Let’s get this out of the way upfront: Tyranny is not Pillars of Eternity 2. It’s a different animal, a decidedly more sinister one. But the gulf between them is more than skin-deep.
After dozens of hours, I still haven’t finished Obsidian’s classic PC RPG revival, Pillars of Eternity. Don’t get me wrong: it’s great. It’s just a bit overwhelming sometimes, the sort of game it’s hard to get back into after you’ve taken a break. There are so many (very interesting) intertwining systems, and so many grunting, agonized lore dumps.
Tyranny strikes me as a more direct sort of game. I got to see about 30 minutes of it during a behind-closed-doors GDC presentation last week, and nearly everything about it — the premise, the progression, the combat — feels honed, sharpened.
Here are the highlights of what I saw:
- The premise is interesting. In Tyranny‘s world, the bad guys already beat up the good guys, ate their lunch, and hung them from the flagpole. Then they hung them the normal way. You play as the Fatebinder, a Judge Dredd type who works for the Overlord, Kyros. You roam a wounded land administering your own form of justice, meddling in the affairs of major factions as you see fit. Some people respect you. Others fear you. Others hate you. Do with that information as you will. It’s not the most revolutionary RPG premise ever, but it’s a cool twist on typical good-vs-evil shenanigans.
- You don’t have to pick a character class. Progression is classless, which means that your character can learn and get better at any ability by performing it a bunch — and not that it’s an inconsiderate, pompous individual with no respect for the enchanting sport of badminton. Tyranny is kinda like The Elder Scrolls series, in that respect. This extends to persuasion options in conversation as well. Basically, Obsidian wants you to be able to play your way without having to fret that you might have made a “wrong” decision. It doesn’t hurt that “right” decisions include rogue-wizards and wise-cracking barbarians, either.
- Factions are front and central. If you’ve played basically any other Obsidian game ever, you might have come away with a sneaking suspicion that they think faction systems are kinda alright. Maybe. In the demo I saw, things were completely different in a city called Plainsgate depending on which factions the Fatebinder had befriended and which ones he’d pissed off. In one save, Obsidian had him allied with The Scarlet Chorus, one of Overlord Kyros’ allies in the war. They wanted me to go into town and free a Beastman so as to potentially ally with the nearby Beastman faction. The villagers of Plainsgate, however, hated that idea. They blamed the Beastmen for recent murders and wanted justice. Ultimately, Obsidian had the Fatebinder work with The Scarlet Chorus to aid the Beastman as a crowd of glowering villagers bellowed at us. It was tense. Then Obsidian loaded another save in which the Fatebinder was working with a different faction. This time, the Scarlet Chorus hated him, leading to a couple combat encounters, and the ultimate goal was to kill the subdued Beastman. Obsidian said there were a ton of other ways that scene could’ve played out, too.
- It’s smart in little ways. Here are just a few: 1) To mitigate problems in other classless RPGs, dialogues give you the same amount of experience as combat. 2) You get combo attacks with companions, and you get the best ones for having them either love you as much as possible or hate your guts. 3) You also get special attack options based on which factions you’ve allied with. 4) Decisions you’ll make near the beginning of the game alter the state of the world. In one save, Plainsgate was damaged, but stable. In another, there was a massive fissure running through the center of it, and villagers had taken to calling the place Halfgate.
I’m pretty into what I’ve seen of Tyranny so far, but the usual disclaimer applies: It was a directed demo and is therefore not necessarily indicative of what the final game will be like. It could turn out completely different. It could be terrible. We’ll see. On the upside, Tyranny isn’t far off. It will be out sometime in 2016.