Kyn Preview (PC)

I give developer Tangrin their credit, they've got guts. If there's one genre that's incredibly well-represented on PC right now it's the top-down Action RPG, or "Diablo clone" to use its less-kind '90s nickname. While Doom and Command & Conquer clones, otherwise known as FPSs and RTSs, are getting increasingly either tired or rare, the ARPG is still thriving. The new Diablo III expansion, Reaper of Souls, is out soon, Torchlight II offers an excellent lower-cost offline alternative to Blizzard's behemoth, Grim Dawn is looking excellent and is on Steam Early Access right now, Path of Exile is free-to-play and still fun, and Marvel Heroes also exists (ahem). So what can the two-man team at Tangrin do to make their own upcoming ARPG Kyn stand out? They have a few answers, but the main one is team-play.

The world of Kyn is a Dungeons & Dragons-like world, although I admit I never encountered a goblin, elf, dwarf or orc. I did encounter skeletons, ninja-alike warriors, elementals, scorpions, and other magical beasties at least in this most-definitely Middle Ages-based fantasy world, so I'm calling it D&D-like. I also didn't see much of the plot, as I think it had been deliberately chopped out of the demo build I played to avoid spoilers. Unfortunately this has the side effects of leaving me unable to tell you anything even remotely basic about the story and leaving me with no idea why I was doing anything. While I liked that all the villagers spoke and moved none of them seem concerned about the pack of skeletons literally outside their village's (open) gates, or that I just saved their husband from certain death.

These Red Warriors don't seem to care that they're being attacked by skeletons

So I guess I'll talk about gameplay instead, which as I mentioned is team-focused. Not co-op or multiplayer-focused crucially, I mean that instead of the usual ARPG fashion of controlling a single person you're in command of a small party of adventurers. I started Kyn with two and gained a third in the second mission (which is set later in the game), and apparently we'll get to control up to six in the final release. You basically control them RTS-like, with the number keys selecting individual members or Tab scrolling between them, Right Mouse Button commanding them to move or attack, and Left Mouse Button choosing options or a specific unit or activating a special move. Each unit has a wide range of these special moves to choose from that you gain access to as they level up, but only two can be selected for use at any time.

Special moves are divided up into three categories - Mind, Body, and Control, which are the only three attributes you get to upgrade when each character levels up. Mind moves are based around magic and include Healing or Terror, Body moves are more physical like Hex (aka Stacking Pain) and Berserk, and Control are more ranged-combat based so include traps or special arrow shots. Every item requires a certain level of points to equip in each attribute, so it's something you have to think about. I had free rein to choose what I wanted my characters to be, so I went with straight Warrior (Body focused), Mage (Mind focused) and Ranger (guess). Seemed logical and served me well.

If we're being brutally honest here however I'm not convinced yet that Tangrin have the right idea with the party stuff. There's a general rule among RPGs - if the combat can be paused you can have a party, but the more action-focused the game is then you just concentrate on one character with perhaps some NPC partners. Kyn is attempting to straddle the line between Baldur's Gate and Diablo without wondering what split them apart in the first place. Tangrin are so busy seeing if they could do this that they, putting my best Ian Malcolm voice on now, haven't stopped to think if they should.

Okay, so there is some plot development, but it's still pretty nonsensical

The main problem I saw in my playthrough (of this early demo to be fair) is that Kyn can't decide what it wants to be - Diablo, Icewind Dale, or Command & Conquer. The squad-based stuff overcomplicates the fun simplicity of just clicking on things until they die that Diablo pioneered, and while I'm all for a more cerebral playstyle Kyn is clearly meant to be a fast-paced ARPG. There are many enemies and most either die really quickly or kill you very quickly, so there's no time for real tactics or switching between your party casting spells or special moves. By the time you've set a healing spell going, switched to another party member, chosen "Hex", identified the best enemy to use it on, clicked on that enemy and waited for the spell to be cast either you're dead or they're dead. So what's the point? Also as they're so fiddly to equip you end up using the same couple of powers ad nauseum basically, taking the point away from there being so many.

Supposedly the enemy AI will be the counter to this. I saw enemies refuse to be lured away from their group, run away if cursed or try to keep at a distance if they had a ranged weapon. Tangrin are aiming for the final game to have enemies flank you, protect their healers and even go for high ground. The AI did seem quite good even from such an early demo (at least in the second level), so if the developer can really make good on their ambition then Kyn should at least be satisfying to play.

While a few things about the game need to improve before Kyn goes Gold, number one on the list needs to be the level design. At the moment it's pretty damn awful. It lacks personality, coherence, originality, or any real reason to explore. I don't care about featureless green countryside with a very random selection of enemies, or a charmless boring square-ish temple. The developer is aiming to pack Kyn with complex and interesting puzzles, but the most complicated I saw involved having to press one switch and then another on the opposite side of the map. Quite frankly I was bored of the game before the preview was over, and that was entirely due to the unimaginative level design. This needs improvement, or it won't matter how good the rest of the game is.

Hmm, the Fallen Skull sounds good, but I gotta have me some Lava Pants

Tangrin are being very ambitious with Kyn, not least in launching an ARPG alongside the next Diablo. They talk big but at the moment though I'm simply not convinced by the team-based ARPG idea, at least in the way Tangrin's implemented it. Level design is also extremely iffy right now, especially in regard to the much-lauded puzzles. I saw no semblance of plot so can't really comment on it, but not seeing any of it doesn't give me anything to get excited about either. The AI was at least fairly impressive so hopefully that will continue to get even more challenging as the game progresses. But again, if the baseline team mechanic isn't fun it doesn't matter how good the AI is, in fact it'll probably make it worse.

Basically Tangrin have got their work cut out for them, but as long as they take their time (there's no release date yet) and realise what they need to improve then there's no reason Kyn can't end up a good and interesting addition to the ARPG genre. Expect to see Kyn on PC when it's done.

Most Anticipated Feature/Element: Seeing how challenging the AI can get.

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