The biggest draw of choice and consequence in games is right there on the tag: consequence. Being able to make choices, and seeing those choices have not just immediate effects on the game world, but long lasting ones – when a game’s story can make you feel like your choices matter, that’s a feeling you’re not going to want to let go of in a hurry. The second biggest draw, however, can be far more compelling, if you find it’s what you have a taste for, and that is the chance to try your hand at being evil.
Most RPGs offer you a choice between the righteous path and the darker one, but let’s be honest – the righteous path tends to have the better rewards. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye and an entire quest storyline is removed because of it. Moreover, stories tend to lean towards narrative convention – good vanquishes evil. If you take the good path, you’re far more likely to arrive at a happier ending. The dark side is, ironically, just not as tempting as the light (looking at you, Dishonored).
Tyranny deals with this by removing that temptation entirely. Right from the get-go, you’re thrown into a narrative that asserts, over and over again: You are not in the moral right here. Evil has won. Embrace it.
Pillars of Eternity Plus
Before the game was released, the only thing I really needed to know about it to put it on my wishlist was the fact that Obsidian Games was making something new in the vein of Pillars of Eternity – a top-down, isometric RPG, with heavy customization of player characters, multi-window menu interfaces, and heaps upon heaps of dialog options.
Tyranny brings all of that back, with several new surprises. You have the ability to craft your own spells in this game, which is a mechanic I was delighted in and wish I’d spent more time fiddling around with. The spell options are more or less static, but being able to mess around with stats like damage done and how many people they can affect provide just enough variation for you to craft an armoury of spells that feel entirely your own.
Another new addition to combat is the ability to perform combos with allies in your party. These combos are firmly enmeshed in the story – the better you get to know your allies, or the more they fear you, the more powerful combos you unlock. They’re visually stunning, and provide a pretty powerful edge in battle. It’s a strong motivation for taking the time to interact with members of your party. One of my favourite moves is one your character can do with warrior Verse – your character launches her into the air, while she shoots three powerful, armour piercing arrows to one enemy, from high above the fray.
Upgrading your character is also tied in with the story – skills like subterfuge, athletics and lore are all upgraded through dialog options that follow Skyrim-esque principles; the more you exercise certain skills, the better at them you will become.
What Kind of Tyrant Will You Be?
Like Pillars of Eternity, you’re able to not only flesh out your character’s current state, but also his or her past, and I love when games include this. It’s a great way to get yourself more invested in your character.
The choices are a little more sparse – there’s only one race, and there aren’t class specializations like mages, rogues, or ciphers. You’re always going to end up as a human general, it’s strength in specializations that determine what your abilities will be. This actually works out well – if you start the game out, for instance, with a propensity for spell-casting and find it’s not for you, you can still develop your other abilities during the game and ignore spell-casting entirely.
One of the more interesting new aspects of Tyranny’s character creation is Conquest Stage – where you take part in the conquest of the last of the rebel Tiers that dare still defy Lord Kyros. Your choices here decide what abilities you possess going into the game, but more importantly, you’re crafting the history and lore of the world in which you’ll be playing. You’re affecting the world before the story even begins, and its denizens will tremble before your might when it does.
A Game of Thrones and Archons
The best part of being on the side that’s already won is that you are now part of the establishment. You don’t just work for The Man (or Woman – Kyros’ actual gender is one of the game’s many secrets) – you’re enforcing their will. Walk into a new town, and you are the law, instead of the fantasy genre’s staple of you being a lone hero who can be of either aid or hindrance to the local authorities. As Kyros’ Fatebinder, you can choose to spare a Beastman from being slaughtered by villagers, or help yourself to the stock of goods from a merchant who doesn’t have a proper trading permit.
Here, you have the power – and the only thing you need to worry about is all the other people commanding similar levels of power – the Archons.
As you wander through the Tiers, you make some alliances, and sow some seeds of fear simply by merit of the kinds of choices you make. You’re going to develop a sense of paranoia – go with it. Anyone can betray you, and you can betray anyone. Political intrigue reigns supreme, and you may just want to team up with those who repulse or terrify you just because it’s the smartest move at the time – or the one that gets you the most power.
Explore, Examine, Experiment, Repeat
The main story of the game can be finished surprisingly quickly – ignore all the side quests, ignore exploration, and spend no time getting to know your own allies, you can finish the entire game in 20 hours or less, which is great for replay value. However, more importantly, that short a main story makes the smaller stuff that much more important. It should be noted that after certain points, side-quests become unavailable, and when the game ends, it ends – there’s no room for exploration of things you’ve missed unless you’re ready to start from the beginning again. The best way to enjoy Tyranny is to immerse yourself in it.
The world of Tyranny has been peppered with little secrets, and rewards for those willing to go that extra mile, wandering off the main path.
From powerful artifacts to clues and secrets about factions you’re allied with or against, to certain surprises even those travelling with you might spring. One story, coaxed from a companion with whom I’d worked to gain a little loyalty took my breath away with the sheer, simple and irrevocable trauma it held. Sappy, painful childhood traumas are a dime a dozen. Finding one with actual impact would have been enough to make the game worth it, all by itself. The added context that comes with the effort put in to dig up such secrets only makes their discovery that much more powerful.
Tyranny finished a little quickly for me – I tend to speed through the main quests when a game excites me, and in my second playthrough, I’m going a bit slower. Even so, Tyranny gave me enough time to sink deep into the world it created. I was encouraged to do just enough digging to give the story more context, a richer flavour, and more weight to every decision I made. It gave me a taste of being able to rule with an iron fist, and it gave me an ending that made me feel justified with every dark and difficult choice I’d made up to that point. Few games ever give you that – put the fate of the story in your hands, and make you feel like everything that’s happened, even the parts that went wrong, were justified.
You have to wonder if every tyrant the world had to offer felt the same way.