Post-apocalyptic Sweden. Am I the only person who finds that to be such a strange setting for a game? Krater is a top-down action RPG from Fatshark, the studio behind Lead and Gold and the upcoming War of the Roses, and it’s set in, well, Sweden. Post-apocalyptic Sweden. I’ll say that again just to drive it home. Oh, and there is a large, suspicious home wares manufacturing company called IDEA. Despite being an enjoyable experience, however, Krater suffers from released-too-early-itis – it’s the next in a growing line of small games that have been released a couple of weeks too early for their own good.
Here we have an ingenious take on a genre that really hasn’t changed much in far too long. Since Diablo 2, the only major addition to the entire genre was the introduction of pets in Torchlight. But here, we have a number of significant evolutions of the genre that could really make Krater stand out from the pack. First of all, there is injuries and death. Let me set the scene for you – you take control of three soldiers. What class or combination of classes they are is up to you – take 3 bruisers, sure, but they’re going to die fairly quickly if you neglect to take a medikus.
When a soldier’s HP drops to zero, they collapse. Fairly standard fare. The interesting concept is, when they get back up again, they’ve been “injured”. These minor injuries will keep adding up in a little gauge next to the character’s icon on the HUD, and if you neglect to visit your doctor, then you might just find that your favourite Bruiser has been struck with some kind of permanent, debilitating injury. Keep it up, and they’ll be dead. There’s no second chances or regens or healing permanent ailments – in Krater, the word permanent means permanent. If you’re not thrifty with getting your characters looked at by your doctor, or you’re running low on cash and can’t afford some quick surgery, then it’s all about risk, reward, and most of all, consequence. There’s always new characters available for hire from the recruitment officer, but after spending hours with your three favourites, levelling them up, finding them gear, you really don’t want to have to force a poor soldier into retirement by pushing him too hard on the battlefield. Oh, and play on Hardcore mode (as a true dungeon crawler should) and every knock-down is an injury.
The world map is another interesting little addition in Krater. As you’d expect after I used the term “world map”, you move from location to location by means of a zoomed out, gorgeous looking map, with your position located by a little glowing arrow. Be careful, though – while exploring the world map, you’re susceptible to random encounters, à la Final Fantasy. These can be fun, but after a while they do get tedious and repetitive. Maybe there could have been a nice piece of loot at the end of the encounter to make it all worth it, instead of the only major prize being your survival?
In the first section of Krater, you’ll be fighting bears, bigger bears, and even bigger bears, as well as wolves, bigger wolves, and even bigger wolves. With some boars thrown in for good measure. One would expect that bears, wolves, and boars wouldn’t be the most intelligent of adversaries, am I correct? Well, you’d be wrong. For some reason, they actually seem to be more intelligent than the majority of Team Fortress 2 players these days. Have you guessed what I’m referring to yet? In case you haven’t, the enemies in Krater always go for the medic first. Or medikus, I should say. Maybe it’s just because I’m not very good, but I always end up controlling just my medic and having him run around in circles for dear life as he is pursued by hungry wolves, while two bruisers make themselves useful by not helping. I’d love to be able to order my bruisers to help, but if I did that then the wolf would have enough time to chow into my medikus, leaving the rest of my party totally helpless for the remainder of the battle. Now, I understand the human enemies that you face later going for the medikus first; but the bears, wolves, and boars? Give me a break – they’d go for anything that was attacking them, not a poor, harmless medikus running for his life.
I’ll qualify what I opened my review with – the unfortunate case of released-too-early-itis. We saw this a couple of weeks ago with Warlock: Master of the Arcane, which released with the promise of multiplayer coming in an upcoming patch. That’s why I didn’t give it such a good score – it was a strategy game; the lack of multiplayer is unforgivable. Sadly, this disease seems to have latched onto Krater too, which promises to have multiplayer available as free DLC on the 10th of July. But why? I admit that Fatshark have been extremely good with daily patches and updates to fix a large number of launch bugs, but the question begs to be asked, why not wait for everything to be ready before the game is released? In action RPGs, multiplayer is a key component of the overall experience – does releasing a half-finished product and promising “free updates” make it okay? I guess it’s a discussion for another time and place, but it is a little disappointing when a top-down RPG in which you control a party of three – ie, a game begging for co-op multiplayer – is released as a single-player exclusive title. I’m sure that multiplayer will be excellent when it is released, and I’ll have a good go of it on the 10th of July, but for now, Krater seems like it’s missing a crucial feature.
In any action-RPG, lootin’ is one of the most important features, and the mechanisms behind it really have to be perfected. In Krater, this mechanic requires you to click on every downed enemy and select “loot all” on a sub-menu that pops up. I assume that this was an attempt to differentiate themselves from other games of the same genre, but I can’t help but think that they should have gone with the tried-and-true everything-explodes-out-of-a-dead-enemy method. Instead, clicking on the blood pool left over by an exploded wolf seems like a less-than-ideal way of looting.
Overall, though, there really aren’t too many negatives. Sure, the difficulty curve can get very steep at times, and there are a couple of little grammatical errors spread throughout the game, and yeah, every time you start it up, you have to scroll through the list of recent changes before you can get to the main menu. But the labour of love behind Krater is overwhelming. The mixture between Diablo and Fallout is fantastically tied together by the cleverly crafted aesthetics and writing style. Almost immediately, you’ll be hit with a whiff of the off-kilter style of Borderlands, particularly emphasized by the sense of humour behind the whole thing which is driven mainly by social satire, people wearing gas masks and exploding wolves. The graphical style follows this pattern, with the same cartoon-y, comic-like style as you’d expect from a Borderlands spin-off. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, inducing memories of Pink Floyd-y psychedelic synthesizer-driven instrumental music. As frequent readers will be aware, I like to play indie games in a window after about half an hour of game time, but Krater‘s excellent aesthetics simply forced me to enjoy it in as high a resolution as possible.
I wish that Fatshark would show some confidence in their cutscenes. They were actually quite good; featuring an impressive little artstyle and a nice narrator. The only problem was that the bottom right corner featured a persistent “PRESS LEFT MOUSE TO SKIP” icon that was flashing on and off. Hey, guys, I’m enjoying the cutscenes. If I wasn’t, I’d have worked out a way of skipping it, be it left mouse, escape, enter, whatever. It’s as though you want me to skip it.
When multiplayer is enabled, Krater is bound to be one of the most fun dungeon crawlers on the market. While the looting isn’t totally optimised, bug fixes are released every day and Fatshark promise to continue support the community well after release date. In all honesty, there were some things such as poor pathfinding and clever wolf AI that hampered my enjoyment in Krater, but overall, it provides 12 hours of gameplay (if you’re shit like me), not mentioning the endless replay value once multiplayer is implemented. I know that I’m going to have a blast of a time for months to come, and even though it’s not the most perfectly crafted games of all time, Krater is still definitely one worth picking up.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Krater by Fatshark.