Grain of salt number one: I’m not *huge* into other CRPGs like Pillars of Eternity or Baldur’s Gate. I like them, but they are often too hard, too long, and too micronamange-y for me.
Grain of salt number two: I don’t point out negative stuff in reviews anymore. I’m just bored of it.
Grain of salt number three: A not-insignificant part of this review is going to involve how much I fucking hate Donald Trump and everyone who voted for him.
So, Tyranny is really good. It is good is because it asks the following question, and leaves it to you to provide an answer:
How can you be a decent person when the world is more complicated than “good people” and “bad people”?
There are two main factions in the game: the Scarlet Chorus, and the Disfavored. The Disfavored are honorable soldiers. They support one another. But they’re also fucking racist, and they kill everyone they encounter regardless of whether or not they’re holding a sword. The Scarlet Chorus, on the other hand, are a bunch of absolute fucking psychopaths who are completely fine with stabbing one another to death for promotions, and killing anyone they want to just for fun. But, they will never, ever kill anyone — regardless of age, nationality, or bloodline — so long as their would-be victims promise to join the Chorus and fight alongside them.
I’ve been playing the game for a dozen hours (haven’t beaten it yet) and I still don’t know which faction I side with more. The Chorus can be absolute monsters, but they ultimately leave a much, much smaller body count than the fascist Disfavored. The Disfavored take no prisoners, but other than that they seem to have some semblance of morality.
You play a Fatebinder — basically Fantasy Judge Dredd — who works for an evil overlord who conquered the world centuries ago. Your job is to be the mediator between the two factions, basically, as they attempt to do all sorts of horribly imperialistic shit in the name of your overlord.
This is not a game about doing the right thing. This is a game about being in a shitty, awful situation and seeing how you deal with that shitty, awful situation. Do you try to do good wherever possible, even if it means that’ll probably piss off the factions and, in so doing, take away your bonus skills? Do you play the political game and try to make both sides happy? Do you prefer one over the other? Do you tell them both to fuck off, which might maybe make them get more powerful and kill your ass at the end?
Initially, I sided with the Scarlet Chorus. They’re gross, but they’re also a meritocracy and I dug their mercy rule. I tried to be as good a person as I could be. I treated everyone I met with patience and consideration and really wanted to make everyone get along.
Then Trump won the presidential election.
Something inside me broke. In addition to everything else I wanted to do (scream, punch something, move to a different planet, psychically give every baby boomer who voted for him a heart attack), I wanted to play Tyranny. And I did.
I loaded my most recent save. I was talking to a member of the Scarlet Chorus who wanted me to play a little game — if I did something or other for him, he wouldn’t kill somebody or other.
I told him I was done with his shit and I tried to fucking kill him.
I immediately lost all my favor with the Scarlet Chorus. This meant that both of the major factions in the game absolutely hated me.
I didn’t care. I was done trying to pussyfoot around and be decent to people who didn’t have any decency in their bodies.
So I killed that guy. And I killed all of his friends. And when some Disfavored showed up to congratulate me for wiping out the unclean southern scourge, I killed them too.
It didn’t make me feel better. It wasn’t a catharsis for my post-election anger. My in-game behavior isn’t at all representative of how I think we should fight back against Trump and those who support him. But it allowed me to see, via my in-game choices, how I chose to deal with fascism in the abstract, and then how I dealt with it once it had become a personal reality. I got to see a darker, angrier side of myself that I didn’t expect to see. I don’t think I like that angrier part of myself, but, thanks to Tyranny and the fact that my body count has now quintupled, I can’t pretend that that part of me doesn’t exist.
And if a game can show me something about myself I didn’t know before, that’s a pretty good goddamned video game.
Also, the combat is good.