Fatshark’s upcoming tactical RPG Krater takes place in a lush post-apocalyptic world, where cities and nations have been built in the colossal impact crater on the aftermath of a bomb. Rather than the grey decaying remnants of a human civilisation, Krater turns the setting around with colourful and beautiful Nordic pine forests and country cottages.
Krater is an RPG that attempts to cater for all; primarily a single player quest based dungeon crawler, it also promises co-operative play and PVP, however just don’t go confusing it with an MMO for these reasons.
Now the game is still at its pre-alpha stage, which is quite a way off from release, and means that there is still a lot to come; the game will have much added, and some parts removed, however when you see exactly how much potential the game has at the moment, you may be able to see why we just can’t stop playing it.
The story of Krater begins in Shadows over Solside which is the first of three episodes set in the Krater world. Solside is one of the three major factions located in the crater, and your exploration of the world will begin from the small hub of Stockholm's old district of Norrmalm, yes Stockholm, did I forget to mention; Krater takes place in Sweden of all post-apocalyptic settings! Norrmalm is a quaint little town trying to survive in a lush but harsh world. There you’ll find quests, take bounties and your standard questing affairs, unfortunately this leads to many collecting missions, sending you out on the hunt for certain enemies and the like, however this is not where the game excels.
Krater is a fast paced tactical RPG that gives you control of three characters simultaneously, this is by far the most effective mechanic in the game; each character has two special actions, each of which are controlled with keys 1-6 and they otherwise attack enemies automatically, all you have to worry about is healing your bruiser, activating your special attacks and stunning that thug that is getting a little too close for comfort. Now this is not to say that the game is easy; the combat is very unforgiving to a new player, and surviving is the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced in a tactical setting.
The game focuses around three basic pillars; exploration, crafting and consequence; the world inside of the crater is massive, and surrounding Norrmalm is a combination of woods, disused facilities, small townships and more that you’ll need to explore in order to take part in the hundreds of side quests or main story path. What makes the world of the crater unique to say Azeroth, is that every dungeon and encounter is randomly generated, ensuring that you won’t be trudging through the same tired dungeon when an NPC decides to give you quest after quest returning to the same location, it doesn’t get old.
Now don’t get excited and immediately assume that the inclusion of crafting makes Krater Minecraft meets RPG, instead the crafting system is more akin to a traditional RPG, as you explore dungeons and slay bad guys you’ll find your pockets full to the brim with loot, all you’ve got to do is sort through the trash, find the right schematic and craft the night away making weapons, consumables, enhancements, upgrades, components even the attacks that your characters use, whilst you won’t be building houses or the world around you, you’ll just have to make do with the freedom to create practically everything else.
Now the consequences of your actions really separates Krater from your standard RPG, no we aren’t talking moral choices, what Fatshark have implemented is character persistence, meaning that no character is safe from the threat of permanent injury and death. That’s including gouged eyes, broken jaws, even cracked skulls; if you let your characters fall too often in battle and do not look after them, you’ll often find that they’ll take some life-threatening wounds. If they do fall victim to some serious damage they’ll be stuck with it for the rest of their life, and it’ll cost you, because each injury taken will mean a permanent stat loss, break a leg and your character will lack agility, crack their skull and their intelligence will waver.
Permanent injuries are a brilliant way to ensure that you look after your characters with a bit more care, doing so will prevent those serious injuries from turning into permanent damage, because if baseball teaches us anything, its three strikes and you’re out; get three permanent injuries and fall again, and your character is permanently dead, and there’s no coming back from the big sleep. Love it or hate it, permadeath is a fantastic mechanic; no longer is your character a worthless set of numbers and stats.
With permanent death as a real risk, you’ll find that if you’re not careful then some of your characters may get a little obsolete, however this is all catered for at the Bar in Norrmalm where you can recruit members to your gang, and swap out any festering bodies that aren’t pulling their weight as much as you’d like, the bar will also allow you to experiment with the different classes.
Now one of the biggest decisions in most roleplaying games is which classes to go for, with only three character slots and four different classes Krater doesn’t make it easy. However the Bruiser, Medikus, Regulator and Knife-looney do not have to stick wholly to their predetermined class thanks to the components and enhancements that allow you to give your medic that extra strength boost, or healing properties to your knife-looney’s attacks, the tank doesn’t have to be just a tank any longer, and whilst it doesn’t make a massive difference to the way that you play the characters, it is noticeable enough to wish you could give everyone a little bit of healing power.
Despite being an RPG, the most surprising feature missing from Krater is levelling; do not expect to receive experience from whacking bad guys or completing quests, instead their strength grows through your crafting, with the enhancements, components and upgrades that you make, or that great weapon you just looted. Whilst its absence does feel very strange, once you have gotten to the stage that you can craft your own weapons and improve your characters, you tend not to notice.
As soon as the word post-apocalyptic enters the mind of many, they think Fallout clone, unfortunately most post-apocalyptic games get no leeway these days without being pegged as a copy of Fallout, Krater has definitely taken some inspiration from the original series, and the isometric view, general world map and random encounters all take you back to the classic RPGs of the 90s. Rather than a clone, Krater seems to be more of an homage to an almost extinct style of gaming lost in a swarm of first person RPGs. However the games' unique setting, grassy, luxuriant locations and visual style all separate Krater from the supposed clones.
On top of all of this, the visuals in Krater are spot on; they’ve gone for a lovely chunky art style, and the characters are a delightful treat to the eyes in their rust bucket environments juxtaposed with chubby forest bears and desperate bandits. Couple this with the canny music, voice samples and atmospherics and you’ve got a definite winner, and it's only half finished!
Krater is looking to be a charmingly entertaining tactical RPG that says no to some traditional mechanics, and embraces others, the simultaneous control of all three characters can get a little distressing at times, but in its current state there is no reason why Fatshark’s new game should not be a roaring success, we were taken with it that’s for sure, and we’ll be playing it as close to release as we can!
The first episode in the world of Krater is currently scheduled for a release June 12th 2012.