"Combatants engage in real time, though players can pause and assign direct actions to every party member should they choose."
You know what? I'm tired of playing as the good guy. Yeah, we've had some games where you're given moral choices, but they usually boil down to "Will you pet the cat?" or "Will you drown the cat in a pool of blood?" The idea of being a villain has only cropped up in several select titles, which is what makes Obsidian's upcoming CRPG Tyranny such a breath of fresh air.
Here's the setup: the bad guys already won at the start of Tyranny's campaign. We should have known evil would always triumph, because good is dumb. Kyros the Overlord dashed the hopes of freedom and light before your character even takes their first step onto the field. You play a Fatebinder, basically a lieutenant tasked with carrying out Kyros' will and maintaining order in his vast empire. You'll make decisions that can either keep Kyros in power or, as we're told, try to take control of the evil forces for yourself. It certainly sounds like you'll be making decisions that almost always have a twinge of evil in them. I doubt you'll be saving the townspeople to give them ice cream and freedom, but maybe you won't have to be a complete fiend at every turn. One example of this choice system came at the end of the demo, where I could take all of the glory of the defeated enemy myself or leave another branch of Kyros' army to reap the reward. As far as I was concerned, I did all the heavy lifting, so the other guys should have made themselves scarce before I left them bent and broken before me.
Combat in Tyranny plays very similarly to Obsidian's last RPG, Pillars of Eternity. Combatants engage in real time, though players can pause and assign direct actions to every party member should they choose. Micromanaging my party was a snap in this early demo, as the UI gives more than enough information and features all of the advancements found in the White March expansions for Pillars. The big change comes in Tyranny's focus on skill-based character progression instead of class-based advancements. There are no set classes, with all characters having access to skills and abilities provided they meet certain requirements. This leaves me a little nervous about potentially gimping my characters with "incorrect" choices, but the developers assured me they're working hard to make sure Tyranny is balanced and fun regardless of how you develop your party.
I had to play smart during my demo, though I didn't run into too much resistance (thankfully, given my lack of abilities when it comes to this genre). Heavily armored enemies required quick magic attacks and some bleed skills from my more nefarious party members, and I made it a point to drop any archers prone with some of my nastier spells. Of particular note was a nasty combo two of my characters could pull off where my melee solider would trip an enemy and then my main character would hit them with a mighty punch. It was terribly effective, but I could only use it once during every combat encounter.
Tyranny looks great, which shouldn't surprise anyone who played Pillars of Eternity. The world is pre-rendered in stunning detail, taking me back to the days of 90s greatness but featuring the high-definition fidelity of a modern game. Characters are all polygonal and really pop out of the world in a great way. Spell effects are fantastic and easy to follow even with the fast-paced nature of the combat. The writing during dialogue scenes is especially awesome, and something fans of Pillars talked about endlessly in message board postings and reviews. I couldn't help but read the descriptions out loud in my most maniacal voice that sounded like an odd mix of Skeletor and Vincent Price.
And that's probably the most telling thing about my brief time with Tyranny. I got into character and felt like a villain looking for a chance to rise to the top of the evil food chain. It's a surprising story perspective that had me stamping out my "fellow" soldiers so that I might impress Lord Kyros and gain his favor. Now I know why Frieza's crew were always fighting and backstabbing each other! Tyranny shares enough in common with Pillars of Eternity to keep fans happy while also bringing some enhancements in addition to a new narrative style. The best I can say about Tyranny is that it had me ready to fly home and play Pillars, which has been sitting on my desktop for nearly six months and yes I feel a lot of shame about it. Tyranny is due out in 2016, and you'd do well to keep an eye on it.