Game review 🎮: Tyranny

A cRPG by Obsidian Entertainment, in the same family as Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity.

The story is straightforward: You play a law enforcer for the tyrant Overlord who rules almost all the known world. You’re tasked with rooting out corruption and incompetence in the armies while subjugating the last unconquered region in the name of the Overlord. This setting was an instant sell for me: there aren’t enough games out there where you’re on the side of the “evil empire” and can play it straight. Indeed, playing as the Overlord’s enforcer felt realistic and meaningful. I was impressed at how NPCs on all sides of the war have nuanced views of the empire (instead of simplistic black-and-white morality), and how the story reflects the complexities of empire and conquest. I’m reminded of the military/dark fantasy series The Black Company authored by Glen Cook, which has a similiar premise and exudes the same type of complexity in its setting and characters.

If D:OS and Pillars are grand and epic, then Tyranny is shorter and less expansive, which are its strengths. Compared to most cRPGs, the main quest is focused and the sidequests are brisk but feel meaty. Gameplay is typical turn-based cRPG with an open skill/levelling system, so while you can pick starting attributes, you aren’t locked into a class. The magic spellbook was a fun surprise: it has lots of customization possibilities.

While the main storyline is straightforward, the strong RP choice/consequence adds lots of nuance. The major choices happen during a character creation/history prologue, and at key moments in the early campaign. This is backed up by a huge reputation system with companions and factions, which constantly responds to those prologue choices and your quest decisions; this in turn influences your reputation with NPCs and thus how you progress through the main questline. This RP choice/consequence, plus your player character skills/abilities, makes for a huge degree of replayability to the campaign. Tyranny‘s prologue is the most meaningful character creation/history experience I’ve had since Dragon Age: Origins, and seeing how my choices influence the game world motivates me to replay the campaign.

As with all cRPGs, there are NPC companions who make up your party. The companions of Tyranny have intriguing backgrounds and motivations; gameplay-wise, all have unique abilities and synergies with the player character, and occasionally each other. No one was dispensable: I was swapping them in and out depending on the quest I was on (not least for the frequent unique NPC dialogue), and it was fun to mix up squad composition to see how their skills synergized with my character’s.

And as with most cRPGs, there is a lot of reading in this game. Overall, the prose writing is serviceable but not mind-blowing. I liked the NPC companions and their stories, but their prose was the most uneven to me. Not all dialogue lines are voice-acted; for some reason I really disliked the voice acting in this game and wish I could turn it all off.

The graphics of Tyranny doesn’t depart far from cRPG conventions and expectations: serviceable but not the main attraction. I really like the stylized 2D paintings typified by the gamebox art; those fabulous paintings appear in the world map, prologue and epilogue, but the rest of the game (including character portraits) is rendered 3D. I would’ve liked to see greater synergy between the paintings and the rest of the 3D graphics.

The whole game plus sidequests clocks in about 30 hours: short enough to replay the main campaign with different choices in the prologue. (This doesn’t include the DLC area of Bastard’s Wound: a separate, self-contained region with its own questline. Bastard’s Wound is another 5-8 hours.) There are multiple paths/endings possible, and it was interesting to see how it played out in the game’s “epilogue” — another leaf taken out of Dragon Age. I played the game twice, each playthrough with different choices; progression and NPC interaction felt different despite visiting the same locations.

Tyranny is a tidy cRPG package. Brisk and lean, a meaningful story, fun mechanics and choice/consequence, good replay value. I enjoyed playing Divinity: Original Sin but can’t remember a thing about it. I think I may remember Tyranny better.

I strongly recommend buying the “Gold Edition” that contains all the DLC add-ons. I did, and I suspect the base game would be a thinner experience without the DLC.

Cross-posted to We The Players.

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