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Thank the Lord, the Overlord.
Tyranny is not your typical bright-eyed classical fantasy RPG. Apparently, Pillars of Eternity is about as close as Obsidian Entertainment could get to a Tolkien-esque mythical tale before wanting to shoot every fantasy trope in the face and ask questions later. Maybe South Park: The Stick of Truth has rubbed off on them, like friction, in the best way possible.
Whatever the case may be, Tyranny is not about the dashing hero and his group of ragtag companions fighting for truth and justice against a swathe of orcs and demons. You are a Fatebinder, the equivalent of a Judge Dredd enforcer, a high-ranking officer who can do as you please in service of the overlord. And you demand respect from the rest of the peons in his domain, even if that means stomping their faces into the ground with your heel. That would be taking the light approach.
But if there is one core pillar in Tyranny, it’s freedom of choice. And we’re not talking about the normal talking points of choosing different paths that lead to the same point anyway or dialogue choices that don’t mean much in the long run. At numerous points in the game or even within a single mission, you might be asked to betray the faction you have been working with for hours or become a turncoat against Overlord Kyros and fight as a rebel. Different dialogue choices at pivotal junctions can shift an upcoming battle in drastic and dramatic fashion. Of course, certain paths will lock into place when you make a decision, so you can’t just be a flippant drama queen all the way through without any consequences.
Case in point, I was given roughly thirty minutes of hands-on time with a mission in Tyranny, where I was tasked with destroying the last remaining Vendrien Guard resistance to conquer a valley. Before the demo, I was asked whether I wanted to side with one of two quarrelsome allies, the militaristic Disfavored or the barbarous Scarlet Chorus, or opt to side with the rebels who are turtling inside the castle. Wanting to choose the more straightforward approach for my first playthrough, I leaned toward the Disfavored.
Neither the Disfavored nor the Scarlet Chorus want to work together, but Overlord Kyros has cast a powerful edict spell that will destroy everyone in the valley if the resistance isn’t cleared. Stirred to act, the Disfavored’s Iron Marshal ordered my group of adventurers to kill resistance mages who were casting a shield around the castle. Luckily, a weak spot on the side of the castle could be breached and scaled with ease.
Of course, along the way plenty of resistance fighters blocked my path. The isometric fighting sequences work similar to the combat of Pillars of Eternity or Divinity: Original Sin but with several notable tweaks. Parties are limited to a group of four, which the developers intended so that players feel more attached to the characters and will need to strategize efficiently when they’re fighting against a group of six or more. My group, evenly comprised of a tank, a healer, an archer, and a DPS swordsman, wasn’t difficult to handle.
With a few explosive arrow shots that cause AoE burning damage, some chugs of a healing potion, and the AI sufficiently controlling the other characters in my party, getting through the three regular battles and then the boss battle at the end against the rebel leaders weren’t that challenging. That said, the demo was on the easiest of four difficulty settings, so don’t expect the game to be a breeze.
Going back to player choice, shifting allegiances in Tyranny can grant your party additional abilities, so long as you earn Favor or Wrath with various factions. In fact, it’s possible to finagle your way to earning both the Favor and the Wrath abilities from factions if you can literally form a love/hate relationship with them. With the game having a lot more than three factions, maybe you should be drama queen. On that note, I could have easily betrayed the Disfavored right before the final battle through a dialogue options. In fact, you can even choose to let the edict pass without completing the mission within the allotted time. Maybe that ends the game, but maybe it doesn’t.
On top of that, how you build your party is extremely flexible. Characters aren’t confined by class and gain experience in what skills you use with them. A bastard sword-wielding tank can learn how to shock characters with lightning magic, and a healer can become a master archer. Crafting a versatile team of hybrid characters instead of four rigidly class-centric characters can be the better, more powerful option.
Tyranny launches on PC, Mac, and Linux in 2016.