RPGs as we know them tend to follow a standard formula with a few branching paths. The protagonist is wronged, chosen, or otherwise placed in a situation where its their turn to go take down the antagonist and make things right. There’s occasional flexibility to be pacifistic or aggressive, or even be evil and turn against altruistic goals, but nothing comes to mind quite like what Tyranny promises: A world where the bad guy already won the ultimate battle and it’s your job to enforce his will.
The grand war between good and evil is over and the forces of evil have won.
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Coming from Obsidian Entertainment, who is well-versed in enjoyable RPG development having previously fielded titles like Pillars of Eternity and Southpark: The Stick of Truth, the studio is hard at work, hitting the RPG genre from a different angle altogether. Working with a type of game that all-too-often finishes with an eternally happy ending, Obsidian is instead pushing the continuity of RPG storytelling by placing players well after what would have been a game over screen in those other games as an enforcer of the evil overlord’s laws and systems upon the world.
We recently spoke with game director Brian Heins and learned quite a bit about the world of Tyranny and what we can expect to see in the game. It would seem Obsidian is well on their way to crafting an evil world where players will guide the hand of oppression, cruelty, and subjugation while seeking to maintain prosperity and protect against revolt. We’re ready to share an extensive amount of information about what we know of the game.
Last Updated: 30.06.2016
The World And Its Laws
As mentioned before, Tyranny’s world takes place after the evil emperor Kyros has crushed his enemies and achieved absolute power. Kyros is the absolute ruler, but he cannot control it all on his own. To this end, Kyros has placed Archons in charge of different provinces and functionalities of his empire. These range from statesmen and political figures to generals with a thirst for blood and mages who wish to further their study. Outside of these are smaller factions of the populace that represent different citizenry and organizations as well. Each group from Archon to smaller faction has their own goals and method to achieve them.
Of key interest in this world is Tunon, the Archon of Justice as seen above. Tunon is in charge of directing and overseeing citizen and Archon compliance to Kyros’ laws and the player takes on the role of a Fatebinder who answers directly to him. In this world, Fatebinders are active agents of Tunon and your role is judge, jury, and occasional executioner in disputes between Archons and matters regarding the upholding of Kyros’ laws. It is any given Fatebinder’s job to interpret the laws according to their interpretation of those adherring to or breaking the laws.
So what are those laws? A few have been revealed and they are absolute, yet occasionally contradictory. Regardless, they stand as the guide for a Fatebinder to reward or punish as they see fit. For example, any declaration made in Kyros’ name is a legally binding contract. As such, one must be cautious of using the Overlord’s name frivolously. Truly any situation in which a declaration is made “by the name of Kyros” can be exploited by an enemy, investigated, and used as grounds to warrant an execution.
That said, a Fatebinder on the scene generally has the final say in these matters and there are consequences for the way in which Fatebinders carry judgements out. Attempting to put the finger on an especially powerful figure such as a lord or Archon can lead to them appealing to Tunon himself. Tunon will not undermine a Fatebinder’s decision, but if he finds the Fatebinder’s decision to be lacking in sound judgement, it can be grounds for their immediate execution. As a result, even as much freedom as the player is given, there are definite forces at work to keep them tethered from an entirely protected run of self-serving justice.
As a Fatebinder, you’ll interact on behalf of the emperor and pursue the best course of action in your judgement. Of course as Kyros is evil, his subordinates are as well and thusly, immoral decisions are often on the menu and the easiest course of action. That said, the game doesn’t shoehorn players into playing a bad guy. Even as the arm of Kyros, you can act in altruistic ways and actually work towards gaining the trust of citizenry and groups with benevolent decisions. However, as mentioned before, all decisions must be made in accordance with Kyros’ absolute laws and straying too far from them could prove fatal.
Wherever your judgements take you, a system of love and hate will turn based upon how your interactions with a specific group go. Besides the love or hate of a group affecting your current and future dealings with their kind, having a reputation of love or hatred from any particular group can also unlock additional skills and benefits as a result. Be you a jerk among jerks or a saint among the sinners, you’ll be rewarded for your push in either direction.
Outside of dealing with the populace and its governing factions, there are also a slew of options for your own personal development as a Fatebinder. Tyranny will be a classless game, meaning you won’t be simply selecting an archetype to start from. Instead, you build skill by using skills in a system that sounds very familiar to the likes of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. If you use a small sword regularly, you’ll build skill with it. Likewise, if you use bows or magic, you will develop a knack for archery and sorcery respectively. The game allows you development on a personal level to be the Fatebinder you wish to be in combat as well as your political dealings.
You aren’t the only one that will raise your skills through experience either. Tyranny supplies you with companions who will join you in your journey to keep the peace benevolently or enforce it with an iron fist. These companions have stories all their own and those stories will inform their combat and decisions on which skills to raise. That said, you can guide their decisions and direct them towards skills that will suit you better. They level up the same as you do, so working on a new skill will engage and raise their proficiency in it and they can easily come into a new style of combat interaction in this way.
From start to finish, Tyranny seems aimed to supply a highly customizable experience in a rich world that has a lot to offer. According to Brian Heins, the overall experience will be shorter, but replay factor will be much higher than it was with Pillars of Eternity. The Obsidian team is set on giving players a ton of control in the type of world they shape and the people and events they effect. It’s easy to see that going through this adventure one time won’t come close to supplying 100% of the possible experience.
As of E3 2016, we finally got our first peek at what many of these elements will look like in action. Have a look!
Leveling & Experience
As a game where you use skills to level up, Tyranny is a game without defined classes. Rather, your affinities are broken up between your skills and attributes. Attributes are pretty much your core stats and there are six of them: might, finesse, quickness, vitality, wits, and resolve. Might affects strength and physical power, finesse affects accuracy and precision, quickness affects character speed and reaction times, wits affects intelligence and magical potential, and resolve affects physical and mental endurance. Vitality is perhaps one of the most interesting, it not affects physical health, but also strength of personality like charisma or intimidation factor. As might be expected, each of these core skills has sub skills that apply to them in that manner.
Where Attributes are your base stats, skills are your actively improvable traits. They are broken up into three major areas: weapon, support, and magic. Weapon skills affect your accuracy with a given weapon, magic affects the availability and control over spells, and support chiefly affects your ability to dodge attacks, but also includes utility skills that affect intelligence, agility, and sneakiness.
The base proficiency you’ll have in your skills will be directly linked to your attributes. Each skill has a primary and secondary attribute assigned to it. The number of a primary attribute will contribute 1.5 times itself to the skill while the secondary attribute will offer 0.5 times itself. That means if you have 10 Wits and 10 Finesse and have a magic skill that uses wits as the primary attribute and finesse as the secondary, then you’ll have 15 points from the wits attribute and 5 points from finesse for a total of 20 points of proficiency in that skill starting out.
As mentioned before, you raise your skills by using them, but Obsidian is fine-tuning the system to ensure that skill gain comes from meaningful interaction, meaning you can’t just kill weak enemies to raise a weapon skill or climb up and down the same ladder for an hour to raise your climbing skill. The system is meant to make sure that players aren’t can’t just consciously farm a skill, but must instead naturally develop it interaction with the world.
This development is meant to be comprehensive and flexible as well. For instance, developing affinity with a weapon skill doesn’t have to come from simply using it in combat. A conversational interaction regarding that skill can also raise it. As another example, if you use your proficiency with a weapon to intimidate a character into fleeing, then you will get experience in that skill as if you had directly fought with the weapon. With this in mind, it’s looking like there will be a multitude of ways to level up most skills.
In Tyranny, one of the goals of development was to move away from the bulk reward of quest completion and put a much greater emphasis on natural development. For this reason, if you raises a skill’s rank, you will also raise your overall level. There will still be adequate rewards for completing quests, but the grand majority of experience comes from development of skills through combat, conversation, and interaction with the world. In essence, there’s a much greater emphasis on development through the journey than a lump sum level-up at the destination.
We’ve already mentioned a lot of the systems that will be in play with your interactions with the world and how you’ll progress your character through it, but how does it play out when diplomacy fails? What happens when its time to stop flashing your blade and start swinging it to maintain order? Tyranny is set to have a combat system that will be equal parts familiar and unique to players of isometric RPGs and cater to most kinds of aggression, whether you’re a wizard, warrior, solo, or with allies.
Combat in Tyranny will take place in real-time, with the ability to pause the action in order to issue commands or queue up abilities with parties of up to four characters in play. As with Pillars of Eternity, attacks can have one of four resolutions. Miss, graze (resulting in reduced damage and effects), hit, and crit (resulting in extra damage and heavier effects). Accuracy with any given attack is based upon one or multiple skills associated with it. A basic attack will be dependent the skill level associated with the weapon where accuracy with a spell will be based not only upon the skill level with that spell, but also the character’s skill level in Lore. A successful hit will also effect skill gain for each of the skills used in the attack. The weapon skill would raise in the case of the basic attack where the spell skill and Lore skill would be affected by the casting of the spell.
On the other end of the spectrum are five different kinds of defense, broken up into categories of Parry, Dodge, Endurance, Will, and Magic. Each character including your own will have different values in each area. A hearty warrior can shrug off a physical blow, but might succumb to magic attacks, and vice versa with a mage. Accuracy of the attack is put up against the defense of the character taking the attack to determine the final outcome.
Meanwhile, damage will be broken up into eight different types that will largely be effected by the type of armor a character wears. These eight types are Slash, Pierce, Crush, Burn, Shock, Frost, Corrode, and Arcane. Armors are not only varied in their heavy, medium, and light defensive capabilities, but also in what type of damage their more suited to protect against. Both you and your enemies will benefit from attacking the weakest attributes of each other’s armor. Light and Heavy armors also have their own specific attributes in deflecting damage. When all is said and done, an attack will be calculated in a way akin the image below
Difficulty levels will play into combat in several ways in Tyranny. There will be four of them: Story Mode (the lightest), Normal, Hard, and Damned (the most difficult). Story Mode is a returning feature that allows players to mostly experience the narrative and reactivity of the game where as the difficulty raises, stronger enemy types are seen and enemy AI chooses targets more effectively and will use their abilities more frequently and strategically. Moreover, the newly introduced Wound system comes into play more often. If your character is wounded, by way of having their health reduced too low, they will gain one more wounds depending on the difficulty that will reduce their overall health pool and give a penalty to their skills.
Interrupts and consumables have also been reworked from the Pillars of Eternity systems. Interrupts have been simplified to be apart of the attack rolls rather than their own and only some abilities will interrupt. When those abilities hit or crit a target, the target’s own queued abilities or attacks will be interrupted. Interrupted targets must recover and the length of recovery time is determined by the strength of the ability’s interrupt. Consumables are now instant action, but once used, place the character’s consumables on a recovery time. This can lead to timely character saves, but also keeps players from being able to spam things like healing.
All in all, combat is looking to be something that players of games like Pillars of Eternity will be able to embrace wholeheartedly while learning new tricks associated with it. What has been mentioned, but not yet revealed are character combos, which will allow you to combine two character skills together in concert to achieve powerful effects. When we know more, you can expect to see it here.
Nobody can do it alone. In fact, Tyranny is built upon the fact that not even the great Kyros can rule the lands without his faithful Archons taking over separate points of control for him. This extends down to the player, who may come to rely on a few helping hands to support them in their dealings of law and justice throughout their journeys. Companions will be varied in both their personalities, backgrounds, and style of combat. Obsidian expressed a desire that even the most straightforward of combatant should have some level of tactical option to them to ensure that timely and strategic decisions will lead to mastery of the battlefield.
Already we have an example of this desire at play in the reveal of the first companion: Barik of the Stone Shields. Barik is a warrior of unwavering loyalty to Kyros and the empire. He respects authority and has little patience for any who do not observe the Overlord’s dominance. Barik started as a lowly soldier and rose through the ranks on his tall stature and mighty strength. However, during a mission in which he was to retreat, Barik instead chose to stay and fight, suffering the repercussions as Kyros cast a great storm through the battlefield. Barik was the sole survivor, encased in a suit of weapons of his fallen enemies and allies that had fused together upon his body in the storm.
Barik is juggernaut that specializes in drawing enemy attention to himself, protecting allies, absorbing damage, and delivering greater damage upon those who engage him. He has special abilities like Striking Iron, an activated ability that delivers bonus damage if an enemy is attacking him, as well as Engagement attack, which delivers a free attack on any enemy that begins to engage him. As the mighty sentinel he is, he also defensive abilities like Stance: Phalanx, which allows Barik to hunker down and absorb much greater damage, and Defender’s Charge, in which Barik will jump to an ally’s side and taunt enemies into attacking him. Barik’s skill tree is divided among skills that focus on damage absorption, exponential damage return, and heightened defense in this way.
With Barik’s skills as they are, he will certainly be on the front line most of the time, drawing enemy attention to himself while his allies back him up with their own attacks. However, it’s certainly of note from the abilities mentioned that Barik will shine brightest when the player is actively moving him to draw certain enemy attention or protect certain allies. Tactical decisions on the battlefield about who Barik should be protecting at any given time can mean the difference between life and death for an ally of lesser constitution.
In a world as diverse as what we’ve seen so far, Tyranny is sure to have companions just as diverse. We have an idea of what Barik can do in combat and others are most certain to bring their own niche to the battlefield. However, perhaps just as important is how these companions will play with one another. Barik is a stalwart loyalist to Kyros and an honorable warrior. It will be interesting to see what consequences may come if the player chooses to associate with characters or companions that don’t share that same loyalty or honor. More to come on this soon.
There’s no plans for mod support on the foreseeable horizon for Tyranny at the moment. In our Tyranny interview, Brian Heins mentioned that the way by which the game engine renders art and environments would be very difficult to transfer over to a modder’s tool kit. As per the difficulty of creating a scene and environment as is, Heins has stated that it’s just not a feasible option right now.
OS: Windows 7 64-bit or newer
Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9505 @ 2.80 GHz / AMD Athlon II X4 840 @ 3.10 GHz
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 5770 or NVIDIA GeForce GTS450 with 1GB VRAM
Sound Card: DirectX Compatible Sound Card
Tyranny has no official release date as of yet outside of a firm guarantee of its arrival before 2016 is finished. Heins confirmed this window in our interview and promised that a true release date would come as soon as the team gets closer to a finished product.
Tyranny is intriguing on almost every level and our interview with Heins only served to add fuel to the fire. The game appears to be shaping up to offer an experience not quite like anything we’ve seen before. Sure we’ve had our share of evil choices in past RPGs, but to start from a point of evil along the evil guy and his evil subordinates with decisions to make on exactly how evil (or good) you will be is an incredibly cool idea.
The possibilities of this game are extremely exciting. With so much to do and so much to affect on multiple scales, it’s hard to imagine what a boring moment would look like in the game. Despite Obsidian’s continued reliance on old-school isometric gameplay, the world looks rich and tells a story in most of the images we have. This war-torn world needs direction and reliance on combat and/or diplomacy should make from some very intriguing and probably intense moments.
Finally, the idea of building a character from scratch, growing their skills naturally, and pursuing abilities in those skill sets in addition to those abilities offered by reputation seems like a comprehensive internal character development that should translate well to this type of game. We’ll be quite excited to see what combat in this game looks like in action as we get closer to a release date.
Most Anticipated Feature – Factions: In a comprehensive decision-based world such as this, factions are perhaps the most paramount feature to the experience and Tyranny sounds like it’s going be packing a ton of organizations and leaders with which to interact, insult, or impress. Those reputation abilities as a result of a group’s love or hatred sound really cool and we can’t wait to see a little more on how that system plays out.