me were the creeping, subtle changes. Minor dialogue options that gained either wrath or favour with the various factions. Either direction offers tangible benefits, specifically in the form of special abilities available on whether or not they hate or like you, or both. Bure more than that, the favour or wrath that you accrue in small increments adds up, and that can affect decisions later down the road. One character refused to back down from a fight he was instigating, despite my want to avoid it, simply because he didn’t like me enough, while another pledged his services to me entirely. Both of these results came about in the third act of the game and came about entirely due to the way I had played my character.

The same system is also used for your companions, including the special abilities. Some dialogue options are even locked until you have a strong enough rapport with them, meaning that you don’t get the chance to talk to your companions and get to know them at all until you’ve earned their trust through various situations in the world. Standard fare when it comes to RPGs, but very well implemented. Each of the characters were extremely well-written. They were relatively complex with their own agendas, outlooks, personalities and voices that complemented the world of Tyranny at large. Not a single one of them felt out of place or was used as a mouthpiece to force a ham-fisted pop-culture joke or poorly-written character trait. All of the writing feels tight, well-crafted and done with a lot of effort and care. It leads to a world that, just like Pillars, is extremely lore-heavy. Fortunately, the developers learned from the exposition onslaught that was the intro that game, and included clickable glossary terms in all dialogue in the game, making for an easy-access quick reference. Honestly, it was thanks to this system that I learned and retained more about the world of Terratus at a far greater level than I did with Pillars of Eternity, despite the latter having more space to flesh itself out, I felt.

Each of the characters were extremely well-written. They were relatively complex with their own agendas, outlooks, personalities and voices that complemented the world of Tyranny at large.

Gameplay, though maybe not as strong as the game’s narrative, is still very good. Combat uses the exact same rules system as Pillars, with all of the complexities and hidden dice rolls that system used as well. The same status effects are present, as are the injuries and wounds system, all packaged together in a neat, pausable real-time combat system that really does have a sense of refinement to it. It’s a good system, and I think it suits the genre of the game perfectly.

What is a new addition, however, is the spell customization system, and I love it! Players can mix and match different spell cores (the base of the spell, such as frost, fire, mind-alterations, etc.) and expressions (augments, such as distance, accuracy, added effects, refresh time, etc.) to create a wide variety of different spells that can be tailor-made to suit your particular playstyle. I went through the game playing a support archer/warmage character that specialized in atrophy and disruption spells cast at a distance, with the occasional single-target fireblast augmented to add frost damage, too. It worked very well. There is a pretty wide number of combinations once all of the expressions and cores are found (as they are littered throughout the game’s world), and some of the more powerful spells require a player to have a very high lore skill in order to equip them. On top of all that, the spells can be named whatever you want them to be, which is always a nice touch.

I went through the game playing a support archer/warmage character that specialized in atrophy and disruption spells cast at a distance, with the occasional single-target fireblast augmented to add frost damage, too. It worked very well.

I feel that whatever strengths Tyranny has are amplified due simply to the amount of polish that the game has – which is truly rare, given that this is Obsidian that we’re talking about. Everything that it sets out to do, it does very well, and the overall experience is made better as a result.

THE BAD
Despite my previous praise for the combat system as a good one, and my being in favour of it, I can nonetheless see it as a strong barrier to entry for players who may not be as used to that particular style of play. If you played Pillars of Eternity and you hated the combat system, then you will come into Tyranny with the exact same feeling. It’s a very demanding system, easy to overwhelm and certainly not for the impatient. It can be chaotic at times, and more often than not, that pause button is necessary to see through almost every single encounter you find yourself in. That isn’t a complaint, mind you. As I said, I actually love what they’ve done with it. But I feel I need to emphasize how unfriendly it can be for players who are not overly familiar with the CRPG genre. Positioning is king, and it is because of the precision of combat formations for both your party and that of your enemies, frustrations can easily muddy what is otherwise a slick experience.

[Combat is] a very demanding system, easy to overwhelm and certainly not for the impatient.

It is probably due to the emphasis on positioning that actually makes the AI easy to take advantage of in certain situations, too. The way that they’re stacked in rooms, just around waiting for the player’s party to enter, can be exploited to kite one or two of them into another area to make for an easier fight, which is what I suspect goes against the developer’s intentions. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t use it a couple of times to progress at a few tricky parts, but at the same time, I could tell that it how the game necessarily meant to be played.

Another thing that I noticed throughout my playthrough was that the stat-based interactions on the game’s area maps weren’t as deep or consequential as their Pillars of Eternity cousins were. In the former, it wasn’t uncommon for a small bit of dialogue to pop up with a number of options to bypass environmental obstacles, or even use adventuring gear like grappling hooks to do the same, especially if one’s stats weren’t up to snuff to complete the challenge. I find that in Tyranny, these are an afterthought. The vast majority of the environmental interactions have a single button, with only one state of success: either your stats are high enough to succeed, or they aren’t, and you fail, with no other options in between, such as a narrow success with a drawback like an injury or an unintended consequence. That wouldn’t be so bad on its own, except for the fact that I never once failed any of them, since my relevant lore, athletics, and subterfuge stats were all so high that they seemed like arbitrary afterthoughts tacked on because they were forgotten about during the rest of the game’s development. Ropes are already hanging from any climbable location – another thing the player doesn’t have to do – and everything is more or less accessible the moment you enter an area. It’s a shame because it really stands out as a step backward from the sort of immersion seen in the previous game.

I find that in Tyranny, [environmental interactions] are an afterthought.

There’s also a few hiccups along the way, too, such as a number of typos here and there, missing text strings on a few of the reputation changes, and at one part of the game, two item properties are completely switched. I had opted to take a piece of Cairn’s Left Hand for the finesse bonus it gave, but it gave me a resolve bonus instead. I reloaded the game and took the Cairn’s Eye instead, and got the finesse bonus that I wanted despite it being labelled as one with resolve. All things that can be easily fixed, but nonetheless can mar the experience for early adopters.

THE TAKEAWAY
I remember when the game was first announced, I made a comment stating that I was worried the game’s definition of “shades of grey” wouldn’t be so much “evil” as it would be selecting between the “naughty” and the “less naughty” decisions. One where dark deeds are too cartoonish. I’m very glad that this isn’t the case with Tyranny, as my journey as an interpreter of the law based on the whelms of an evil overlord had me doing some pretty dark stuff that laid in accordance with upholding that sense of justice.

In this manner, I adored Tyranny. It’s everything I expected it to be and then some. The dark world that Obsidian has tried to create has been realized excellently. While it certainly isn’t an instant classic, it is nonetheless an excellent game, and definitely worth a look if you’re looking for to scratch that isometric, Infinity engine RPG itch in a “bite-sized” portion. I thoroughly loved my time with it, and I’m already thinking about how to approach my second playthrough, chiefly to see how different the story will turn out by doing the opposite of everything I did the first time around.

It’s a grand old time, and not since Dungeon Keeper 2 has it felt so good to be bad.

Shorter, smaller and less ambitious than Pillars of Eternity, but it more than makes up for it with some excellent writing and gameplay features. It may not stand out when compared to some other classics of its ilk, but it stands proudly on its own as a fantastic RPG experience.
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