Obsidian on its new RPG Tyranny

Marie Dealessandri
Obsidian on its new RPG Tyranny

In Tyranny, you don't fight the bad guys – you are the bad guys.

Yes, you can choose the ‘evil' option in many RPGs but you still follow the same core quest as someone trying to right all the wrongs in the world.

Obsidian's new IP Tyranny is just the opposite, with evil being the default option that drives the campaign.

The main idea of Tyranny is that the game is set in a world where evil won,” game director Brian Heins explains. You take on the role of a Fatebinder, an agent of the evil Overlord charged with enforcing the Empire's Laws. You decide the fate of thousands over the course of the game, and whether you remain loyal to Kyros or try to forge a resistance to the Overlord's rule.”

That's quite a big change for the genre, especially coming from a studio formed partly from Black Isle developers – the very studio that created Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, helping set the formula for the whole genre ever since.

Tyranny is a single-player RPG in the style of classics like Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, and uses the same engine we created for Pillars of Eternity,” Heins continues.

Despite that, Tyranny is all about defying those standards and actually giving a more balanced view of who we traditionally label as ‘evil'.

I've always been a little dissatisfied with playing an evil character in games,” Heins tells MCV. Too often the ‘evil' choice is to play a complete psychopath who kills everyone ‘because evil'. Depending on the game that can be a lot of fun. It just shouldn't be the only evil option available.”

He continues: The idea for Tyranny has existed at Obsidian for many years, and has gone through several different iterations. That core concept about creating a game in a world where evil has won has stuck around because it resonated with so many of us.

The great thing about this game is that we can really focus on making choices that allow the player to be different shades of evil, not just the bloodthirsty killer. Being able to explore new types of stories and characters is what's really made this a dream game for me to work on.”

Obsidian has also found another way to challenge and reinvent the traditional RPG and explore new types of stories: it doesn't use the traditional D&D-based class system. This means that if you want your character to be a spell-crafting thief that uses a two handed sword, you can.

Of course, skill-based progression is not exactly new but it's a radical change when your ancestors are classics such as Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dales – or even Pillars of Eternity.

As you perform actions in the game, your skills get better,” Heins explains. When enough skills have improved, your character goes up in level – allowing you to improve attributes and gain new talents for your character.”

We made these changes for a couple of reasons. Mostly, this is the type of RPG that I love playing. Skill-based systems give you a chance to create the character that matches the role you want to play. I often find that when I'm playing a class-based system, I really want to play the character that's a hybrid of two or more classes. Skill-based systems allow me to make that character easily.

Another benefit of these changes is that they make Tyranny a different experience from Pillars of Eternity. We use the same engine, but have created two very distinct games.”

"Tyranny really focus on making choices that allow the player to be different shades of evil, not just bloodthirsty killer."

Brian Heins, Obsidian


Creating a game that would both feel different to Pillars of Eternity while living up to the legacy of Obsidian's previous title is not a simple task. The Kickstarted hit saved the studio from closure in 2015 and it ended up amongst the happy few that sold over 500,000 copies on Steam last year.

But it was also known for its difficulty, which is something Obsidian has been eager to change with Tyranny. The developer has introduced a difficulty setting, which could attract more players to the genre.

It allows players to tailor the challenge level to something they're comfortable with, or matches what they want to get out of the experience,” Heins clarifies.

Our Story mode, the easiest difficulty setting, is for players who mainly want to see the different ways the game can react to them, without having to engage too deeply with the combat system. Our Normal and Hard modes are for players who enjoy combat as much as they enjoy the story elements. And the Path of the Damned option is for players who want to master the gameplay mechanics and brag to their friends about defeating the various bosses in the game on the hardest difficulty setting.”

Tyranny is launching on PC on November 10th, courtesy of Paradox – with whom Obsidian already partnered for Pillars of Eternity.

Paradox helped out with distribution for Pillars of Eternity, which was great for us because it allowed the team to focus on finishing the game without worrying about the marketing and sales aspects,” Heins explains.

When we were finalizing that deal, development on The Stick of Truth was wrapping up and we were talking with publishers about other game ideas. One of those was for what eventually became Tyranny. Paradox really liked the idea for the game, and since we already had a working relationship with them, it made sense to move forward with them as publisher on Tyranny.”

And in a PC market that can sometimes be a challenge due to the massive amount of titles available, Obsidian however remains optimistic for Tyranny – and the whole genre.

I think there's absolutely room for classic RPGs like Tyranny,” Heins enthuses. The success of Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland 2, and Divinity: Original Sin – just to name a few – have shown that there's a vocal audience that loves these types of games and wants to play more of them. As a fan of this type of RPG for many years, I'm thrilled to be able to develop more of them.”

Right now, Obsidian is working on different genres though, such as free-to-play shooter Armored Warfare and mobile card-based RPG Pathfinder Adventures. But the studio should be back soon with more old school isometric RPGs as CEO Feargus Urquhart already mentioned that they were working on a sequel to Pillars of Eternity.

We want to continue making the types of games that we love to play: RPGs that allow our players to explore unique worlds, and tell some incredible stories along the way,” Heins concludes.

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