Tyranny's [official site] announcement of an expansion pack coming this September somewhat overshadowed the more immediate news of a DLC pack with core game tweaks released yesterday, as well as the introduction of a 'new-game-plus' mode in a new patch to the core game. Tales From The Tiers is a £4.50 collection of bits and bobs that makes changes throughout the game, introducing new quests, new random encounters, and generally fleshing out the already very fleshy game. But as someone who always finds ambiguously defined DLC additions bemusing, the simultaneous patching in of a new game plus (NG+) is what most intrigued me about a game I'd quite enjoyed last year.
Let me first sidetrack into those agoraphobic complaints about the nature of such DLC packs, before I get onto how Tyranny is trying to address some of its own issues. I doubt I'm alone in finding RPG DLC often very frustrating. It seems, too often, to be something that doesn't provide a lovely new pool of game to dive into, but rather confusion as to what's actually added, where or when it appears, and why anyone would want to load an earlier point from a game they've already completed to do some new side quests, before then presumably just stopping because they've already played the rest of the game before.
"Drargle: Plains Of Caberoth adds new DLC with The Goblet Of Susan, a whole new chain of quests set in the Flat Mountains, introducing a new companion King Rolo and fifteen new spells!" Oh, I think to myself. But I finished Drargle two months ago, and I guess sort of remember the bit in the Flat Mountains, but I'm not sure I have a save anywhere near there.
Impressively, Tyranny's first DLC manages to be even more obscure than this. It's not even confined to a location - they've just sort of scattered new bits throughout the Tiers. But even discerning this knowledge is only gained by reading between the lines of the pack's information, all opaquely worded with phrases like, "Random encounters while traveling may lead to new quests." "May"! It's hard to understand how this can really be for anyone other than those who've never played the game before, who wouldn't have known to miss it were it not there.
Is this DLC for people who want to play the entire 50 hour game a second time - a game that doesn't even reach an ending? Um. That's quite the ask.
Although, it's something that makes more sense if you remember the deeply peculiar evolution of Tyranny as a game. During all its promotional outpourings, preview events, and so forth, it was described by developers Obsidian as an RPG created to be just a few hours long, and replayed multiple times. So great were the variations on offer, they said, that players would want to keep taking another turn to see how differently events could have played out. Siding with different factions, making more evil choices, and of course choosing different opening story options in the game's Conquest section - a series of multiple choice options that let you define how the armies of Tyros conquered the Tiers and how much you sided with the Disfavoured or the Scarlet Chorus. What was released, however, was absolutely nothing like what had been promised, including the extremely peculiar abandoning of the (completely ineffective) countdown timer after the opening mission. For a game with such a chronic identity crisis, perhaps it's only appropriate that its first DLC should be similarly bewildering in its implementation?
However, there does at last seem to be some sort of outward acknowledgement that the game hasn't exactly been ideal for repeated spins. That's revealed in the given reason for the NG+ on the DLC's Steam page.
"A free patch adds New-Game-Plus mode and character re-spec options for an easier way to explore other plotlines."
I wasn't quite sure, so I booted the game up once more to see, and yes - it seems this provides the option to replay the game, but with your character specced up as they finished it the first time. Or, indeed, respecced up, letting you apply all your earned XP and skill points as you wish. It even lets you pick two of your top quality items from your old inventory to bring with you as you start all over.
As before, you get the choice of quick-starting with the Conquest results randomly rolled for you, or by playing through the Conquest once more. Here there's a lovely detail that - forgive me - may have already been in the game, but is unlikely to have been noticed by most: as you make your choices it reminds you which ones you chose previously.
I love that. There are some, like the wonderful Richard Cobbett, who have a photographic (on video mode) memory for video games, who can remember every meticulous detail. And there are those like me who a month after finishing a game can't even remember what the overarching storyline was about. With the binary choices presented at the start of Tyranny, I know for a fact that I'd inevitably make all the same choices again because I'd have no idea what I'd previously opted for, and feel compelled to make the picks that felt "right". So here, with my earlier actions highlighted both graphically and with a line of text, I was able to ensure I went in a completely different direction with the opening, both philosophically and geographically.
Once you start the game, there are further advantages. A tutorial message pops up to say,
"In New Game+, you can unlock Reputation abilities earned in your previous playthrough without first meeting their requisite Reputation... The number of abilities you can unlock increases with each subsequent playthrough."
Reputation is the measure the game uses to decide how characters in the game react to you and what quests you're given, from an idle NPC right up to the Overlord, but also a sort of secondary XP, granting abilities depending upon how you lean between Favor and Wrath. All your previous choices are remembered, unless you've dramatically contradicted something in the re-roll (I think), and on this second turn you can pick two of them to carry over.
So great, right? You're all powerful, ready to blitz through the game's most tiresome aspect - the bitty, fiddly, ultimately dull combat - and see what new juicy elements are on offer? Um, nope. Expecting to be able to just walk over early enemies - because otherwise what is the game talking about when it says the NG+ will offer "an easier way to explore"? - I was surprised when the very first enemy soldier on the very first screen put up a fight. So I did a quick comparison to a regular new game with a new character, and yes, all the enemies are scaled to match your skills. Huh.
That first soldier, in a new-new game, has his parry at 47, his endurance at 61. In the new-game-plus he's at 102 and 111 respectively.
Which results in, well, nothingness. Sure, you've got a more interesting set of skills nearer the start, more ways to hit the enemy, but you're still having essentially exactly the same fight. It's that perennial issue of RPGs - when enemies always scale to your level, the sense of growing more powerful is never felt.
Perhaps people will throw up their arms and call me a fool, based on the argument that a traditional NG+ option should allow you to play the game again but at a higher difficulty level, or at least with higher complexity. But when the option is put in place with the express intention of speeding you up to "more easily" access the new content, surely no such thing is achieved by just giving everyone the same boost? It's not like Tyranny's combat was ever interesting enough to justify the ridiculous number of grunt encounters - it was always just a case of clicking and clicking until the leagues of padding were done.
Maybe I'm the only one, perhaps people hate it when they can walk over the early boring combat of a game, because everyone else is weird except for me. But I'm most perplexed by this situation. There are other favours for the player, like a new merchant in Act 1's first camp who'll sell you some of the items you might most covet from your last time through, but ultimately it seems to just be asking you to play again, with more spells.
Which leaves me with no inclination to wade through what was already an only-decent RPG in the hope of even noticing which bits are new, on my way to that point where it just stops, instead of ends. Storming through the early sections, not needing to bore myself silly watching the slo-mo fights tick by as I go, until I'd at least reached the midpoint where things should start to even out again, was the appeal.
So, hopefully you've the information to know if this is in fact exactly what you were after, and provides the impetus to return to the game for another run. Or if you're me, warns you it's not quite what you thought the blurb was suggesting.