When the Fallout franchise was snapped up by Bethesda as a shooting/RPG hybrid, many of the fans of the old series were upset at the change. That’s because the original games they grew up with and loved was a birds eye RPG with pacing and slower movement. Since the Fallout franchise was reborn, two other formerly birds eye tactical RPG’s – X-Com and Syndicate -have been transformed into these FRP/RPG hybrids. Maybe these games when reborn will turn out okay and be true to the lore and style therefore staying true to the fans. No-one is sure until the game is released. Good or bad, that’s beside the point. What is important is that the strategy RPG genre for PC has fallen aside to RTS games or first-person shooters.
As its name may indicate, Krater takes place within a massive crater somewhere in Sweden and contains the last remaining pockets of humanity. You control a small three man party, known as the Freediggers. We learn from the start of the game that the Freediggers are a group of humanoid mutant scavengers who have been making their living plundering the treasures and trinkets of the old world. These people scavenge from caves, old settlements and the surrounding land selling the things that the find to the local villages. In the direct centre of the crater is the Centre Hole, a massive abyss where you do most of the dungeon adventuring, a few hours in. At the start you will learn the basics of the game; how to dungeon crawl, control and level your companions up, build new weapons from things you have picked up and switch party members for others. The real adventure begins when you are exploring the crater and something mysterious is uncovered in the Centre, this is when the main portion of the game begins.
What first drew me to the game was a fresh new apocalyptic world, unlike the Fallout series, set in Sweden. However, after many hours of play I noticed that the environment is not Kraters main strength. Instead, being able to customise weapons and modify them to whoever is in your party and the situation is the coolest aspect by far. I could honestly see myself sitting for hours creating some pretty bass-ass weapons!
Each of the towns in Solside (which represents the first chapter of a planned three) has its own group of NPCs, merchants, quests and side-quests, with locations linked together via a traditional overland map. Taking a quick glance at the territorial layout also reveals a somewhat cavernous hole into the middle of the earth, which is where the majority of Krater’s procedurally-generated dungeon-crawling is set. In terms of pure mechanics it plays out in a similar fashion as you might expect, with mouse clicks governing your attack targets and six hotkeys representing each of the two special skills available to individual party members.
“We don’t want players to focus on the individual characters too much,” says Krater Game Designer Victor Magnuson. “We want you to focus on building a good and diverse team.” Part of this team building is deciding what type of party you want to bring into the surrounding dungeons. The basic roles are available, Tank, Medic, and DPS, with each having their own special attack power. For example, the Tank will have a smash attack that deals significant AoE damage. But it’s possible to buff this attack, so for example, it would deal damage as well as heal nearby party members.
“If I don’t want to have a healer with me, I could spec my tank to be a self-sufficient tank,” explains Magnuson. “He would never become as efficient as a pure healer, but depending on how you set up your team, you’ll be able to make it without a pure healer.” Creating a tank character like this does have consequences, because choices will be permanent. “If I decide to give one of my characters more stamina, that’ll be a permanent choice — I can’t take that back,” continues Magnuson. “The weapons are switchable at any time, but upgrades and components will be a permanent choice.”
Combat is in real-time, and with no pause button expect battles to be frantic. Whilst your team are relatively good at attacking what’s in front of them without much assistance, you’ll need to activate their special abilities manually, and making the right choices in the heat of the moment is often fairly tense.
Controlling your party is actually very simple and most PC gamers would have played a game that works pretty much identically. The control system is not revolutionary, but it does exactly what you want it to do. It’s very similar to games such as Neverwinter Nights 2 where as you may click on one party member and in essence he becomes the ‘leader’ who will move to different spots on the map and the other two will follow. You can either control the entire group like this or individually move your characters around the map by selecting each one. Moving them around separately is an integral piece of the gameplay as of course, you will want to keep your healer away from the fight and want to send your tank in to soak up the damage. Your damage dealer, melee or ranged will fit into one of these two positions. I found that when you enter combat the computer does a good job of moving the Freediggers into their roles automatically, like when the healer would stay back and hold hit group whilst the tank charges in.
It is equally important to take care of your character during the fights in Krater. I found that there is always need of your healer during harder boss fights to smaller mobs that may go straight for your damage character. The healer is always needed and I learned quickly to always take one wherever I went. This is because each time a party member falls they will incur an injury so you must heal them asap. If, for example a your tank character falls and gets a broken leg that impairs their movement and doesn’t get healed in time, it’ll become a permanent feature of your character that you may have spend hours moulding. Then you will be faced with the hard decision of sticking with your impaired tank or consider investing in a new character. This can get quite frustrating but is an important part of the gameplay, leading to some tough choices.
A massive amount of other Freediggers can be bought at the local bar in the various villages and settlements that you will find around the Krater world. I enjoyed being able to pick different characters and see what skills and attacks they done and be able to see the uniqueness of the model. Freediggers can be bought by using the money you have earned by completing quests or selling some of the goods you have found whilst scavenging. Like you would expect, the most expensive the character, the more powerful they are. I pretty much stuck with the same tank and healer throughout my playtime, however I did like to swap and change the DPS between ranged and melee. The ranged would act with one lighting attack focus on one enemy to a dubuff zone which would slow down each enemy inside, particularly helpful when being mobbed. The melee character I used worked like an assassin, striking very quick and having two skills that were purely damage dealing.
Like I said one area which I have loved about Krater since first picking it up was the immense number of weapons to create from items that can be bought from shopkeepers, found when exploring or looted of enemies. You can use things that you may find really cool, things like chainsaws, lawnmowers and road signs to make a mish-mash of a weapon. I found some pretty crazy recopies lying around, that required some very strange materials. All the debris throughout the game can be collected and forged into some sort of weapon, which means each weapon is a breath of fresh air. Other than the weapons you will be able to put together gadgets that will impact the gameplay in different ways. For example there is one gadget that you may have to create or may find lying about that will make the mini map appear on the HUD. Even though I have played quite a few hours in the Krater world and found many gadgets and crafted many weapons, I sense that there in many many more to create.
The graphics are lovely, being both vibrant and colourful. It looks as much an art piece as a game and there are moments where you will definitely utter the word ‘wow’. While a large variety of wildlife, plants and trees provide colour to the world above, Krater’s near endless caves and dungeons look a lot less joyful. A quiet whistling of the wind, the sound of water dripping in the distance… it’s all very tranquil. Then a roar of something dangerous sounds out of nowhere. You know you’re in trouble now and that danger lurks in the shadows. It’s a really tense affair sometimes and whilst the game is not intended to scare, there were a few points where I was shocked.
Krater will be released in an episodic format as a trilogy, with the first part known as Shadows Over Solside. The following episodes will be priced cheaper (although no specific price has been given for any of the episodes) as well as a free co-op mode that will allow players to journey through some of the dungeon instances. Also, if co-op isn’t ready by release it will then be patched as a free download after launch.
With both Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 coming out this year we’ll definitely have a fair share of isometric dungeon crawlers to choose from. Even so, I can never seem to get enough of loot drops, quests, or engaging post-apocalyptic settings and I’m eagerly awaiting to get my hands on the finished product of Krater. I can definitely seeing the final game being my game of 2012. I loved playing through it and found myself wanting more than just the Pre-Alpha build, which is definitely a good notion!