[Originally posted on PopMatters]
Tryst is the second release from developer BlueGiant Interactive, a small-ish company based out of India. Tryst is an RTS that focuses more on smaller, more intimate, “micro-intensive” battles than it does on longer, drawn out matches with complicated economies akin to the Age of Empires series. Although the lack of workers, the short build times, and the slow income initially cause play to feel a lot like Dawn of War,Tryst‘s real goal is to cut into to the massive StarCraft 2audience. Tryst successfully imitates all the best aspects ofStarCraft 2, but it shines brightest in the few moments when it takes on an identity of its own. And while it’s fun and interesting (qualities that make any game worth at least a closer look), it never offers enough to feel complete.
The comparisons to StarCraft 2 might seem a little unfair, given that Blizzard has had a decade and virtually limitless resources to develop it, to say nothing of the incredible legacy that the original left behind or all the free advertising that it continues to get from YouTube “shoutcasters” that commentate for professional tournaments. But BlueGiant seems to invite the comparison. Tryst’s interface is virtually identical to that of StarCraft 2, and it proudly boasts on its press releases whenever a reviewer calls it the “indie StarCraft.” Even the sci-fi “corrupt empire vs. scrappy rebels vs. all consuming alien menace” plot bears at least a passing resemblance to the conflict of StarCraft. It’s an ambitious target to aim for, and while it’s hard to imagine any RTS ever challenging the rapacious demand for more StarCraft, Tryst puts itself in a decent position to try.
Tryst cuts most of the bells and whistles that StarCraft has and the merciless paring down to the core mechanics is a really wise decision. Unlike StarCraft, Tryst has only 2 distinct factions the player can choose to command. The humans play much like StarCraft‘s terrans and the alien zali play like a cross between the zerg and protoss. At first glance, it might appear that Tryst is foregoing a significant part of StarCraft’s depth, but since the protoss haven’t really had a significant impact on StarCraft (in the story or in the mulitplayer) since Brood War, the erasure of their equivalent doesn’t leave the gap that it seems like it should. The humans and the zali play differently enough to feel unique, while at the core they aren’t so different that a player can’t experiment with switching sides every once in a while. The game’s novelty shows in how it allows each player to really personalize their army.
Players can apply a permanent upgrade to each unit as the match progresses. There are three tiers of upgrades and each tier consists of three different irreversible options. Either the unit gets an improvement to a stat, a buff that helps nearby units, or a new ability, depending on the upgrade. The upgrades come at a low cost and have an incredible influence on how the game can be played. Two players, each playing the same faction, can employ enormously different strategies based around their upgrade path. The system ensures that any play style is viable and any tactic can be responded to. By the time a unit has been fully upgraded, they take on a remarkably different role. Even the same unit upgraded along a different path becomes unrecognizable from its other iterations. It makes the modestly sized unit count for both the humans and the zali seem so much larger and more impressive.
The biggest disappointment with many multiplayer strategy games is that a twenty-minute match is often decided by the first battle. Early advantages in StarCraft. WarCraft, or League of Legends generally translate into a victory later on, and the best thing a player at a disadvantage can hope for is that their opponent will make a mistake. But the deep upgrade system of Trystmitigates the impact of early advantages. It doesn’t work perfectly, an early first battle is likely to pay dividends, but the upgrades provide a losing player with options to compensate for an enemy’s advantage or even nullify certain strategies. The myriad of choices is overwhelming at first, and it takes quite a while to figure out how different upgrades interact in an overall unit composition, but working your way into a play style can be fun so long as one can keep a spirit of experimentation.
It adds a layer to the competitive aspect of the game, which is important since the competitive aspect is pretty much the only aspect. There is a single-player campaign, but it’s so disappointingly short that it can be considered a tutorial for the online mode. The lack of a lengthy campaign wouldn’t be so sorely missed if what was provided wasn’t such an interesting set up. The campaign takes place on the planet of Ishtonia IV, where the miraculous substance, lohum, is abundant. Miners on the planet are underpaid second-class citizens that eventually rise against their administrators. Enter the zali, who have also been lured to Ishtonia IV by the lohum. As the zali start winning several key battles, the rebels and government put aside their differences to fight a common threat.
It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s executed with such self aware gusto that it’s actually quite charming. The game follows Oliver Petrovich, the son of the current president and Aeryn Ozarr, the leader of the rebellion. Oliver, while apparently well intentioned and generally likable, is an unproven leader and a military novice, while Aeryn comes off as extremely competent but cynical. The two barely have any chance to show any chemistry together, but they’re interesting enough in the few times that they do interact with one another. The biggest problem is that with only five story missions the game ends by the time the player starts feeling anything for the world or the people in it.
Most RTS campaigns consist of levels where the player must take an enemy base, search for and protect/destroy macguffins, hold a location for a time limit, or guide a small squad of soldiers to a destination. Rather than cycle through these staples, Tryst features one level of each of these and calls it a day. There are a number of choices that the player must make early on that promises grand consequences, but none of it ever pans out. It’s an interesting thought exercise when you must choose between saving a communications facility or a power plant or whether to rescue a group of soldiers that will make your army stronger or a group of doctors that will keep your existing troops alive longer. But ultimately, none of these choices make a difference, even though they absolutely could.
The conflict with the zali never seems to be a serious problem since they’re wiped out in five short missions that are all pulled off without any complication. We never even really learn anything about them, other than they want lohum and that they’re good at accepting defeat. Moreover, the personal tale of Oliver and company never gets told either, since their arcs are resolved in about four hours of gameplay. The game doesn’t have to be a sprawling epic if it doesn’t want to be, but the cutscenes and promotional material makes it seem worth doing.
The campaign of StarCraft 2, when compared with its predecessor—well—sucked, but it was not due to lack of effort. StarCraft’s single player options were designed to be worth doing, and the first game and its expansion are responsible for one of the better stories in games. Tryst, on the other hand, provides little more than “there’s a war” and expects that to be enough to satisfy its players. If BlueGiant only wanted the single player to train players for the multiplayer than they should not have dressed it up as a campaign that would deliver a deep world with complex characters.
Tryst is not as technically refined as StarCraft. And even though there’s just enough substance to make the game worth at least looking into with a price tag of $25 it’s not exactly something that one can purchase on a whim. Without the sophisticated matchmaking of more well-known games or a worthwhile single player to back up the competitive play, it’s difficult to recommend. The demo is worth a download, and the game would make for a good tournament among friends with a weekend to kill. However, Tryst is not likely to be all that it wants to be. There’s value in Tryst, but in the end, the most impressive thing about it is its lofty goals.
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