Tyranny review (PC)

Obsidian’s Tyranny has arrived on Steam – is it another classic RPG, or have they lost their touch?

The question above can be answered very quickly by saying “yes, it’s great”, but it’s a more complicated question than that. In the past two years, since the release of Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian has seen co-founder Chris Avellone leave the company – surrounding the company name with some degree of uncertainty for its fans. During Gamescom this year, we were especially interested in Tyranny for that very reason, and luckily our doubts were quickly laid to rest.

Getting to Obsidian’s booth location was tricky due to German security giving everyone the runaround, but the detour was well worth it. Tyranny looked similar to Pillars, crafted with the same kind of attention to detail, but with a fresh new take on the genre.

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Not too unlike what we saw in the strategy title Sorcerer King, Tyranny takes place in a world where evil has already conquered over good. Ruling all evil in the world of Terratus is Kyros the Overlord, who already has a nice hierarchy in place. Ruling under him are the Archons, who are both immortal and powerful and have their own ‘specialization’ that can be seen by their job titles. Expect to run into the Archon of Ruin and the Archon of Justice, for instance.

Exploring the hierarchy of Tyranny further reveals our player character, who is a Fatebinder. Fatebinders rank directly below the Archons, and the game gives you almost complete freedom in designing your own. There are all the usual options that will sway your character towards melee combat or stealth, but several of the options here are more impactful that you might be used to. For instance, you’ll want to select a male character if you are planning to be the captain of a ship in the southern lands – I expect a certain presidental candidate would have something to say about that. On the other hand, acting like a realtor is reserved for women only – so it always balances out and changes how you are likely to play.

This is further affected by conquest mode, which is an (optional) part of the character creation process. In this mode, you’ll shape part of the history of your character, going back in time to where Kyros wasn’t successful yet. Although this sounds like it could be a major campaign in itself, this is a short mode that depends on decisions that shape how other characters and factions will see and treat you once the actual campaign starts. It’s optional, but recommended – it will help you better understand the consequences of your actions.

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These consequences have a lot to do with your social standing in Tyranny. As is to be expected in a world ruled by evil, there is a polarized society and there is no way to keep everyone happy. This plays into how you complete your missions, but is also affected by the choices you make in conversation.

Tyranny is a story-driven game, but not one that takes you by the hand and steers you in a fixed direction. You’re sent out by Kyros to quell an uprising, but how you act on this is up to you. You can try to reason with the parties involved and thus take the high road, or you can bring down the hammer on them. Alternatively, you may even decide to rise against Kyros, steering the game in yet another direction. This is was makes Tyranny a complex and rewarding experience, and one that demands future replays.

It may be similar to Pillars of Eternity in how the game looks and plays, but Tyranny’s dynamics are vastly different. With such a wide spectrum of possible paths to take, we’re wondering how Obsidian will fit in any future DLC addons – as they need a somewhat logical place to fit. Our best guess would be somewhat of a prequel, which would tie into conquest mode.

Tyranny is a great way to spend countless hours navigating the intricate political and social dynamics of the world Terratus, playing around with classic RPG elements within a new context. If you were a fan of Obsidian’s games already, then don’t hesitate. If you want an RPG that’s different from the norm, then by all means check out Tyranny. It may not blow anyone away visually – being on par with Pillars of Eternity which is now 18 months old – but its RPG foundations are more than solid and there’s a fresh layer of paint that allows us to look at the genre through different eyes once more.

Score: 8.4/10

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