I finished my first and probably only playthrough of Tyranny today. It's a different kind of Obsidian RPG, and not just because of its premise that you're playing an enforcer for the bad guy who's enslaved most of a civilized world. It's different because it's oddly linear. The game starts with an opening sequence where you make decisions about how recent world events have transpired and what role your PC had in shaping them (this is optional and known as "the conquest"). This will have mostly fairly subtle consequences later. Character creation and archetypes are fairly standard for the isometric RPG subgenre--you have primary stats, secondary stats, skills, and talents. Levelling up gives you a point to put in a primary stat (these go from 8-21) and a point to allocate to a talent tree.

Tyranny does have a few unique--or at least unusual--systems, though. The first of these is the "combo ability." Your Fatebinder (don't look at me, that's what the game calls you) can use special attacks that he or she unleashes in concert with a specific party companion. These can only be used once per rest and they're frequently quite powerful. The second is its complex magic system. To cast spells, your character must have spell slots available (even non-mages have two) and a Lore skill rating that exceeds the spell's rating. Spells are created by combining a group of sigils, which are classified into four categories: core, accent, expression, and enhancement. Confused yet? Well, it's actually fairly simple to create spells that range from the equivalent of AD&D's cantrips to the equivalent of Meteor Storm or Earthquake spells by combining sigils in particular ways. I've spent almost 50 hours playing Tyranny and I still haven't decided whether I love or hate this system. It's pretty easy for you to go through most of the game without ever having used many of the core sigils (your basic effects--healing, fire, frost, lightning, et cetera) by virtue of the fact that you either a) haven't followed the right conversation tree with the right companion or b) haven't found the one or two merchants in the world who sells that particular sigil. Many of the more powerful expression or accent sigils are likewise not easy to obtain. Is it better than PoE II where you have to give your mage character the right spellbook that you can't actually modify in any way? Yes. Is it more entertaining than just levelling up and picking spells from a pre-generated list? Yes. Is it annoying because your powerful archmage can get stuck casting a limited range of medium-strength spells because he/she never got the right sigils? Oh, yes.

Obsidian usually gets the world-building right, whatever else you may say about it, and this game is really not an exception. Your world of Terratus is being ruled by the iron fist of Kyros the Overlord, and you are a sort of travelling judge in the employ of one of his key emissaries, the Archon of Justice. Your position grants you broad but still limited authority in these lands, and your objective is to unify (one way or another) two of the warring factions representing her rule in order to bring the Tiers fully under her control. As a Fatebinder, you can choose to ally yourself with one of the two aforementioned factions or with the rebels fighting a waning resistance against Kyros. You will meet a number of interesting companions along the way, although your interactions outside of combat will be somewhat limited. Only three of your companions have any meaningful questlines of their own, and one mostly involves running around some catacombs looking for ancient graffiti. Quests were another issue in the game, not because there was a problem with the quest design, but because there were surprisingly few side-quests in this game when compared to similar games, which always tends to make for a more linear experience.

The isometric graphics are what you've come to expect, and the voice-acting is top-notch, so why does this game feel so rushed? It has a typical three-act setup in which each act closes with some major, world-changing action taken by your PC and his/her crew. The third act feels rushed and is essentially a sequence of boss battles. The game ends with a slide show, which is not all that unusual for this kind of game, but it's a really LOOONG slide show, in no small measure because the game appears to be not so much assessing an overall impact of your actions on the world as much as it is preparing a slide to address each and every single decision that you've made in the game. To provide a single example, at the end of my game, I had a certain amount of loyalty (+) with NPC Barik and a certain amount of fear (-) with the same NPC; seemingly as a result of this, the game presented two different slides regarding Barik's actions after the end of the game that contradicted one another to a certain extent.

Is Tyranny worth playing? Yes, but it's a good RPG not a great one.


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