Tyranny (PC) Review

By Athanasios 22.11.2016

Review for Tyranny on PC

The black or white approach to the concept of good versus evil has provided plenty of imaginary fun despite its simplicity. That dichotomy, however, has also been explored more intelligently, both with triple-A masterpieces like The Witcher 3, as well as indie gems like Sometimes Always Monsters, which put you on crossroads where all paths lead to different shades of the moral grey. Obsidian Entertainment, the developer behind the wonderful attempt at creating a traditional CRPG along the lines of Baldur's Gate called Pillars of Eternity, has gone one step further, because Tyranny is all about embracing the darkness inside us all…

Terratus, a realm that stands on the transitory step between the Ages of Bronze and Iron, has fallen under Kyros' rule. Don't expect playing as the courageous hero that will slay this godlike being, however, because Tyranny has you playing as a Fatebinder - one of the empire's most powerful emissaries. As Verse, one of the fearless Scarlet Furies, puts it: "If you aren't in the Overlord's Army, you're being trampled by it," and she couldn't be more accurate about the current situation, because evil has won, and the only thing left to do here is to accept your fate.

Don't expect becoming the big bad supervillain, here, though. Make no mistake, pain and suffering will come forth from the protagonist's hand, yet this is not about "having" fun while at it - most of the time, at least. The evil here is an extremely realistic kind of evil. It's more about how easy it is for the perception of morality to change when in desperate times, when given immense power, (and responsibilities), or when simply left without any better alternatives. It's a pleasantly disturbing/disturbingly pleasant thought experiment, and it owes it all to the excellent writing from Obsidian Entertainment.

Roads that lead to pure evil do exist, yet this is mostly about choosing the lesser evil - after all, from those serving under The Overlord, to the rebellious Vendrien Guard, there are no saints here, making you ponder on the ramifications of your actions. Bring order, justice, and "peace" (no matter how flawed) to a war-ravaged land, or ignite a revolution and let the conquered Tiers fall into their usual power struggles once more? Stick to the rules, or bend them when necessary? Show mercy, or think of the greater good? It's all surprisingly similar to the real deal.

Screenshot for Tyranny on PC

In conclusion, it's really more about order-vs-chaos rather than good-vs-evil, and due to the wonderful presentation, it's easy to feel part of this world, actually think before acting, and even get attached to characters and choose sides. The part where Tyranny shines at its brightest, is how the Fatebinder gets caught between the two main armies, the militaristic Unfavored, and the barbaric Scarlet Chorus; the first an army of merciless, blind fanatics, who are also ready to sacrifice their lives for their fellow soldier, the latter a loosely tied assortment of bloodthirsty, survival-of-the-fittest worshiping gangs, who prefer "recruiting" than killing.

There's some - finely crafted - tension between these complete polar opposites offered here, which greatly increases the moment this quest begins, and the protagonist reads Kyros' 'Edict' of Execution; an immensely powerful spell that traps friend and foe alike in this small corner of the map, forcing them to either slay the opposition, or join them in death in a handful of days. Wait, though. A time limit in an RPG? No need to worry, because, while the ticking of this clock helps immersion-wise, most will finish the first Act of this journey with plenty of days to spare.

Of course, like all titles of its kind, it's needless to say that this is not a hack 'n' slasher. In fact, there's so much reading to do here, that this could very well be described as a glorified visual novel. Obsidian's creation doesn't pull any punches when it comes to throwing tons of names, keywords, and terminology, around the place, and before even getting a chance to visit the places mentioned, or meet members of the cast. It can certainly be confusing at first, but, thankfully, a nice system of in-dialogue tooltips is included to help Terratus' first-time tourists.

Screenshot for Tyranny on PC

Additionally, it's great that the protagonist isn't just an errand boy. It's not just the fact that he/she is a figure of authority, but how that is also reflected in-game - there's no "kill the basement rats" silliness here. The best example is the brief, optional Conquest mode that starts right after the character creation segment (designed to look like a pre-battle strategic map; city miniatures and all), where you can make several choices that will "shape" the world, affect how characters and factions will respond to the Fatebinder… and get even more engrossed into this adventure while at it.

Apart from those who aren't exactly fond of mixing gaming with reading, most will soon (re)realise that Obsidian has some pretty awesome world building skills, and that it has created a universe that, despite looking familiar, manages to stand out and feel original, making players want to find every single piece of lore there is to find. Furthermore, while not as fancy as one would expect from a fantasy game (don't look for elves and dragons prancing around the place), Tyranny looks beautiful, has a great attention to detail, and a very atmosphere-enhancing, ominous soundtrack (God! That epic main theme!).

In terms of gameplay, this is, by all means, Pillars of Eternity 2.0, with a few additions and tweaks on top of the original recipe. Genre greenhorns will probably get overwhelmed by the immense variety of skills, attributes, and stats, and with how all these connect to each other, but those experienced with any similarly flavoured role-playing game, will feel right at home here. Apart from learning the few new underlying mechanics, though, the basic premise remains the same: once all the talking finally gets a backseat, it's all about fighting, levelling-up, looting, and so on - pretty standard stuff.

Screenshot for Tyranny on PC

The party now consists of four instead of six characters, which is great since battles are still a chaotic mess that requires frequent pauses before issuing commands. Secondly, abilities are more diverse, and now have a cooldown time. Furthermore, it's also possible to craft custom spells by separately choosing their different aspects, be it range, type, power, etc, and, finally, skills, the secondary abilities that have various uses ranging from stealth tactics and exploration techniques, to additional dialogue options, now level-up the more a character uses them, something that, while not a reinvention of the wheel, is a nice mechanic.

Unfortunately, fighting is the least enjoyable aspect of Tyranny. Surprisingly easy in Normal, and, in the case of higher difficulties, just a matter of insane micromanagement rather than skill. The engagement/disengagement system, (which punishes characters who try to escape "locked" confrontations) is still here, and is still as inflexible as ever, and the friendly AI is nothing sort of stupid, with characters not using their abilities when they should (healing, for example), or simply refusing to do so. Most importantly, battles are repetitive, and feel the same from beginning to end - speedbumps rather than exciting steps towards the finale.

Now, despite this being an RPG, this is quite a short odyssey (30 hours, tops) that was made with a replayability-first mind-set. It's all about restarting and following a different "path," factions, behaviour, and all. Sadly, besides a severe lack of branching points in the latter half of the game, the plot "funnels" you in some predetermined paths, making the most important choices for you. This becomes painfully obvious right in the end, where the whole concept of "choosing your path" gets destroyed; an end that comes abruptly like a crash-to-desktop, and right when things start to get really interesting.

Screenshot for Tyranny on PC

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Unexciting battles are easy to stomach when the beauty of a title lies in its world building, and, thankfully, the drenched-in-evil universe of Tyranny is fantastic, both in the way it is structured and in how it handles the concept of morality. Unfortunately, its potential has been thrown from the tallest spire's window, and instead of becoming the magnificent masterpiece that it sometimes feels it is, it turns out to be a very rough diamond that reeks of rushed production.

Developer

Obsidian Entertainment

Publisher

Paradox Interactive

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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