What if the fight between good and evil is over? Now, what if evil won? It's something that's rarely - if ever - explored in RPGs, but this is the setting that Obsidian Entertainment has chosen for their brand new isometric RPG, which was announced last week during GDC.
Paradox Interactive CEO Fredrik Wester has hinted at a deeper partnership with Obsidian Entertainment following the success they've enjoyed with Pillars of Eternity, and as far as we understand it the alliance for Tyranny has been under way for some time (it was internally codenamed Project Knight Rider at Paradox). We were surprised that it's not a sequel to Pillars of Eternity or a very early announcement of an RPG based on the recently acquired Vampire: The Masquerade license - and that instead it's something entirely new.
Tyranny is set in the lands of the Tiers, and Kyros the Overlord and his forces have won a decisive victory in the battle between good and evil, and following this victory they've laid waste to the world around them. You're an officer in his army - the Fatebinder - a person of tremendous power and influence, someone with blood on his hands and no doubt a storied back story that'll feed into the story in a number of ways.
"We wanted to tell the story of being a hero in a world where evil has won," says game director Brian Heins. "Where the player has not only sided with evil early on, but is now one of the leaders of the army. And how do you develop and how do you make those moral choices in a world where everyone around you is not the best person in the world? So you really have to decide do you embrace that or do you try and stand on your own a be a force of good in the world where you're surrounded by evil."
We're wondering what will happen if you decide to play it "good" and how that will change the world around you, because not only did evil prevail in this world, you were key to that victory.
Before the game starts you will be making some choices that will affect not only who you are in this world, but also how the world looks and what kind of alliances you'll be able to forge. It may sound similar to things you've seen before, notably in Bioware titles, but it's taken to a new level here and should addntrue replayability as this won't only affect the world and the story, but this in turn will affect what sort of abilities you'll be able to use and thus combat will play out differently during repeat plays. And not just in terms of who you fight, but also how you fight them, all depending on the choices you made prior to the game and then during it.
"I find a lot of games where you're playing as evil, it's about being a psychotic person running around killing everybody," says Heins. "So we wanted to give more nuance to that. A lot of the choices in Tyranny aren't strictly black and white, they're all varying shades of grey, so even when you're making what you think may be a good choice there is repercussions for different people that make that maybe not the best choice you could have made. So I think people will really appreciate the different levels of nuance in the game."
Tyranny makes use of the same engine as Pillars of Eternity, but whereas that game made an effort to look like a modern and polished version of an Infinity Engine game, Tyranny offers something different with its more painterly look and feel. It is beautiful, but comes across as more stylised. It's not, however, just a new lick of paint on offer here, but an exploration of themes that we don't often see. On top of the nuanced morality of the game, it's also set in a world in the midst of technological transition, and it'll be interesting to see what parallels are drawn between the fantasy setting and our modern world.
The combat will, like Pillars before it, be in real-time with the option to pause, so we'll be issuing orders to our companions and experimenting with tactics on the fly. There's also a classless progression system, and to level up a skill you'll have to use it, which should ensure the experience wraps around your individual play-style (so if you settle arguments via the tip of a sword, that'll be reflected in your stats, but if you prefer to rely on charisma to get you through, you'll develop more dialogue-related skills).
While many fans may long for Obsidian to once again tackle Fallout, The Forgotten Realms, or even Star Wars - they've got a long and storied history when it comes to working on externally owned IPs - it's very difficult not to be excited about something brand new from the studio, where they've been able to craft a world from the ground up while also providing us with something as rare as a fresh angle. Combine the unique setting with a story built around choice and consequence, and we're building towards an interesting, potentially provocative RPG adventure.
Tyranny represents an exciting opportunity to develop something new, something that challenges our preconceived ideas about right and wrong, packaged up with interesting mechanics and compelling universe. It's a bold undertaking, but a natural fit for the studio, and with the backing of Paradox, there's no reason to think that this won't be a success just like Pillars of Eternity was before it.