Dark or Light

Tyranny Obliterated My Comfort Zone

Christopher Coke Posted:
Columns The RPG Files 0

As you’ve no doubt heard, the follow-up to last year’s Pillars of Eternity is fresh from the infernal molds and machinations Obsidian Entertainment and is primed to turn you into a villain. If it wasn’t for my love for Pillars, Tyranny might have escaped my interest. It looked great, but there was a big problem: I struggle to play anything other than a good guy. In Tyranny, it’s good to be bad.

At this point, a line like that is kind of trite. It’s good to be bad… being bad never felt so good… release your inner villain. I’ve read all of these in reviews and preview coverage, so there was no question about what type of game Tyranny was. You’re a judge in Evil’s hellish army and the voice of the Dark Lord Kyros. You’re walking a wholly different path than most RPGs even attempt.

The freshness of this take immediately caught my eye, as it did most of the games media. That it was made by Obsidian, who sold me as a Johnny Come Lately on the CRPG genre, was enough to make it a day one buy. The concept sounded fantastic, the setting, the replayability, the improved combat… all of it spoke my language. The problem was something I don’t like to admit: I really struggle to play anything other than a good character.

Since I left MUD roleplaying more than 10 years ago, avatars in RPGs have become extensions of myself. I respond in dialogue mostly as I would in real life. Sometimes I even go so far as to make my character look like me (unless I can play a dwarf, then it’s Gimli all day long). My characters are proxies for real life me; even though I might deviate here and there, I experience the story as if I were in my character’s shoes. So when it comes to being evil, I’m not very good at it. Frankly, it makes me feel uncomfortable and like a jerk to choose the “evil” dialogue choice.

Being me in these games is my comfort zone. It’s where I live.

Except, within 10 minutes of starting Tyranny, my comfort zone was shattered into a million pieces. Several hours in, I’ve completely embraced playing an evil character. I’m mean. I’ve sent people to die. I talk down to my betters and have no qualms about berating people in Kyros’ name. Syeric the Fatebinder is not a proxy for Chris, so what happened?

I’ve spent a couple of days pondering how one single game could so quickly turn my playstyle on its head. The answer is that Tyranny turns the RPG narrative on its head. Most other RPGs cast you as the hero. Here, at the outset, you’re only choices are how to help evil win. There is no question of being a good person, it’s just not an option. You’re not humanity’s last hope, you’re humanity’s last hope dying.

As you begin the game, you’re given the option to guide Kyros’ conquest of the free tiers. You can skip it, but you shouldn’t, because it’s here  that you set up the entire game world and your place within it. There isn’t room for heroics, just the politics of cruelty. You tear cities asunder and crumble them from within. You bring hellfire down from the sky on innocent heads and engage in espionage. It’s dark but detached; you view this on a war map, selecting choices in a Choose Your Own Adventure style turn system.  By the time you’re done, Tyranny has given you the empowerment of a conquerer. As other people toil and shake under Kyros’ rule, you’re the one who stands firm above the flames.

Then it pulls back. That kind of setup would make for one oppressively dark game if it kept on that way. When Obsidian throws you into the game proper, it surrounds you with enough lighthearted touches to remind you that it’s all in fun. One character in particular, The Voices of Nerat, reminds me of an evil villain in a Saturday morning cartoon. He speaks in many voices, none of which are particularly threatening, and knocks his helmet around to show new faces for every voice. The people you’re surrounded with also find the violence and debauchery so routine that it’s almost funny.

Tyranny walks a clever balance between the entertaining and the disturbing. For the few hours I’ve played, the game nails that balance perfectly. The environments, settings, and descriptions are unflinchingly dark but the characters provide levity. There’s also enough opportunities to flex your power -- say by stealing someone’s knife and pushing them in the mud to diffuse a situation -- that you can walk around with the inflated sense of self that evil leaders are supposed to have.

In other games, being evil mostly just means being mean. In those games, you’re still a hero, you might just be unlikeable. You can’t change your savior status, so you’re stuck with “evil” dialogue options that don’t always fit with the overarching narrative. This isn’t every game, of course, but it’s enough. In the AAA space, if you even can be evil, there’s always a limit.

Tyranny has plenty of room left to change my opinion; it’s early days. A friend and former MMORPG writer, David Jagneaux, described himself similar to me and that he found himself finding the light in the darkness (read his review here). Maybe that will be the case for me too. Maybe the game will bring it down to earth and show the human side of evil winning the day. Right now, I’m just loving being the bad guy.

Quick Hits

Now this looks interesting! The Viking/Monster themed Project Wight has a new trailer. In the game, you take control of a monster whose father (and species) are being driven to extinction by Vikings. Your character, played in the first-person, seems to age as the trailer opens with you as a baby then progresses to your adolescence, where not only are you super strong but also pull a sugar glider to swoop down on an unsuspecting Viking camp. The game is lead by David Goldfarb, previously of the Battlefield franchise. This is certainly one to watch!

Devilian is getting a mobile RPG! The hack and slash RPG is separate from the PC MMORPG, so don’t expect to play Devilian on the go. It looks to include a good amount of content though, include weapon customization, progressions, and PVP. If you have iOS or Android, it’s available to try out now.

Nioh is now open for pre-order and has revealed details on the deluxe and standard editions that will be made available. The game has another three months to release. Given the rocky reception the beta received, this is one to wait for reviews on.

At this point, I’m almost loathe to discuss ARK: Survival Evolved. Studio Wildcard has revealed a new TEK series of sci-fi power weapons, armor, and dino accessories that will literally turn them into combat vehicles. You know what this low-tech survival game needs? Sniper rifles and jet packs for a quick getaway! Armor that literally lets your run through houses to destroy them even faster! Sounds like a TEK nightmare from a studio that still hasn’t even delivered on their base game.

The PlayStation team has uploaded a new video with fresh gameplay from Horizon: Zero Dawn. The video spotlights the creation of the world, focusing on different regions and how they each have their own specific environments, weather patterns, and technology. It’s well worth a look, especially since this looks like one of the marquee RPGs coming to consoles in 2017.


Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight