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Review RPG Codex Review: Tyranny - Kyros Demands Better

Infinitron

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Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; Tyranny

It's been twenty days since the release of Obsidian Entertainment's latest RPG, Tyranny. The rough consensus that has emerged on our forums during that time seems to be that Tyranny is an often interesting game with a commendable focus on choice & consequence, but let down by lackluster combat design and cut corners. A return to form for Obsidian, some might say! Our review, courtesy of Prime Junta, reflects this public opinion fairly closely - which makes the drama surrounding its publication over the past two days seem a bit silly, if you ask me. But now you can make up your own minds about it. It's got the good:

These choices matter. Play the game three times making different choices along the way, and the experience will be dramatically different each time. Story-gated locations and quests will open up or be closed off. You will find yourself shoulder to shoulder with characters you condemned to death by torture or slew by your own hand in a previous game. You will learn more of the world of Terratus and its inhabitants every time. You will also fail to achieve your goals, for want of sufficient cunning, force, reputation, or your previous choices, many of them all the way from the starting sequence.

If you play Tyranny like you’re used to playing cRPGs, or if you’re expecting the type of freedom you get in an exploration-based, sandbox game in the vein of a Fallout or Arcanum, you might miss out on a lot of this branching. Simply running errands for your chosen faction leader will get you to the endgame, and the smaller choices you have made along the way will affect it. If you only play through the game once, the experience won’t feel much different from a typical, linear game, however.

Things get more interesting if you inject a bit of role-play into the role-playing game, set yourself an agenda, and attempt to push against what the waiter presses on you. If you want to be a secret rebel sympathiser and stick to that from the start, you can do that and see the consequences play out. If you’re a true believer in Kyros’ mission but consider the warring factions’ loyalties suspect, you can ally with one of them out of expediency, undermine the alliance every opportunity you get, and ultimately bring the perfidious Archon to face his just deserts before the impassive face of Tunon the Archon of Law. And if you just want to carve yourself a realm to rule on your own, you can do that too. Some of these paths aren’t exactly easy, and many will be blocked off entirely due to choices you made very early in the game. Have the rebel leaders executed, and you won’t be able to join the rebellion later on even if you’re having second thoughts about your current loyalties.​

It's got the bad:

What’s more, each of the three spellcaster companions has a talent tree with spells which eclipse the sigil-based magic, especially during the first two-thirds of the game. Lantry’s “Preservation” tree, for example, has by far the best healing spells in the game. The player character does not have access to similarly powerful specialised magic: although one of your talent trees is called “Magic,” it is actually mostly about enhancing weapon attacks with a magic staff, which a caster PC won’t be doing much anyway since he’ll be chain-casting those cooldown-based spells. The non-Magic trees have some spell-like talents which put the actual spells to shame too: your most impressive fireball isn’t actually a spell or in the magic tree at all, it’s a talent in the Ranged tree that makes your javelin go kaboom. Overall, the system feels incoherent, shallow, and restrictive. The classless system fails to deliver the flexibility you would expect in one, and leaves you just as locked into your chosen role – damager, tank, archer, caster – as you would be in a class-based system.

The skill system is based on learn-by-doing which you can complement by buying training from trainers. Level advancement is also contingent on exercising your skills. Support skills like Subterfuge (lockpicking and sneaking) and Athletics will quickly become trivial as they will overshoot all the thresholds in the game: past Act 1, I didn’t encounter a single skill-thresholded check I couldn’t pass. The only skill to which I did pay attention was Lore, and that only when intentionally focusing on the spell system. The best that can be said of it is that it does function as a leveling-up mechanism, and there aren’t that many obvious ways to abuse it. It does not do much to promote creative character-building, reward specialisation, or encourage looking for alternative solutions to challenges.

Tyranny’s gameplay problems are something of an own goal for Obsidian. Pillars of Eternity has an excellent character mechanics system. They could easily have leveraged its classes, abilities, talents, and skills in addition to the basic engine features, with a light re-skinning to fit the Bronze Age setting, and given some of its massive bestiary the same treatment. If D&D can do anything from Oriental Adventures to Dark Sun and the Infinity Engine could accommodate both Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment, the Eternity Engine could surely have accommodated Tyranny. The systems the team built to replace Pillars’ are shallow, incoherent, and unenjoyable. They make the gameplay as formulaic, rote, and uninspired as the world-building and campaign are exciting, confident, and original.​

And here's the final verdict:

Tyranny has the makings of a cult classic. The depth and originality of the setting, the integration of the most unique features of the setting into the gameplay, the presentation, and the dizzying variety of adventures to choose give it replayability and lasting appeal that few games can manage. The game ends on a cliffhanger, so it is clear that Obsidian wants to produce a sequel. If and when they do, I hope they will give serious thought to making the game as fun to play as it is engrossing to explore.

While cooldown-based gameplay is inherently problematic – it is really hard not to have it devolve into rote pushing of awesome-buttons as timers wind down – it doesn’t have to be a total chore: Dragon Age: Origins demonstrated that much. More imaginative dungeons and encounters, a bigger and more varied bestiary, a better and more clearly-differentiated magic and ability system, and overall balance tilted to favour attack over defence would help bring its combat up to DA:O standards at least, if ditching the cooldowns altogether is not on the cards.

I would dearly love to see more games give the kind of attention to world-building, story branching, choice, and consequence that has gone into Tyranny. Other than Age of Decadence, coincidentally also set in a grim pre-Medieval world, this hasn’t been done in this scale in recent years. Tyranny feels like a great tabletop campaign by a gamemaster who digs worldbuilding and intrigue but isn’t into dungeon crawling or the fighty bits in general. That is a shame, as games are made to be played rather than read or watched. As it stands, Tyranny is worth a spin despite the gameplay rather than because of it. Kyros demands better.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Tyranny - Kyros Demands Better
 

Darth Roxor

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It's been twenty days since the release of Obsidian Entertainment's latest RPG, Tyranny. During that time, the rough consensus that has emerged on our forums seems to be that Tyranny is an interesting game with some interesting features and a commendable focus on choice & consequence, let down by lackluster combat design and cut corners. A return to form for Obsidian, some might say.

szzANHn.gif


Here, have an agenda.
 

Mustawd

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Thanks for posting it Infinitron. PJ's statement could have been worded a bit better, but I agree the while drama behind it was a bit silly.
 

GloomFrost

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It's been twenty days since the release of Obsidian Entertainment's latest RPG, Tyranny. During that time, the rough consensus that has emerged on our forums seems to be that Tyranny is an interesting game with some interesting features and a commendable focus on choice & consequence, let down by lackluster combat design and cut corners. A return to form for Obsidian, some might say.

szzANHn.gif


Here, have an agenda.
I must have been reading some different forums all this time.
 

Infinitron

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I don't make this stuff up. That's the impression that I've gotten, and it's hardly a positive one. Lackluster combat design and cut corners are bad things. "But you didn't say the game is totally hated!" Well, it isn't. I know what pure Codex hate looks like and this isn't it.
 
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I would dearly love to see more games give the kind of attention to world-building, story branching, choice, and consequence that has gone into Tyranny. Other than Age of Decadence, coincidentally also set in a grim pre-Medieval world, this hasn’t been done in this scale in recent years.

:dance:
 

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The Forking Paths of Kodex Reception

Is Tyranny

a) the Absolute itself
b) an (unavowably yet clearly lacklustre post-PS:T) effort by an emancipated MCA
c) an untampered-with reissue of an 80's or 90's classic
d) by a developer other than Nü-Obsidian, who ought to be hanged for setting back the CRPG Renaissance by four decades (at the very least)
e) designed by The Donald himself, featuring pseudo-Darwinist, openly anti-SJW dialogue choices ('tranny', 'cuck', 'landwhale', 'fag', etc.)

Should none of the above apply, please follow these simple steps:

1) say 'tranny'. Tranny tranny trannytrannytrannytrannynynynyny
2) slurp on VD's phallus, in the historically-informed, adult Roman manner
3) laconically claim the game is shit
4) pitilessly plead your case whilst patting yourself on the back on account of your tremendous rhetorical and critical thinking skills, which are best served when discussing CRPG's on the internet
5) compulsively name-check the Kanon and carefully avoid applying selfsame vitriol to said Kanon
6) further gorge on VD's mentula
7) express your contempt for Prime Junta via formulaic witticisms
8) revel in hieratic loathing alongside your uncucked brethren
9) meditate on Nietzschean ressentiment—that of others, always

"And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened" – Exodus 9:7
 

Dayyālu

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Thanks Prime Junta for the review. It's pretty spot-on on some details. I'll repost my own impressions, and add something as Tyranny made me , after many years, install and end a couple of playthroughs of AoD.

I have finished Act 1, and I am unwilling to continue. The game is boring, and clumsily made. Lemme rant a bit, even if I know that playing a single act is not enough, but it would be a waste of time. Disclaimer: I haven't played PoE.

Let's start with the positives:

+ Reactivity: it's a pleasure. Most of the choices you do in the Conquest mode are recognized (Act I was in one area I interacted with during the conquest, and it was very nice to see everything adapt to my choices, and the Queenslayer moniker sticking). Minor choices give you small bonuses, easier fights, characters betraying others. It's very, very good. I hope such reactivity keeps up for the whole game, and I see it as its only strength.

+ I liked the Voices of Nerat. Sure, it's a stereotype, a mind-soul-eating clown, and his army is a tired rehash of Caesar's Legion. His writing is bad bar the amusing tidbits during the Archon duels, where they employ the wikipedia-style word thingies to let the "Voices" speak with you. His dubbing is weak but somewhat adequate, and it's probably the only character I'll remember in a week.


Negatives:

+ Setting: As a "bronze age RPG where Evil won" I had some.... expectations.

4505313523_ef17181b3a_z.jpg

Ok. I did not get this. Whatever, I can understand creativity is in short supply, but the lore is.... weak. Very weak. I could not help but compare Tyranny with a old French comic I liked when I was a teen, The armies of the Conqueror , 1977. I still remember years later how the image of a powerful "evil army" conquering the world was set up in direct and effective terms, with a blend of visual style and narration. The opening was simple (pardon my rough translation):

First Page said:
The Armies of the Conqueror march forth to conquer the world. No one knows from where they come from, or where they are now: it's merely known that someday they will be here. Many times they were stopped, sometime even repelled, but they were never defeated. And the losers swelled their endless ranks.

armeesConquerant_zoomed.jpg


gal_jeanclaude.jpg

Why I am rambling about "setting" "lore" and comparing it to both historical and comic book fiction? Because Tyranny's lore is boring and trite. You get endless lore dumps from every character and from every dialogue with the hyperlink system, and I dread to think that someone had to write so much stuff that has no meaning and no value. I started after a bit to ignore all the details because they were redundant (the eleventh time someone repeats basic trivia on the Chorus or on the Disfavoured I can get a tad bored, pardon me). After a while , they got me to say the dreaded "I don't care about this setting, I don't care about those characters, and this seems silly and childish". Most of the characters are simply random NPC n.567, with a trait taken from the usual DM's table of NPC traits (the young soldier, the commander heir to a great family). I found distasteful that a good number of female NPCs but no male NPCs tried to hit on my character, but that's a small thing.

Art design is outright atrocious. Nothing is pretty, nothing is memorable, weapon, armour and character designs are MMORPG level. I can't point this enough: there are games with subpar design (Disciples II, for example) that can keep you hooked merely to see the next creative piece of unit design or map. Tyranny is fugly, and the art direction was beyond poor.

+ Combat: Combat mechanics are boring. They aren't bad, they are simply completely and utterly boring. Magic system is nice, but it's useless in the end. The apex of combat complexity in Tyranny is juggling an endless amount of cooldowns or "I win" abilities, while the enemies are the same generic mob number 56. Even "bosses" feel nothing but trash mobs. There is not a single combat in Act 1 that show some skill in design: even a rookie DM with a good monster manual could do better. JRPGs do better. *I* could do better, because placing group 16 of Archer, Two handed guy, Mage, Shield guy is not design.

+ Exploration: Press button. Highlight loot crates. Traps are automatically found. Secret caches are automatically found. No free roaming, no hidden goodies. No limits either, as a party can get everything easily. That's it. Boring.

+ Character building: Someone will be excited in optimizing, but I can't see why. I hope people like unlocking endless % bonuses, abilities that all look the same and that are in the end meaningless as combat is a uncreative slog. You can't create a unoptimized character, as far as I can see. Why I am playing this again?

+ Companions: There is nothing meaningful to say about them. They are nothing and their writing is mediocre. Sure, I did not pick up three of them, but I hope 50% was a good sample.


Tyranny is a game with boring lore, ugly art design, incredibly uninspired combat and mediocre writing. This feels like a indie studio first game. Vogel did better. Eschalon is better. JRPGs are better (and it pains me to say so!). Reactivity is great, but it can't save a game where everything else is outright mediocre.

Maybe the next one will be better.

I disagree somewhat strongly that Tyranny has "beautiful art, excellent writing and good music" (It has a soundtrack? I must not have noticed! I remember.... well, no soundtrack. Are you sure it had one? Maybe it was so forgettable that my brain failed to notice) as the design is deviantart-tier. Sure, the panels in the intro are somewhat good for a indie-level game, but for a "professional" game they are.....meeeeh. Writing has been dissected: it's derivative (people noticed how it steals ideas from The Black Company), repetitive and outright boring. I'm sure everyone is excited at the endless repetition of lore dumps.

Point is, it made me play AoD. Ohh boy, what a massacre. A single conversation with a farmer in a market on AoD has more depth that 99% of the First Act of Tyranny. A single combat with two thugs in a dusty alley is more tense and requires more tactical thinking than the First Act boss fight.

Prob is, Tyranny's lore is an endless amount of lore dumps and repetition. Everyone says the same things, and they are the same stock fantasy things. AoD has people lie to you. The stories you hear in a bar as an assassin are different from the true story behind it all that you discover as a Loremaster. Despite having an horrendous graphic engine, AoD's character and item design blows Tyranny out of the water, as you can celarly recognize that some thinking and research went into int. Plus, stylish capes.

Sure, one is the first game done by an indie team, but AoD is so refined in his peculiarity while Tyranny is so mediocre. They both share "reactivity", but in AoD you'll drop right with a different class and enjoy yourself, while I would fear to install again Tyranny and enjoy the worst combat I've seen in a couple of years. Tyranny would be better suited as a cheap CYOA, with the graphic panels. It's no mistery that the game is at its best in the beginning, when it is a CYOA.

Thus, people, don't make my mistake. Don't play Tyranny. Play AoD.

And another thing:

Other than Age of Decadence, coincidentally also set in a grim pre-Medieval world, this hasn’t been done in this scale in recent years.

This is hilarious for several reasons, but AoD is not exactly a pre-medieval world :lol:
 

hell bovine

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"The non-Magic trees have some spell-like talents which put the actual spells to shame too: your most impressive fireball isn’t actually a spell or in the magic tree at all, it’s a talent in the Ranged tree that makes your javelin go kaboom."

Looks like someone failed to find the more powerful sigils/accents/expressions. Tyranny's spell-crafting is the only interesting thing about character development, but there are two big issues with it: by the time you've learned enough sigils to craft fun spells the game is almost over, and those spells are kind of wasted on the terrible combat. Tyranny's mages could really benefit from getting the SCS treatment, though, since they seem to be stuck with only basic spell options and are shit at using them anyway.
 

Neanderthal

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Well its nice to see worldbuilding prioritised, usually in CRPGs i'm left utterly unimpressed: There are no dialects for the different languages. Environmental interaction is a forgotten feature of myth. There are no different styles of dress such as say the obligatory tunic of a mediterranean Bronze Age inhabitant when compared to the trousers an shirt of a northerner. Taxes, crops an the economy are utterly ignored. How religion affects and shapes daily life for the common man is never explored. The arms an armour of the period are frequently anachronistic. You never feel that you are living in a living, breathing world, just a painted background where time never changes, nobody sleeps or works, they simply stand around waiting for you.

If Tyranny is takin a step away from this usual half arsed worldbuildin then I applaud it.
 
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hell bovine It is possible. My main issue though is that you couldn't use those sigils until your Lore was well north of 100, at which point the game was effectively over. I do contend that for the bulk of the game, the sigil magic is weaksauce compared to Lantry's or Eb's skill trees -- and even they're pretty weak.

Put another way: if you get fireballed or earthquaked in Dragon Age: Origins, you bloody well notice it. Not so in Tyranny.
 

Infinitron

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Prime Junta AoD semi-secretly takes place on a W40K-ish post-apocalyptic world where people have regressed to pseudo-Romanness but there's power armor and cybernetics and stuff scattered around the place. In my opinion, that makes complaints about it being called "pre-medieval" about as relevant as complaints about Wizardry and Might & Magic being called fantasy RPGs, but pedants will pedant
 

hell bovine

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hell bovine It is possible. My main issue though is that you couldn't use those sigils until your Lore was well north of 100, at which point the game was effectively over. I do contend that for the bulk of the game, the sigil magic is weaksauce compared to Lantry's or Eb's skill trees -- and even they're pretty weak.

Put another way: if you get fireballed or earthquaked in Dragon Age: Origins, you bloody well notice it. Not so in Tyranny.
Lantry had over 100 lore by the time act 2 started (not sure about my mage, though). :D You can get that easily with his talents & lore trainers. What is very annoying is that the master lore trainer resides... in the infirmary.

PS. you don't notice getting fireballed in Tyranny, because fireball is a basic spell and enemy mages don't get the high-end versions
 

J_C

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Why so positive?
OMG, the reviews is not shitting on Tyranny from beginning to end! It just shits on it from the middle to the end!

I'm pretty disappointed that the gameplay is that bad. I don't know what is with Obsidian. Sure, their gameplay design was always a bit sketchy, but they are getting worse and worse. I can't believe that with Tim Cain there, this is the best they can do. They should really push their junior level designers aside and use Tim or even Josh.

I wanted to buy the game earlier, but if it this like this, I will wait for a decent discount.
 
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Prime Junta

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Lantry had over 100 lore by the time act 2 started (not sure about my mage, though). :D You can get that easily with his talents & lore trainers. What is very annoying is that the master lore trainer resides... in the infirmary.

That would prolly require running back to the trainer in the Scarlet Chorus camp every time he levels up?

I confess I didn't do that or use those trainers all that much in general; once past the Ascension Hall fight the game got so easy I didn't want to intentionally make it even easier.
 

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