Obsidian asks: are you a bad enough dude to subjugate the realm? The newest adventure from the fan-favourite developer takes us to the world of Terratus, where the battle for the fate of the land has already been waged – with the evil overlord Kyros claiming victory. The game stars you as a Fatebinder, a chosen agent of Kyros, sent to spearhead the annexation of the Tiers – the few remaining territories that have yet to submit to the overlord's regime.
As the name implies, Tyranny has you playing as the bad guy for a change. The game follows in the footsteps of Obsidian's earlier titles, featuring dark themes, brooding storytelling, and challenging morality. It can be easy to write off Tyranny's world early in – the opening acts are a bit drab and the pacing is a little messy – but stick with it and the game eventually develops into a captivating, if very much incomplete tale.
The conquest begins with a short prologue available after character creation which has you organising the invasion of the Tiers and choosing how best to coordinate Kyros' two armies, the Disfavoured and the Scarlet Chorus (led by Graven Ashe and the Voices of Nerat respectively). The two eccentric generals are often at odds with one another over differences in tactics, and you'll often be left to mediate disputes between them.
Your conduct of the conquest can have surprisingly far-reaching consequences, and will drastically alter the world's perception of you. Some factions and characters praise efficiency and ruthlessness, while others respect honor and integrity. Earning the favour (or wrath) of different competitors can unlock special abilities, open up sprawling dialogue trees, and even provide access to different routes for the story as a whole.
The game itself opens with you travelling to the mountainous Vendrien's Well region in order to clobber some rebels and deliver a message to the two generals: claim the nearby fortress and kick out the insurgents, or everybody dies. The first hours of the game do a solid job of introducing you to the gameplay mechanics as you adjudicate and exterminate, though the character development feels frontloaded – depending on your choices, some characters aren't seen again until the very end of the game. Once the region's been claimed, the world begins to open up and you're given some room to stretch your legs and begin your journey proper.
Throughout your travels, you'll begin to assemble a motley crew of misfits and oddballs, each of whom have their own stories to tell. Barik, an uncompromising Disfavoured swordsman trapped within a suit of fused-together armor, seeks to restore order to the Tiers in the overlord's name, while Lantry, an idealistic sage, has chosen to throw his lot in with Kyros in spite of his comrades' defiance. Each of your party members has their own motivations, and as time goes on, you'll start to uncover more about what drives them, as well as how each of them fits into the world.
The story often has you and your party shifting between towns, battlefronts, and fortresses in order to quell rebellions and dissension, rather than exploring landscapes and plundering forgotten ruins like you might other RPGs. You'll visit a number of villages and hamlets subjugated by Kyros' regime, as well as a variety of regions twisted by the overlord's dark magic, such as the Blade Grave and the Burning Library. Each area offers up a piece of a bigger picture and, thanks to a number of moments of careful worldbuilding, you'll eventually begin to discover more about how the setting as a whole works, making for a satisfying, and surprisingly rewarding, adventure.
Tyranny's intricate story is, unfortunately, let down by a hasty, rushed final act, which leaves the game feeling more like "chapter one" than a complete adventure. After a tremendous amount of buildup and dozens of pieces being set in play, you're unceremoniously dropped at an ending slideshow detailing your actions. There are traces of a bigger game visible beneath the surface, as a number of characters and areas that were brought up go underutilised – it feels like something was cut from the game along the way. Still, it's an engaging tale while it lasts, and one worth revisiting, given the number of alternate routes available.
Also unfortunate is that Tyranny's gameplay isn't quite as memorable as its story: the combat is functional, though rarely exciting. If you've played Obsidian's previous title Pillars of Eternity (or just about any other game in the genre, really), you'll know exactly what to expect – isometric hacking, slashing, and casting with the occasional tap of the pause button to survey and plan. The difficulty curve is a bit lopsided: some early fights can be rough, but the game gets much easier as time goes on, as some stat point and talent tree management trivialises later battles.
Optimal play and micromanagement can often have you leaving the game paused for longer than a battle would actually last for. Enabling party AI can alleviate the micromanagement somewhat, though it's not without its quirks, as computer controlled characters often tend to get stuck on terrain (or other characters) and use abilities at the wrong moments. The game does also offer a handful of extra difficulty modes (including a single save slot, permadeath ironman mode), but the extra challenge almost feels pointless, as the combat never really evolves past being a distraction from the story.
Tyranny is an uneven adventure. The bland combat and reckless final chapter threaten to drag the whole experience down, but with its curious world and colourful cast of characters, it manages to be compelling despite its faults. It's likely the inevitable DLC will fill in some of the blanks, but until then, we're left with an interesting – but ultimately unfinished – title.