John and Nathan both exclaimed the seeming impossibility of Meridian: New World, the one-man built fully-featured single-player RTS, last year. I’ve got some unfortunate news for them (which the easiest way to deliver seemed like a post on their website) as not only is it available on Steam, but there’s now a demo. It accompanies the release of the Phase 3 update introducing two new missions and a new level cap on the player character, allowing for more abilities. The demo itself is roughly equal in content to the first Early Access release, containing a few scenarios and the beginnings of the plot. I had a play and you can find what I thought below.
The first thing I noticed was that, for all our bluster about Ede Tarsoly’s solo efforts, he has had some help. Specifically when it came to the cutscenes, GUI and modelling and textures he had some freelancers on hand. Just all the story, music, game design etc. from him then. Easy, really.
Anyway, it starts pretty small scale, simply moving units about as they get to a dropship. Before the first proper mission starts there’s a short interlude aboard the ship, where player character Commander Daniel Hanson can wander around and talk to his crew. It’s still done from an isometric perspective, but with the view centered on this one model. It’s a half-way house between a normal RTS mission and StarCraft II’s briefing segments which were built like simple point and clicks. The freedom to move around and get a feel for the layout of the ship is great, and some of the conversations even have branching paths based on what you choose to say. This may seem a simple thing to praise, but storytelling and character development are rarely the genre’s strengths at the best of times, so it’s very cool to see it here with a smaller dev team.
Once you’re controlling units, building bases and gathering resources it’s all pretty familiar. There’s some nice touches like customisable units, essentially chassis’ that you can strap guns to. Units move around one another smoothly and I encountered no problems with pathfinding or AI. There’s some features I’d expect missing, such as not being able to rally buildings to units and the UI is non-traditional, so I forgot where to look until I’d unlearned some Blizzard muscle memory. It is mightily impressive, considering how few traditional RTS games we get these days and the fact it’s a mostly solo project.