Quite a few hours into Obsidian’s latest CRPG, and I’m hugely impressed by its mature storytelling, developed lore and old-school Baldur’s Gate combat. Tyranny’s main defining feature is its focus on being bad. Not the pantomime, binary good and bad that is so often the way in gaming.
I have fond memories of trying to shift my morality in the original Fable, but this boiled down to deciding whether to eat celery or live chicks in order to alter the sliding scale What you have in Tyranny is a far more involved and nuanced version of evil. Taking place late in the stages of a violent conquest that the forces of evil are winning, you play the role of a judge appointed by the leader of the invading force to bring order to the two competing sides of the army.
On one hand you have the heavily armoured and well-drilled Disfavoured, bound by tradition and ancient ideas of blood and purity, and on the other you have the chaotic and anarchic Scarlet Chorus, which is made up of thieves, murderers and the conscripted survivors of raided villages. Attempting to appease these two different faces of evil, you must develop your own moral stance in order to carry out the wishes of your emperor.
Early in the game I found myself attempting to play the two sides off of each other, seeing each respond in turn. However, it soon becomes apparent that such fencesitting can only take you so far. After only a couple of hours of such compromise I quickly embraced my role and took sides with extreme prejudice.
Such an approach seems to be the way Tyranny is intended to be played, as can be seen by the range of dialogue options available. Unlike many RPGs in which you must go through every possible line of conversations even if they seem totally contradictory, your companions and NPCs clearly react to your questions in a way that encourages you to tailor your comments to suit their personalities. The potential for having diametrically opposed companions is a nice throwback to the fueds between Edwin and Jaheira, way back in the original Baldur’s Gate.
I am finding combat a little chaotic at the moment. In part this is because I’m a bit rusty at the D&D style party management – I previously suffered a gamebreaking bug early on in Obsidian’s previous Pillars of Eternity and not having had chance to return to it since it was patched out. I haven’t yet had a party wipe after 9 hours of playing on normal, but there have been a couple of close shaves.
Technically, it all looks and behaves well. Obviously the aesthetic will appeal to anybody who spent a lot of time with the classic Black Isle games, but the voice acting is also very good and the music is suitably epic. I have found there to be an encouraging number of genuine female NPCs too, representing a range of characteristics, rather than the whore/witch/barmaid triumvirate that so often plagues pseudo-medieval fantasy settings.
I’m also playing as a female ranger at the moment, after my five year old son insisted on designing my character. Her name is Donut (though I did change this slightly to the more imposing Donutia).
At the point I left off last night, the game was just beginning to open up. I had finished the time restricted quest that was widely reported a couple of weeks ago and was all set to really immerse myself in the world and discover the more complex mechanics. The time limit for this initial main quest was actually fairly lenient and only using the camping function to recover between fights too often will cause any issues in making the deadline.
I have yet to really use much in the way of magic, but it’s a curious system. Instead of learning new spells from books or from levelling up, there’s more of a crafting element to it, as you find the component parts of a spell and then mix them together before allocating them to characters with a high enough lore ability.
My early impressions, therefore, are that Tyranny is a worthy successor to the likes of Baldur’s Gate, taking the party interactions and combat, combined with the more developed dialogue of Planescape Torment – although I can’t say yet whether it reaches the heights of the latter. It’s also a refreshingly nuanced take on the banal realities of evil, which forms an enjoyable and immersive game world that I am only just beginning to get to know. In short, if you have ever enjoyed this type of RPG in the past, I’d already heartily recommend Tyranny.
It’s just a shame that the whole idea of evil triumphing over good and implementing the unpleasant edicts of a mad ruler has become quite so topical over the past few days…