The golden age of cRPGs may be long gone, but recent releases show that this genre is far from fading into obscurity with recent successes like Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original Sin, Shadowrun Returns, and even remakes of old classics like Baldur’s Gate II. Some are even beginning to hail the last couple of years as a new cRPG renaissance.
From the makers of Pillars of Eternity in 2015, Tyranny is a new title by Obsidian Entertainment that aims to take the solid features that made Pillars of Eternity great, and add it into an exciting setting with a grimmer tone than their previous entries. Despite everything that makes Tyranny an excellent game, there are some flaws that would exclude it from being on a must buy list for any RPG fan. Read on to find out if Tyranny is the role-playing game you have been waiting for this winter season.
Do you like traditional western RPGs?
This will come as an obvious question, but it is important to understand that western and Japanese (eastern) RPGs different hugely in terms of common mechanical gameplay elements, thematic choices, character/setting design and much, much more. Tyranny, like its predecessor before it, is an isometric RPG that focuses on real-time combat with pausing. This allows you to plan and select individual maneuvers for your characters if you are finding that it is too hard to keep up with the frantic combat, and in larger encounters you will find this ability to be a blessing.
Other common elements common RPGs include a fleshed out dialogue system that allows you to choose what to say depending on your characters skills, a cast of varied companions and more. Veterans of Pillars of Eternity, and even other isometric cRPGs will find Tyranny an easy game to get into, however there are some innovations that make Tyranny more interesting, such as an interesting skill system, reputation (which will be explained in more detail below), and a spell crafting system that allows you to modify spells with great detail. Other than that, Tyranny doesn’t break too far from the norm in terms of gameplay.
Do you like playing in a grittier, fantasy setting?
What Tyranny stood out most relative to other games is the setting and where you find yourself in the beginning of the game. True to its name, Tyranny begins in a world where Overlord Kyros, a god-like ruler is in the midst of finishing their long campaign of conquering the world of Terratus and uniting it under their rule. You play as a ‘Fatebinder’, a high ranking official for the empire’s court of justice, making your role in this new world somewhat important as you adjudicate matters of importance, and according to Kyros’ law. Needless to say, not every faction and group is content being under an iron fist, and from the onset of Tyranny, you are thrust into a recently conquered region plagued with strife, rebellion and deadly magic.
The interesting part about the role you play and in this setting is that you aren’t automatically a hero, a good guy, an average joe. You are already in a position of authority (representing a faction that many would deem evil), and command respect and fear in equal measures from both allies and enemies, depending on your choices during the conquest. Venturing into a war-torn zone, deciding the fates of entire villages really brings a side of morality that doesn’t see much exposure in modern video games. Do you follow the law of Kyros and execute her will to the letter? Do you use your power in excess for “the greater good”? Will you decide that the depravities and crimes of war are too heinous, and you choose to go against your code? Be warned that your actions have consequences, and you can expect your others to comment on your actions and rulings, and react to you accordingly.
An interesting system that Obsidian has added in conjunction to these choices you make, is the reputation system that indicates your standing for each faction and notable character in Tyranny. Depending on your treatment of friends, foes, and even your choices in regards to certain events in the game can gain the respect and loyalty of your followers; or their wrath and fear. Each reputation segment can also be tied to an ability that you can acquire, allowing you to gain extra power depending on how you are viewed in the world.
Are you willing to enjoy a series with multiple installments?
Another major point that differs between Tyranny and Pillars of Eternity is that the former is much shorter in length than the latter. Tyranny has 3 acts in the progression of the story, but only the second act has much length to it, and without spoiling the plot, the third act can be extremely short depending on the prior decisions you have made. In addition to this, Tyranny ends in a sort of “cliff-hanger” moment that sets it up for a sequel, or perhaps an expansion DLC of some sort. Some players may not mind, but others may feel like they have only just begun the real part of the game, and the credits started scrolling across their screen.
Does a “rail-roaded” experience bother you?
While on the topic of differences between the two games, the other major difference I’ve noticed between the two games is that Tyranny is much more linear than its predecessor. While there is an over world map that you can travel to different locations to, in reality there are really only 1-2 locations you should be visiting at a time, depending on what quests you have available to you. In addition, there will be some locations that you will never visit depending on which factions you decide to assist. While I can appreciate the role-playing aspect of this, it does feel like Tyranny can be lacking in content and areas to visit, at times. There are no major city hubs to visit in Tyranny, and while this may make sense in the premise of the game, the lack of an urban metropolis to explore deeply only contributes to this linear feel of Tyranny.
Is Tyranny worth buying?!
In the end, this question is posed to those who are into the genre, are willing to try something a little different from the standard cRPG fanfare, and who aren’t bothered by its linear progression and shorter length.
Tyranny is a good game by most measures, and I thoroughly enjoyed my 20-30 hour campaign with it. However, as noted this experience comes with its own flaws and I hope that the succeeding installments will help wrap up the story, make the game feel less linear, while keeping everything that made Tyranny good in the first place.