I’m a sucker for classic role-playing games, especially when they feature hard choices that affect the gameplay and path of the story. For me, Pillars of Eternity will always be one of my favorite RPGs, and easily one of the greatest we’ve seen in a number of recent years. Going into Tyranny, I was both excited and fearful. Would Obsidian be able to capture the same feeling that they captured with Pillars? Or would this next addition to their library fall short of meeting the expectations of its fanbase? At the end of the day it did neither, instead deciding to straddle the fence between each extreme, offering up an enjoyable and memorable story buried beneath hours of tiresome combat and limited choices.
The Elephant in the Room
For me, tactical combat has always been an enjoyable part of RPGs. For some reason, however, Obsidian took the combat system from Pillars and decided to tweak it, changing how it works fundamentally. The changes they made turned Tyranny’s combat system more akin to an MMO than the traditional RPG, but without the ability to move around like you do in MMOs. These changes left the combat feeling tiresome and boring, as you sat there waiting for your characters to finally make their swing, the timers slowly counting down with each hit.
This wouldn’t be such a huge problem if combat wasn’t so important to the RPG formula. But throughout the many hours I’ve spent with Tyranny, I can’t help but feel like the combat really held the game back by forcing me to go against wave after wave of enemies. At one point, early in the story, I had to infiltrate a village and take out the Oathbreakers hiding there. It seemed like an interesting idea at first, but as I continued through the mission it became quite clear that this was just a massive battle, with new waves of enemies jumping out at every turn. There was no real story to the quest, and at the end of the day I had no real say in what happened to the enemy combatants.
Illusions of Choice
Of course, not every sequence was like this. Many times, the dialogue and choices are there, right in front of you, and the decisions that you make can detail whether or not combat happens, or you all go about your merry way. But, for a game that pushes the importance of choice, I often found myself limited by the choices I had available at key and pivotal moments in the story.
A good example of this takes place a few hours into the game. After a mission you find yourself chatting with the Archons of the Scarlet Chorus and the Disfavored. Throughout the conversation you have various choices that change your favor and standing with the two factions. The dialogue choices you make here decide who you side with for the rest of the game, and no matter how you chop things up, you can only make one side happy. Then, in the middle of the conversation, war breaks out. There’s no warning, no red flag. You’re just sitting there talking one moment, and then the next war is declared and there’s nothing you can do about it. The abruptness of the transition feels jarring and forceful, pulling away from the importance of choice displayed so passionately in Pillars of Eternity.
A Man of Reputation
Perhaps one of the most interesting features to make its way into Tyranny is the new reputation system. Unlike other RPGs, where morality plays a key part in the story, Tyranny takes a different path, basing its reputation system on Fear and Loyalty. Throughout the story the things you do either instill Fear or Loyalty into your party members and companions. It is an interesting way of going about the famed RPG repuation system, and it gives you a little more leeway with how you play the game. But when it is all said and done it almost feels like a wasted system. No matter what your reputation with your companions, their story never changes. They will always be there, unless you let them die, and you never get a chance – no matter how scared or loyal they area – to see more into their lives. Unlike Pillars of Eternity, which featured different quests to showcase your companion’s lives, Tyranny allows the companion system to fall flat, ignoring it in favor of stifled choices and tiresome combat.
It might sound, from the review above, like Tyranny is a terrible game. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The story, and the characters within, blend perfectly, and the expertly crafted world building is something we don’t see in RPGs as of late. While Tyranny might not be as good as I had hoped it would be, it is still a welcome addition to any classic RPG fans’ library, and Obsidian should be proud of the product that they’ve released to the world. Sure, there are things that could be better, but in the grand scheme of things, Tyranny is a brilliant jaunt through a land riveted by evil. For once, it’s good to be bad.