The Let's Play Archive


by TheGreatEvilKing

Part 13: Act 1 Postmortem: The Seeker of Power

Act 1 Postmortem: The Seeker of Power
Or, the trains DON'T run on time

Tyranny, at it's core, is a game about why the titular concept cannot stand. The game is marketed as an examination of how evil wins, and I fully believe that's a mistake because the game isn't about the triumph of evil, the game is about how evil is self-destructive and ultimately collapses as the selfish, evil people running the regime turn on each other. There is another aspect to this that I hope the adventures of Cleopatra have made clear - intelligent and capable individuals cannot win under a tyrannical system, because the system discourages loyalty by design.

Incompetence Is A Feature, Not A Bug

If there is one word to describe all the followers of Kyros we encountered in Act I, it's incompetent.

We might have been able to get something useful out of the enemy captain, but the Disfavored reacted like Confederate troops who just got defeated by a black man.

From the very beginning, the Scarlet Chorus and the Disfavored fuck up everything they touch. This theme reverberates throughout Act 1, from the two constantly bickering and not suppressing the rebellion, to the failed river crossing where the already undermanned Disfavored lose nearly an entire unit, to the Scarlet Chorus insisting that we do their job for them and capture the enemy captain, to... I could go on for pages discussing just how much the Disfavored and Scarlet Chorus fucked up, but as it turns out, I already have! We can discuss how the Earthshakers didn't bother to send their mages, we can discuss how the Scarlet Chorus is completely unsuited to act as an occupying force and pisses everyone off, we can discuss how the Disfavored continually keep getting destroyed by the Vendrien Guard because they can't believe that the "mongrels" are actually their equals in combat.

Ashe assured us the Earthshakers could "totally" demolish the fort, but here we see two Sages holding up the entire Disfavored legion. Two guys, and the Disfavored's inability to change clothes.

Yet the people responsible for this kind of incompetence are allowed to hold the position of "Kyros' most loyal general" and "spymaster". Why?

Earlier in the game posted:

: Most of the 'soldiers' in the Scarlet Chorus are little more than farmers and children armed with rusted forks. Makes them easier to control.

This is something we see on a small scale within the Scarlet Chorus, and on a larger scale over the whole conquest. Nerat is incapable of forming a coherent plan without descending into petty cruelty for cruelty's sake and thus cannot rely on allies. Graven Ashe is proud and easily baited and can be manipulated to go after a target. Their inability to win over the hearts and minds of the Tiersmen is a feature. Why would Kyros give the Tiers to someone who could use it to raise an effective army, or use its farms to feed their existing troops in preparation for an insurrection? We see how much more effective the Scarlet Chorus got when it incorporated the School of Wild Wrath, and that was one school of mages out of the many running around the Tiers. Someone actually popular could have led a massive insurrection that caused trouble for Kyros. It's the same concept as Stalin eliminating all the competent military personnel and then breaking down when he realized Hitler was invading and his army crumpled.

Now, you might be asking, why can't Kyros motivate competent individuals with a big lie or something? Well...

Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

The only thing Kyros can offer is the power to abuse others, conditional on remaining subservient to Kyros. We see this in the contest for rulership of the Tiers - only one Archon can win, two are up for promotion, fight amongst yourselves to distract you from any resentment toward Kyros over your son's death or having to constantly travel and make war on people you don't care about. This in turn creates a perverse incentive for the people who shouldn't have power but want it desperately to step up and claim it. Is it any wonder our two Archons are a racist old quasi-fascist strongman and a murderous sadist who delights in forcing his underlings to fight to the death? These are the kind of people who seek power over others to validate their own ego. There is no space for the reformer who wants to feed his people or the healer who wants to build hospitals. The laws are not in place to protect the weak, the laws are there to afford privilege to Kyros' favored and their hangers on. Kyros offers nothing to believe in or strive for other than the lust for power - but having offered this incentive, Kyros cannot trust anyone as only they can hold the ultimate prize. By encouraging everyone to vie for power but denying them the fulfillment of their ambition, Kyros MUST keep the ambitious turned against each other and so sows the culture of suspicion and distrust that ultimately makes loyalty futile. As part of the game Kyros must be able to eliminate the players, not just for the safety of the Overlord but as a potential reward for their enemies. This does not engender loyalty, so effectively Kyros' servants are (for the most part) an entire cadre of ambitious backstabbers kept in check only by fear of each other and the vaunted power of the Overlord. Even if some highly capable individual came into the conquest with a belief that Kyros brings unity, prosperity, and peace, they too get pulled into the power struggle and have to fight for power just to stay alive.

This is the kind of crap Kyros encourages. For bonus points Salveros got exiled to the Scarlet Chorus camp for the heresy of suggesting that the Chorus and Disfavored would be better off working together.

Kyros only has to fuck up once and the entire house of cards comes crashing down.

The Will to Power

This sets the stage for the entire first act. The Fatebinder starts the game as someone who is a dedicated servant of Kyros, someone who has committed horrific atrocities in the name of the Overlord but also has been exposed to the "ideals" of the Kyrosian empire - the rule of law. As we go through the first act, that sham falls apart. The Archons, our lawful superiors, shift from being powerful and legendary figures who always triumph in the name of the Overlord to being worthless petty bickerers seeking power they don't deserve and can't take. Their behavior exposes the dreams of unity, peace, and prosperity as a total sham and reveals the goal of the Empire is to wield power for power's sake - and even faced with the threat of annihilation they cannot put their bickering aside and deal with their pressing real-world problem. Thus to solve this, the Fatebinder is forced to step in and take the power necessary to continue the offensive - whether that's recruiting the Vendrien Guard as their private army, betraying everyone and storming the fort themselves to gain the patronage of Bleden Mark, or ingratiating themselves with one of the two armies to earn the loyalty of their troops and the esteem of the commanding Archon, the Fatebinder ensures that not only are they gaining the power to end the crisis, but now as a major player in the game they must get more power or be destroyed by their newfound enemies, all with Kyros' encouragement. Not only that, but Kyros has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the reward for loyalty and service is death.

Erenyos is not subtle about this, but the game has been quietly building up this point when the Fatebinder's possible ideals all get thrown out the window.

That last part will have major consequences for all of Terratus by the end of the game. Unlike a lot of games I've LPed, Tyranny is actually able to convey its major themes without beating the player over the head with them. There is enough consistency in the writing that the game is able to get its point across. It's not elegant writing by any means, but it serves its purpose of exploring the titular Tyranny. What I find just as interesting is how much seems to have slipped over the heads of the video game critics - a lot of people seem to believe the game is a power fantasy about being a powerful evil lieutenant of Kyros the invincible overlord, and that couldn't be farther from the truth. The Fatebinder starts the game with the responsibility to end the rebellion, but not the actual power to do so.

If we had the power of Tunon or Kyros we would not have to make this choice, but we cannot get close to the power of either without making these kinds of choices.

To gain the power to change the system we must work within the system, and if we refuse to do something abhorrent, well, we get executed and some other aspiring tyrant joins the game.

1984 posted:

'If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child's face--are you prepared to do that?'


We shall see what price Cleopatra is willing to pay as the game goes on.