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Tyranny is the latest role-playing game from Obsidian Entertainment. It uses a lot of the assets from their previous title, Pillars of Eternity (including some combat mechanics, classes, and equipment icons), but it takes place in an entirely new universe. Through the opening cinematic, you learn that an evil overlord named Kyros is taking over the world, and that she's using archons (powerful magic users) and edicts (city-killing spells) to get the job done.
You play as a Fatebinder, a judge working for Kyros. Your job is to settle disputes, but you're given lots of leeway in how you interpret Kyros' laws, which means you can be good or evil as you choose. So you start out as a dutiful officer, but then you're allowed to branch out in various ways. So you can choose between staying loyal to Kyros, working with the downtrodden masses being subjugated by Kyros, or striking out on your own. This is a unique and fascinating premise for a campaign -- and it mostly works.
Character creation in Tyranny starts out about the same as character creation in every other RPG. You select a gender, an appearance, and a name. You choose a pair of weapon skills (or the same one twice), where the possibilities include unarmed, dual-wielding, and a variety of spell schools. You spend points on attributes, including might, finesse, quickness, vitality, wits and resolve. And you spend points on skills, including weapons skills, magic skills, and support skills like athletics, lore and subterfuge. You don't pick a race (there aren't any dwarves or elves; you have to play as a human), and there aren't any classes (you can build your character however you want).
Where character creation gets interesting is at the end. When the game opens up, Kyros' conquest is in its fourth year, and so what you get to do is choose what your character was doing during the first three years. These aren't minor, inconsequential activities. You might kill a queen, invoke one of Kyros' edicts, or decide the fate of a city. So your character isn't some anonymous Fatebinder in the employ of Kyros. People know who you are, and they react accordingly. Better yet, the decisions you make affect some of the locations that you can visit, some of the people that you can meet, and some of the side quests that you can receive, so it adds to the replay value of the game as well.
If you played Pillars of Eternity, then the attributes and skills might sound familiar, but Tyranny also has some areas that are totally unique. Consider spellcasting. At the start of the game you barely know anything about magic, but as you play you unlock spell cores, expressions, and accents. Cores are the major schools of magic, including fire, illusion, and life. Expressions define the way spells can be used, including auras, cones, and distant impacts. And accents give bonuses to spells, including extra magnitude, greater range, and heightened accuracy. You then combine one core, one expression, and possibly multiple accents together to construct the spells you want to use. You're only limited by your lore skill, which caps how many things you can add on. I found this system to be way more fun than just having set spells that you learn as you level up.
Also interesting in Tyranny is how you gain experience. You don't gain points the regular way, by, say, killing enemies and completing quests. Instead, each of your skills has a rank, and you gain experience for your skills by using them. Then when you advance a skill to rank X, you gain X experience points. So the game is all about advancing your skills, and especially your high level skills, making it more advantageous to focus on one area of expertise rather than trying to be a jack of all trades. If you've played The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, then this is essentially the same system, right down to also having skill trainers available. I never thought I'd see Obsidian copy a game mechanic from Bethesda, but here you go.
Each time you advance in level, you receive a point for attributes and a point for talents. Talents are categorized into six trees, including agility, defense, leadership, magic, power, and range. Each talent either gives you a passive bonus (like extra damage for a certain kind of weapon) or an ability that you can use during combat (like spell reflection). The talent trees are tiered, with the best content at the end, and so they're another example of where it's better to stay focused rather than spread your points around.
On the downside of character development is how certain things were simplified. For example, in Pillars of Eternity there were dialogue checks for attributes and skills, giving conversations lots of ways to test your character, but in Tyranny only athletics, lore and subterfuge are checked. Since each of those skills is also used in multiple other ways -- athletics allows you to climb walls and jump over chasms, lore allows you to unlock spell components, and subterfuge is used for thief activities like picking locks and disarming traps -- it's really easy to level them up. Once I got about an hour into the game, I never failed a check for any of the three skills, in dialogue or otherwise, which is sort of boring.
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