Posted on June 18, 2012 AT 12:55pm
Somebody set up us the bomb
When I first heard about Krater, I was convinced it was destined for a spot in my personal hall of fame. The central premise—a squad-based postapocalyptic action-RPG that draws influence from X-COM and Syndicate—was right up my alley, and the time I spent with the beta seemed promising, if a little unpolished. What could possibly go wrong?
The answer, as it turns out, is an awful lot. Developer Fatshark has done a decent job mining the classics for a variety of clever mechanics, but they’ve been robbed of all the supporting elements that made them enjoyable in the first place. As a result, Krater feels like game design at its most Frankensteinian—a piecemeal assemblage of soulless parts shambling forward in an attempt to convince us it’s alive.
Take, for example, the sizable portion of Krater that’s been lifted from Diablo. The point-and-click combat is there, but there’s so little variety to the enemies that every encounter feels like the same long grind. There is, of course, an endless supply of loot to collect, but it’s basically all worthless, making the entire process even more inconvenient and less rewarding than usual.
Then there’s skill system—or, more accurately, the astonishing lack thereof. Each of the game’s four classes brings two skills to the table, and you’re free to mix and match any of them to build your three-man squad. And that’s basically the extent of your customization. Boosters allow you to slightly alter the effects of a skill—a little extra healing here, a damage buff there—and the characters you recruit later in the game have more powerful variations of the same functionality, but that’s it. Your skills never really evolve, and as a result, your strategy stays identical throughout the entire game. Lay down a stun with the Regulator, send in your melee fighter, and have the Medikus heal as necessary. Repeat ad nauseum.
Krater’s biggest flaw, though, is the way it manages to strip away the sense of constant progression that makes other RPGs so engaging. For reasons beyond my comprehension, your starting squad has a level cap of five, which you’ll easily reach within the game’s first half hour. All you can do then is breeze your way through pointless battle after pointless battle until you reach the next town in the story, then recruit a new batch of characters with a slightly higher cap.
Even more perplexing is the fact that these new characters start out at level 0, and none of the upgrades you used on your previous team are transferable. That means you get the unparalleled enjoyment of trudging back across the map to low-level areas so you can grind without getting slaughtered.
And that’s Krater in a nutshell—long, boring plateaus and constant backtracking. You pour all of your time and money into these characters, only to throw them away the moment they’ve outlived their usefulness. The decisions you make quickly lose all emotional impact once you realize they’re going out the window in an hour or two.
All this is exacerbated by the fact that the game clearly shipped before it was ready. Crashes, gameplay bugs, and inexplicable framerate drops are all too common, and there’s an embarrassing number of typos in the game’s dialogue and interfaces. Fatshark has done a decent job patching out several of the major, game-breaking issues so far, but a paid release should never feel like an extension of the beta, and Krater well and truly does.
The one notable bright spot in the entire experience is the setting. Krater’s vision of postapocalyptic Sweden is a refreshing change from the drab wastelands you’re used to—colorful, quirky, and surprisingly laid-back about the whole nuclear-armageddon thing. Like everything else in Krater, I just wish it were put to better use, rather than merely serving as the backdrop for a lackluster story and a never-ending stream of fetch quests.
With a few more months of polish and some refinements to its design, Krater could have been a decent—maybe even good—action-RPG. In spite of all the glaring flaws, there are some solid ideas here, and that makes the half-baked execution all the more disappointing. In the end, the game is just too sloppy and forgettable to warrant a recommendation, even for the most diehard genre fans.
SUMMARY: Plagued by constant bugs and poor design decisions, Krater unfortunately never lives up to the full potential of its old-school gameplay ideals.
- THE GOOD: The charming postapocalyptic setting.
- THE BAD: Shallow, uninteresting gameplay.
- THE UGLY: Bugs, bugs, and more bugs.
Krater is a PC exclusive.
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