Tyranny Emerged From The Game That Nearly Sank Obsidian

Tyranny Emerged From The Game That Nearly Sank Obsidian

Once upon a time, Pillars of Eternity and Fallout: New Vegas developer Obsidian was working on a major Xbox One RPG called Stormlands. Then it got cancelled, and Obsidian had to lay off 30 people, a large portion of a relatively small staff. Turns out, Tyranny, Obsidian’s new RPG in which evil has already won, partially emerged from Stormlands‘ ashes.

When I first saw Tyranny in action during GDC, I was told that the game’s basic ideas — a magic apocalypse and a universe in which the bad guys won the big tennis match that decides the balance between good and evil — have been kicking around at Obsidian for quite a while. Since around 2009, specifically.

An ex-Obsidian acquaintance of mine was the first to tell me of the Stormlands connection. The way he put it, Stormlands, a triple-A RPG intended to be published by Microsoft near the Xbox One’s launch, sank into the unfeeling seas of a churning industry in 2012, but Obsidian held onto the rights. The ensuing lay-offs were a major blow to Obsidian; it’s been said that CEO Feargus Urquhart choked up when he made the announcement to the rest of the studio.

That brings us to now. Pillars of Eternity, an RPG in the mould of old-school hits like Baldur’s Gate, was a hit, a huge change of fortune for a company that was doing everything from licensed games to free-to-play tank battlers to see what stuck. Thus, Tyranny, a less traditional RPG in that mould, was born. Reborn, to an extent.

I reached out to Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart himself to fill in some blanks. Turns out, many ideas now present in Tyranny have been brewing for about a decade. Urquhart explained:

The story of Tyranny‘s origins go pretty far back. We pitched a project called Fury in 2006 that was based in a world that had been laid waste by a magical apocalypse. From there, we started thinking more about the idea, and started pitching a game called Defiance in 2009. Defiance is where we really embraced the idea of making a game in a world where evil already won.

Move ahead a couple of years, and we did take some of the ideas from Defiance along with some new ones and pitched a new game called Stormlands. This pitch became the Xbox One launch game we were working on. However, that game was more like Fury when it came to it being about playing in a world after a magical apocalypse.

After that game had been cancelled, we returned to the ideas we had come up with for Defiance. We began building a more in-depth world around the idea along with thinking how could we really let the player understand that evil won the war. That spawned the thought about letting the player take part in the conquering of the world itself as a part of character creation.

The end result? Tyranny.

So Stormlands touched on some of the same ideas as Tyranny does, but Tyranny is also very much its own game. Still, it’s nice to see that (barring any unforeseen, possibly magical disaster) Obsidian will finally get to realise grand plans that have been brewing for such a long time.


  • XB1? Would have loved Pillars of Eternity on XB1… sit there nicely with other nice western RPGs like Divinity and Wasteland 2.

  • It always amazes me that Obsidian still exists. They’ve survived things that would’ve killed most studios. They’re an independent studio. They got strangled by an impossible deadline leading to the release of an unfinished game. They lost a bonus for missing out on a Metacritic benchmark, by one point. They made a game through Kickstarter.

    I’m so glad that they’re still here, but also very surprised. GG Obsidian.

  • Still waiting for Obsidian to get around to that Wheel of Time RPG they announced back 5 years or so ago.

  • Just hope they get the combat right this time.. the combat in Pillars really sucks.. divided the community.. some love it.. and some hate it.. I am one of the latter. I found the story to be quite engaging, but the combat was in some ways too simple to be tactical and in other ways too complex to use properly.. it was all rather clunky.

    So here’s hoping they get the combat right this time.

    • I think the combat has been the thing that has made me struggle with Pillars the most. It’s not that I’ve necessarily found the game all the difficult a lot of the time, but more that it feels like the combat is more strategic than tactical. If you don’t position or prep or set up or work out your strategy for bigger fights, it doesn’t seem to suit on-the-fly adaptions quite so well. I’ve gone from finding a fight completely and utterly impossible to absolutely smashing it by changing things up.

      I started playing Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition co-op and haven’t really felt an overwhelming urge to go back to Pillars – the two feel a bit too similar in style, and D:OSEE just feels really fun.

      I want to go back to Pillars, and the story and writing were really great – but I have to agree that the combat feels like the weakest part of the game, which is confusing and frustrating because I like the concepts/ideas of most of the combat mechanics.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!