Tyranny – The Overlord deserves a better champion – Review

Gare – Monday, December 4, 2017 12:47 PM
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Obsidian’s Tyranny opens with the kind of a premise you don’t see every day – the battle between evil and good has been fought, and evil emerged victorious. The forces of the Overlord Kyros swept through the land and conquered all they touched, delivering a grim but powerful message – submit to the will of the Overlord or perish. As the conquest nears completion, you take on the role of a so-called Fatebinder, a loyal judge and executioner in the service of Kyros and the Archon of Justice, to bring order to the chaos-torn land of the Tiers at whatever cost necessary.

Kyros’ Peace

Frankly, I found Tyranny’s whole setup to be a welcome change after the monotone routine of saving the world all the time, and the ability to roleplay a character that is essentially Darth Vader quite liberating. At the beginning of your journey, you even get to pick and choose how the conquest of Kyros played out prior to the events of the game, and exactly what sort of role you played in it – this, I doubt I need to say, affects how certain characters will react to you later on.

Tyranny, you will soon find out, is home to a number of different factions, with two in particular getting more spotlight depending on your choices: the Disfavored, the elite and well-trained veterans in service of Kyros, and the Scarlet Chorus, a disorganized, almost Zerg-like horde that forcefully conscripts any old peasant into its chaotic ranks able to swing a rusty blade around. While the former prize themselves on their training and indulge in quite a bit of elitism, the Chorus topples foes through sheer numbers and an almost zealous eagerness to throw cannon fodder into the fray. How you maneuver the world of Tyranny is largely up to you, and the game allows for quite a bit of organic roleplaying in this regard. My Fatebinder was ruthless and intimidating, often resorting to violence in order to achieve goals, yet remained ever-loyal to the will of Kyros; and although I won’t spoil exactly how my particular journey ended, I felt like I managed to wrap things up in a way that felt just right for my protagonist – rarely did I ever find myself in a situation where I would’ve needed to act out-of-character or pick dialogue choices that didn’t fully reflect the Fatebinder I was roleplaying, so honestly, bravo to Obsidian for managing to pull that off.

Binding fates

Now, when I said that your roleplaying choices are largely up to you, I meant it: to be more specific, you don’t have to be “literally Darth Vader”. In fact, you are given the option to roleplay a relative nice guy, so to speak: after all, just because the Overlord is the new law of the land doesn’t mean everyone suddenly becomes a cackling, moustache-twirling madman. Obsidian anticipated this, and as a result, Tyranny actually comes with a branching storyline of four main routes, all depending on what choices you make during your travels: allegiances can shift violently, and people you butchered in one playthrough may become stalwart allies in another. The differences do not simply come in the form of differently-colored endings a la Mass Effect 3, but affect which characters you work with and what goals you strive towards during the course of your playthrough, lending a decent amount of replay value to the adventure.

There are problems, though. While Obsidian managed to envision a refreshing premise and a world that functions under the rule of an overlord, Tyranny nonetheless struggles to become the RPG epic it truly deserves to be. Your duties in the first chapter begin as you carry an Edict – a magical ultimatum of sorts – from Kyros that demands victory in eight days, otherwise everyone in the valley, foes and allies alike, will die. In case you’re wondering if this is only storyline fluff, it’s not: if eight days pass in-game, your character really will die. It sends a powerful message and in terms of the narrative and the lore, truly establishing Kyros as a tyrant that refuses to take no for an answer. It’s the perfect beginning to a game like Tyranny, and promises great things that sadly enough, never quite arrive. For one, the Edict itself doesn’t play as heavy a role as one might imagine. Even with all the side quests completed, I managed to comfortably finish up all my tasks with five days still left on the counter, and once you resolve the Edict and Act 1 is wrapped up, this Damoclesian sword of a time limit ceases to be part of the game entirely.

Even the Overlord nods

The above is hardly my main issue with Tyranny, though. Bluntly put, I found Act 2 of the game – in other words, the main meat of the three-part narrative – to be… rather tedious, for lack of a better word, with not much happening that would break its repetitive monotony. It does pain me to say this, of course, as I find Tyranny’s premise to be brilliant, but to say it loses steam after Act 1 is a colossal understatement. In my playthrough, I worked with the Scarlet Chorus and its enigmatic leader, the Voices of Nerat, and spent most of my time doing his bidding: go to place X, do this and come back; go to place Y, do that and come back; rinse and repeat. It doesn’t really help matters that Tyranny mostly operates with a grey-brown color palette and small, generic-looking locales that all blend together in the mind, topped off with forgettable, unimaginative dungeons that are more tedious than exciting to explore. As a result, despite the game’s apparent replay value, I was not too eager to immediately jump back into the world for yet another playthrough – my 30 or so hours spent in the world of Tyranny honestly felt like double that amount due to the severe pacing problems of the second act. Similarly, while the combat starts off as moderately challenging, with interesting two-person combo moves to spice things up a touch, it all soon devolves into a mindless grind of slicing up a nigh-infinite number of soldiers belonging to whichever faction you’re currently working against, with little to no variety to speak of. The relatively short play time doesn’t allow your companions to fully shine, either: while some of them I enjoyed (I found Sirin’s past to be quite tragic and interesting), I mostly ended up associating them with their respective backstories – during the actual game, they occasionally speak up when something aligns or clashes with their ideals, but other than that, they didn’t bring much to the table, I feel.

The game also tries something different with its spell system. Instead of giving you the toys to play around with, it asks you to build them yourself: Tyranny’s spell crafting system may seem genius at first, but it’s actually not all that complicated or enjoyable. In essence, it consists of you choosing a base for your spell (fire, for instance) and then adding various modifiers to custom-tailor its effects. It’s an interesting change for sure, but not one I could fully appreciate, as having to constantly make – and update – my own spells felt more like busywork than anything else. Additionally, if you think you have full reign over what kind of spells you can create, you’d be wrong: the player actually has to find and unlock the various spell cores and modifiers during their playthrough, which means that less meticulous adventurers may end up missing out on some potential spellcrafting goodness. The game also lets you take command of five different strongholds (Spires, to be specific) where you can upgrade various facilities and even hire personnel, but I never – and I do truly mean never, ever – felt the need to make use of this feature. It just seemed utterly pointless to me, added in for the sake of simply having it there.

The final judgment

TyrannyPlatform: PC, OS XGenre: RPGDeveloper: Obsidian EntertainmentPublisher: Paradox InteractiveRelease: 11/10/2016Rated: 16+PEGITyranny is an odd beast because it wants to be more than what its limited scope allows for. The game starts off with a powerful premise as the commanding Edict of the Overlord forces you to act or die, but then soon finds itself getting caught up in the same RPG traditions I was hoping it would avoid. Things get more interesting and heated in the rather short final act, with the plot finally regaining some focus, but by that time, it’s too little, too late. Obsidian’s attempt to create a notably different RPG experience is admirable, and at times, very enjoyable indeed, but it feels like a bit of an unfinished product: just as it begins to truly ramp up the stakes and the overall narrative scale, the credits suddenly roll and it’s all over. In terms of roleplaying, lore, and overall premise, it deserves praise, but its ambitious ideas are sadly hampered by lackluster execution.


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