With the holiday season upon us, I can’t help but think back and remember specific Christmases based on what video game I asked for that year. Usually the console RPG’s from the glory days, where I sat and played for hours upon hours whilst eating cherry sours and chocolate covered cherries until I couldn’t feel my extremities, tend to give me the most nostalgia. As I got older, I ventured into PC gaming with Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment, but found myself completely confused by the rules and dice rolls (I blame you fundamentalist upbringing that didn’t let me play with anything “Dungeon & Dragons”).
However, my time has come, my friends, to remedy my past with the release of Tyranny. Tyranny is an RPG developed by Obsidian Entertainment, the same team that brought you Pillars of Eternity, and published by Paradox Interactive. They were kind enough to send me some review keys, so it shall be reviewed.
What is the game about?
Tyranny asks the questions, “What if evil actually won? What would the aftermath look like?” Now, surely there’d be people to live in a conquered world, otherwise there’d be no one to rule over. So how are things fairing for the populace?
The name of the world is Terratus and it’s ruled by the mysterious Kyros, who has conquered various kingdoms for the last 400 years. Now, because the kingdoms are so vast, Kyros uses what’s known as Archons to act on her behalf. An Archon is an extremely powerful, and dare I say magical, human being that controls armies, assassinates troublesome power seekers, and even adjudicates or makes formal judgments on disputed matters. For that last bit, think of a judge. Previously conquered kingdoms usually pledge fealty to Kyros and the Archons, which furthers Kyros’s agenda of global conquest.
Your character is what’s known as a Fatebinder, which is a proxy of Kyros and Tunon the Adjudicator, who is also an Archon judge. Your main mission is to go to the unconquered Tiers kingdom, which is the last corner of the world free of Kyros’s reign, to issue an edict that demands victory.
Think of an edict basically like a proclamation of some kind. Edicts are these all powerful spells that put a curse on the lands until a certain criteria is met. So for example, a kingdom must be taken or a bloodline completely destroyed, otherwise the people of that kingdom will suffer immensely. It’s essentially an insurance policy to keep the Archons or people in check.
So with that edict, all sorts of shenanigans happen and the story is set into motion.
Character creation is fundamental for personalization in these types of games, and while there isn’t many faces or looks that drastically change your character’s appearance, there are plenty of skills and attribute point allotment that will fundamentally change how one has to play the game.
There are also plenty of nuanced historical background options, all of which directly impact how your Fatebinder will be treated in the world of Tyranny. The opening segment alone, purely optional, mind you, let’s you delve deeper into the lore of Tyranny and further personalize your character’s background story.
Do the controls/elements work?
The controls and elements of Tyranny are definitely a giant monster for me to tackle, but let’s talk about the battle system first. The battle system in Tyranny is something you’ve seen before with previous Dungeons and Dragons-style RPG’s. I’d liken it to Baldur’s Gate and I’ve also seen many comparisons online to Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity, but I can’t speak on that personally.
Each battle takes place on the real world map and you can move in real time by clicking with your mouse. Your actions are all selected through either clicking with the mouse or using a hot key to quickly activate them. However, just about every action has a cool down period before they can be used again.
One notable action is that of the companion combo. A companion combo is an ability where two characters act together to create a powerful and sometimes devastating effect. When a companion combo is selected, both characters enter a recovery period and get ready to launch the attack. Note that companion combos are only usable once per battle.
Dice rolls happen in the background at all times, which affects various aspects of the battle. So for example your attacks, spells, various buffs, and other actions can either hit, miss, or become critical through a chance roll. Obviously, your chances for a successful action increase or decrease depending on how you allot skill points when leveling up, buffs/debuffs, or equipment bonuses, so there’s a lot to consider before going into battle.
In fact, if you’re not mindful what is happening with these background dice rolls, you can subject yourself to a lot of difficult and short-lived battles. Thankfully, one can quickly pause the battle by pressing the space-bar to strategize and queue up actions before proceeding back into the fray, but it does require a bit of patience to get used to the learning curve if you’re unfamiliar with these types of games.
Also, as a bit of a side note, I didn’t notice that I had the ability to queue up actions until much later in the game. And I only read that on a loading screen, so not sure if I missed that during the tutorial or what, because it seems important to simplify gameplay and makes it much more enjoyable. So I do recommend you check out how to queue it up. I believe you just hold down the shift key when you click on the different actions.
The AI of your teammates seemed reasonable enough, but there were a few instances where questionable skills were selected. For the most part, on normal difficultly, I was able to selectively give them orders when needed, but they did a decent enough job.
Another thing that can be adjusted is your formation, which I found significantly affected my success rate in battle. I opted for a 1-3 formation with my meat shield in front, which allowed me enough time to queue up actions.
Dialogue Options & Reputation
A key element that drives the narrative is that of the dialogue options. You’ll find that there are several different dialogue options while you’re playing through the game, many of which are impacted by your lore, athletics, and subterfuge skills, all upgrading over time as you use said skill. Your Fatebinder can manipulate, lie, and set people against each other to work in your favor, all of which affects the story as well as your reputation.
The reputation meter shows how a particular faction or character feels about your Fatebinder. There are two ways in which a particular faction or character sees you, Favor and Wrath. As you make your way throughout the Tiers, you’ll have many situations where a decision will impact your Favor or Wrath, all of which unlock new abilities.
If any character takes too much damage and your health bar gets too low, your character will obtain a wound. Any wounded character will have their maximum health reduced and they will also receive a penalty to all skills. The only things that remove the wounds are resting or when a character levels up.
I found this happening multiple times over the course of the game and it’s something you have to pay attention to. The penalty to skills can be irritating and drastically increase the length of some battles.
There’s no doubt if you’ve played many RPG’s in the past, you’ve run into something like this character sheet that you see below. It breaks down your character’s various attributes, all of which impact the dice rolls I spoke about above. You are awarded one attribute point upon every level up and they appear to max out at 20, unless you have some sort of additional bonus from equipment or some other type of buff.
The various skills also effect the dice rolls and they usually increase by using a skill repeatedly or by paying a trainer. Also, some characters have talents that will simultaneously allow all party members to gain points in a specific skill, shortening the grind significantly.
The talent trees in Tyranny are somewhat limiting because each character only has two to three trees total, unlike your Fatebinder, who has six trees to choose from. As with the attribute points, you are allotted one talent point per level up and the more points spent in a specific tree unlock more advanced talents. Some of the talents are interesting, ranging from buffs to attacks to even specific bonuses leveling up skills. The main drawback, however, is that you never really amass enough talent points to make a large dent in multiple trees.
For example, in my playthrough I opted to put most of my Fatebinder’s talent points into magic, which seemed effective, but there were certainly a great deal of talents that I would have liked to sample. If there was a reset skills option somewhere in the game, that would have made things a little more interesting. As it is, don’t expect to max out anything in the talent trees without a Tyranny expansion of some kind.
In terms of magic, I really dig the spell creation system. It’s broken down into three categories that all play off one another: core sigil, expressions, and accents.
A core sigil is your spell’s base, so think of something like fire, frost, earth, healing, et cetera.
Expressions are placement modifications to the spell that can affect distance, area of effect/range, what object the spell affects (swords or armor), and the direction that the spell will travel.
Lastly, we have accents, that control the intensity, accuracy, range, recovery, armor penetration, area of effect, duration, interrupt, enhancements, and chain. A useful example would be adding the frostfire accent, which allows you to deal both fire and frost damage to your enemy.
All of these expressions and enhancements cost lore, which is what dictates how advanced of a spell you can create or cast. As you progress through the game and use magic, your lore level will rise and allow you to add additional enhancements to spells or cast entirely new ones that were previously unavailable to you.
One thing Tyranny gets a gold star for is the large amount of equipment options that all affect the look and feel of your character. Each piece of equipment, from weapons to armor to accessories, all carry with them an array of positive and negative stats which you have to carefully manage to stay effective in battle.
Again, remember those dice rolls I talked about earlier? Well, those are drastically affected by your equipment choices here as well as how you’ve allotted attribute and talent points to each character in your party. One could find a “mastercrafted” sword in the game with very high damage, but it could be rendered practically useless by the character who specializes in thrown weapons.
There were a few dry spells where I wasn’t finding enough upgrades to certain weapons, but thankfully one can utilize a forge to manually upgrade weapons with a bit of coin.
Spires are your home bases in the world of Tyranny. Each Spire can be upgraded with resources and recruits, which all offer different benefits for your Fatebinder, such as training skills, crafting, selling rare items, upgrading equipment, et cetera.
I didn’t find myself purchasing many rare items, but that’s because the loot drops within the game seemed more than ample, so YMMV here. Honestly, it’s useful to have a central location where you can quickly sell off loot to make more sense of all the inventory you get your hands on throughout the game.
Even with the training, I didn’t find it to be a necessity on the normal difficulty level. However, what was extremely valuable to me was the use of the forge to upgrade weapons and armor.
There are multiple party members to gain in the world of Tyranny. Depending on some choices you make, there are even some that are unattainable without an additional playthrough.
How are the graphics?
Graphically speaking, I actually love the aesthetics of Tyranny. The game doesn’t require much to run (only a 570 GPU) or some equivalent. The isometric look to it all, even after all these years, it gives me a little bit of nostalgia. The subtle nuances of day and night, dust storms, debris falling, old buildings, gorgeous spells with a myriad of colors, all help one to get lost in the world of Tyranny.
I will say, though, the characters don’t always look that grand. They look a little blurry, but that’s to be expected because you’re never really zoomed in on them all too much. It’s probably more important to focus on the wide battlefield itself, but it would be nice to see a bit more detail.
Tyranny also could use a few more animations in key parts of the story. There were some instances where a character gets killed right in front of you after selecting their fate from a decision tree conversation, and they just fall to the ground after you read the text. Nothing really happens, nobody runs up to them, no interaction there, so that kind of pulls you out of the experience a bit.
Regardless, despite some of these nitpicks, Tyranny still has a lot of eye candy.
How is the sound?
In terms of sound, Tyranny knocked it out of the park. There’s some great, ominous background music that drives the whole story line forward. The sounds of battle with war cries, metal clanking armor, and spells spraying across the battlefield heighten the sense of immersion and satisfaction of battle.
Then we have the voice over work. While there is plenty of text to read in the game, most of the voice over is absolutely exquisite and you feel like you are receiving a reward for your labors, especially the banter between the Archons, Graven Ashe and The Voices of Nerat. The Voices of Nerat gets my award for best in show with his mischievous and evil mastermind voice work that comes off incredibly entertaining and left me wanting for more. Also, one has to mention the conversations between party members, with the sage-like voice of Lantry being particularly noteworthy.
But there’s one in particular that rubbed me the wrong way. That’s Kills-in-Shadow, the annoying werewolf looking creature. For whatever reason, they opted to go with this over-the-top grating voice that never really lets up. It was so bad for me, in fact, that I didn’t even consider putting her in my party. When you have such memorizing voice over work with everyone else, it’s hard not to notice it.
How is the pacing?
Pacing is a difficult thing for me in Tyranny because Acts I and II are so strong and so well-written. However, the game starts to fall apart for me in Act III because of how short it is in relation to the rest of the game. Perhaps that’s a testament to how good Acts I and II are with their long, drawn out quest lines and epic scale, but it just set a standard for me in Act III that wasn’t even remotely fulfilled.
By the time one reaches Act III, most will be looking forward to what appears to be a long and climatic conclusion, but that never comes to fruition. Tyranny wraps up abruptly with multiple story lines quickly ending, leaving the player wanting a bit more. Now, let me be clear, this isn’t necessarily about the writing of the story itself as much as it is the pacing of Act III ending so abruptly. There’s still some high point in Act III that give you some sense of closure.
I actually posed the question on Reddit to a lot of people about the ending to see what they thought and I got a lot of mixed views on it. Some people felt that it was just fine the way the story concluded, but it seemed like the general consensus was that Act III felt rushed and did have some problems.
I can’t help but think perhaps some development problem or time constraint hindered Act III,. I’d be curious to talk to some of the developers about what was going on there because it just seemed like they left a little bit on the table. But then again, maybe they’re looking to make some DLC or a sequel, perhaps, because there seems to be a lot more stories to tell in the world of Tyranny.
While I’m thinking about pacing, it would probably be wise to talk about some potential pitfalls for new players, especially those who aren’t familiar with the Dungeons and Dragons-type games that play a little slower than what they may be used to.
The character creation and the story are probably the most problematic because they can seem rather daunting at first, especially because it takes 20 to 30 minutes to get a new game going. That may be a deterrent to some. Remember, though, you can skip all that, but I would implore you to take the time to go through the background story and select different background options because it does affect how people react to you in the real world and allows you to engage a bit more into the lore of Tyranny.
Is it fun?
So the big question, really the only one that matters, is the game fun? And I would say, yes, unequivocally this game is fun to play, but you have to like this certain type of genre, this Dungeons and Dragons roll of the dice, let’s plan and strategize every single battle, pause it. Now, some people may not be into that, but I do believe if you give it a chance, if you look into the lore and really immerse yourself in it, kind of like you’re reading a good book but also playing a game at the same time, I think you’ll get more out of it and enjoy it a lot more than the average person that is just rushing through, not reading most of the dialogue options, things of that nature. So I think you should give it a go.
If you’re on the fence on it, maybe wait until it drops to $20 or something like that, but at $44 there’s still a lot of gameplay here. And even on multiple playthroughs there’s supposedly different characters to acquire and so that should keep you coming back for more.
Tyranny Score: 8.0
|Superb and Deep Storytelling.||Slow Start.|
|Spell Creation System.||Kills-in-Shadow Voice Acting.|
|Multitudes of Equipment.||Spire Upgrades Uninspiring.|
|Reputation Management.||Lack of Character Animations.|
|Stunning Isometric Graphics.||Act III Falls Flat.|
|Excellent Voice Acting.|
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