For all of the games based on recreating the idea of a pen and paper RPG, few actually take that genre to heart. There are a thousand games that use the Dungeons and Dragons license or parts of the background system driving it all but they tend to be graphical powerhouses, flaunting graphics over dice rolls. Syrth is a pen and paper game for the internet generation.
Recreating the idea of a pen and paper RPG is a pretty hard thing to do despite appearances to the contrary. Without solid graphics to keep the player invested in the action the writing has to be of an exceptional level. Not too flowery but able to paint the picture of the area or characters you encounter without wasting too many words and risking losing the attention of the player. It’s part dice rolling and part choose your own adventure novel. A single voice has to shine through and keep the game world in focus.
Graphically there’s little going on, but the design and layout of the game does help to keep a lot of information both on-screen and neatly organised. Dungeons do contain maps but they are not ‘graphics’ in a conventional sense and characters are illustrated through descriptions rather than having artwork displaying them at all times. The layout and visual style is that of a medieval fantasy, meaning that stone tiles, wood and scrolls are the visual markers that set the pace.
Players create a character by randomly rolling stats in all areas, with notes attached to make it clear what is and isn’t a good rating and a maximum score of 20 in most areas. They then select their sex and enter a name (although the game does offer a random name generator for those who give this too much thought or get stuck, a common pen and paper problem) before choosing starting skills and getting on with the adventure. At any time a ? icon can be clicked to provide a small pop-up window that accesses an online encyclopedia to fill the player in on the worlds rules or background knowledge, a touch that is much appreciated for old and new players alike who enjoy getting stuck into a setting. Dragon Age Origins uses this to good effect as well but here it’s a seamless part of the experience.
The game is free to play but does run a membership scheme for twenty dollars a year that enables access to premium content and allows you to upkeep multiple characters. It’s worth noting that inactive accounts are deleted after some time so taking a year out could cost you dearly if your playing as a particular character. I had to recreate my own character from scratch in order to prepare for this review and I’d guess I hadn’t logged into the game in roughly 14 months in all. The latest game news and additional information (as well as an option for the blind to play!) are easily accessible through the main page as is the ability to log into the world or create an account. My hat comes off to them for the quick and easy manner in which a player account can be created, avoiding many of the pitfalls of more recent browser based titles.
There isn’t any sound effects to speak of or music to review for this title, which seems like a little bit of a letdown though in-keeping with the way the game is produced. A few simple clicks and slashing noises would go a long way to immersing the player into the game and it’s surprising that a dedicated team such as Epic Imagination (with particular note of one Matthew H. Yarrows) doesn’t have an online radio station that could be listened to as optional content. These days most tabletop RPGs are played with background music provided on mobile devices to add epic flavor to situations and Sryth could make excellent use of this.
The storyline of Syrth is essentially that of the player’s own experiences with the game and therefore hard to pin down. The game can be saved in safe zones and therefore death has the penalty of lost play time rather than permanent character death, but whole dungeon raids can be lost to the unwary and this presents a thrilling feeling of danger when playing that is hard to match in other more conventional modern RPGs. My adventurer explored the initial town after an introduction sequence before agreeing to escort a caravan through hostile territory, he then explored the back roads on his way home and came across a group fearing for a captive member of their party that had been dragged away by Goblins into a local network of caves. I dived in to rescue said character before facing my first dungeon and encountered a variety of different monsters and found some treasure while I was at it. All this within an hour of play. The choices you make and the routes you take provide a unique experience for everyone and even character response choices to questions are generated based on your character sheet rather than being stock answers.
Gameplay is split between choose your own adventure type exploration that makes excellent use of a huge world to explore coupled with interesting characters to further the games narrative, and a turn based battle system straight out of the old text-based dungeon crawls of the early PC days. Your character build and equipment are a big factor here, as are background rolls that vary depending on your experience with certain tasks. There’s nothing new to see here, but at the same time what it does is an excellent example of the style. Text is again well written and laid out on the screen to allow for a variety of information to be accessible at a moment’s notice. Playing Sryth at work in the lunch hour feels like the natural fit for the way the game is delivered, and the games compatibility with all internet explorers across all devices makes it very easy to get into.
Overall Sryth brings nothing new to the table, but it is a masterclass in bringing the pen and paper experience to the internet generation. Those of us who roleplayed their way through University with a group of friends and miss accessing an original and deep world setting for a solo adventure (or occasional raid with others) can rest assured that there are people like Epic Entertainment bringing this type of experience to the general population. I hope to never see games like this go out of fashion and encourage more people to take them to heart and give them a try. I’d like to give the game more than 3 Stars in this review but as an online title it’s changed very little since I encountered it for the first time four years ago, and seeing it have an overhaul to bring it back to the attention of the public would make all the difference to an aging title.