A Good Mix of Old and New
Fatshark has really done an excellent job of capturing exactly what makes those genres so great in the first place. The gameplay is spot-on; you have an incredibly massive world waiting for you to explore at your convenience, you have a rag-tag group of misfits ready and willing to tackle the challenges ahead of them, and the combat adjusts well to your abilities, so that you're not swarmed right out of the gate. Shortly after the opening tutorial ends, you'll be ready to fight the hordes of enemies the game throws at you. You'll also be familiar enough with your characters to know exactly what abilities you need to use in order to not become a group of greasy spots on the floor of some misbegotten cave.
Making Your Mark on the World
As with many games of this kind, you very quickly get the feeling of wanting to collect absolutely everything that you come across, usually in hopes of finding that new and shiny upgrade. To that end, Fatshark has yet again done an excellent job of giving the player plenty of unique locations to explore and places to loot. The overall look to the game is superb, as well. Instead of being a dark and gritty futuristic affair like Fallout: New Vegas, Krater has a light, comedic tone to the bleak landscape, more along the lines of Borderlands. That vibe really helped sell that game, and it works just as well here.
The story itself is fairly typical of the genre; in the near future, Sweden gets nuked, and nuked badly. A giant crater is left squarely in the middle of the country, and life struggles to continue. However, life begins to flourish near the crater, and after many years pass, civilization begins anew. Roaming packs of scavengers begin digging through the ruins of the past, and this is where your characters enter the story. As a recently hired group of thugs, you're initially sent out to sort through the debris left behind and find whatever valuables you can.
Shortly after the tutorial, however, you discover a grisly scene where a scientist was murdered, leaving behind a note to a colleague: if the nuclear blast irradiated everything, why did life spring forth from a fallout site? And that just begs the next question: was the scientist onto a major breakthrough, and was he silenced to prevent the truth escaping? And it's at this point that the game leaves it up to you to proceed. You can decide to follow the clues to the murder, you can continue to scavenge nearby junkheaps for spare parts and upgrades, or you can visit any one of the many towns that dot the landscape and take on any of the many quests as mercenaries for hire. The best part about all of this is that the game is fully fleshed out in this regard; any of these options are valid choices. Clearly, the developers want you to follow the clues about the murder, but you're not penalized in the slightest by not doing so.
Standing Out From the Rest
While this game does have a lot going for it, there are some rather odd choices made by the developers that left me wondering. First and foremost, when the game was initially released, it had absolutely no sound options at all. In the settings menu, you could rebind your controllers and fiddle with a few video options, but that was it. It's pretty baffling that, in 2012, a game could be released without the option to at least change the in-game volume. After a few patches, the option to adjust the volume was finally added, but there were a few problems with it. Namely, every time you zone into a new level, the sound levels reset to their original values. The developers have been steadily rolling out patches for the game, so it's probably only a matter of time before this is properly addressed. Still, one has to wonder why it wasn't taken care of before the game was released.
Krater also makes a point of being able to create a team of your choosing for tackling the great unknown. However, there are only four classes to choose from: bruiser, a melee damage sponge; slayer, a speedy melee damage dealer; medikus, a ranged healing class; and regulator, a ranged class with stun and slowing abilities. While things might be different in the later stages of the game, in the beginning you are pretty much forced to take at least one bruiser and one medikus with you at all times. And since your party only consists of three people, that severely limits your options.
As you visit new towns you'll find more people to hire on, but you'll notice that, at least in the beginning, each slayer has all of the same abilities, as well as each regulator, and so on. There's pretty much no reason to use one over the other, except they might have different names. But that's not a problem, because you can rename each character to anything you like. While that's a nice addition, it actually removes what group cohesion you might have, ironically. Take Fallout: Tactics, for instance; in the beginning, you create a character, a new initiate to the Brotherhood of Steel, and then go around finding new characters to join your squad. Your main character never changes, however.
In Krater, every character is replaceable, so after a while you wonder why this new group of characters who just met would even bother sticking around together in the first place. And since first characters you start with have a low level cap, you'll quickly replace your entire team with characters with a higher level cap. And once you do so, there's practically no reason to ever use those lower level characters again. Once they hit the proverbial "glass ceiling," they're more or less resigned to the roster list for the rest of the game. This really breaks up any sort of cohesion your team might have, but since the game is just so damn fun to play in the first place, it's not that big of a problem as it sounds like it might be.
Roaming around through the world at large is a blast. The characters you meet along the way are fantastic, and the quests you can opt to do along the way are great, as well. For instance, you meet a woman that needs "meat for her family," and starts out wanting just a paltry amount of meat, but as you complete her quests, the quantities of meat get larger and larger, and the animals she needs meat from become much more lethal. Eventually, her blood lust takes over and she turns on your party in a carnivorous bloodlust, and I can't possibly think of a better way for her quest line to end. Krater is filled with such well-written characters like her, the shady priest and his mysterious cult, and the vagrant who lives on the farm in the middle of nowhere. After talking to these characters, you really do want to help them out, just to find out where it'll end up. And each time I've finished one of these quest lines, I've been quite thrilled with the outcome.
Each dark, damp cave you explore also sounds exactly as you'd expect, as well. The ambiance for each location is spot-on, with the forests sounding vibrant and alive despite the nuclear radiation contaminating the world. The different soldiers you control each sound quite different from one another, making pinpointing which character needs your immediate attention a breeze. The deep breathing and raspy voice of the bruiser sounds quite different from the frenetic high pitched voice of the slayer, so you can immediately tell who needs the attention of your medikus without even having to glance at their health bars. The game could use a bit more voice-acting, however, as the game tends to be a bit text heavy. Most of the characters you meet have quite a lot to tell you, and the game will throw huge paragraphs at you at times, which slows down the gameplay considerably. There are a few cutscenes thrown in from time to time, but they are few and far between. However, since both the cutscenes and dialogue can be skipped, the game can be sped up considerably if you're itching to plunder more caves and ruins.
Krater is a lot of fun, to be sure, but after seeing some of the unfinished parts of the game, it feels more like a work in progress than a truly polished product. At this point in time, the online mode is still not functioning, for instance. The developers have stated that they're busily working on it, but it might be some time before it's implemented. As it stands, the game right now is more like a practice mode for when the online component is released, since the developers promise that the online interaction between squads will be a different type of game than playing offline. If you're a fan of action RPGs or ruined futuristic settings, then there's a lot of fun to be had for your $15. For those on the fence, however, you might want to wait for a few more patches to be released to iron out several of the issues that are still present in the initial release.
- Huge Environment To Explore
- Well Written NPCs to Interact With
- Game Seems Unfinished In Parts
- Playable Characters Not Unique Enough