The first rule of Tyranny is that you can't make everyone happy.
I discovered that pretty quickly when I tried to save some valuable spellbooks and one of my armies walked out in a huff, prompting my evil overlord to nuke a massive and valuable library full of ancient tomes. Oops.
In Tyranny, the new isometric RPG by Obsidian, you are the agent of an evil Alexander the Great-like figure named Kyros who is the ruler of the known world. As one of his Fatebinders, it is your job to keep the peace between his two main armies, the Disfavored and the Scarlet Chorus, and decide who gets to live and who gets to die. It's a markedly different experience from the typical RPG, where you're an outsider trying to change the system. In Tyranny, you are the system.
From the outset, you will have to balance your support for one side or the other. If you push one of them too far, they will eventually abandon you entirely, and in all probability take one of your party members with them. At first, you just make a series of decisions that establishes your backstory. After that, you have to wade into the fray yourself.
It begins with a character creation scene that should be familiar to RPG enthusiasts. At the outset, you can choose from one of a handful of backstories, each of which gives your character a distinctly different flavor. Are you a former Pit Fighter who earned their freedom through combat? Are you a spoiled princeling? A diplomat? Whichever path you choose goes a long way toward determining how other factions perceive you.
But where it gets really interesting is in the sequence that follows. Tyranny presents its decisions through a series of events that take place across an animated chess board. As you lead the Disfavored and Scarlet Chorus in a final assault on the free lands, you have to decide where to attack, who to spare, and who to support. Each side has their own agenda: The Disfavored are Kyros' elite shock troops, and they believe in a scorched earth policy. The Scarlet Chorus are more pragmatic, saving valuable loot and taking defeated warriors into their ranks, but their leader looks unnervingly like the Joker.
Through each event, you can go in one of two directions, which then sets off a chain of events. It's here that you can define your character as a peacemaker or a bloodthirsty tyrant as you reconcile with or destroy your conquests. Your decisions have a lasting impact on your reputation around the world, and can make it easier to join with other factions down the line. But as the agent of an evil empire, trying to be nice can have adverse effects, as I discovered when I angered both the Disfavored and Kyros.
All of this is reminiscent of a similar model from Mass Effect 2, which aimed to ease in newcomers who were playing on the PlayStation 3, and had thus missed out on the original Mass Effect. It later became available as DLC across all platforms, serving as a neat alternative for anyone who wanted to jump into the meat of the story. As someone who enjoyed Mass Effect but found that it aged poorly, I was more than happy to avail of myself of the alternative.
In Tyranny's case, there is no past game to refer to, but the opening cutscene still manages to serve an important purpose: establishing a character who is known far and wide as an important figure in Kyros' army. It's necessary in a game where you are already a known quantity rather than a total newcomer starting at the bottom rung of society. Without it, Tyranny would have gotten off to a much slower start, as it would have had to painstakingly ease you into its highly-charged conflicts.
Tyranny does a nice job of breaking down each event, and the route splits offer a good excuse to return for a second or third playthrough. More importantly, its excellent presentation keeps it from becoming just a wall of text, which makes it easier to become immersed in the world of Tyranny. It's an all-around strong beginning, and a great way to get your character established.
It helps that Tyranny doesn't waste any time getting underway once the opening sequence is finished. Fast-forwarding a few years after Kyros' conquest, Tyranny drops you into the middle of a new rebellion, which you have to quell with the help of the Scarlet Chorus and the Disfavored, who immediately take to bickering over the proper course of action. You are regularly reminded of the decisions you made during the war, and you can even pick up a nickname or two (I was known as a peacemaker).
Thanks to Tyranny's comprehensive introduction, I quickly became comfortable in its world of backbiting and court politics, and my character felt strong and well-fleshed out. Obsidian's stated goal has always been to turn the typical RPG premise on its head, but to do that, they needed to do some extra heavy-duty world-building. In my opinion, they've managed to do just that.
I'll have additional thoughts down the line once I've had a chance to really dig into Tyranny, but I wanted to take a moment to highlight its really excellent introduction. If the rest of the game is half as good as its first couple hours, then RPG fans are in for a treat.