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Tyranny hands-on: Sow dissent and reshape the world in this branching bad-guy RPG

Hayden Dingman | June 23, 2016
If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice

Tyranny is the first isometric CRPG I might play twice back-to-back. There are others I’ve gone back to and replayed after a number of years—Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment—but always in pursuit of reliving earlier memories.

Not Tyranny. Here, it’ll be to see how different the game is on a second run.

Or at least that’s the impression I had after a brief (maybe thirty minutes) hands-on demo last week during E3. From the start, Obsidian made it clear my experience wouldn’t necessarily be the same as every other person at E3. They’d actually brought three demos to the show.

Tyranny (E3 2016)

Not three separate sections, though. Rather, this was the same battle—over a citadel known as Ascension Hall—but with different allegiances. Your protagonist in Tyranny, an agent of the law known as a Fatebinder, is part of and yet separate from every faction in the game. As such, you can go into the battle for Ascension Hall aligned with any of three groups: The Rebels, the Scarlet Chorus, or the Disfavored.

I was paired with the Rebels, who are actually in possession of the citadel at the demo’s start—besieged by both the Scarlet Chorus and the Disfavored. Through some political machinations I’d managed to spark some infighting amongst the Chorus and Disfavored, but they’d finally gotten their wits about them and were about to launch an all-out assault.

I could just as easily have been aligned with the Chorus or the Disfavored, each of which has its own reasons for assaulting Ascension Hall—or rather, the same reason but in conflict with each other. Each leader wants the glory from capturing the citadel and returning it to the supreme leader Kyros.

Tyranny (E3 2016)

This level of gray-morality faction politicking seems in line with Obsidian’s work on Alpha Protocol or Fallout: New Vegas and it’s got me excited at the possibilities. For all that I loved Pillars of Eternity, your allegiances rarely came into play outside of a general good/evil karma system and a few key quests.

But here, even the number of inflection points I saw in a twelve minute demo were staggering. Not only can you play the battle for Ascension Hall from three perspectives, but you can then choose to betray your chosen faction halfway through. And as this story beat is only a few hours into Tyranny, it seems as though it will have dire ramifications for the rest of the game regardless of your choice.

I certainly hope so. I’d love to play another RPG that’s content to let me miss out on parts of the story because of choices I made—like The Witcher 2. A game that’s actually worth replaying. What I’ve seen of Tyranny has me thinking it’s that sort of game, but of course we won’t know for sure until it releases later this year.


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