Wednesday, February 8, 2017


I recall the announcement of Tyranny being a slight surprise in last year's March. Promising the game's release still within the passing year when Pillars of Eternity's last expansion had come out only a month earlier seemed to leave very little time for development. I guess having the tech already worked out in PoE allowed Obsidian Entertainment to finish the project faster. Picking the same date for release as Dishonored 2 (Nov 11th) was an odd choice, though.

I also got to play Tyranny unusually soon after release for a patient gamer as it was gifted to me by a certain Frenchman. (Thanks, Kane!)

The final steps to world domination

In Tyranny you are on the side of evil in a world where the good guys have just lost (mostly). I am not sure what exactly I expected but it was quite surprising how the game puts you amongst two allied armies that are at odds with each other at every turn due to conflicting modi operandi. Especially in the first chapter and the conquest prologue you constantly make decisions on which army you prefer -- the orderly elite soldiers of Disfavored or the chaotic horde of Scarlet Chorus.

At the end of the first chapter the game branches a bit based on who you sided with. In addition to siding with one of the two armies you can also go rebel and start opposing the overlord Kyros. I chose to trot with the Chorus and advance Kyros's will. Somehow in the end I became a challenger to Kyros's rule regardless. I suppose that cannot be avoided with how the plot goes.

Factions and reputation

The game makes a big use of its reputation mechanic. You can gain wrath and favor with factions (loyalty and fear with your companions). They are not exclusive with each other, although major decisions sometimes reduce one value while increasing the other. I am not entirely sure how you are supposed to go with it. I power-gamed and picked dialogue options to increase both with about every faction and NPC since it seemed to unlock the most abilities. It was sometimes weird to have the same wrath and favor level at the same time.

This got the oddest in the Final Judgment quest, where Tunon, the Archon of Justice (whose Fatebinder you start as) decides if you have broken Kyros's laws. His other Fatebinders were thinking I had went up against Kyros and the dialogue lines were showing [Tunon Wrath 2]. But then Tunon himself ended up deciding I was innocent and his conclusion showed [Tunon Favor 4].

I finished Tyranny after 24 hours, which is a pretty reasonable length for an RPG. But it is certainly not as massive in scope as the really big names in the genre. The ending was also somewhat abrupt, calling for a sequel. However, fitting the rest of your story of fighting Kyros into one game -- or even two -- would be difficult. The Tiers, Tyranny takes place in, are merely a small part of Terratus -- you would be waging war against basically the rest of the world when going against Kyros. I do wonder if Obsidian ever decides to continue the story.

Plot and writing nothing spectacular

As for what comes to being on the side of the bad guys, I did not really notice much of a difference in the writing to, say, playing Baldur's Gate 2 as an evil Bhaalspawn. I do not feel Tyranny was making any effort to really explore the nature of evil. Maybe that was never the intention and I misunderstood the discussion about the game before its release.

The writing is generally all right. I liked how they voiced only some of the dialogue -- just like in the old days. The voice actors also fit the characters perfectly. The only exception were probably the beastmen. The way they talk sounded so forced that I hastened to skip their voiced lines. I found the beastmen terribly unoriginal and boring, and thus the beastman companion was the only one I never included in my party. The other five were quite fine. It is a shame party size is capped to four.

The one thing I would change in the writing are the fucks. About any made up swear word would be better at not breaking my immersion. I have mentioned this before but to me it simply feels so off to have people saying 'fuck' in a (non-witcher) high fantasy setting. I also question the way couple characters keep switching between she and he when referring to Kyros. Even if her gender is undetermined, I find it quite unlikely anyone would see the effort to keep switching pronouns like that in a discussion. Although, considering the two characters that do so are Tunon and Sirin, it might be because they are merely furthering Kyros's intent to keep himself mysterious.

Modern engine

Tyranny runs on Unity like Pillars of Eternity previously. I like how similar the interface feels to the Infinity Engine games of old. Even the message box font and move cursor are basically identical. The newer engine allows zooming, and like in Blackguards, spell effects are gorgeous compared to the classics. The hypertext links to refresh your memory about stuff is also a neat feature. I would like to able to move the camera off the map, though, as the GUI comes in the way when you are at the south edge and corners. Of course you can hide the GUI as well though you cannot then use it.

The engine is not without problems either. For instance, loading times are rather long. Lethian's Crossing's main area was especially bad. Large maps with many NPCs (or maybe it was the numerous environmental effects?), like Cacophony, also ran at terrible framerates, dropping below 30. The fault must be in the engine since the game was not maxing GPU or CPU cores. In small areas FPS would climb to 120s without vsync for me.

Turn-based combat might have worked better

Tyranny's combat is realtime with active pause like it should be in an isometric RPG, as far as I am concerned. However, I quickly started thinking Tyranny's largely cooldown-limited abilities might work better in a turn-based system. Cooldowns require more party micro-management than per rest limited abilities to play optimally. Every party member also has different recovery time to use another ability based on their armor weight and weapon speed. That is why I stopped using the two party member combos -- the faster character would often have to wait idle for the slower one's recovery time to pass.

Apart from pre-combat buffing, I ended up controlling only my character and let AI handle the rest. I could not determine how well it made use of their abilities, but since fights generally did not last very long, I would say it did well enough for the Normal difficulty I played on. From what I have read, even on Path of the Damned, Tyranny's difficulty is front-loaded. Once your mage characters start having high enough lore skill and more sigils to create truly powerful spells, the game becomes significantly easier.

Mechanical depth for a bigger game

I had trouble on deciding what kind of character I wanted to play. I think that is a sign if any for an RPG to have character customization with depth. I restarted multiple times until finally settling on a two-handed and light armor, mainly agility talents using build.

Originally I thought about playing the game as heavily armored character with debuffing spells -- like a blackguard of sorts. But then I read how heavy armor's damage reduction does not compete with light armor's shorter recovery time and reduced chance of being hit at all. Atrophy spells also felt very weak at the start, although I guess the blackguard concept could have worked eventually had I just kept at it.

Tyranny has a classless system that reminds me of Skyrim's. It would not have been my first choice for a non-open world game where the amount of battles and such is finite. After character creation, skills increase by using them as well as utilizing trainers (5 times/level naturally). Quest experience gets divided between skills you have received training in, which can be problematic for optimization purposes. For instance, if you ask a party member to teach you a sigil to make your party's spells from, that school of magic will start sharing your quest experience pie.

The skill system, skill and character levels, crafting -- I made only like 3 or 4 items in total from the long list -- make it feel like the game has mechanics for a longer game than Tyranny. Spending time on upgrading the spires etc. seem a bit futile endeavor. Also, the inclusion of resting seemed like a forced mechanic. There are few abilities that are usable only once per rest or encounter, but with most of them just being cooldowns, I feel like the reasons to actually rest -- removing wounds and getting spire rest bonuses -- were added afterwards to justify a feature that was only included because it was in older games.

Obsidian announced their next game, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, just couple weeks ago. Maybe the first game with its expansions will now finally drop in price enough for me to purchase. I wonder if its crowd-funding is the reason the game is still so pricey.

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