RPGs often give you a vague player character that is destined to have a hero’s journey and meet loyal companions in their fight of good against evil to save the world. Tyranny takes all of this and turns it on its head — evil has already won, and you helped them. In the game, you play as an arbiter of justice, and you are on the front lines to deal with a largely untold story: the aftermath of the great battle. With compelling characters and robust lore, Obsidian’s latest cRPG offering explores complicity and morality in an unkind, often cruel world.
Tyranny begins just at the end of Overlord Kyros’ conquest of the world of Terratus. The player is a Fatebinder from various backgrounds, who distinguished themselves during the subjugation of the Tiers, the last region in the world to fall. The game starts with the player making decisions at a war table, constructing how your character behaved during the Conquest and shaping the state of the world you are about to dive into. I found this to be an excellent way of immediately immersing the player in this rich world — you don’t have memory loss and you’re not a nameless prisoner; you are in fact an important player in this world’s history.
After that prologue, you are sent to help put down an uprising in the Tiers and must navigate between two quarreling factions in Kyros’ army to do so. As the game progresses, the world and your place in it gets more complex as powerful figures and additional factions emerge. As a Fatebinder for the Archon of Justice, your word is law. You will mediate conflicts that range from a small dispute between a merchant and two soldiers over a bridge toll to which faction to support in a civil war.
“Tyranny turns standard RPG tropes on their head — evil has already won, and you helped them.”
Almost all decisions you make have consequences. While there is no simple good and bad morality bar, your companions, the factions, and other individuals in the world have their opinions on you. Different levels of loyalty and fear, favor and wrath influence how you are treated by others and add passive abilities that impact you in combat. Further dialogue options are also unlocked, and you really do feel the political weight your character has as you pull on the strings.
In RPGs, I most often play as a good-aligned character (who steals a lot, because I’m the hero and I need the money to save the world, alright), but in Tyranny, your moral choices are constrained in this ambiguous environment. There are decisions that you cannot negotiate your way out of, partly due to plot reasons, I’m sure, but also because you aren’t the freedom fighting underdog, and neither are you the Overlord. You are a mid-ranking official implementing orders on the ground, and every choice you make that goes against the norms is held against you. You can step in to stop the arbitrary execution of some prisoners by dueling for their lives, or you can order a prisoner to stone her comrades to death. By being a champion for the oppressed in the name of your interpretation of justice, you put yourself at risk as the ones that hold more power in the land put you under further scrutiny.
Even if you do good actions, it is still unsettling. You can be a diplomat if you want, earn the name of “Peacebinder”, prevent the razing of villages, hold yourself to some kind of honour — but it all carries the knowledge that you are complicit in this land’s suffering in the first place. You must walk on a knife-edge to do what you can, and you know it is not enough. In Tyranny, you cannot do whatever you’d like as you might in other RPGs — you have a place in this world and a job to do. If you don’t do your job in this world ruled by coercion and a certain kind of order, there will be consequences. As Kyros’ hand of justice, you are reading out magical Edicts that can rain apocalypse-level firestorms on the land, but you are also mediating a handful of soldiers fighting over a scavenged helmet. Whoever you give that helmet to, the factions will perceive you better or worse, giving even the smallest choices significant weight. This is what Tyranny does best; these smaller decisions are related to the larger context of the world, making you want to talk to everyone and hear of their small role in this conflict.
“Combat is still something to get used to if you have not played a cRPG before, but Obsidian ensured the game is accessible for new players.”
Your companions also come from vastly different backgrounds within the world and are more nuanced than the standard knight/elf/dwarf fantasy fare you’d find in other RPGs. They all have their own motives and secrets, say terrible things about each other, and can advise you to betray different factions to further their own agendas. While making your decisions, you will have to consider their opinions as well as the factions, and weigh whose loyalty you value more.
There comes a point where you start to say whatever you think the person you are speaking to wants to hear in an effort to earn favor with their group. This is to keep you on their good side for future leverage, but also to keep yourself secure. You realize that that is how complicity starts, plays out and ends. As you attempt to walk a middle ground or turn factions against each other, the roleplaying in Tyranny often involves as much strategy as the combat.
If you’ve played Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity, the combat in Tyranny is very familiar. It’s far more streamlined; for example, instead of six party members, you manage four, and magic users focus on one element for their spells. There is a wide variety of passive skills and combat abilities to be unlocked through trees, so you can stick to the weapon specialty you decided on when you first created your character or branch out as needed. Combat is still something to get used to if you have not played a cRPG before, but Obsidian ensured the game is accessible for new players. If you don’t feel like micromanaging your party, you can get by, and there are always lower difficulty settings if you want to focus on the roleplaying aspect of Tyranny.
“Tyranny is an absolute must for players who loved Pillars of Eternity and seek a rich, engaging tale of how people act in difficult circumstances.”
As for the visuals, the first thing I noticed was how striking the art of the game was, with its vivid colours and bold, dynamic lines. I was less impressed with the locales within the game; they are usually the flat outdoors, sparse settlements, or interiors that look less grand than they should be. However, Tyranny’s world and characters truly come to life in its descriptive text (yes, it is a lot of reading, but I like reading. Other players might think differently.) With a story this complex, it would be easy to make mistakes when coming to decisions if you don’t remember who a character is, or if you don’t know what a particular term means. However, if you move your mouse over highlighted key words during dialogue sequences, Tyranny helpfully provides you with insights and all the information you might have forgotten.
Tyranny is an important entry in RPGs as it exchanges good vs. evil for order vs. chaos and demands the player to consider what they believe is just in a cruel world. A powerful achievement in its own right, Tyranny is an absolute must for players who loved Pillars of Eternity and seek a rich, engaging tale of how people act in difficult circumstances.
*** PC code provided by the publisher ***
- Rich, compelling world
- Decisions have consequences
- Accessible cRPG
- Sporadically long loading times