It’s been a hell of a year in the gaming world. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, and Assassin’s Creed: Origins were just a few among the dozens of amazing titles to come out this year. And the truth is that this happens every year – a few games get all the press and perfectly deserving games slip right under the radar. Even if you’ve heard of them, you can’t possibly play them all, and as time passes, the chance of discovering these excellent, forgotten titles dwindles. The good news is that we’re here to help expand your horizons with games that you probably haven’t played yet, but totally should.
Let’s take a look at the featured game of the week.
Although it was technically released in November 2016, Tyranny didn’t really have time to be reviewed that year, especially when everyone was still gorging themselves on Overwatch and the new Hitman (no subtitle). Following the success of Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity, Tyranny was released with a bit of fanfare that was drowned out by other major releases.
I will go into this saying that Tyranny is not cheap for a game with such an indie, homemade feel. As I write this, it’s currently available on steam for 60% off it’s usual $45 price tag ($18!), which is an absolute steal – if you enjoy Baldur’s Gate style RPGs, I highly recommend snagging it if you see it at such a low price. That said, I paid full price and don’t regret it for a second.
So, what makes Tyranny worth your precious time? Here are five reasons you should pick up this unsung masterpiece.
You’re Not a Hero
That’s right – as the title implies, Tyranny is not a game of chivalrous heroes riding in to save the day. Instead, you are in a world in which evil has successfully conquered everything, and you are working for the overlord who did the conquering. You are a Fatebinder, a sort of fantasy Judge Dredd, ensuring the will of the Overlord Kyros is carried out by settling disputes as you find them.
With that kind of power, you might think (as I did), that you can play as the single ray of hope in an otherwise desolate empire – and you’d be wrong (as I was). While there is a heavy emphasis on choice, which we will discuss in a moment, there is rarely a classic goody-two-shoes option. Instead of killing the brigand tolling travellers and saving the poor merchant you found on the road, the brigand may well be working for your boss, and the best you can do is pay him off so the merchant can live. And if that sounds like a decent option, wait until word gets out that you’re a soft-hearted ninny and people stop taking you seriously.
Instead of attempting to be the good guy in a bad guy game, I recommend embracing your role as an adjudicator of justice. If you enjoy properly role-playing a character, pick a basic definition of “justice” for your character and stick with it. You’ll be amazed at how freeing it is to not be constrained by the classic good/bad dichotomy. The bottom line is that, while games like Overlord and Dungeon Keeper let us play as the bad guy, they were parodies that didn’t take themselves seriously. Tyranny explores all the shades of grey that exist between good and evil in a way I’ve never seen before.
Choices Actually Matter
Any veteran of the gaming community, especially RPGs, has heard developers claiming that their games include meaningful choices for over a decade. Sometimes, this is actually true – games like Alpha Protocol and Dragon Age: Origins really made you think about your decisions, and your choices drastically changed both gameplay and the ending. But for every one of those, there are ten that fail to deliver, sometimes with major consequences – there was a veritable riot over the ending of Mass Effect 3.
What gets me the most excited every time I sit down to play Tyranny is unveiling the consequences of my decisions. And it’s not just the big ones, either. Sure, you can pick sides between bickering generals and choose whether or not to have important people executed, but it’s really the little things that drive this game. Did you let a merchant sell their wares, despite not having the proper paperwork? Did you kick an old man out of his hometown? Did you make a passing comment about your opinions on magical lore? Can you justify the reasoning behind these decisions? Those little things have a ripple effect, and you’ll find that they matter down the road.
Sometimes, these consequences come in the form of altering faction reputations (side note: gaining wrath with a faction isn’t always bad), but they can also alter encounters with characters who judge you based on those previous decisions. As in real life, it’s impossible to predict the ramifications of every decision you make. My advice? Go with your gut, do what your character would do, and leave the meta behind; it won’t help you this time.
Tyranny is, at its core, a fantasy RPG, so there is plenty of familiarity within the game for anyone with a fantasy background. That being said, Obsidian has done an excellent job keeping things fresh and interesting in a genre that’s become so cookie-cutter. As was mentioned earlier, the villain is in charge and you’re working your way through moral grey areas in his service, so that’s a twist right off the bat. But there’s more where that came from.
The history of the world of Terratus is deep and involved, but you only get hints of it, because Kyros the Overlord doesn’t want people knowing too much. Knowledge is power, and if anyone becomes too powerful, they may be able to take down the overlord herself – which is another point. Despite being the hinge on which the story turns, very little is known about Kyros, from origins to gender (being referred to as both him/her, sometimes in the same breath). More is discovered as the game progresses, but some things remain ambiguous, which is a nice change. Don’t worry – there’s still an overwhelming amount of lore and flavor text to dig through, if you so choose.
Building tension is one of the most difficult things a writer can attempt, and Tyranny builds tension like sandcastles at the beach. It’s not just from the overplot – the little interactions involve tension, too. After all, you have real power with the backing of a being who can turn an entire country into a permanent, supernatural tornado. Some people might show you deference even if they want to spit in your face, and you never know how long that restraint will last.
But remember – not only are you working for an evil overlord, you’re working for an evil overlord who is known for killing his own henchmen when they get too powerful or unruly. Throughout the whole game, you’ll be looking over your shoulder, because your boss might send her personal assassin after you if you’re doing too good of a job. You’re never sure if you can trust your allies, or if you even have true allies, at all. There’s constant tension created throughout the game, and it will keep you playing for hours on end.
Approach to Magic
It’s relatively rare for an RPG to have a “new” magic system that actually works, but Obsidian seems to have stumbled upon a keeper. I’ll be honest – I avoided it at first, because it just seemed to complex, and my player-character was a straightforward soldier, so I didn’t feel bothered about it. Eventually, though, I picked up enough mages to wonder how useful they could really be, and decided to dive in. Wow, were the waters deep.
Every mage you add to your party will come with a few pre-made spells, but past that, you have to do the work yourself. The first step is finding a “spell core,” which determines the primary aspect of the spell, such as life, fire, force, etc. Then you add an “expression,” which determines how the spell is cast – range, cone, single target, etc. Finally, you have optional “accents” (of which there are many) that allow you to add damage, lower cooldowns, or alter the spell in a dozen different ways. This means you can create spells that work with your play-style, and customize them for each character, as needed.
Of course, the more additional effects you add, the higher the required Lore skill, which sounds like a downside, but really isn’t. This means that even my soldier, whose mace isn’t doing any real damage against a particular foe, can cast a variety of basic spells to heal himself, aid allies, or do a bit of damage. He won’t be nearly as effective as the dedicated mages with their heavily augmented spells, but because skills increase through use, all of your characters can become relatively competent spellcasters with very little additional effort.
Have you played Tyranny and have something to add? Do you have some questions you’d like answered? Give us a shout in the comments!