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It’s So Good to be Bad

William Murphy Posted:
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Few RPGs have ever made me really think about the consequences of my actions. The last time it happened was in the Witcher 3. Obsidian’s and Paradox’s Tyranny is right up there with last year’s multi-award winning Game of the Year. If you prefer your RPGs a little more isometric and your combat more party-oriented and strategic, well then Tyranny may just be one of the best RPGs in recent memory.

It seems a simple enough premise: sometimes Evil wins. In Tyranny, you play the Fatebinder, one of the Dark Lord Kyros’ chosen few that travel across the Tiers and carry out his edicts and will. And though you are a pawn of Kyros, you’re not without free will. That’s where the real challenge of the game’s narrative comes in. As you uncover more about the world, its people, Kyros and his Archons… will you be a dutiful servant to the Tyrant, or will you lead the rebels to freedom from oppression. Or instead, will you levy another to power – perhaps yourself?

Like Pillars of Eternity before it, Tyranny is very much in the vein of Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. It uses the same engine as Pillars, but overall the combat, AI, and overall playability of Tyranny feel much more streamlined and enjoyable. It’s still real-time turn-based combat with spacebar as a pause, but the skill management, and ability to set AI companions to suit your style make for a very enjoyable combat system. What’s more is that while companions have strengths and weaknesses, they also are fully customizable, and like in Pillars you and your party can use any weapon or armor at will. Each companion gets at least two skill trees to customize as you level, and the Fatebinder gets a slew more.

That scroll may be important…

Magic is handled via a spell-crafting system. As you play through the game, you’ll discover runes and symbols and combine them in various ways to make new spells that any character can use. Obviously some characters will have an affinity for magic, but even the beastwoman Kills-in-Shadow can wield one to start with the Fatebinder’s talents adding more magic slots. And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the deeply layered Reputation system. Depending on who you befriend or piss-off, you’ll get even more skills at your disposal. Getting favor with a companion may net you a powerful combo skill with them, but even making the same companion afraid of you or making them hate you can grant you new and different abilities. The same goes for the factions of the game, the artifact weapons you hunt down and collect, and the Archons (right hand men) of Kyros. It’s fantastically deep, and offers just one of the many ways to replay the game with different outcomes and characters.

I could go on for pages about the layered story of Tyranny too. Like Pillars before it, Obsidian has built an incredibly rich world with ages of history and lore to pull from. But where Pillars left me feeling overwhelmed in an unfamiliar place, the less detail-muddled world of Tyranny immediately pulled me in. Tyranny is less worried about shoving lore, gods, races, and so forth down your throat as there are only humans, and more concerned with you knowing the order of things with Kyros at the helm. When you create a character, you get the option to take part in the “conquest” which is a sort of choose your own adventure way of picking how history of Kyros’ rule has unfolded leading up to your arrival in the game. It’s yet another way to add replay value to the title, as there are a multitude of combinations.

Breaking the wall, breaking the wall…

I won’t touch much on the story, but Tyranny’s is a fantastic tale whose decisions are entirely up to you as the Fatebinder. Without giving specifics, I really started to feel the pressure of being the hand of an evil Tyrant when I was tasked with choosing between killing a baby because of its lineage, who also happened to be my ally’s grandchild, or trying to subvert Kyros’ law and drawing unwanted attention towards my rise in power. It’s a very heavy game, and what may seem like a simple choice at first can have truly far reaching consequences as you go on.

Tyranny is a game that must be played by any RPG fan. Some may knock its “old school” approach and style, but that’s about the only complaint that could be levied against such a wonderfully unique and deep RPG. It does everything Pillars of Eternity tried to do and it does so better. Consider Tyranny highly recommended and one of the best RPGs of the year.

Note: Our review copy was provided by Obsidian and Paradox’s PR department in the form of a Steam key.

A visit to Tunon’s sanctuary… the Archon of Justice.

GAMEPLAY – 10 | Every bit of Tyranny is on point and more refined than its predecessor (Pillars of Eternity). Combat is elegant, impactful, and measured in a way that makes sense. Your choices and their consequences seem black and white, but the true outcome is never telegraphed. Crafting and managing your empire via the Spires is an addictive activity, but not essential if you choose to ignore it. It’s a beautifully complex and rewarding RPG.

VISUALS AND SOUND – 8 | Tyranny is a very pretty game, but that’s a summation that only applies if you like the retro perspective and artistically designed models. Its hand-drawn backgrounds are a thing of beauty, as are its particle effects.

POLISH – 9 | Obsidian’s RPGs are often derided for their bugs, but only when they are made on other people’s engines it seems. Like Pillars of Eternity, Tyranny runs on Unity and uses a modified Pillars Engine. In short – it’s very polished, works very well, and I only ever ran into one bugged quest that simply required a reload.

LONGEVITY – 9 | Initially, I was expecting Tyranny to be a “shorter” RPG.  But 20-25 hours for the main story, 40+ for the side quests and completionist modes sounds great. Add into that the factor that the Conquest starting campaign and replay value added because of how starkly different the game’s choices make the narrative, and well you’ve got a lot of RPG goodness here.

VALUE – 9 | Few games these days seem to pack enough content for the amount they ask you to put down. Obsidian, however, never disappoints. There’s a whole lot of game, and it’s replayable in a way few RPGs are (as noted above). Well worth the $45.

9.0 Amazing
  • Beautifully evil story
  • Great strategic combat
  • Loads of replay value
  • It eventually ends


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.