The RPG Scrollbars: The Fall Of Tyranny

Kickstarter’s been pretty good for RPGs. We may not have seen the next big leap yet – Divinity: Original Sin 2 is looking pretty damn special, mind – but it’s certainly breathed new life into the classics. Wasteland and Pillars of Eternity are both returning. Numenera went down well, despite a little over-promising. Divinity was superb.

Have I left anyone out? (Oh yeah, don’t forget Taz.)

Oh. Yes. Tyranny. If you thought that game kinda landed and faded quickly, you’re not alone. Despite being a very solid half of a game, even Obsidian/Paradox have admitted that when it came to it, “everyone was hoping that it would do better.” I think it deserved to. The thing is, I’m not sure this should have been a huge surprise.

There’s obviously market reasons that it might have underperformed, and political ones that I’m not going into here. Players were a touch cool on it at release and have only got frostier since. Not least after realising just how long a decade is in Infinity Engine years. However, I don’t think most of that really explains it. Certainly, in terms of feel, Pillars was by far the clunkiest of the revival projects, and folks were still warm enough on that to almost immediately fund Pillars of Eternity 2: This Time With Pirates.

What separates Tyranny from the crowd – indeed, what was intended to separate Tyranny from the crowd – was its premise of being the bad guy. It doesn’t really matter that in practice it was more open than that. That was its hook and its central draw in all the marketing; marketing which went out of its way to promise a cruel, bleak land in which heroism is dead and the only music left in the worlds are everyone’s favourite lamentations from Now That’s What I Call The Crunch Of Jackboots Stamping On A Human Face Forever Vol 2 – the one with Gilbert Gottfried’s ‘Trapped In The Closet’.

And the problem is… being the bad guy just isn’t that much fun.

I know that sounds weird when you look at the success of Grand Theft Auto and the like, and I suspect all of us have done some spectacularly fun, individual evil acts in games to either see what happens or just for the fun of it. Nevertheless, in most cases, there’s a bit more to the story than that. Not for nothing do we have the phrase ‘every villain is the hero of their own story’, just as the kind of card-carrying villain that punts puppies into the sun tends to be the player who gets the most glares in a group.

The basic mistake people make is that when we talk about ‘evil’, what we’re generally talking about is, well, ‘naughtiness’. The fun of transgressing a bit. The power of being outside the rules. That most often shows itself in two ways – in playing around with a game once the artifice of reality has worn off and even the best-realised character is just a glorified Barbie doll to stick in the microwave, or the allure of what I call ‘fun crime’. This is mostly evident in something like GTA – whether it’s something orderly like a bank heist, or just sowing chaos for funsies, versus crimes like torture, scamming pensioners out of their life savings, or recommissioning 2 Broke Girls.

The catch is that the further you get from this detachment, the less fun it becomes to most people. Destroying a city? Cool. Kicking over a child’s sandcastle to make them cry? Unpleasant, because while that act might seem completely trivial in comparison, most of us are wired to feel extra shitty about that kind of thing. Even when it’s an accident. Destroying Dubai in Spec Ops: The Line is just more property damage, but destroying the city’s water and condemning everyone to slow death-by-thirst is something both more evocative and harder to cheer at.

An example I like to bring up here is the City of Villains (RIP) arc about a guy called Weston Phipps, a fairly regular guy compared to all the costumed freaks and literal demons splashing around in the Rogue Isles – yet one of the most despised characters even next to the self-proclaimed supervillains, because his story arc was about crushing the hopes of a nearby teacher, seducing the poor and sick into his lair, and generally crushing the hopes of the Isle’s most downtrodden. He was specifically written to counter players’ complaints that they were only ever really fighting other villains, and quickly became an object lesson in ‘be careful what you wish for’.

In practice, there’s a reason that most games that focus on being evil pretty quickly shift focus to be Evil vs. Evil. Dungeon Keeper was mostly spent fighting other Dungeon Keepers, just as Overlord was about fighting corrupted heroes with the help of wacky comedy sidekicks. Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines might seem an example of relishing the power of the night, but in practice, you’re surrounded by dicks and again, most of the ‘bad’ stuff is designed to make you feel shitty.

The whole ghoul sequence with Heather Poe, for instance, plays out as an abusive Joker/Harley Quinn style relationship where you’re the Joker, is designed to make you start by smirking at the situation but quickly realise the horrible thing you’ve done in saving her life. Or a side-quest involving destroying a would-be scriptwriter’s vampire movie screenplay, which is necessary to maintain the Masquerade, but deemed bad enough that even the vampire requesting your services feels sorry for him. Throughout most of the game you’re instead encouraged to play nicely, to not kill, to not make a fuss. True, the official reason is that nobody wants tomorrow’s headline to be “SANTA MONICA RAMPAGE, P.S. HOLY SHIT VAMPIRES EXIST AND ARE REAL”, but potato, po-tahto. You also spend the game firmly on the side of more or less ‘good’ vampires (and before anyone says it, I don’t mean ‘the Camarilla’) going up against or reluctantly following orders from the darker ones and the douchebags respectively.

Evil vs. Evil works because regardless of what the Rolling Stones told us, there’s rarely much sympathy for the devil. We can relish in the same acts and the same satisfaction of crushing, humiliating and dominating an enemy, without that pesky moral aftertaste. The catch is that for it to be more than just swatting flies, a la Carmageddon peds or random civilians in Syndicate, those characters need to be built up to some degree, and the more that happens, the greater the odds of developing a degree of sympathy.

As soon as that line is crossed, the maniacal fun usually draws to a halt. Likewise, if the player character does anything to lose the psychopathic link, it’s effectively game over. I can think of plenty of cases where this has happened for me, including GTA: San Andreas, Saints Row 2, and the entirety of Watch_Dogs, which never seems to realise that its vigilante main character is worse than any of the villains. It shouldn’t logically make any difference that brutally torturing one set of pixels has more of an emotive punch than running over other pixels… but it does, and doing it to groups of pixels that your brain has spent the last few hours learning to recognise as a friend can be a sickening experience. Putting Morte into the Pillar of Skulls in Planescape Torment, for instance. Dealing with Harold in Fallout 3. Or The Iron Bull in some situations during the Dragon Age: Trespasser DLC. And these are cases where you’re doing it for good reason, not that you’ve actively decided to spread a little misery.

Away from games, it’s also worth noting the general agreement that media with villain protagonists really requires some degree of punishment. Walter White. Scarface. Tony Soprano. Frank Underwood. Even when we love seeing them get away with things, there’s always that deep-down level that the show or book or whatever else won’t be complete until it all comes crashing down. Until the taxes arrive on those wages of sin. Until all those trampled in their wake get a degree of justice, in at least some form. Villainy and tragedy are intrinsically interlinked in every form of media, with those that escape almost always having done at least something redemptive to earn their second chance, or paid some price greater than failure or incarceration. There’s exceptions to the rule, sure, but not that many, and fewer still great ones.

None of this means there’s no scope for evil in games. Far from it. For starters, just having the option is a power trip, whether you actually use it or not, and done right those options can be very satisfying. The Sith Academy in KOTOR. The Dark Brotherhood of Skyrim. The many awful things you can do in Planescape Torment, and the aforementioned Bloodlines. What all these and the other games that stand out as making wicknedness work have in common though is that they understand that evil is a spice with many uses. KOTOR, for instance, lures you to the Dark Side with ‘fun crime’ options, like hurling force lightning and making would-be Sith Apprentices shit themselves, only to have team moral compass Mission finally protest and be given no option but to either kill her or make her best friend do it. A more active choice would be Undertale, where a ‘Genocide’ run involves killing everyone in the game. Players who don’t balk at offing lovable best-friend Papyrus typically do when the adorable, naive Monster Kid shows up on cue. Though in practice, the game immediately backs down, with local heroine Undyne taking the hit in its place, and the Kid escaping unscathed.

(Undertale also of course does something interesting with its central stats of EXP and LOVE – treating them not just as a demonstration of power, but a basic willingness to hurt begetting hurting being an easier and easier path towards sociopathic murder for the sake of convenience, and then doubling down on that by accepting that the most likely reason to be doing a genocide run is that you’re simply bored, and using that as a glimpse into the game’s official villain and their completely broken psyche.)

Even then, it’s not enough just to offer the option to do something bad. Fallout 3’s opening choice of whether to destroy the city of Megaton or not is seemingly a good one, but in practice it’s so ridiculously Saturday morning cartoon level evil that the only reason to do it are to see what happens and then reload a savegame where you didn’t. This too is one of the big problems that evil faces in games – that without purpose, it’s just pulling the wings off flies and making enemies. Even Quest For Infamy, a game designed to be Quest For Glory’s dark mirror, has a main character smart enough to know that you get more results with honey than vinegar, to the point of being a polite, mostly respectful guy with a slightly filthy internal narration and occasional tendency to be a little snarky to people without actually offending them. The actual villains, almost inevitably, turn out to be local authority figures, and our Infamy-loving main character finishes his quest being declared a proper hero after all. To nobody’s surprise.

The sad thing about Tyranny is that it actually did a good job of making evil into something more than that – to allow for the options, yes, but also to push towards your own goals and conquest plans or treat the evil rule of law as at least a stabilising force in an uncertain world. Ordinarily, making evil decisions actually work out is the province of grand strategy titles, like rampant heir murder sprees with a potentially even holy purpose in something like Crusader Kings, where the effects spread far enough for there to be more than just minute by minute decisions and where your motivations for evil acts are your own. In most games that simply offer branching narrative though, you’re usually just sabotaging yourself by making unnecessary enemies, being a little bit rude to people, or being finger-wagged for demanding payment for deeds. At best, it’s cosplaying as a villain without actually doing anything. At worst, it’s the puppy-kicking option. Stupid. Self-destructive. What players often refer to as ‘Chaotic Stupid’ – being a complete dick for the sheer hell of it, and revelling in Being A Baddie.

Tyranny is better than that. There’s always that bigger picture in mind. There’s always a plan and purpose beyond minute by minute decisions. There’s always a justification for things and an argument against, even if it does end up railroading you into the ending that it wants for the second half of the game. Sorry, I mean of course, ‘the sequel’. I’m not going to say it’s one of my favourite RPGs or anything because honestly, it left me quite cold in many ways, but I’m glad I got to both play it, and play around a bit inside it.

Could it have landed better? Perhaps. Another time. Another revival. Different screenshots and colours that don’t immediately scream ‘All hope is gone!’ when it actually isn’t. There’s so much still do be done with most RPGs, and evil is no exception. When it’s the primary draw though, beyond naughtiness and fun crime to a level where it might mean anything, I like to think that we’re mostly a little bit reticent to jump in, simply because most of us know that doing bad just doesn’t feel good.


  1. Leland Davis says:

    The evil bit was the part about Tyranny that I actually liked. If the combat had been turn based, or non-existent, or I dunno, something … it would have been better. As it was, after dying over and over and over (thanks to what I realized had to have been one of the worst possible opening builds), even on easy, I just could not be bothered to keep going.

    • Unclepauly says:

      Hmmm, I thought the combat was very good. A huge step up from Pillars for sure. The clunkiness gone with cool mechanics there to play around with. The evil stuff was cool too, it’s just that the game was short and probably needed some more grand set pieces. Budget was probably the culprit here.

      • Wormerine says:

        Oh, I so disagree. I hated combat in Tyranny. I found it boring. PoE style combat has issues but there were decisions to be made. Tyranny is just a boring MMO buttons mash even on PotD. Cooldowns simply suck – you use whatever you have available on whatever enemy is available and wait till combat ends. Really dull. Serious lack of variety in enemy types was a serious problem too. It reminded me of Dragon Age Origins and for me it is not a good thing. Either do a mindless direct imput combat, if you want more accessible combat, or, if you go tactical route – do tactical combat. There is nothing more boring than a tactical combat without tactics.

        • Unclepauly says:

          You may be right, PoE was my 1st game like this, so I don’t have many points of reference. Maybe because I very carefully equipped all my characters and built them well the combat in PoE was a cakewalk for me, auto attacks won almost every fight(second hardest difficulty). Tyranny combat felt much smoother and action packed, enemies were all samey though I agree. Maybe I should try PoE on the hardest difficulty.

          • Wormerine says:

            Well, if you beat it on hard on your first try, than congrats anyway:-). PoE does need some work, but I found it more engaging. Even if resource management is a bit artificial, I found myself thinking what spell/ability I want to use, and if I need to use it or should I just leave it for later. I did like how enemies in PoE had resistances, and special abilities (like stun per hit etc.) I found fighting big enemies (dragons, bounties) super fun.

            Tyranny had a nice presentation, animatins were smoother, overall improvements of a second game in the same engine. But if it was any longer I would die of boredom. I do have history with Infinity Engine games so my nostalgia might make me unreliable:-)

    • Rumpelstiltskin says:

      I quite liked Tyranny’s combat actually (and pretty much everything else about the game, maybe apart from the questionable end “choice”). It was reasonably challenging, the magic system was interesting, and unlike PoE they put back prebuffs, so my mages could spend their time doing cool stuff instead of running away in circles.

      • Magus42 says:

        The combat mechanics were alright, but there wasn’t much variety in enemies. Various flavor of human and a handful of supernatural creatures. You had faced one of everything fairly early on after which it just became a matter of repeating the same tactics indefinitely. Which gets old fast. And there’s enough depth and challenge that you still have to pay attention even when nothing is ever new. I eventually cranked the difficulty all the way down so as to not have to pay attention to the combat anymore. I know I’m not alone in this.

        Which is a shame. There are some really fun ideas in this game which are obscured by the fact that playing it is a chore.

      • shde2e says:

        Agreed. The combat was enough to keep me engaged for a while, but it was too slow and there was too much of it.
        By the halfway mark it became a real slog to get through.

    • Danarchist says:

      The issue I have with the combat was the same I had with the last few Final Fantasy games. In an RPG I like to kick back with a beer or ten and think my way through both gameplay and combat. When I have to spend the entire time staring at hotkeys so I dont waste a cooldown…it removes damn near all the fun for me.
      Satellite Reign was a damn good game entirely hampered by an overly finicky combat control system. I know Syndicate was the same, I played the crap out of that game, but in this case clicking a couple pixels off where you intended could send your guy running a large loop around the map gathering every cop and drone in town. It would have been MUCH better as a turn based game.

      As for character creation woe’s, after losing the very first fight multiple times I ran to google for help. Ended up with the ultimate min/max character of course, and I think that removed more from the game than it added.

      Divinity 2 does all of these things right. It will be my favorite game for a long time when it releases. If I can keep from playing the first mission so many times I burn out.

  2. Mungrul says:

    Have you ever read the comic version of Wanted Richard?
    I think that’s what keeps me from playing Tyranny; its description reminds me too much of the premise behind Wanted (a world where the supervillains have won), and while it achieved what it set out to, the book left me disgusted at the end, and I’ve not read any of Mark Millar’s stuff since.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I have. I thought it was absolute garbage. Tedious, smug, fetishistic shit.

      • Unclepauly says:

        You’ve piqued my interest! (The same way a car crash does)

      • Mungrul says:

        Good to see I’m not alone then!

        Mind you, if Tyranny’s more comparable to something like Chronicles of the Black Company, I might be inclined to give it a shot.

        But grinding, relentless evil is also a big factor behind why I stopped watching (and reading) The Walking Dead.
        I ended up having no sympathy for any of the characters, and found I simply wasn’t enjoying it any more.

        • CubeTruth says:

          Tyranny is very very Black Company. If it were any more Black Company it’d need to be called Glenn Gook’s Tyranny.

          It is presently a bit like reading the Black Company novels without everything past the start of the last plot arc of the first novel though.

          • Mungrul says:

            I’m a little hazy on the chronology of The Black Company, having only read the book “Chronicles of the Black Company”, which I believe is a collection of the first few books narrated by the Company’s medic, Croaker.
            But I found the first part very rough, and quite badly written, which put me off of the book for a while. But I eventually picked it back up, and it massively improved. So are you saying it’s like that first book?

      • Syt says:

        I agree, though my closing thoguhts were, “What was the point of this infantile power fantasy and why did I spend time and money on it?”

      • HothMonster says:

        That really should just be on the cover of everything Millar writes.

  3. wombat191 says:

    i can see it now

    judge dredd” citizen you have been found guilty of a level 3 fun crime.. 6 years isocubes!”

  4. CynicalPleb says:

    Honestly I stopped playing because I didn’t like the combat which is a shame since I believe playing evil (either cartoony evil like overlord ) or more grim evil (vtm bloodline) is very rewarding and fun to me.

  5. Ghostwise says:

    I dunno. A rather vocal percentage of gamers seems to really like evil, pretending that they’re dominant and treating others like shit. I suspect that they don’t react as discussed in the article.

    • Zeewolf says:

      Those are typically stupid people, and stupid people don’t play intelligent games.

    • Captain Yesterday says:

      From what I can gather, “evil” in this context means “the ability to murder any NPC I encounter, especially children”. If you can’t kill kids, then it’s not genuine evil.

  6. NetharSpinos says:

    I think the whole “being evil doesn’t feel good” only applies if you label your choices and characters as such. For example, in Tyranny I didn’t consider my party to be the Heralds of Oblivion spouting proclamations of DOOOM, they were simply bringing order and stability to a lawless(ish) and war-torn region. Likewise with the Courier, the Dragonborn, the Warden, and all the rest; they acted as they saw fit with the available choices that befitted their resepctive characters. Some games do ram home the Eeevil nature of the player, e.g. Dungeon Keeper, Impire et al, but like you mentioned earlier the “good” guys you fight against are either morally dubious or are just others of your kind.

    • Unclepauly says:

      I went the evil chaos route and it really does feel evil. There were moments where I felt a slight sickness in my stomach for pixels, and then I felt a slight sickness at that realization lol. I set out from the beginning to feel that evil vibe because hell, isn’t that why I was playing this game? Guess I got what I asked for.

      • NetharSpinos says:

        I must admit there was one ‘incident’ (you can probably guess which one) where I had to pause to reflect on the nature of the situation I was in and the only choice available, but other than that I think it was just business as usual.

        • Firkragg says:

          I think I know which incident you are referring to. A good wake-up call that was. The only thing which stopped the queasiness for me was that I kept thinking, “this is the action my character would take, not me myself”.

        • Lukasz says:

          To which one you refer to?

          To me it was a a trader harassed by chorus. As per my normal instincts and how I generally play I saved him.
          That made me uncomfortable as it makes no sense for my character to save him. Reloaded and let him be carried of to be killed.

          Tyranny made being evil not petty or silly. the evil things you do are either to support your goals or allies or simply because it’s unimportant for powerful being like yourself to care. Like trader’s life.

          Game was great but combat and some design was troublesome.

    • Hawke says:

      NetharSpinos, I wholeheartedly agree. The “good” factions aren’t better than Kyros’ subordinates by any measure (e.g. slavery in Azure, nationalism in Stalwart, etc.) and the generals were shown as interesting characters with own agenda. The Voices of Nerat, while being close to a typical villain, reminded a player character in most RPGs, trying to recruit everything in sight, grab every piece of knowledge and to perfect his army. Graven Ashe cared deeply about his troops (which didn’t include civilians or the Fatebinders, unfortunately) and protected them from harm to the best of his abilities. Tunon provided resources from the Empire, when a city in the Tiers needed it, and strived to bring order and (some sort of) justice to the region.
      And the protagonist could just do their job with as little collateral damage for the potential citizens as possible (or the opposite).

  7. felipepepe says:

    I’d blame on how mediocre Tyranny was as a whole. Everything about the game felt generic and uninspired, especially the combat.

    Also, IMHO being evil only feels satisfying when there’s a cost and a sense of freedom/transgression. It has to be a Machiavellian proposal, challenge your ethics and have weight, not just “lol let’s blow up Megaton because lulz”.

    RPGs (and systemic games like Crusaders Kings) are perfect for this, but Tyranny was a game about choosing faction A or B, then doing a billion errands with no agency whatsoever. You can’t even be a “Lawful Evil” Judge Dredd, you’re forced to be a power-hungry douche dealing with douches. It’s Obsidian’s story, not yours.

    For counter-example, being violent in Deus Ex and killing everyone for money & loot but then being yelled by your brother and other NPCs is much more interesting than anything in Tyranny.

    Age of Decadence is also a good example, especially in how it allows you to double cross basically anyone. I can do things in a way that fits MY goals, not what the story writers thinks is edgy. And it’s VERY satisfying to pull off.

    • Unclepauly says:

      I get the feeling you didn’t go down the chaos evil route. It had many moments where you could choose to make people suffer just out of pure satisfaction of watching them suffer.

      • felipepepe says:

        That’s the point, by doing that you’re just being an edgy asshole.

        You know what’s a lot more interesting? Killing everyone in Camp Hope in New Vegas. It’s undeniably evil, but there’s a big challenge and a reward behind that.

        Put it this way: if you’re gonna play a villain, isn’t it better to play a complex criminal mastermind than a dumb Saturday morning cartoon villain?

    • Wormerine says:

      I feel Tyranny works pretty well as a roleplaying game, as long as you roleplay. When creating my character I did pay close etention to my background and history I have with factions and game not only acnowleged those connection, but allowed me to be as evil to those I despised and ally with those, my character would logically join up with.

      I don’t think you want what you say you want. Deus Ex is quite controlling game. You are JC Denton. And the game will treat you in context of you being JC Denton. Tyranny makes you a fatebinder. And that’s it. It is not an open game, but within the story you can make choices driven by your character. I wouldn’t apply D&D morality system here, as it is not present.

      • felipepepe says:

        Nonsense. Deus Ex offers a sense of agency vastly superior to Tyranny. Things like shooting Anna Navarre, killing the rebel leader or staying back to help your brother are about acting the way you want to do, not choosing limited dialog choices on your screen.

        • shde2e says:

          You say that as if those options aren’t just a small set of specific choices which the developers specifically designed for you.

          Unless you do something which they did not anticipate, in which case the game will either ignore it or break narratively. Neither of which is desirable.

    • Tannhauser says:

      Have to take issue with Judge Dredd as lawful evil, he is a textbook example of lawful neutral.

      • malkav11 says:

        The idea wasn’t that Judge Dredd is lawful evil canonically, but that you could play a lawful evil version of him in this videogame.

    • Shadow says:

      Tyranny was quite lackluster, and that’s mostly the reason why it was largely forgotten not too long after launch.

      As far as combat’s concerned, it’s another example of clutching to a D&D clone system to provide the illusion of depth and meaningful complexity, when it actually pleases nobody but the most nostalgic grognards.

      Narratively, it’s theoretically an interesting concept, but in truth the revolutionary twist is that instead of making binary good/evil decisions, it’s mostly pro-blue/pro-red binary decisions. You’re babysitting a couple of warlords described as super badasses when in reality they’re little more than incompetent kids more interested in squabbling with each other as opposed to doing their job. And it’s the usual player-centric model which has the world stand still whenever you’re not actively involved. Yawn.

  8. TomxJ says:

    I personally felt that where Tyranny went wrong was contextualising ‘Evil’ within its setting.

    If this was a game set in Games Workshops Imperium of man, the afformentioned Judge Dredd universe, our own Dark Age (Hell, even if it was a modern setting and you character was in Credit sales trying to make a monthly quota!) its audience would have had different expectations.

    Where Tyranny excelled was providing grey areas. Where it fell down was, right off the bat, defining good and evil in black and white terms.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s the gray areas that were the problem. If they had separated it into a clear good vs evil storyline it would have been more effective. As is it’s kinda hard to feel particularly evil when you find out the supposed good guys are just as bad.
      It’s where it fell flat for me. Rather than being good or evil the storyline ends up being more about three squabbling siblings with you being sent by a far off father figure to restore order. The ‘good’ guys don’t hate you because you’re evil, they hate you because you’re reigning in their independent streak; meanwhile the two younger brothers are arguing over whether to tidy their room or party.

      • malkav11 says:

        I don’t agree. You are explicitly an enforcer from a tyrannical overlord, whose approach to problems is first to send mage-led armies to crush opposition and then simply nuke everything if that fails. The fact that the various factions have philosophies and moral systems within that context means it’s not just a bland mush of evil for evil’s sake, which it could so easily have been. But you are doing a whole lot of heinous stuff (or certainly, have the scope for a whole lot of heinous stuff) along the way and it’s not suddenly not evil just because the people you’re doing it to aren’t shiny paladins and other avatars of righteousness.

  9. Minsc_N_Boo says:

    It is on my “wishlist”. I think the problem is (and it is great one!) there are too many good RPG’s around at the moment.

    I have only gotten around to finish Witcher 3 recently, and I am half way through Divinity OS. I should be nearing the end of this, but I got side tracked by Dark Souls…

    • Wormerine says:

      Yes, time is an issue. Luckily (sadly) for me D:OS doesn’t work for me singleplayer, and my Divinity buddy is living on the other side of the globe. Maybe we will finish it one day.

      Tyranny has a benefit (or fault) for being rather brief in RPG standards (around 25hours).

    • hellboy says:

      This my my problem. Call it RPG fatigue if you will. With the advent of Kickstarter there has been a real surge in quality RPGs, and I just don’t have the time to play them all.

      No doubt I’ll buy Tyranny one day on sale and play it, but until then it’s way down on my backlog.

  10. Wormerine says:

    Evil was done well in Tyranny. Personally I despised “evil” in KOTOR (in general Bethesda and Bioware RPGs.) Playing bad guys in most RPGs feels like slapstick, rather than being selfish or inconsiderate. Tyranny did a good job giving you horrible choices to choose from and giving you a reason to do them.

    The big fault of Tyranny, in my opinion, was marketing. Not the evil part – but what game it is. In all the marketing the big emphasis was put on choices – you will have limited time, not all quests can be done, you won’t see all the content. And to be honest it is quite false. I don’t know if something changed during the development, but many things they were talking about just arent’ in the game. Game gives you a time limit at the start, but you will have a really hard time going past it. And I really can;t imagine a situation in which someone wouldn’t be able to complete all quests. And yes, game has multiple “states” (a bit like witcher 2 but more of them, while less sagnificant) but I still didn’t bring myself to play through it again – I don’t think changes are that engaging.
    The point is, the iniatial reception of Tyranny was quite negative, which delayed my purchase anyway (it is quite good BTW- in some aspects better (tighter&easier to get into) than PoE but personally when all is said&done I found PoE more memorable and engaging in a long term.)

    I don’t think people are tired of isometric RPGs (as linked article suggests.) Maybe it is just me, but I can’t wait for PoE2, Divinity2. If Tyranny2 happens I will probably get it (I even bought crappy DLC to let Paradox know that I am interested.) However, by it simpler mechanics I felt it aimed to impress more wide crowd (Dragon Age Origins fans) and ended up being a weaker product than it could be. If it was any longer than it is I would get just annoyed with its gameplay as I did with DA:O. I tried to replay it recently and the combat just turns me off. It is way to boring.

    • The Bitcher III says:

      Yep. I looked at the marketing and scanned review scores and got the impression it was a minor project, almost apologetic. I didn’t get any sense of the world. Such a world should be terrifying, right? Suffering and madness. I got no sense of that, or, for example, a facist tyranny of architecture and symbols. It just seemed a bit…. ehhh.

      I got as far as creating a character before my attention span snapped in some other direction. It was hard to get any sense of what the world was, and therefore put the classes in context. Torment’s bonkers sci-fi edge had caught my eye and I figured I’d wait for that. And if I wanted a more classic setting POE promised a much more detailed world with better writing. Refunded. Sorry guys.

      I personally think the way forward for RPG character creation is to offer the player choices via a series of micro-vignettes of decisive moments in their life leading up to the start of the game. IF has used this, Firewatch and others have toyed with it. I think it’d be great. You face a trauma, or a temptation… how do you choose to respond? How do you respond to the trials of growing up?

  11. Bent Wooden Spoon says:

    (Oh yeah, don’t forget Taz.)

    Thanks for the pure, undiluted nostalgia hit.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      No reference too obscure :-)

    • deiseach says:

      He put the Taz in Taz-Mania! Down in Taz-Mania! Come to Taz-Mania… WE MEAN YOU!

      In truth, I was, and am, rather hostile towards Taz-Mania. Back in the days when everyone just watched what was on the telly at the time, I remember seeing the animated Batman series and having my pre-pubescent mind absolutely blown that this was being marketed at kids. I’d run home from school every week to see it. Then, without any preamble, it was replaced by Taz-bloody-Mania. Oh yeah, it was clever and oh-so-knowing. But it wasn’t Batman. Sorry about that, Taz.

  12. deiseach says:

    “I can think of plenty of cases where this has happened for me, including GTA: San Andreas, Saints Row 2, and the entirety of Watch_Dogs, which never seems to realise that its vigilante main character is worse than any of the villains.”

    I’m glad you said this regarding San Andreas. There is one mission ***SPOILER WARNING FOR DECADE OLD GAME*** where a foreman, whose crime seems to have been in the vicinity when you are trashing the place where workmen leered at Carl’s sister, is punished by having the portaloo within which he has taken refuge pushed into a hole and covered with cement. While still alive. All the other missions had a gangsta v gangsta vibe so this was genuinely out of place, and my abiding memory was: what on earth were they thinking?

  13. BaronKreight says:

    I think you are wrong here. Being a bad guy can be very much fun. Take Star Wars. The dark side campaign in SWTOR is amazing. According to your assumption there should be less players playing for the Empire but it is not true. My SWTOR experience showed me there were many many players on the Dark Side.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Not necessarily, given that even Empire players can be Light Side. I have a fully light-side Imperial Agent because those choices made more sense. In an MMO, things are also more complicated due to the meta. Take a look at KOTOR 2 though. On Steam, the Dark Side victory stat is 3.2% versus 7.7% for Light, and in one of the darkest Star Wars games ever made.

  14. walruss says:

    Anyone see the sketch on SNL where villains are competing to create the “most evil invention” and come in with things like a shrink ray and a freeze ray? And then Dwayne Johnson shows up as some guy named Roy and explains that he’s built a child molesting robot. The other villains are horrified, and he doesn’t get it. This is clearly the most evil invention. He was just trying to win the contest. This article reminded me of that somehow.

    • Emeraude says:

      One problem is that the face of evil in the real world can at first sight look so clean, rational even. No twirling mustache, no glam. It’s the police agent sending people to death camps with all the conscientiousness of a dedicated, dutiful civil servant. It’s the neighbor that smiles when saluting you but thinks you deserved to be beaten up and put in your place by the local homophobic gang.

      Read the US eugenics laws and campaigns, or how the French high officers managed their own soldiers during WW1. Or the 101 Reserve Police Battalion in Poland. Or mining companies willfully letting people work and die in inhumane condition because they know it’s cheaper for them to pay restitution damages to the families than to pay to ensure worker safety.

      The real face of evil is too common and familiar to be comfortable. We can rarely stand to look at it for too long.

    • skeletortoise says:

      Ha, very timely and relevant reference. If that teaches anything it’s that actual pure evil is an ideal which can’t really be strived for in role-playing. There is most definitely a sweet spot on the “objective” good to evil scare wherein you get very compelling characters and stories. But beyond that, the further you go will just result in increasingly horrid, dull, and pointless stuff that can’t be enjoyed at all.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    I think you imply but do not quite mention when being evil woprks: when the character really think that he/she is doing the right thing or that it justifies the means. Like in Mass Effect :D

  16. Phantom_Renegade says:

    The reason I didn’t get is pretty simple. You’re supposed to be a kind of inquisitor right, send by emperor something something, imbued with ultimate authority etc etc. But then in the same trailer I’m supposed to take sides with one of two factions within the realm. Oh hell no. They should be currying my favour, otherwise what’s the point?

    • Khayness says:

      You can go on a solo powergrab route quite early, which is my favourite since the ending makes the most sense that way.

      Not to mention it opens up a lot of conversation with a certain major NPC you won’t be seeing that much otherwise, which is a shame because he shares your might makes right sentiment if you roleplay the scheming way.

      Tyranny has an amazing replay value that starts at character creation, which is the only reason I’m not mad at it for its short length and sudden ending.

  17. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    The story was the good part of Tyranny. The bad parts were the endless, uninteresting combat that was worlds slower than Pillars of Eternity despite having far fewer abilities to juggle at any given time, the very clunky UI (especially compared to Pillars of Eternity), and the terrible character leveling system. And the story, as interesting as it was, didn’t really have an ending and suffered from plenty of typos and poorly edited turns of phrase (the game often had your character speak in a very informal manner that didn’t match the status your character holds in that society).

    I think there’s a lot of potential there, but the idea that it just failed on account of “evil wins”–which I think probably didn’t help it, especially as it released shortly after the 2016 US elections–is laughable.

    • skeletortoise says:

      >implication that Donny T is evil

      Eh, he probably has a few pretty abhorrent ideas and has most likely done some awful things, but I think more than anything he’s just pure narcissism and ignorance perfectly focused into a human body. Which isn’t great, mind you, but I don’t think it’s accurately characterized as evil. Stumbling into nuclear war is different than deliberately seeking it out, though the result is the same.

  18. Stargazer86 says:

    I relatively enjoyed Tyranny, both the story and the combat, but by the end I felt as if it were a somewhat mediocre game at best, especially in comparison to Pillars of Eternity which I believe had the better story. Your companion characters were certainly a lot more interesting than what we received in Tyranny.

    Now, there are a lot of interesting elements within the “you’re working for an Evil Overlord” premise and I felt as if they started down a decent road in exploring them and dealing with the moral grey areas of such a world. Too many games and movies paint evil as cackling, grandiose madmen that eat puppies and burn down orphanages, so having nuance and depth is a refreshing change of pace. The problem is that the game doesn’t go far enough, dipping its toes in the prospect rather than jumping in, leaving you with a second half of the story where you’re essentially railroaded into decisions and then brought to an abrupt cliffhanger ending with “SEQUEL” stamped all over it. Anyone remember Halo 2’s ending? It was like that, running face first into a brick wall at the height of the action.

    So yeah, it had promise but turned out to be rather mediocre. Though to be fair, they always have a chance to fix things. The first Witcher was a boring slog, 2 got better, and 3 turned into one of the best RPG’s in years. And Obsidian has proved to be a decent developer of solid games, so I think they can do better.

  19. Minglefingler says:

    I loved Tyranny, it was one of my favourite games last year. I saw my character as someone who did evil things purely to survive in Kyros’ realm, which made the game a refreshing change from most other rpgs. Sure you can be a dick in other games but here you were doing it because the state’s apparatus was watching and so it became a question of ignoring your conscience when you thought it may be dangerous to do the right thing. I also loved the world Obsidian created, to me it was far more interesting than many other fantasy setting which can feel a bit bland. Didn’t mind the combat either, sure it was simplified compared to Pillars but there was less of it and as I get older I find myself wearying of rpgs that throw encounter after encounter at you, something that Pillars was guilty of to my mind.
    The marketing was off on this game though. You certainly weren’t railroaded into playing an evil character, with one or two exeptions to that in my playthrough. I think some average reviews, complaints about the combat, the abruptness of the ending and the overall length of the game did more to put people off than the promise that you could be a complete bastard.

  20. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    I think Tyranny handled evil so, so well – I say this as someone who NEVER does evil playthroughs for all the reasons you mention. Really hope it gets a follow-up, though that looks unlikely. Though unlike most I was actually satisfied with the ending.

  21. lanelor says:

    I couldn’t find true evil in Tyranny. All I remember is morally grey situations with a lot of dull combats (cheating them with poweroverwhelming). But there were moments to make me cackle with joy. Plus, read Birdy’s stories. There was one of the rare moments that make me stop playing and just take a walk thinking about what I read.

  22. FreshHands says:


    My reason for refunding it though was mainly based on the horrible visuals. Seriously, I hated that art style the moment I saw it.

    And the combat failed to engage me as well.

    Sad. The lore and the premise itself seemed promising.

  23. Hyena Grin says:

    I doubt that I am terribly representative here, but despite actually being kind of excited about Tyranny as a project, I basically told myself that I wasn’t going to buy another major CRPG until I finished Pillars of Eternity.

    What I have played of Pillars, I loved. And I expected to have it finished not terribly long after Tyranny released. But Pillars was so big and so very much the sort of game that requires consistent and undivided attention that I kept nudging it back for a rainy day when I didn’t have other titles to play. I kept imagining some theoretical two-week period where I had nothing else to play and would just throw myself into it.

    Never happens.

    In any case I think the article is probably right, the marketing was probably poorly targeted. There are people who get off on doing the bad thing (I have a player in my tabletop group who is obnoxiously murderous), but it’s reasonable to say that most people, whether consciously or unconsciously, are repulsed by the idea of a game orchestrated around doing evil.

    They probably should have marketed it more toward a struggle to deal with the ethical dilemma of evil winning, and what actions are appropriate in that situation. I think that would have resonated more. And not just because of Current Events, though I have no doubt that a certain degree of fatigue for enabling awful stuff played a role in lower than expected sales.

    • Hyena Grin says:

      (Honestly, if anything DID put me off of the game it was the idea of having a time limit to play through the game. I just really dislike that sort of thing in RPGs, I like to take my time and explore everything in one playthrough. Though later on I would learn that there’s more or less enough time to do almost everything, but it was an initial speedbump in my enthusiasm)

      • Emeraude says:

        I ‘m thinking this is another example of authorial intent vs entertainment value, and how difficult it is to navigate in the field.

        • Hyena Grin says:

          I feel like a lot of it can be put down to pure marketing error. Like in my first post, grabbing the ‘be evil!’ thing and making that central when it’s not really representative, and a more representative marketing take may have actually improved sales. I think that the existence of a timer on the game probably could have been better explained. Instead it was used to try to drum up a sort of time-based tension as a feature of the game. And that probably turned off more people than it needed to.

          The way I kind of see it, is they were making a game in a sort of niche genre without a huge amount of competition, and marketing tried to sell it on being very different from other titles, in ways that, as it may have turned out, weren’t just failing to generate enthusiasm, but were generating skepticism about whether or not it was the kind of game people wanted in their niche genre.

          Authorial intent didn’t quite match marketing, basically. Again, the reasons I might have initially been hesitant were reasons given to me by marketing (and to some extent the developers themselves stressing certain things in interviews, intentionally or not), and which I later learned were not actually entirely representative.

          • Emeraude says:

            Interesting point, but I was more thinking about your distaste of a timer – your desire as a customer to be entertained, as it opposes to the a authorial intent of imposing player urgency.

          • Hyena Grin says:

            Ah, sorry, I didn’t recognize the tangent for what it was. It’s an interesting one though, and there’s always a bit of a tension between the experience the author of any piece (regardless of medium) wants to convey, and the kind of experience the viewer/player/whatever wants to experience, or indeed, experiences despite the author’s intent.

            I am pretty ambivalent about authorial intent. I think a lot can be said for a game with an uncompromising central voice, but unlike other forms of art and storytelling, games must simultaneously serve a practical purpose of engaging the player. I don’t think these two things can be meaningfully divorced from each other, it’s just a matter of how each side of the coin informs the other.

            In the case of Pillars, the intent (I assume) was to provide an environment of tension. To make decisions more meaningful by imposing boundaries and limitations in the form of time. I think that’s fine. It builds a particular kind of experience and that doesn’t detract from it. It just makes it marginally less approachable if your goal is to consume content, which is how I approach CRPGs.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I agree with this statement entirely. It’s far worse for me though, any time I consider playing another RPG I go back to Pillars. One day I’ll finish my ultimate run.

  24. ahkuilon says:

    By this argument, you believe game sales would have been better if everything in the game was exactly the same, but the game was titled “The Fall of Tyranny?” And the narrative surrounding the marketing was about “how a hero rises from within an organization to overthrow the overlord?”

    • ThePuzzler says:

      It’s possible.

      Playing Pillars of Eternity, I found I wasn’t as enthusiastic for this kind of game as I was back in the day. I think it was a mixture of “combats where I lose without really understanding why” and “murky world where I hardly ever get to feel like a hero”. Tyranny sounded like more of the same. Because of this, I never tried it (or paid much attention to the reviews), so the actual content didn’t matter much.

  25. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Tie Fighter is reallly the game where you fight for the evil empire. Of course you’re not doing things like killing kid padawans on screen but you’re still serving an oppressive or “peace-keeping” force for the sake of order.

    But most games opt for Diablo 3 -style comic evil without a cause.
    Less scary than reality.
    I also think Walter White nailed evil pretty well. Starting out as the good guy in bad circumstances we can sympathize with and as the plot goes by we’re surprised, wait a minute he actually became evil. Brilliant.

    • gunny1993 says:

      Death star was a defensive instillation, destroyed by terrorists, Empire is not evil at all. SAD

      • lglethal says:

        That scene from Clerks is one of the best things Kevin Smith ever wrote. I have never been able to watch Return of the Jedi the same since…

        (for those that dont know what I’m talking about – link to

  26. Emeraude says:

    I’m sad about Tyranny because it was a nice idea that didn’t pan out, as is wont to happen with any creative endeavor. Failure in execution.

    Solid base combat, very interesting but somewhat flawed magic system (which I hope will be iterated upon again, it deserves it), but an abysmal encounter design.

    Some nice reactivity at times but then framed into a structure that will funnel you in ways that leave the rope grossly apparent, impressing feelings of significant vignettes lost in a greater stream – and not in a good, deliberate way.

    Disregarding the writing issues, which I thought missed the mark on many things, showing at times a lack of understanding of the greater context being created, I think the biggest failure was framing you as that heroic character.
    It tries, but you rarely feel that mix of power over the weakest, yet powerlessness to a greater force that makes evil acts their greater significance. More cape comic book than Greek tragedy.

    Worth experiencing if you’re a fan of the genre, but certainly not at full price I’d say.

  27. Antongranis says:

    Great game, shame it did not do very well.

  28. mactier says:

    I think you have a valid point, but you’re going way overboard (and wrong) if you make this the fundamental, “deep” reason for why it “failed”.
    I don’t think the vast majority was bothered by it at all, but genuinely found it intriguing and worth exploring, as intended.

    I think the reasons are much more basic than that: everyone was shouting from the roofs that it was a short, or incomplete game. This style of gameplay is still kind of seen as “forbidding”, which is based on wrong perceptions – and here is a “deep” reason of mine: true graphical highlights are few and sparse (no progress since 2014/2015), making people less interested in and tolerant of games that don’t even try… (This is a feeling I have myself.)

    And the game itself apart from being touted as “short”, “incomplete” or being slightly forbidding/dry doesn’t make a “big” impression, it doesn’t create much of a feeling for what it is and doesn’t seem like a highlight. That and braind-dead political Zombies with too twisted agendas and subconscious motivations to ever be unravelled and for anyone with better things to do (like playing this game) to care about.

  29. 1FSTCAT says:

    Being the evil guy is appealing to me. The issue is, this game
    didn’t get very good reviews. Sometimes, you can overlook a mediocre review and support the company behind the game. I was very unhappy with how Obsidian handled Pillars of Eternity. Immediately after the release of that, they started taking full-price preorders for its expansion pack (which were divided into two parts). Where other developers feel committed to their games (Wasteland 2, and Divinity: Original Sins), Obsidian feels like they’re just out to get my money. Mediocre game from mediocre company, does not equal a sale for me.

    • Minglefingler says:

      Dunno why Obsidian announcing an expansion three months after the Pillars was released is a bad thing or makes them greedy, just don’t preorder until you read the reviews. Pillars wasn’t abandoned by any means, it’s had 14 major patches, the latest one being released last November. The patches weren’t just bug fixes either, they reworked various mechanics and also added new stuff to the base game when the expansion came out.
      Also as far as I remember the expansion cost around £20 if you bought both parts at once, a few quid more if you paid seperately, it certainly wasn’t full price. Given the hours I sank into it I didn’t feel shortchanged in the slightest.

    • Abacus says:

      “Immediately after the release of that, they started taking full-price preorders for its expansion pack (which were divided into two parts)”

      I didn’t have much of a problem with it because The White March was phenomenal and is the main reason why I have faith in Obsidian doing Pillars 2 justice. Did you have a problem with CDPR offering preorders for their expansion pass before the release of The Witcher 3 too?

    • malkav11 says:

      In point of fact, they started taking preorders for the expansion during the Kickstarter, when you could (and I did) chip in for it as an addon. It had already been successful enough as a project to guarantee there would be interest in an expansion. So they committed to one, and then made one. I’m not seeing where the problem is here.

  30. Someoldguy says:

    I can think of lots of people who revelled in being evil in Baldur’s Gate and many other computer games which allow you to follow the plot but do so in a nice or nasty way. I think the fundamental difference with Tyranny was that you weren’t saving the world as a saint or a psychopath, you were being the Evil Overlord’s undersecretary in charge of solving problems, which just didn’t sound as interesting. Plus the rapid criticisms of it being only half a game brought potential buyers up short. Why buy now when you can wait and see if it gets an ending?

    Lets face it, in every cRPG I can think of, the “good” guys break into houses, plunder from the dead, steal from any container, pick fights with pretty much everybody on the flimsiest of excuses, rip apart even the weakest enemies with blood soaked swords, automatic weapons or huge magical blasts then gleefully sift through the entrails to see if they had any loot worth keeping. The difference between “good” and “evil” is tissue thin, really. The evil guys just get a bit of dialogue to gloat at their own badness. The good guys get a few opportunities not to demand payment for their recent murder spree and maybe chuck a few inconsequential coins to the poor when they’ve got sacks bulging with gold, jewels, magic weapons and potions.

    I enjoyed my time with Tyranny to an extent and I don’t begrudge the money I paid for it. I just hope that they learn lessons and make their next games the better for it. I’d actually quite like a Tyranny 2, although that seems unlikely at this point.

  31. Dersu says:

    Hmm, interesting article. I also thought alot about this whole concept of being evil in a video game and why it may not work.

    The thing is, video games are interactive and so, it’s very different from non-interactive media where you can have a terrible person being the protagonist, but you simply enjoy watching him do these things. That is different from actually initiating “evil” behavior yourself.

    Also, what does “being evil” even mean? it’s a bit of an oxymoron, because an evil person isn’t actually someone who consciously and knowingly sets out to do evil. That would be nonsensical. Even the most evil people on earth were driven from some sort of good intention. Sure, by most peoples’ standards it would be deemed evil or simply a warped sense of morality.

    So now going back to videogames, is “being evil” actually about being evil? no it’s just kind toying with it (like you showed in the article) to see how the game world would react. So it’s an inherently game-y approach or logic to morality, and therein, in my view at least, lies the problem.

    Another thing which is very rare and hasn’t been really done in video-games, is in making an an anti-hero who is also “not-cool”. Doesn’t have a talent or abilities and just in general; a fuck-up. Because if you think about it, we love seeing or playing as anti-heroes due to the fantasy of it all. Of being some sort of a clever\bad-ass. The only real example video-game-wise that I can think of is Kane & Lynch 2. But just look at its reception. And sure most of the negativity was directed toward its gameplay or length, but some of it (quite a few reviews actually) was also directed toward the player character(s). And it’s really showing. Because that’s a case of taking the absolute extreme when it comes to anti-heroes, and stripping it down of(most)of the fantasy. These people (Kane and Lynch that is) aren’t really good at what they do, and just in general are fuck-ups who barely make it through.

    Well, I could go on because it’s a very interesting topic to me, but I already took too much space with this semi-rant.

    • TheSkiGeek says:

      an evil person isn’t actually someone who consciously and knowingly sets out to do evil. That would be nonsensical.

      There are certainly plenty of people IRL who have done (and continue to do) things they know hurt others because it results in personal gain. While “just want to watch the world burn” supervillians aren’t very realistic, there is unfortunately no shortage of people willing to abuse power or authority in all sorts of ways, with no justification beyond getting rich(er) or accumulating more power.

      • Dersu says:

        Yeah, you’re absolutely right. What you are talking about is another kind of evil which is (unfortunately) very common, and can also be described, I think, as a sort of sociopathy, where the person wants Good only for himself, without considering other people’s Good (or even knowingly trampling other people’s Good).

        But what I meant is closer to what you referred to with the “just want to watch the world burn”. Like a person who consciously goes out and says: “I want to be evil!”. Even those people you referred to don’t just go around scheming evil for the sake of being evil. They just want more Good for themselves.

        It’s like with alignments in DnD, evil as a driving principle not as a consequence. But all that is probably only true for people that are mentally, more or less, stable. I don’t want to go into the mentally handicapped\ill and such on this.

        • TheAngriestHobo says:

          I feel like it should be clear to everyone that good and evil don’t exist as absolute concepts, and are at best clumsy shorthand for “is/is not conducive to a successful society”.

          The closest we get to literary or narrative concepts of evil in real life are sociopaths, who do harm despite knowing that they have no justification to do so beyond a moment’s whim. Even they, however, are not “evil”, in some grand, universal sense – they are simply broken, or unfinished. They are missing that essential component – empathy – which allows a civilization to develop and thrive, and because their behavior is so abhorrently antisocial, we don’t have much difficulty building a consensus that they are a cancer that needs to be removed. The whole idea of good and evil is essentially societal propaganda, which has been crafted to make their removal easier to stomach.

  32. Touchstone says:

    Tyranny had marketing? I think crappy marketing is a bigger issue than the game itself. Do people still believe that the details of a product’s implementation have more to do with it selling copies than good marketing?

  33. TheSkiGeek says:

    Blargh, was supposed to be a comment reply.

  34. jeremyalexander says:

    Being evil in a game is fantastic. Tyranny didn’t fail because of it’s premise, it failed because it isn’t a very good game. The best examples of being evil done well in a game are Vampire Bloodlines, and Fallout 2. OMG could you be deliciously evil in Fallout 2.

    • Snowskeeper says:

      Yes, this. The combat wasn’t very good, and the choices on display were abysmal for a game that sold itself on the premise that you could choose what paths you wanted to go down. I did everything in my power to do my job as Fatebinder, only to find out at the end that I’d somehow ended up going down the “Chaos” route. The option to betray your favoured faction is presented, sometimes, but not when you’re doing something that you might actually want to betray them for.


      Seriously. After finding out what Nerat wanted me to do to one of Tunon’s servants, I actually went to the court to talk to him about it, and there wasn’t even a bloody dialogue option, let alone a choice to betray Nerat. And then the game has the temerity to later come back and have Tunon use the fact that I didn’t tell him about it as a charge against me? Seriously?

      Oh, and then Tunon made himself my servant. For some reason.


      In summary:
      The problem isn’t that you’re evil; the problem is that the writing is bad.

  35. harvb says:

    I loved Tyranny, I played it through three times to see lots of different options and different angles, and I enjoyed the combat. My only real criticism I guess was how short it was.

  36. onodera says:

    *Glares silently.*

    • Abacus says:

      This is the only game where I felt like I could properly roleplay a character who could get away with glaring silently. So many dialogue options where you can just play the mute and stare intently at the character(s) you’re talking to, and you can easily feel like a badass for doing it.

      Tyranny was a flawed game but for my roleplaying experience it did more than enough to facilitate the kind of character I wanted to play (stony faced spear throwing former gladiator who wants to minimise the human suffering as much as possible while he brings Kyros’s order to the land).

  37. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Oh, god, Heather, you’ve aged terribly.

  38. markerikson says:

    I really enjoyed Tyranny. However, what I most enjoyed about it were the systems, not so much the worldbuilding stuff. My honest opinion is that Obsidian should take what they learned from making Tyranny and use it to develop some other new IP, rather than pursuing a Tyranny franchise.

  39. AyeBraine says:

    Not to get into a longwinded soliloquy, I’m reading a novel right now that’s nominally sci-fi. The main acting protagonist leads a mutiny and basically tortures her best friend and mentor for 13 years out of spite. Nominally the tortured one is the good person and the torturing one is the… bad person? (Not really.) But the point is, both are shown making an endless series of absolutely unavoidable, impossible decisions that affect hundreds of people, and each time they absolutely choose right, with integrity, competence, and moral ground to lean on. The fact that people keep dying or getting broken as a result is also shown as absolutely unavoidable and matter of fact.

    The article deals, of course, with a very crude, genre version of “villain”. And genre fiction is great, no arguments here. But even a tentative step beyond pure genre may suddenly find the “villain” to be a responsible pillar of the community, and the “hero” an unstable destructive sociopath, up to their elbows in blood.

    But the point is, this is supposed to be a sliding scale, if even that. Subverting goody two-shoes mary sue gameplay is NOT making you a villain. Just let the player make actual life decisions. These always hurt people. Doubly so in precarious situations (like in the novel I mentioned earlier, Pushing Ice, where the first decision in the book ultimately dooms 150 people to life entombment in space and time – the decision they make because the odds seem good, and the corporate danger bonus is triple).

    If this article looked for solution, it is being righteously evil. Truly, honestly, provably, righteously evil. Dropping a Fat Boy yourself instead of blowing up Megaton. Burying a world-saving technology because people don’t deserve it. Killing people because you chose other people to save – arbitrarily and you know it. Crushing a kindred soul to have an opportunity to do things.

    • onodera says:

      > If this article looked for solution, it is being righteously evil. Truly, honestly, provably, righteously evil.

      So, like ISIS?

    • Captain Narol says:

      You should play Crusader Kings 2.

    • WhataShame says:

      Offtopic, but, can you please give a name of the novel? =) I’m really interested in reading it.

  40. Sly-Lupin says:

    The problem with Tyranny is its essential premise: most RPG gamers tend to play as a “good guy.” No, not most: the overwhelming majority. Marketing an RPG as “Be a bad guy” was never going to find broad appeal, no matter how good the game itself was.

    And I think Tyranny also suffers from focusing so much on the *concept* of evil. Gamers today, I think, expect more nuanced storytelling. The old D&D alignment system has been, if not obsolete, at least anachronistic for a long time. In real life, for better or worse (usually worse) we all view ourselves as the heroes of our own stories. And we are always able to justify our actions, no matter how reprehensible. And RPGs need to reflect that. And, to an extent, Tyranny does this… but when the premise and marketing do not, those efforts matter little.

  41. craigdolphin says:

    Obviously I can’t speak for anyone else but, in my case, yep. I enjoy RPG’s for escapism. I have no interest whatsoever in being evil. There’s far too much selfishness, anarchy, and disappointment in the real world. Who the heck wants to revel in more of that in your escapist times? (I know, some of you do… it was rhetorical :) ).

    I want to aspire to being someone who has the courage to change to world in a good way. To help the weak against the strong and unjust. I want to be better than I am and I prefer to spend my mental energy celebrating virtues that I admire.

    So, yeah, as much as I consider myself a fan of CRPGs, and Obsidian are great developers, the premise of Tyranny was about as appealing to me as a can of fermented herring guts.

    Not sure what proportion of the CRPG public are as weird as me, but I suspect at least some small part of the sales disappointment is due to the evil premise.

  42. Samudaya says:

    Tyranny was great. Much better than Pillars of Eternity or Numenera. The mechanically it’s the best by far. Being the bad guy can be good fun. The story I saw just wasn’t very interesting. I decided to go independant and automatically had to kill everyone I met.

  43. Cropduster says:

    Didn’t instantly engage me the same way Pillars did, and I didn’t get that far. The story seemed really promising, but the combat (which for me is the main course) felt like a step down from PoE or the Infinity Engine D&D games.

    Always the way though, after a decade of no decent crpgs, now there’s more than I will ever have time to play.

    • Someoldguy says:

      Mmm, it worries me that Obsidian seem to think that the way to make PoE’s combat more interesting for PoE2 is to make it more like Tyranny. This may not go much further than cutting down the size of the party, but it’s not a good omen in my book.

  44. Ancient Evil says:

    The idea that any sort of contemporary popular media is capable of presenting a truly nuanced take on good and evil is laughable.

    Sure, you can play as the villain. Or as a flawed “anti-hero”, or sympathetic “anti-villain”. Or as the good person resorting to evil ways in horrible circumstances. Or as the amoral character who only looks after their own desires.

    These stories and characters can be engaging and well-written. But at the end of the day, if the work doesn’t mostly just reaffirm the prevailing notions of morality from the time and place it was written, it is doomed not just to commercial suicide, but probably to career suicide for the author as well.

    You can prod around the edges, yes. But to fundamentally challenge the moral assumptions of a society through deconstructing them, disregarding them, or subscribing to a different code entirely, even through a purely fictional lens, is very dangerous. Both the work and the author are likely to be widely denounced as immoral and threatening.

    If you really want interesting perspectives on morality, you need to step outside of your own culture, whether that’s through geography or time or both. Because only those authors are truly free from having to kneel before the moral pieties of the here and now.

  45. kud13 says:

    Just here to say, I don’t think any discussion of “evil” in games would be complete without mentioning Alpha Protocol. There’s an enormous amount of “evil” things you can do there (both large and small-scale), you can manipulate almost every main character to either kill another character, be killed by another character, or just get set up as such;

    And while nominally you are doing all this to “clear your name” and break up an eeeeevil partnership between a corporation and a black ops agency and avoid outbreak of conflict and war… you can either subvert the black ops agency, or take over the Corp’s own dealing with various groups of not-nice people (terrorists or mobsters) in order to carry on exactly as they did, making the world a shittier place for your own profit.

    And it did not take much to take the “evil” path. In fact, it was doing things “regular” RPGs reward- sparing your defeated foes. Make them work for you- and when the showdown comes, you take down the corrupt exec and then say “oh, BTW, I’m gonna keep the schemes running, but I’ll be the middle-man, not you” before you cooly ride off into the sunset on your speedboat, with the girl (or Steven Heck) at your side, like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

  46. GamekfaToc says:

    “At worst, it’s the puppy-kicking option. Stupid. Self-destructive. What players often refer to as ‘Chaotic Stupid’ – being a complete dick for the sheer hell of it, and revelling in Being A Baddie.”
    But that is exactly what Tyranny was.
    Even the “Big Bads” like the Chorus Leader and stuff were just there to kick puppies and have a laugh.
    Almost none of the war stuff was “evil” either, for the time that it is portrayed as being. The Bronze/Early Iron Ages were hellish times, but here they are trying to use that as some kind of shock, some kind of “LOOK AT HOW EVIL THEY ARE! THEY IMPALE PEOPLE!”
    That’s not evil, in fact I can bet you ten bucks that the people being conquered would do much the same given the chance. Because of how crappy the times were.
    Now, if you want evil, look at Honsou from WH40k, or look at Nagash, or Drakenhels from WHFB. Those guys are evil as all hell.
    Tyranny is just Saturday cartoons villainry.
    And that was disappointing to find out. Also one of the reasons why I have yet to finish more than 2 saves.
    Not to mention how bad that ending was. Mass Effect 3 tier shenanigans.