Archon of Words
Alright. Some truth about my shameful past. In my younger days I didn’t really practice critical thinking. I would read a headline or hear some soundbyte and go nuts. I would latch on and preach it as gospel and then be very sheepish when it was revealed to be bupkis. As the eons have rolled by I’ve acquired a much steadier eye when it comes to information. But even such a grumpy jaded mind can still trip up a bit.
With that, I welcome new and old players of Tyranny to the long awaited first DLC Tales from the Tiers. In November of 2016, Tyranny was released. A combined effort of Obsidian Entertainment and Paradox Interactive – two companies that have put out some of my absolute favourite video games – Tyranny promised a dark fantasy where you would take on a Judge Dredd-style role as a servant of the Overlord. In Tyranny, evil had all but won, and you were on its side.
Now, I’ve already sung the praises of those behind the game, and kids at home paying attention know that Paradox is one of my favourite companies in the industry right now. And I need to say I really enjoyed Tyranny. But – and this is a big but – there were some major flaws. You could excuse the focus on directed plot, rather than the very free wheeling agency you were given in say, Pillars of Eternity. It’s the final act of Tyranny that causes problems.
Problems like – it doesn’t feel finished. I won’t go into spoilers, but the game really feels like it’s leading you to this really big moment… And you just never get there. You get teased a bit, and then slapped with an ending that may as well have an old timey radio announcer voice saying “Tune in next time to see the thrilling conclusion!” (People still announce things on the radio right? Robots aren’t doing that yet, are they?)
Where am I going with this? Well, this DLC has some things in its features that I think people need to be cautious about, and not just gloss over. In my excitement to get back into Tyranny, I honestly skimmed the details of the description and jumped in. It wasn’t until I was 5 hours in that I went back and said in a slow suspicious voice “Hey, wait a minute.” I’ll explain why later, but rest assured fans of the series need to read the fine print before they decide if this is a worthwhile purchase.
Tales from the Tiers cites four main features, which I’ll talk about in order of appearance off their Steam page as of June 2017.
The first one says ‘New Travel Events’. Honestly, this was difficult to judge. Tyranny, for any bad things I could say, did two things really well: Choice and replayability. Dialogue, events, party members and non-player characters all had the potential to show great differences in each playthrough. I’ve played the game through four times now, including this latest run with the new DLC, and I wasn’t sure if I was seeing new material or just stuff I had never encountered before. While more content is always good, with games like this I wish they were a bit more clear on what they meant. I suppose it’s hard to do without spoilers, but maybe some numbers would have been good.
Next up comes the one that messed with me. I felt my withered excuse for a heart pump two and a half times when I read the words I had longed to see: Expanded Story. And shame on me, I just blanked. I instantly got giddy thinking we were getting the expanded final act we deserved. Maybe a bit more of a satisfying payoff for all those tough choices.
But no, sadly it was not meant to be.
This was talking specifically about the “more than 40 vignettes” that had been added. (See, they could have given us a number like that with the first feature!) Now, some of you may ask, “Old Man, what is a vignette? It sounds old! You should know about this.”
And I do, and so does anyone who enjoyed Pillars of Eternity and some other games. Essentially it is a quick, text-based event in which you can make use of your skills, affiliations, or just brutal ways to make decisions and interact with the story. I love them. Honestly, they add a depth to an RPG and were very well implemented in Pillars. Likewise, they were well used in this DLC. Many seem tied directly to choices you have made – and the options to interact also take note of your character’s skills and accomplishments. So, yeah, I like them bunches. But it should be noted this was something that I had hoped to see in the original launch of Tyranny.
The next feature claims “New Items,” and honestly, I won’t repeat myself. Same problems gauging the value of this as the “New Travel Elements.” I don’t need to rehash this. Particularly with the next on the list.
The fourth item listed under Features of Tales from the Tiers is an exciting thing. “More Replay Options.” Again, I love replayable games. Tyranny did really good, each four of my play throughs were very different and unique experiences. So this feature promised to add a New-Game Plus mode and re-spec options for your character. And well dang, wouldn’t that be worth the $8.99 CND right there in my mind. Except there is one little problem, kind of. This actually isn’t a feature of the DLC. I even missed it my first time around. This is actually part of a free patch. While I’m super excited that they would give such a great thing for free, I am very concerned they listed it as a feature for the DLC. It just seems sneaky.
And there you have, two features that are hard to tell if they add a significant amount to the game, one that does add a bit to it, but doesn’t expand on the content that was really needed, and the fourth feature is something that you get for free anyway. This has left me conflicted, and while I’m not going to go on and give a full review for something included in the base game I will say this: The New-Game Plus option is fantastic and well implemented and combined with the vignettes would have been an easy buy for me alone.
Choose Your Own Tyranny
Vignettes always seem like a gamble. Done wrong these can detract from a game, make no sense, or otherwise just make your adventure feel more like a visual novel. I now have three great examples of how they should be done. You can see them in the previously mentioned Pillars of Eternity, the fantastic Torment: Tides of Numenera by inXile and now here in Tyranny.
At first I was rather concerned that they were just going to be generic random encounters, but I was quickly relieved. The encounters occurred, for the most part, regionally. So, I would get specific encounters depending where my character was travelling. My interactions with the populace of these regions, my choices in the story, and the stage of which the story has progressed all appear to play a hand in not only which encounters I would get, but also what options I had in dealing with them.
The results are good too, not just a simple “So yeah, that happened” but actual impact on things. This can mean gear and status effects, but more importantly these can generate reputation and wrath points, which impact your renown among people and places. Sometimes you get a strange feeling of accomplishment from a job well done. Sometimes you get dysentery.
Working well with the New-Game Plus free feature, I was able to bring back my first Tyranny character, enjoy the challenges of a beefier Tyranny, and get to experience many of the new encounters given by these vignettes with her. It was great and the more I encountered and enjoyed them, the more I forgave the questionable list of features this DLC ‘offered’.
What This Does Not Do
Maybe it’s just some old-fashioned idea, but when I am buying DLC for a game, I want to experience the content. I’ve played games before that had random elements added to an existing game, and they would just put a little mark on the new content, or colour it differently or something, just to remind us that we are enjoying what we paid for. With the listed features that easily got jumbled into the existing game, with no real way to tell, it would have been helpful to have something like that. Just to make the consumer feel more confident in their purchase.
I feel the purchase of this DLC will live or die for consumers based on the vignettes. These delightful additions do not fix the final act of the game. If you were looking for expanded content and story in that regard, you will need to keep waiting – fingers crossed – for a content update due out later this year, that is said to add some meat to the problematic third act, and introduce a new ending.
Rating 7/10 – The vignettes are great, the price is right, but the lack of clarity with some of the listed features prevent this from reaching the top tier.
Reviewed by Joshua Smith aka Old Man Mordaith
Edited by Jesse Roberts
This DLC was received for free for review purposes.