After a successful Kickstarter campaign and Steam Early Access, Tyranny is finally released in all its villainous glory – and after playing through its 30-hour campaign I have to say I am impressed.
An “Old School” RPG that will fill those of us who grew up on Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale with nostalgia, Tyranny borrows a lot of mechanics from its spiritual predecessors, as well as its more contemporary predecessor – Pillars of Eternity. Among those mechanics are the real-time pausable combat, armor mechanics or the overall look and feel of the environments. Make no mistake – under the hood, Unity is running the show so while the vibe is very old-school, the graphics and performance are beautiful and modern.
Unlike your typical RPG, which follows the even more typical “Hero Saves World” formula, Tyranny takes a somewhat different approach: The world is now past saving. An omnipotent overlord, Kyros, has raised an army and conquered literally everything, except for a few small leftovers of resistance. This is an unchangeable fact. Better yet, at character creation, you can play through a “Conquest” story to alter the exact ways your character has contributed to this war effort – with your choices during the conquest having long-lasting and even world-changing effects on the story. No matter what, though, your starting point remains the same: Evil has won.
Luckily for our hero, they’re a “Fatebinder”. A sort of judge, jury and sometimes executioner in Kyros’ army, with official powers of office ranging from settling minor disputes to providing on-the-spot justice. You’re evil’s messenger, reader of potent scrolls of damnation. Throughout the game, fates will be decided by your ability and morality as a judge. Some of those decisions are far-reaching and some are as minor, like deciding whether or not a trader has the right permits to sell their goods.
Every decision, of course, also has consequences. It’s true that a lot of games tout “Meaningful Player Choice” and not all of them deliver, but Tyranny absolutely nails it. People will almost never “just” react to you – even if it’s your first encounter with them or their faction, you have likely made some prior choice that had an effect on them. In my game, a certain faction of mages despised me from the start, just because I rained fire on their homes. Sore losers. Even then, though, with effort and skill, you can sweeten a sour opinion – or just finish them all off.
You might have guessed it, but as an agent of an evil overlord you’re not exactly a ray of sunshine. Tyranny is full of meaningful choices ranging from “Benevolent Meanie” to “Baby-smothering Bastard” and I have to admit that on more than a few occasions I went with the full-blown evil choices just to see if the game will let me. And it did. It was amazing. This is where Tyranny stands out from a myriad of other RPGs: you CAN be a villain. In any other game, the hero saves the world/country/universe even if he’s a bit of a renegade along the way. In Tyranny, you toss someone off a hundred-meter-tall spire with a message tucked in their gauntlet because you’re too lazy to teleport down and deliver said message. This is evil. This is Tyranny. Down the road you might regret that choice, no doubt, but at that one instant I truly felt evil and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Delving a bit deeper into game mechanics, Tyranny borrows a fair bit from Pillars of Eternity. Every ability or skill runs off a “Cooldown” timer, while armor and character attributes modify the cooldown for better or worse. What Tyranny does differently, though, is get rid of player classes entirely. In the world of Tyranny, anyone can use anything or perform any action, with the ultimate success or failure determined by skill. Better yet, skills don’t just improve through the distribution of arbitrary points, but through practice and use. You get better at archery by putting arrows through things (although even failure has its lessons), not by completing some adventure and having an epiphany.
Tyranny also takes a creative approach to spells. There are no scrolls of Fireball in this game; what you are going to find instead are cores, expressions and accents – little magical components to craft your very own eyebrow-remover. A core is the element of choice (let’s say, fire), an expression is the spell’s form (let’s say, ball) and an accent is whatever extra sprinkles you want to add on top (in my case, BIG). The end result is what you would call a fireball in any other game – but with much more freedom to have spells that act the way you want them to. Don’t stop at fireballs when Frost, Entropy or even Vigor can all be balled-up and thrown at friends or foes for great effect.
I often thought that an RPG is as good as the companions it sets you up with and Tyranny most certainly aims to hit all the right spots. The total count of available followers is quite low (a total of 6, while a party is 4 people) but each and every one is unique: their skills, personalities, backgrounds, everything about the way companions have been created makes you want to spend time with and get to know them. Better yet, like factions, companions will also love or fear you based on your actions, with consequences and changes to their perception of you stemming from your choices.
Tyranny does exactly what it advertises: It lets you play out a story as the villain – not an easy task by any means. It does so remarkably well and with enthusiasm, letting you make decisions and see their outcomes. You’re not going to settle for a single playthrough because the world is just packed with opportunity. An amazing story, a great world, unforgettable characters, Tyranny is easily the best RPG you’ll play this year.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.