Impressions: Kyn

Every player of games, every writer on games, has a few buttons that can be pushed to provoke a predictable response. I’ve got quite a few, one of which is claiming that your game evokes Syndicate Wars. This leaves me immediately interested in whatever it is you’re pushing. Another is including crap comedy in your promotional trailers, which… let’s just say it achieves the opposite.

Kyn is the first full-fat game from two-man Dutch outfit Tangrin and is billed as a tactical RPG/RTS. Players take control of a party of adventurers, numbering between two and six, and merrily action-RPGs them through hordes of enemies across eighteen levels. Interestingly, although the three different levelling paths characters can pursue open up a wide variety of skills, each party member can only have two skills active at once – plus a third ability that is charged through enemy kills.

As a result Kyn demands a little hotkey agility from its players. It’s nothing like, say, Starcraft, with its demand for obsessively high click-per-minute rates for high-level play. Each ability is tied to the same key across each character, so it becomes about knowing which ability is mapped to which key for which character. In the heat of battle that’s the sort of thing that can be tricky to remember, so Tangrin have included a slow-time option to help you out. It’s not a real-time pause approach ala. classic Black Isle titles, instead slowing things to a crawl and drawing on a limited timer that can be exhausted, so you still need to move quickly – but it’s a big help in executing a series of commands promptly.

Kyn 02

Early fights almost invariably devolve into messy scrums like this.

The demo I’ve spent a little time with features two levels from the full game: the first and one from about the game’s midpoint. The first is an absolute cakewalk in terms of combat, although it does highlight one of Kyn’s planned selling points. These are the puzzles that adorn each level, allowing access to rare items. One example is very simple: there’s a dead peasant inside a building, behind a locked door tied to a pressure plate. How to get inside? Well, you do have a resurrection spell in your arsenal…

A second is more challenging, involving shunting bodies of water between rooms, trying to get the correct water level in the central chamber to allow access to a chest on a raised dais. I spent ten minutes on that one, which was as much me figuring out what I was supposed to do as anything else, and got a good sense of accomplishment once I retrieved my shiny reward-bauble.

The second level takes place in a ruined temple; aesthetically a big shift from the lush green countryside of the first, although both are stock locations in fantasyland. Combat here is generally tougher, with serious opponents who can take your characters down in seconds if you’re not careful. At this point I actually began using the slow-time function, triggering various buffs and special attacks, and although a few fights were hairy – and I failed the entire level twice – this got me through. The puzzles I encountered here were, sadly, a lot less interesting, basically involving reaching far-flung rooms to flip switches and allow me access to new areas.

Kyn 01

Dank temples full of lizardmen? A Slannderous proposition.

There are elements of Kyn that I’ve got my doubts about. For example, the limitations on the number of skills available to players does force a thoughtful, tactical approach that’s a cut above the bash ‘n pray approach of many solo-character action RPGs. However it’s lunacy to use up a valuable skill slot to have resurrection always equipped – it makes fights that much tougher – but it’s annoying to have to flip to the inventory screen to have to swap skills about after every fight in which someone dies.

I’m also unsure about the levelling system. Character levels are gained only on completing a game level, with the side effect that there’s little benefit to grinding. That’s a good thing in many ways, although it’s odd that weapon drops can be several levels above your characters. In other words, you can’t use them for another hour or more… by which time another fifty weapons will have been acquired. It’s an odd decision. Equipment is also limited by three statistics into which players can put stat points: Mind, Body and Control. Most higher-level equipment seems to demand a mix of points between stats, and about 90% of what I found in the second demo level was impossible for my characters to use.

Kyn 03

Loot drops are an inevitable feature, complete with colour-coding for item rarity.

Now in fairness the demo took me from the start to halfway through the game, and left me to allocate points and acquire better equipment on my own, so my builds were no doubt awful. Regardless the unfortunate result was that I bounced off the character building and equipment aspect of the game hard; it felt like a chore. I’ve rarely encountered an RPG in which acquiring new and shiny gear for my characters, and making them bigger and tougher, was a proposition I actively avoided.

But as I say, this may simply be the result of being flung into the game’s later stages blind, and despite these problems I still muddled through to the second demo level’s boss. And there’s plenty to like about Kyn. For all that the environments I saw were unexceptional in design vision they were exquisitely rendered, a frankly stunning achievement for a two-person team. Character design is similarly familiar yet well-executed fare with nice touches, like skeletons with mismatched arms and legs. Some of the environmental puzzles promise to be an excellent palette cleanser between bouts of mook murder – I hope the full game has more of these. And combat itself, my previous reservations aside, proved engaging once I began encountering serious foes.

The game’s promotional materials also tease unusual ideas like enemy villages populated by hostile foes and neutral civilians. A couple of these appeared in the demo but had no bearing on gameplay; regardless a moral component counterposed to the usual approach of killing everything that doesn’t offer quests has me intrigued. Decisions will supposedly be demanded of you, too, which will shape later events: again I saw no trace of this but it’s interesting. Finally, there’s the promise of AI that behaves tactically, although the most advanced AI I encountered involved mages running away from my melee characters whilst healing their tanks. Which was pretty effective, to be fair.

So! If you like action RPGs but want a more tactical experience than they tend to offer, you should keep an eye on Kyn. Hell, you may even like the crap jokes in the trailer more than I do.