When developer Obsidian Entertainment showcased its latest title, Tyranny, at the PC Gaming Show last week, it came with an intriguing tagline: "Sometimes, evil wins." As it turns out, the world the game takes place in is exactly one of those times.
Not only has evil already won in Tyranny's world, but players will take on the role of a character allied with the evil emperor now ruling over that world. As told by Alec Frey, who works in quality assurance for Obsidian, this is key to what sets the game apart from other role-playing games.
"You have the ability to be judge, jury and executioner," Frey told Polygon. "You make decisions in just about anything that goes on in the world. You can issue your brand of justice."
The bad guys may have won, but that doesn't make Tyranny's world any less politically tense. As you play the game, you'll have choose between multiple factions, many of which ostensibly serve the same evil overlord, but all with their own motives and methods.
Choosing which factions you support and building reputation with them will take up much of the focus of Tyranny.
"Reputation is a very important part of our game," said Frey. "Not only does it change how people react to you in the story, it also changes what skills and abilities you gain access to through the game."
Those skills are important, too. As in most RPGs, combat takes up a good chunk of time in Tyranny, and it's as tactical and challenging as anything Obsidian has done previously. You'll be able to use skills like Sunder to lower enemies' armor, or Blood Soaks Stone to knock an enemy to the ground. That latter one is a combo ability — one that's only available when you've built up a strong enough reputation with one of your party members.
When it comes down to it, skills define the characters in Tyranny in a way that nothing else does.
"There's always anarchy options"
"It's really skill-based and not class-based," explained Frey. "You build your character based off what you have them do. If you give them a one-handed sword and then teach them fire spells, they can be a fire spell one-handed sword fighter. It's all however you want to build your character."
That freedom carries over to the story as well, of course. Beyond choosing between multiple factions that are serving the big bad guy who took over the world, you can make the decision to join up with the rebels and fight against evil. Or you can just make choices that no one will be happy with.
"There's always that option if you don't believe in any of the factions," Frey said. "You can always say, 'No, I'm going to try to take care of this my own way.' There's always those anarchy options."
In our demo, we played as a fighter on the rebel side, defending a fort against two invading factions at once. But upon reaching the final boss battle, we decided to take that anarchy option, betraying the rebel forces while remaining hunted by various other factions. Frey laughed, basically suggesting that we had set our character on a very difficult path. But it's a path that Tyranny leaves open to players at all times.
"One of the challenges when making a Dungeons & Dragons-style game is that in a video game format, you can't quite do everything like you can in Dungeons & Dragons," said Frey. "Something Tyranny really excels at is giving you options to take any path that anyone might want to take."
While Obsidian's last RPG project, Pillars of Eternity, gained a reputation for its unforgiving difficulty, the developer is hoping to make Tyranny a little more approachable. Frey said that the game will include a huge variety of difficulty options, including some that allow you to "just walk your way through it, killing everything." If you want all the story and none of the challenge, there should be an option for you.
"Tyranny excels at giving you options to take any path"
The developer also says it's keeping fan requests from Pillars of Eternity players in mind as it creates a game that's easier to pick up and understand. Mostly, though, it's just thankful to have the chance to make another old-school RPG like this.
"The biggest thing we learned from Pillars of Eternity," Frey said with a smile, "is the fact that there's a community out there that wants these games and absolutely is behind them. We've listened to those fans."
Tyranny will be out on Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems some time later this year. Check out our video at the top of this article for a look at the game in action and how things can play out with characters of different factions.