Tyranny is a game that has one of the smallest followings on social media I’ve ever seen and almost zero people playing it on Steam whenever I check the community hub. In spite of this it has a fairly large YouTube coverage, was made by some of the best RPG developers out there, Obsidian Entertainment, and was released by the great big studio that is Paradox Interactive. Anyone would think it was a bad or mediocre game that had it’s time and then got forgotten… But the truth is that it’s really damn good and, for some reason, relatively undiscovered by a lot of the mainstream.
Tyranny is an isometric fantasy RPG where you play as a Fatebinder for an evil Empress called Kyros. Your job is to enforce her laws across the land like a police officer, as well as act as a lawyer who prosecutes rule breakers when in the supreme court. The game is set in the only land unconquered by Kyros and you have been sent to enact get Kryos two armies, the Disfavoured and Scarlet Chorus, to stop bickering and work together under threat of a magical edict murdering literally everyone in the valley they are fighting in, should they fail…
And that’s just the intro.
Seriously, there’s so much else to this game and all of it is in the hands of the player. You can choose to side with one army or the other to survive the magical edict, deciding your allegiance and missions for the rest of the campaign. You can also side with the rebels fighting against Kyros or go full anarchist, turning against everyone.
And then even within those choices, you have more! You can overthrow the leaders of those armies, bend them to work for you, or submit to them. You can choose to bring Kryos’ most powerful Archons into your rebellion or go against them all. On the Anarchist route you may find yourself using unexpected allies to throwing their help away five seconds after first meeting them. And yet even that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Character creation is where the magic really happens because it is a lot more than simply picking stats and appearances. You also decide your whole character’s backstory and how they went about helping Kyros conquer the Tiers prior to the main game’s start date. Did you besiege the large city which has become Kyros’ foothold in the region, or sneak in and assassinate all the officials to gain control? Did you allow the Scarlet Chorus to tame beastmen into their armies, or let the Disfavoured slaughter their tribes?
Every choice you make comes back in the main game. If you left a town in control of a faction you now find yourself fighting against, then I hope you have fun busting your way in if you want to do any of the associated quests in the area. You will also gain titles via character creation. For example, you’ll be dubbed Queenslayer if your character chose to campaign in the valley and won by duelling the Queen in a battle to the death. There’s so much choices to be made and branching paths to explore that might make a minor difference or a huge difference in how your campaign plays out.
As far as combat goes, it’s very much Pillars of Eternity. For those not in the know, it’s real-time combat but with the option to pause the game to issue orders (kind of like a Total War game). You can have a party with up to three companions following you, and there’s a diverse range to choose from.I normally travel with Verse because she can alternate between support archer and front line damage dealer as I need her to, use Barik as a tank to soak up incoming damage while I sit at the back casting high damage spells, being constantly buffed by my boy, Lantry. There are other companions too like an Archon who’s signing voice imbues magical effects upon the party and a beast-woman who specialises in ripping the crap out of everyone she meets. The companions have unique questlines, some of which ou may NOT want to finish if you have their best interests at heart and some of which you will and to if you don’t really like them.
For instance, Barik is sealed in his suit of armour and asks you to help him free, but after it is forbidden that he should be free he asks you to drop it. If you continue to pursue the quest you can free him, but it will involve coercing him, abusing him and all-in-all leaving him a shell of a man. And even though he’ll always wonder what life would be without the armour otherwise, he values the law of the lan enough to not want to find out once it is forbidden.
The gameplay is typical RPG stuff with levelling attributes, derived skills, and utilising those things in dialogue and combat. Comapnions normally have two level paths allowing them to fill one role in the party really well or two roles slightly less well depending in how you choose to progress them. Meanwhile the player gets a fat stack of level trees pertaining to every playstyle you can imagine. Combat itself is real time with the ability to pause to issue orders to yourself and companions. The speed skill is essential in how quickly you can perform your next action after completing your previous.
In my first playthrough I was an archer who shot people in the leg so they got stuck to the ground and my companions could finish them off. In my second I was a big tanky sword and shield user with too many hitpoints to count. In my third I was a mage and that is where stuff gets interesting.
This game has spell crafting. And, like any game with spell crafting, it can become extremely unbalanced in your favour. This is doubly so if you use a new game plus to retain all your spell knowledge from your previous playthrough and combine them with new magical powers you earn on the new one.
The healing magic will let you, well, heal and is essential on higher difficulties. Once you learn one particular area of effect crafting recipe though, you can make half of the battlefield heal all at once so you don’t have to micromanage which companions need your attention most. My personal favourite magic is the shock magic, which just involves a bunch of lightning. I discovered making Thor build was incredibly viable because shock magic does huge amounts of knockback and stun damage, while two handed weapons – particularly hammers – are very good at getting quick and easy kills on already damaged foes. By combining the two you’ll have a que of dizzy enemies, unable to react to your hammer attacks after a lightning stun, waiting for you to finish them off. Anyone who’s not stunned should be knocked back so far that they can’t run back to you in time to prevent you murdering their friends.
So if Tyranny is a 10/10 on the roleplaying, writing, levelling and combat front, why isn’t it a perfect game? Well, it’s that old issue a lot of RPG’s have…
The intro. Now, compared to Skyrim, Fallout 3 and other games with tediously long intros, what makes Tyranny’s slightly better is that it includes choices that will not only have long lasting consequences on the aythrough, but which will likely inform most of the key characters opinions of you throughout the game. Where it is worse than those games is that it is doubly as a long. Yes, doubly as long even though you probably decided which choices and factions you wanted to side with already on repeat playthroughs.and it is the one and only reason I haven’t cometed this game as the Scarlet Chorus – I just can’t be bohered to go through that AGAIN.
Did I praise this intro for it’s writing and stakes earlier? Yes. First time players should be immersed and sucked in by it. But Jesus, playing more than twice makes you wish for a fast forward button.
Overall Tyranny is a damn good game that I think RPG fans should be willing to try. It’s unfortunate that it lives in the shadow of Pillars of Eternity – a similar Obsidian game – since it is more than capible if standing on it’s own and deserves a larger pool of fans. So yeah, I would absolutely recommend Tyranny.