Game Review: Tyranny

Sometimes, evil wins.

Tyranny is a game where there was no last minute hero, no deus ex machina, no chosen one. Only an evil villain that took over the world with very little real resistance. It’s an excellent example of a game exploring one simple concept: what if the good guys lost? And reminds me very much of Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Mistborn’ novels.

Tyranny is set in a world where Kyros the Overlord (cool evil name) has already conquered the known world and is now just kicking any rebels into shape. You play a fatebinder, a kind of judge, jury and executioner that is dispatched to regions to spread Kyros’s laws and keep order. It’s a cool concept that is done brilliantly, with lots of very in-depth world building and an interesting cast of characters to keep any lore hungry player entertained.

Made by Obsidian Entertainment, Tyranny is a return to isometric RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Pillars of Eternity (also made by Obsidian) and features many of the same mechanics and D&D style encounters. However, like many games of its type, it can get very bogged down in the mechanics of character building and combat strategies, so if you aren’t into min/maxing I would recommend playing through on the easier difficulties to just enjoy the story and feel like a badass (more on this later).

The game has an eerie soundtrack that fits well with the overall tone, has some good voice acting, and has the usual graphics you’d expect from an isometric RPG. I will say the cut-scenes are great though, they have a very distinctive animated art style that I wish they used more of throughout (see cool intro video below).

[pmc_box background_color=”#4188d3″ border_color=”#4188d3″ text_color=”#ffffff” ]WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT TYRANNY?[/pmc_box]

A well realised and explored concept

The bad guys win. It’s not an original concept but it is a superbly realised one. You begin the game in a world that has already been conquered and is only just starting to settle down, there are plenty of grievances still going around and the wars are still fresh in everyone’s minds.

To top this off, the game puts you in the role of a fatebinder (basically a war judge) meaning you are a high-ranking officer with a fair bit of pull. This setup gives Tyranny a lot of room to maneuver, as it now has a natural way of putting you in the middle of pretty much every problem in the game. Players can then use this freedom to explore just what kind of evil they want to be – and yes, there are many different kinds of evil and this game forces you to discover which kind you are through the choices you make.

Does it sometimes miss the mark? Sure, but the game does make a good job of avoiding the cliche evil villain tropes and instead focuses on guiding you through the world based on your own particular style of tyranny.

Interesting characters and history

I just love Kyros the Overlord. The guy/gal is basically a god who has taken over the world and has the power to proclaim ‘edicts’ – rule/law based spells that can kill entire armies, destroy valleys, and spread plagues once they are read aloud.

But Kyros is way above your pay grade, you report to Tunon, one of the powerful individuals called Archons who are Kyros’s generals. These Archons are the major players and personalities of the game and act as guideposts to the different factions you can ally with or turn against as the story progresses. Every character you come across has their own agenda (often just plain survival) and you have to learn to influence each one properly if you want to get your way. The main callout is that while some of these characters can be quite one dimensional, they never fail to be interesting, and discovering their backgrounds and waiting for the next opportunity to interact with them is what drove me through the game.

Replayability and consequences

One of the great things about games like this is that there are so many choices and branching paths you can take. Tyranny does a good job of making all of your choices matter (big and small) and will often bring up past actions to influence your current situation – did you kill that seemingly random guy in Act 1, whoops he was the brother of the guy who has you hostage! What this means is that you will often end up closing a lot of doors as you progress through the game, so if you are a completionist you will find yourself going back several times to uncover every secret and potential ending that you possibly can.

A magic crafting system

I fucking love a good magic crafting system (I was heartbroken when Skyrim ditched the Oblivion ‘build a spell’ system) and Tyranny doesn’t disappoint. It allows you to take any magical element (fire, ice, healing, etc), choose how you will shape it (touch, blast, aura, etc), and then augment it with extra powers (range, strength, bouncing, etc). I spent hours trying to craft the ultimate spells for my party and flat out refused to look at online wikis for tips! My advice is maybe don’t spend as long as I did on this, it’s not worth it in the long run unless you are as obsessed with magic crafting systems as I am…

[pmc_box background_color=”#4188d3″ border_color=”#4188d3″ text_color=”#ffffff” ]WHAT’S BAD ABOUT TYRANNY?[/pmc_box]

Annoying ending

No spoilers – but the ending is not satisfying. There is a lot of build-up and a real feeling of escalating tension as you come towards the finale… and then meh. There is a lot of whining online about this already, and while it doesn’t spoil the whole game it definitely makes you hope for a sequel, which I believe they are working on so no real problems there.

Poorly developed companions

I genuinely didn’t care for any of the NPC companions, they were very one dimensional and just flat out bitched at me whatever I did. Granted, this may be due to some of the choices I was making, but I think there should have been at least one NPC that was on my side! All moaning aside, the NPC companions in this game tend to be quite annoying, with dodgy combat AI and weak backstories that aren’t well addressed (WHY WON’T YOU LET ME HELP YOU BARIK!!!). The expansions that Obsidian are releasing are going some way to solving this issue by introducing additional side story missions, which I can’t comment on because I haven’t played them yet.

Frustrating leveling and skill mechanics

It annoys me when a game dynamically levels my characters skills based on me using them. I get that this is more realistic – if I use fire magic then I get better at fire magic – but what it really does is make me overthink what skills I’m using in order to min/max more effectively. There are also several character builds in the game that are frankly unplayable, but I’m not naming any names because some sod will just scream that they have completed the game with that build.

[pmc_box background_color=”#4188d3″ border_color=”#4188d3″ text_color=”#ffffff” ]SHOULD I BUY TYRANNY?[/pmc_box]

Yes, if you like top down tactical RPGs like Baldurs Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Pillars of Eternity. I’d also recommend the game to any gamer that likes RPGs generally, but beware the combat system is very in-depth and frustrating to new players. Tyranny is a good game that does a great job of exploring its core concept and I would recommend it to anyone based on this fact alone. Avoid it though if you don’t like walls of text, min/maxing stats, or being the bad guy (obviously).

About the author

DSM Griffin

My full name is Daniel SM Griffin (but call me Griff), a European (have been described as British), male human. My views and opinions (like my hair and teeth) are my own.