Breaking The Template: Hands On With Tryst

Tryst, by BlueGiant Interactive, is a real time strategy game to be released September 14 on Steam.  Now, be honest.  When you saw it was an RTS you immediately, and rightly, thought of Starcraft. Terms like Metroidvania and Diablo Clone exist not only because the sources are good games, but because they have become a standard that other games emulate.  Copying a template doesn’t necessarily make a game bad, but if there isn’t enough differentiation then people rightly ask why they should play it in the first place.

Therefore, the necessary question is: How does Tryst differentiate itself?

There are three big differences, and the first is economical.  I’ve always likened RTS games to a growing tree.  You first build a strong base by gathering materials that are close by, and only then do you expand branches out to defeat your enemy.  Tryst completely reverses the order by requiring the player to branch out into the map very early in the game.  Instead of gathering resources that are nearby, there are nodes far beyond your base to capture, and these provide ore and energy.  True, there is one of each node at your home base, but the rest need to be scouted and captured.

More than anything else, this change is what makes Tryst unique.  Sending troops out early to capture these points is necessary if you want to build your army, but because the nodes are spread throughout the map, you need to decide where to allocate forces.  Will you capture as many as you can, but leave them undefended? Or, will you bunker down on a few, and have a solid, but low amount of income?

Disrupting an opponent’s economy also becomes a large part of the game.  While they also have resources at their base, it becomes moot if you control every part of the map.  It seems a small change, but it has deep implications for the flow of a standard RTS game.

The second difference belongs to one of the two playable races.  The Human race feels comfortably familiar, and provides a good starting point when learning the similarities and differences in Tryst.  The alien/robotic race, named the Zali, is anything but standard.

The template, and the one Humans follow, is building three types of units at three different kinds of buildings. Infantry are built in barracks, artillery is built at the vehicle factory, and flying units are built at an airport.  More advanced units can be built once specialized buildings are created.

Instead of building advanced units straightaway, the Zali build standard units and merge two together to become more sophisticated.  These units can become very powerful, especially because the race’s units can be upgraded to increase their stats.  However, individuals become very expensive, and you will, again, need to make specific choices to match your play style.

The third difference is that every buildable unit, both Human and Zali, has a unique upgrade path.  The Augmentation Research Mechanism, or A.R.M. for short, once again requires player choice.  Upgrades will allow you to give special traits to your units, such as increased damage for infantry or the ability to shoot and move for artillery.  ‘Maxing’ a unit isn’t possible.  To have extra damage, you need to sacrifice an increase to armour.  Moving while shooting is useful, but you also could have increased range.  Through this system, two identical armies could face against each other that each behave very differently.

These different systems create an RTS that is fast-paced, choice-driven and unpredictable.  Matches tend to last around fifteen to twenty minutes, but the time is always spent in a rush of gathering resources and destroying enemy units.  Because it is necessary to send units our early and often to capture resources, you rarely have a chance to relax.

To summarize these differences, the word to use is ‘choice’.  How will you capture resources?  What units will you build?  How will you customize your army?  All these choices are things you need to decide, and they all have deep implications on how a game will play.

Yet, for all its differences, there are still similarities to other RST games besides the standard of building units and structures.  The UI design is very much like  Starcraft’s and doesn’t make many changes from the template.  While the game has unfamiliar mechanics, the interface will make you feel at home if you’re accustomed to the genre and it’s easy to pick up if you’re not.

However, the beta build I played still lacks polish.  Unit pathfinding and AI was dodgy at times, and I found units taking strange routes or ignoring an attacking enemy.  In addition, notifications on the minimap were missing, and didn’t give me enough information about what was happening around the map. When resource points were being taken, I didn’t know where the event was occurring.  I also lost a number of units because I didn’t know where they had been killed.

Tryst doesn’t just follow a template, it cracks it.  A few elements in the game are familiar, but there are far more that are fresh and new.  Instead of following the standard, Blue Giant Interactive took what they needed from the typical rules and then forged a new and different path.

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September 9, 2012 - 8:00 am