Krater is a difficult game to pin down. It’s an action-RPG in the vein of the Diablo series, with a post-apocalyptic setting reminiscent of Fallout, except it replaces the deserts of the US for the forests of Sweden, with a touch of Borderlands aesthetic thrown in for good measure. It’s a tremendous experience, and well worth playing, but for every cool idea it brings to the table, a few missteps in execution prevent it from achieving true greatness, although the team at Fatshark is working hard to kill bugs and address player concerns.
Krater is visually stunning, with admirable use of color, well designed characters and location, and a gorgeous overworld map shown below. Unfortunately, these graphics come with a steep price. There is frequent lag, though it rarely affects gameplay. I did encounter one section in the Limbo dungeon where my framerate dropped to slideshow levels, but that quickly passed, and gameplay continued as normal. Krater‘s Sweden is a dangerous place filled with vicious (probably radioactive) animals, and even more dangerous people. Weapons and powers are unique and well animated, providing a sense of freshness to an otherwise familiar concept (I especially love my bruiser swinging a weaponized road sign).
Sound effects are distinct and effective, and the music is wonderful. The soundtrack is as powerful as any film score (which is appropriate considering the history behind it- listen here for more details), with tracks I’d certainly listen to in the car.
Gameplay is fast, sometimes overwhelmingly so. A few simple key commands put you in charge of your party of three, and hotkeys grant you access to their special abilities. I occasionally had difficulty keeping a rhythm in my spell rotation in order to prevent being decimated by mobs, especially at higher “threat levels.” While it’s convenient that healing powers can be cast on the character’s portraits at the top left of the screen, rather than trying to find the right character in the middle of combat, I often suffered KOs since I just couldn’t react quickly enough to what was going on. Many players have requested a pause feature to allow commands to be entered a bit more leisurely, and I heartily agree this could only help the game. Players looking for a deeper squad based tactical experience may be disappointed here with the lack of formation options and the like, but that really never seemed to be the point of this game. Going back to the “threat levels” for a moment: I like the fact that the game tells me the relative danger level of a section of map (or random encounter), but I still have trouble figuring out how powerful my crew should be before I take on certain areas. I don’t enjoy seeing my party get obliterated because I just don’t know if they can handle a situation. It’s something I’d like to see addressed in a future patch.
Fatshark made an odd design choice regarding leveling. Characters max out at specific ranks (0-5, 0-10, 0-15) based on their stats. The way the game is meant to be played, you are supposed to recruit new characters with higher stats as they become available, leaving your old crew behind. Fatshark has since added a Boot Camp which allows earlier characters to be promoted past their initial level caps, but often it’s far more expensive to promote an old crew member rather than recruiting a new one who probably has far superior stats. I see what the thinking was, and I got used to the idea, but it’s jarring as a long time RPG player to leave folks behind. I like the ability to add implants and boosts to my party (surgical procedures that upgrade stats), and it’s intriguing that you can add healing boosts to otherwise non-healing characters. For instance, the Regulator fires a pulse that slows enemies- With the proper boosts and implants, this pulse could either do damage to enemies, or heal your party while still slowing enemies down. This adds some depth to character building, which is welcome since there aren’t too many other options in terms of true customization.
There is a great deal of lore to be found in Krater, and it’s clear the world is designed to be consistent and expandable (Fatshark wants this to become a franchise, after all). Missions provide enough story (both background information and narrative) to keep you interested, while logs and notes scattered throughout the world tease just how rich a world it is, and how little you really know about what’s going on. The missions themselves exude a certain charm, and are written with tongue firmly planted in cheek (a mission to provide a settler with meat that “tastes like chicken- but isn’t chicken” springs to mind), which helps you overlook the standard nature of the quests.
The lack of an online mode didn’t really bother me, but leaving the option open but unavailable on the main menu shows a lack of polish. This is something else that is going to be added via free DLC. The game features permadeath, which may be a turn off to some (the option can be shut off), but monitoring health and injury levels consistently can prevent you from losing characters or having them suffer permanent injuries.
Overall, Krater is unfinished and features some “different” design choices. It is also a LOT of fun to play, and has personality in spades. I heartily recommend it without hesitation, and I can’t wait to see how this world expands through both free and paid DLC in the future.