The Let's Play Archive


by TheGreatEvilKing

Part 60: Act Three Postmortem: I Am Kyros

Act Three Postmortem: I Am Kyros
Or: This Was Never Going To End Well, Was It?

Act Three is where the game begins mostly a straight run through a series of bossfights and then the ending. There's not much going on, so this is going to be a look at the game as a whole in the context of what we know about Act Three. As an aside, I'm officially lifting the spoiler rules - we've beaten the game, so go nuts and post untagged spoilers everywhere. I don't even care at this point.

Are We The Baddies?

Let me state that I really like the idea that our Fatebinder rises through the power struggles forced on her to challenge the Overlord as a matter of survival. We can't retire, and our enemies won't let us go home in peace and quit the politics game because we might do something stupid and get back into it. Tyranny is very clear that our character is picking up the tools of the tyrant along the way. We start with the Overlord granted-power to dole out absolute justice, and we end the game with the ability to issue Edicts like the Overlord. Now, no good is going to come of this:

The Fellowship of the Ring posted:

"No!" cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. "With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly." His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. "Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.”

The Ring, of course, represents the power of the tyrant. At its weakest, it is merely privilege (invisibility) allowing the wielder to steal and cheat unhindered, at its strongest, it is the power to dominate and enslave. Such are the powers wielded by Cleopatra throughout the game. We are given the opportunity to summarily execute without appeal, and as the game progresses we gain the power to lay waste to the land via fire and darkness. The Fatebinder never gains any sort of ability to rally the common man, or grow crops, or anything that might be helpful to regular people. We're building a myth, not a consensus - the only average Tiersmen we talk to are the people in Lethian's Crossing we accidentally let die, the mob we talk down, and Essa. Even our symbolism and rise to power mirror that of Kyros:

Notice how the Kyros symbol looks a bit like a Spire and resonator? Myothis tells us that Kyros visited the Spires before the 400 year war began, our spire has only half the symbols lit up, and so forth. Yet the game is never quite clear what we become - are we fated to become a monster as Kyros did to cling to power, or did we actually eke some legitimacy out of our odd misadventures?

It's hard to say, mostly because the game itself can't bring itself to determine whether we end as the new Kyros, or whether we've somehow gathered power - with the support of Kyros' legal system and secret police - to become a fuzzier, gentler tyrant. We violently triumph over fascism and...whatever the Voices of Nerat is supposed to represent, but we gain the allegiance of the draconian laws and the extrajudicial death squad. This would seem to indicate that we are evil, but the ending slides, while fine on their own, collapse into incoherence.

Three of the five Archons are still here imposing order for us. Did we withdraw Tunon's law enforcers? Is Bleden Mark just chilling? The game implies we control what we can with an iron fist (such as the Vellum Citadel, or Verse's Callous Sisterhood) but then goes on to say this:

This, of course, is nonsense. Cleopatra is foreign, despite wrapping herself in the Tiers for legitimacy. Barik is from the North and is our highest ranking general. Verse is half-Northern and imposes the Scarlet Chorus virtues on her warband. There are no elections or even a popular rally for Cleopatra, we just take the infrastructure left in place by the occupying power and twist it to suit our needs.

Yet despite being a new tyrant, we let Sirin go on her merry way to spread love and peace through the land. It's very strange - Sirin is extremely loyal to us, and would probably help us fight Kyros if we asked nicely. As a matter of fact, we really shouldn't be letting any of our loyal companions go at all - it's a huge advantage for us to have reliable people who won't betray us like, well, the entire party, as we can actually motivate them by things other than greed and their personal failings. It's really the one advantage we have over Kyros at this point, and the game collapses into an incoherent mishmash, unable to decide if the player's rise to power is actually a small ray of hope or just another Kyros. That's kind of important! The game has been consistently pointing out that not only are the people in these systems flawed, but the systems themselves provide no choice except to do evil in the tyrant's name. I get that the developers wanted to end their story with us rising to challenge Kyros, and the Kyrosian Empire's collapse is out of scope for our rise to power. That's fine. I'm even ok with the developers leaving it ambiguous as to whether we can reform the system from the top, but what I dislike are the inconsistent messages that we're a tyrant who only cares about power but also we're letting one of our most powerful captains leave our service before a big war and go ramble on about peace and harmony. Things get less clear on different paths, as the rebel path lets us tell our commanders that they'll get a say in how the Tiers is run, while on the Disfavored path we can prove to Ashe that racism is dumb. We can't even use the excuse that the game is set in antiquity, as you have things like Athenian democracy or the Roman Republic. Is the game's thesis that, just as Kyros' evil ultimately destroys itself, we too will be destroyed if we follow this path? Or is the game trying to say that in taking up the tools of the tyrant we have become her? It's just kind of a confusing mess, and I would have preferred that the developers clarify that rather than add a new ending where you shout into a megaphone that you love Kyros and she sends you back a note telling you you rule the tiers.

At the same time, I can understand why the developers would want to add a little ray of hope to the ending. Evil is disturbing, and adding some ending slide where the player character presides over a great purge of innocent civilians would be both depressing to read about and implicates the player directly in the evils of their character. There's a reason the Fatebinder is never given the option to go real deep into crap like slave trading and it's because that's dark enough to snap players out of the game. This isn't a character in a novel you can dissociate from yourself, it's a customizable avatar who wanders the world at your direction, says what you tell it to say, and might even look like you. The developers understandably would not want their game tainted with allegations of enabling the Fourth Stimpire, and players would probably just be too disgusted to continue. Ultimately you don't triumph over Tunon with brutality, but with compassion, humility, and the respect of your subordinates, and that's not a story that really benefits from going too deep into the wastewater.

In conclusion, Tyranny opens strongly, begins to wear thin in the middle (the Blade Grave sans Amelia is very weak), and just kind of collapses into a boss rush symbolic of Kyros' empire collapsing around her. Ultimately it's a flawed but very ambitious game, with the skeleton of a game that could have been truly great shining through the dull combat, turgid DLC, and long unwanted prose descriptions of things we can see on screen. There are a lot of interesting innovations going on - notably, the hyperlink system has been copied by games including Pillars of Eternity 2 and Pathfinder: Kingmaker - and intriguing thematic concepts dragged down by terrible gameplay and uninspired dungeons. Thank you all for sticking through this game with me, and I hope you stick around for our second and last playthrough!