Krater: Shadows over Solside review
I adore action-RPGs – clubbing monsters to death and stealing whatever treasure they are carrying is my version of pure gaming heaven. I also love originality – games involving new ideas I’ve not seen before are always worthy of attention. Krater is an action-RPG boasting loads of innovation – genre-standard features are twisted into surprises, and techniques usually associated with other types of game are rammed into the action-RPG shell.
Does it all work and bring about the game I was hoping for? Unfortunately not. While I initially had a blast discovering the more crazy game design, the uncommon ideas just don’t work well together leading to a lacklustre experience.
No “I” in “Team”
The major change from more traditional action-RPGs is that you do not just control one stalwart hero. Instead, you take command of a band of merry men. You are limited to controlling only three soldiers at a time but can have a potential army stashed away. Quite where they are housed is a mystery as you are free to swap frontrunners for those on the bench at any time – odd but very handy in a tough spot. Not that it really matters who you choose to take on a little excursion anyway. There are four classes of soldier for hire: Bruiser (Close-combat tough guy), Slayer (Sneaky assassin-type character), Medikus (Healer) and Regulator (Long distance fighter). The different soldiers of each class are basically the same as the other soldiers in that class. They all have the same armour, fighting style and abilities. They only have very minor stat-differences and different – but very similar – weapons to tell them apart.
You may think that these “heroes” will become unique to your crew after time spent under your service and after being customised with items dropped by vanquished enemies. Sadly, this is just not true. First of all, and bizarrely for this sort of game, you are very limited on the customisation you can actually do. Abilities are fixed at a meagre class-specific two. Armour is fixed. The stats like dexterity and strength are hidden away and also non-adjustable. Even the names of heroes are set in stone. The only customisation option available to you is to change their weapons – within class restrictions of course. You can also give soldiers implants for minor stat boosts such as extra stamina, although these are rare and seem too unpowered to even be noticeable when applied. This lack of customisation is extremely frustrating and dooms Krater early on. You should be able to carefully fashion your own personal team of ultimate bad-asses with unique and varied skills. Leading the same team of cookie-cutter soldiers with a small number of set abilities gets boring after a few missions.
Death is forever
Death for a character in the world of Krater is permanent; once a soldier in your team dies, he isn’t coming back. This may sound overly harsh but it is actually the main feature that drew me to this quirky game.
Each soldier, as you can imagine, has a limited amount of health. Taking damage from enemies reduces that health and eventually it will become zero. When a soldier reaches this critical threshold, they do not die but are knocked to the ground, unconscious and unable to fight. After whatever skirmish caused the soldier to drop unconscious is over, they can be revived by another team member – provided there is one left standing – to fight another day. An injury is either serious – broken legs, infected wounds and so on – or permanent – the loss of an eye or a crushed arm. Each type carries one or more defects such as -7 to strength or -2 focus. The injuries that reduce movement speed are particularly nasty as a soldier with a smashed hip just cannot keep up with the rest of the team.
Serious injuries can be healed instantaneously in the hospitals and sick bays you find while adventuring, provided you have enough cash to pay for the one-off treatment. Permanent injuries are more nasty. Permanent injuries stay with a soldier for life and when enough have been accumulated, that soldier dies. In my slightly morbid mind, this is a truly genius concept! A character you’ve you have chosen for your three man team in nearly every adventure, who dishes out punishment and saves the day despite overwhelming odds stands a high chance of being erased from existence. You know exactly how and when to use their abilities for maximum effect. You know exactly where to position them in a fight. Their weaknesses and strengths become second nature. The digital polygons forming their body create a personality in your mind. They are a friend in a hostile and lonely world. As a combatant they are unmatched but be too reckless and they will be lost forever. The simple repetitive nature of hack and slash action is immediately elevated to new heights with the fear of loss combined with a motherly sense of pride when your digital friend achieves unfathomable power.
Unfortunately this is not what it is like at all. The previous section of this review reveals why; there is very limited customisation, no way a soldier can become a digital “friend”. When a team member dies, you do not feel sorrow or remorse at the loss. Instead, you just shrug your shoulders and simply opt to buy another soldier in that class – they will be almost identical to the one that perished.
Forget The Burning Hells and come to Sweden
Sweden is an odd place to set an action-RPG. Luckily a cosmically large asteroid has hit the country and left a massive crater in its wake, providing some mystery and chance for meaningful adventure. The game takes place inside this crater and is tremendously big in scale. Since you and your team travel all over this crater during the course of the game, Krater is in no way short.
The impacted comet has also made the local wildlife ruthlessly hostile for some unexplained reason. Once-shy animals now stand out in the open, sometimes in small groups, waiting in an orderly fashion for passing heroes to snack on. This focus on local fauna as enemies to dispatch as you journey around the crater is quite disappointing. There are no world-ending demons that fire lightning bolts out of their nostrils or insanely evil devil worshippers who can summon waves of dreaded hellhounds. Krater only puts the occasional mob of angry bears in your path. You may even come face-to-face with an overly large mutated Warthog added to the mix to spice things up. While it’s all fun to start with, it does leave you wondering what the point of it all is – wiping out a bloodthirsty pack of giant rats is hardly going to save the world.
That itch of what it is all for is never really scratched. The story is there but it seems buried in optional conversation and lost in uninformative cut-scenes. Some people survived the asteroid impact and have banded together, forming strangely well-equipped towns and communities. I actually find these places one of the game’s highlights. Towns feel alive as people bustle about, patrolling around buildings. Unseen stray dogs bark and whimper. Pigeons flap about – not all wildlife is evil – and the contrast of both vibrant and murky colours paints a picture of a well-used area. The townsfolk themselves all tend to look like characters from Team Fortress 2 – it is rare to find a character without a gasmask of some kind glued to their face!
These townsfolk often assign you tasks or quests as per usual for an action-RPG. I would have thought this an excellent opportunity to unravel the story of Krater through player action. However, the game seems happy to leave you with such quests as ‘Collect 10 jars of “cool slime”’ or ‘Kill some random bear boss who you would need to kill to explore a region anyway’. Fumbling such an important ball in the action-RPG realm significantly reduces the entertainment value of Krater when compared to other games in the genre.
Missing the target
Krater does have its charm; the graphics are quality, the team-based approach to the standard ‘one-man army’ seen in most action-RPGs is refreshing, while the more comical yet not overly humorous theme is a welcome change to games involving increasingly dark tones. In addition, the abilities on offer have a nice feeling of power associated with them – even if there are an extremely small number on offer. However, many features are missing or tinkered with beyond breaking-point. The chief of these is the lack of any meaningful customisation to playable characters. This removes most of the reason for playing what is not an entirely dismal game. When combined with combat that offers very little sense of peril or achievement and the fact that this combat can often appear totally meaningless, Krater becomes something of a misfire. There are much better, if less innovative, action-RPGs out there.