Tyranny Previews

We've put together another batch of Tyranny previews based on the presentation Obsidian and Paradox gave at this year's GDC. Unfortunately, given the presentation didn't exactly include a lot of gameplay, there's only so much info about the bronze age fantasy RPG we can get for now.


Only one battle was shown, against the Scarlet Chorus, but it will be familiar to anyone who has played Pillars of Eternity. Your four player party can be controlled individually in a real time pause system.

Skills are on a cooldown, so there are no replenishing mana bars, and players can craft spells, or utilize different types of armaments thanks to the class-less system. Something new Tyranny introduces, is teaming up with a companion for a unique skill accessible by their teamwork. The one shown involved Kade, the main character, throwing up his archer partner into the air to strike targets from afar.


With a bombastic hook like 'what if evil won,' it'd be easy to write Tyranny off as yet another grimdark spin on Tolkien, but that's not quite what's going on here. For one thing, it's shooting for something a few thousand years older, and a tad more Mediterranean.

Game Director Brian Heins says Tyranny takes its aesthetic cues from "the end of the Bronze Age, entering into the Iron Age," or around 1200 BCE. It's not as clear in the stills or the teaser trailer (above), but armor and weaponry has a distinct Grecian flair, and the level of technology seen throughout the environments also more or less matches the setting. Don't expect an obsession with historical minutiae like you might find in one of Paradox's grand strategy games, though -- it's still an RPG at the end of the day, with experience points and a magic system, so a little leeway with historical accuracy is a given.


In the demonstration I attended, the player-character (known as a 'Fatebinder,' because 'Warden,' 'Commander' and 'Inquisitor' were all taken) is tasked with resolving a situation between a beastman and some locals. Not only does your purpose there depend on which factions you're allied with, it's never entirely clear what you're doing is a morally good idea: kill the beastman, and piss off the faction that needs him for information (but satisfy the mob calling for blood), or release him, pissing off the locals and potentially freeing a murderer and people-eater back into their midst.

It's possible the beastman has some tender redemption arc, maybe where you help him rescue his captive beastchildren (cubs?) but honestly that doesn't seem where Obsidian is going with it. Rather, if you've played Fallout: New Vegas at all, this seems like being drafted into Caesar's Legion right from the get-go and only having the option to satisfy gangs and petty warlords of varying influence from then on out.


In Tyranny, you're a Fatebinder, a sort of inquisitor who wields nearly unlimited authority and can settle tense situations through persuasion or brute force. In the first demo we saw, the Fatebinder told the crowd cheering on the beastman's approaching death that they'd handle the matter and them promptly released the prisoner into the wild. This earned the respect of some soldiers in the village while the villagers, at war with the beastmen, were disgusted and angered. In the other save, the Fatebinder killed the creature and the opposite effect happened, with the villagers approving but the faction of soldiers' relationship with the protagonist taking a hit.


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.


(We thought [Pillars] was a really gorgeous game but we wanted to go in a different direction on this one,) explains lead producer Matthew Singh. (We took a stylised approach to both our characters and our environments and gave it more of a mediterranean feel, which we thought would give us a unique world. In addition, we wanted to get away from the settings that you're used to so instead we actually [put] it towards the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age. It was a very brutal time and it helps us tell the stories that we want to about human greed and corruption, so we thought it was a cool place to do it.)

In effect, this leaves you with an ostensibly similar-looking game, but with totally different details. Nowhere is this more true than in combat. With all concept of standard classes done away with and a sprinkling of more high-intensity action, almost nothing familiar remains beyond the basic setup of a few warriors viewed from above. You improve skills by using them and that feeds directly into levelling up your character, akin to the Elder Scrolls games. This can go in any and as many directions as you like, so you're equally as capable of making that classic glass cannon, robe-wearing mage as you are a battle-hardened, shield-wielding cleric or something weirder.

GameReactor UK:

Before the game starts you will be making some choices that will affect not only who you are in this world, but also how the world looks and what kind of alliances you'll be able to forge. It may sound similar to things you've seen before, notably in Bioware titles, but it's taken to a new level here and should addntrue replayability as this won't only affect the world and the story, but this in turn will affect what sort of abilities you'll be able to use and thus combat will play out differently during repeat plays. And not just in terms of who you fight, but also how you fight them, all depending on the choices you made prior to the game and then during it.

"I find a lot of games where you're playing as evil, it's about being a psychotic person running around killing everybody," says Heins. "So we wanted to give more nuance to that. A lot of the choices in Tyranny aren't strictly black and white, they're all varying shades of grey, so even when you're making what you think may be a good choice there is repercussions for different people that make that maybe not the best choice you could have made. So I think people will really appreciate the different levels of nuance in the game."


Right from the beginning you get choices in how the world was conquered. The game starts out with a sort of choose your own adventure story that impacts how the world appears when you arrive. The demo we were shown had the villagers capture a beastman who was part of a race that distrusts humans. There are some high stakes here because the Scarlet Chorus (a force who works for Kyros) has shown up to distribute justice. You come in to decide how things are going to go. Do you free the beastman in hopes to gain favor with his tribes and thus bring them under Kyros's law? That choice will upset the villagers and later have consequences? Do you go against the Scarlet Chorus' wishes and try to find out more of the mystery as to what is going on in the region? Or do you just come in and slaughter everyone? That is the beauty of Tyranny, it is entirely up to you.


This idea that players shouldn't be encouraged to make choices that they don't find interesting seems to extend to the combat as well. You're not locked into a certain class type in Tyranny and I was promised that a warhammer-wielding, full-plate armour wearing, battle mage is absolutely a viable character build. But more than that, we were shown how party members can unlock 'companion combos', once your character has built up a relationship with them. These combos are especially powerful, with one example having the player throwing an archer buddy into the air, who then proceeds to rain arrows down on their opponents. These look like important abilities, which is why I was delighted to hear the developer explain that they can be unlocked either through friendship, or through hatred. Once again, we're promised, you won't be penalised for the role you want to play.

And that's exciting! I'm eager to experience the story of a character that's a little more complex. Morality shouldn't always come to down to black and white decisions, or for that matter, red or blue.