domstercool's Krater (PC) review

I can’t help but feel disappointed in Krater

With Diablo III out and still hanging in people’s minds – which is evident by the gamers still playing – you must have balls of steel, have something special or simply be mental to release an action-RPG dungeon crawler so close to Blizzard’s mammoth title. Fatshark has just done that with the PC exclusive Krater, a post-apocalyptic themed game that takes place in the country of Sweden, which just happens to be where the developers come from. What makes the game stand out? Well, it’s not Sweden’s blonde bombshells or its famous home product company IKEA. Instead, it’s the ability to control three characters at once, but sadly this isn’t as exciting as it sounds on paper.

That’s not to say Krater isn’t entertaining. It certainly can be because the game’s dialogue sporadically sparks humour as the game is self-aware and jokes about the conventions that are in every action-RPG. One of the earlier indications of this is when you complete a quest for a woman who wants a stash of pig meat. Once you hand in the quest, she asks you to retrieve some wolf meat. Your character notes that he’s already slayed numerous wolves and has meat already, but the woman won’t have any of it and you’re sent on your way. There are numerous times where the game will make you smile with its charming, peculiar speech and Borderlandsinspired presentation.

Controlling three characters in a team is an easy task, as you simply highlight them by dragging a box around them or use hotkeys for easier access to control a single unit. Like any action-RPG, you’ll be doing a lot of click, click, clicking on the mouse to move around, check chests and attack enemies. Helping with group movement is the nicely included attack-move command (characters will automatically attack if an enemy comes in range as they move to the pointed location) that you often see in real-time strategy games such as Command & Conquer orLeague of Legends. Moving around and exploring feels just like any other game in the same genre, but one key aspect of Krater is the world map, a place where you can reach other towns and dungeons, but also run into random encounters, like something from a Final Fantasygame. These random encounters throw your team into a random piece of small land and you must explore to get out and back to the world map. There’s certainly interesting features inKrater, but delving deeper into the rest of Krater’s game mechanics ends up being a bit saddening.

Any three of your team members can be one of four classes. Slayer is the damage per second attacker, Bruiser is the damage absorbing tank, Regulator is the ranger and Medikus… yep you guessed it, the medic. At the start of the game, you are given three dudes, but it’s not long until you understand something is a little different with the way Krater handles its characters. The first batch of characters will stop leveling when they hit level 5, which confused me at first as I knew that characters could grow to at least level 15 (according to the character stat page). A recruitment shop lets you buy new characters so that you can swap them into your team. InKrater, you have to look at the characters as objects rather than humans. I never felt any attachment to them after I learnt how the game works. To promote this idea of item characters, every character is represented by the typical action-RPG item colour, with white meaning the character can go to level 5, green meaning level 10 and blue level 15.

I can’t say I am a fan of this character implementation due to the simple fact that all my work I put into the characters comes off feeling wasted. When you hire a new person to join, he comes in at level 0, meaning you have to level him up again. Sure, it doesn’t take as long as any other action-RPG, but the sense you get from building a character from 0 to maximum level never feels satisfying in Krater as it would in a game like Diablo III or Torchlight all because of the lack of attachment and swapping of characters. Permanent death is implanted depending on the difficulty level. Casual doesn’t have any permanent death, normal allows characters to pick up three injuries before the fourth one becomes fatal. Hardcore is the same, but injuries happen every time a friendly unit is knocked down.

One detail I do like is how the level up system allows the player to customise his heroes. When a character levels up, he won’t gain any stat increases; instead, the hero will unlock a slot in his body, allowing for an implant to be fitted. These implants can be bought from shops or found as loot and will give the character an increase in one of five stats, with up to 15 at one time if you use one of the max level characters. The negative side is that these implants can’t be removed, so, if you decide to swap team mates, you have to find yourself another batch of implants to fix to the new hero. This just adds to my problem I have with the game feeling like you waste time. Why can’t I pay to have them removed so that I can reuse them on another character? I’d rather not have to spend money to buy more implants or waste more time to loot a specific one.

This problem with low-level team members works its way into the combat, since if you run into an area and you haven’t bought the higher level classes, prepare for a difficulty spike that will no doubt end in death. If you look past that, combat is fun when you manage to get it to click, but it can be a little tiresome when you’re using the same bunch of guys. Characters only come with a normal attack and two special moves. They don’t learn any more abilities, and the only changes in these are when you add boosters to them that can either buff or debuff stats on the skill. Replacing team members of the same class doesn’t matter because the same class all use the same moves. Only maximum level characters get different moves, but those moves are the same for every character of the same class who can hit maximum level. It’s so bizarre why Fatshark completely removed any sort of skill learning. That’s a big part of customization in action-RPGs, and with them having an interesting level up system that lets you build characters the way you like (if you have the items), it’s such a strange thing to have absent.

Repetition is something that plagues the enemy design; there’s just not much variety in opponents. You’ll run into bears, wolves, boars, humans, cultists, but then you’ll run into the same ones later in the game that are just higher level baddies. I can’t even think of the game’s bosses because they just blend together with the enemies. What happened to making bosses those stand out moments in a videogame?

I have a feeling all of these negatives are due to Krater being released early before it was truly finished. This is clearly evident from the title screen, where the online button is disabled – it seems multiplayer is coming later in a patch. I also ran into a few bugs and random crashes to desktop during my playthrough. The game has gotten more stable as every patch comes out (finished playing the game on patch 1.04), so the developers are definitely trying to fix any problems that players encounter. Krater is also part of a trilogy, with DLC coming at the end of the year that will bring more story and content to the game. I’m not sure if this is paid content or not, but it’s a real shame if these end up being better than this first part because the game could be recommended if the problems mentioned are fixed and the game came as one complete package in the future.

Borderlands comes to mind when I look at Krater’s graphics style. The design of the humans wouldn’t look out of context if placed in Gearbox Software’s cel shaded game. Though Sweden has been ravaged by a nuclear explosion, the forests, hills and wastelands glow with rich colour, and it’s a rather nice game to look at overall. On the audio side, the soundtrack is pleasing to the ears, soothing and beautiful. There’s minimal voice over work, with characters only reading a line or two of their dialogue. It’s weird why they didn’t just voice it all or just have random mumblings instead of reading the first sentence of dialogue.

I can’t help but feel disappointed in Krater. I was going into the game on a high as the premise sounded great. Even though the game didn’t quite hit those expectations, that’s not to say that I don’t find Krater likeable. There were parts where I was having fun with the combat, loving the great customization building and amused at the game’s satire humour and self-awareness. With every good there was a bad to bring it down though. The lack of moves, the repetition in design, swappable heroes and feeling incomplete left an after taste in my mouth that could have not been there if the game developers gave Krater more time. Ultimately, Krater is a somewhat enjoyable action-RPG with some neat ideas and great personality. Sadly, personality doesn’t mean it’s a great game and some of the design choices make it hard for me to easily recommend this title to anyone who has yet to play any of the other brilliant action-RPGs on the market.

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    Adam Smith once said, "Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience." Krater, the top down RPG/RTS put out by the Swedish developer Fatshark AB, has a video game conscience. It's vice it employs is repetition, and it regulates this vice so well that I only acknowledged it as a vice upon reflection. The game sets you in a charming post apocalyptic Sweden with a similar art style to Fallout and Borderlands where your party of mercenari...

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