Review: Krater by @fatsharkgames (PC, 2012)
A lot of people have struggled to define exactly what kind of game Krater is. While I’m not sure it is an entirely useful undertaking, it reminds me a lot of taking Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War (sans the cover system. You could validly also say any MOBA or RTS game here as well) and combining it with Diablo. Still, while it takes pieces from both of those areas, lumping it into either category does not quite work.
You begin Krater with three of the four potential classes available. Each of the classes in Krater fits into one of the boxes that you would expect. The Bruiser is the slow, low damage, high stamina, high defense class. It is great for attracting aggro and keeping the enemies off of your more breakable characters. The Medikus, as you might guess, is your healer. The Regulator is a class that specializes on slowing and controlling enemies. Just a little into the game you also get access to the Slayer, a low stamina, high damage melee class. Although there are only four classes, most cities you come to have a recruitment station where you can get recruit different units of those classes, which have slightly different stat layouts and a choice of a couple of different skills. Each unit only has two skills available, so making good choices about your units is a must. There are also mutant units available that are unique characters with different skill sets, although whether or not you come across them during play is up to chance.
While that may not seem like a lot of variety, you can also change the stats of your characters with Implants and the effects of your characters abilities with Boosters. As your characters level, they open up more slots for you to customize them. This is really the heart of the game. The characters you start with can only level up to 5, at which point you will need to replace them with characters with a level 10 cap, and then – towards the end of the game – with characters with a level 15 cap. There is no way to change the rank of your existing characters, so you will need to be prepared to write-off your early characters. Just don’t get too attached. Implants and Boosters are, in my experience, at least as important as a character’s stats. Each Implant/Booster has a level that tells you how powerful it is. Spending time maxing out your characters’ Boosters and Implants is necessary for your survival. You can do some pretty neat things with Boosters too, like making your field that causes enemies to move slowly to also heal your characters underneath it by adding a Healing Booster. While there may not be a lot of variety between characters at the start, there is certainly a ton of it by the time you customize them.
While you can buy Implants and Boosters, they are incredibly expensive. Instead, you will likely want to use Krater’s crafting system. During the course of the game you will collect crafting items (such as Goo and Wood) that you can use at a crafting table in virtually any town to make Boosters, Implants, and Weapons you have previously found or purchased the blueprints for. You can upgrade your Boosters and Implants as you go by dropping new ones on top of the old ones, but you can never recover your old ones, so you also need to be careful with how you spend your resources, since you will probably be replacing most of your characters twice over the course of the game. There is always a bit of a grind whenever you obtain a new character in getting enough money and crafting supplies to get their Boosters and Implants up to par. Failure to do this will lead to a short life expectancy.
|Krater has a very nice looking world map.|
And life expectancies in Krater can, indeed, be short. While game modes in Krater do not change the difficulty, they do change how character death functions. In Krater, any time a character is knocked out during combat, a meter fills. If a character takes a fourth injury without visiting a medic in a town and getting treated what happens next depends on the mode. In Casual Mode your character suffers an injury which permanently or temporarily lowers his stats. On Normal mode, if a character takes a fourth injury then that character is gone forever. Hardcore mode works like normal except that every knockdown causes an injury. So you better be careful. And the enemies in Krater aren’t playing around. Even the most basic enemies can do drastic damage to your units if you are not careful and constantly monitoring your vitals.
Combat is almost always an active affair. While there were only a few fights throughout the game that I found spacing to be particularly important, using your abilities consistently and watching your healing. The combat feels a little closer to a real-time strategy game than Diablo. It is moderately paced (not the breakneck speed of many dungeon crawlers) and watching all six of your characters’ abilities and using them properly is the key to victory. Many of the enemies are brutally hard and the game has a drastic difficulty spike about halfway through that threw me for a loop. If you have not learned to use your abilities by then, you certainly will afterwards.
|You will fight a lot of bears in Krater.|
The main quest / campaign in Krater is about 15 hours long, give or take. The story has a good sense of humor (my favorite is Peter Forceberg a character in the game standing in for Peter Forsberg, the famous Swedish hockey player) and some occasional funny bits, but mostly works to keep the game moving in the right direction. Most of the quests have an option that lets you immediately go about your way and one where the quest-giver takes the time to explain the plot to you in more detail. Something tells me if you are way better at this game than me it would take you a lot less than that. Learning all of the subsystems and how to optimize your characters (stock up on Defense Implants!) takes a lot of trial and error because the tutorial and game documentation leaves a lot to your imagination. You will have to learn what everything does before you are successful and there will probably be a lot of failures between then and when you have a well-oiled three man party (I got for Medikus, Regulator, Slayer, myself). Beyond that 15 hours, you can essentially play Krater as long as you want. It certainly looks like there are dozens of hours of extra sidequests and dungeons to pursue if you are interested.
Like many games of this kind, there is a ton of repetition in Krater. There are a lot of “Collect X number of Y item” quests and most of the main quests involve delving into a dungeon of various depths, getting to the bottom, and killing everything on the way down, taking its stuff. This isn’t a complaint, per se, but it is worth noting. Most of the character customization is in the Boosters and Implants. There are two equipment slots, one for weapons and one for gadgets (which give you a nice extra skill, like a big damage dealer or temporarily increasing one of your stats). I found weapons to be difficult to come across, although slightly better after the first patch, and found myself mostly collecting weapons to go sell them for money so that I could buy more crafting materials or new Boosters and Implants.
Krater is also a nice looking game. It is not all buttery-smooth edges like Diablo, but it has a lot of personality and a neat art style. There isn’t a whole lot of variety in the enemies, but there are some cool looking people you meet along the way, and some nice building designs to look at. The overworld map is very nice looking and does a good sense of conveying the size of the world you are dealing with (which is post-apocalyptic Sweden) and is quite large. I do wish that they had added a compass to it, but that is really a minor setback.
While Krater has fun combat and a nice customization system, it is by no means perfect. There are still some bugs to be found in the game (like a character with the name “female-civilian”) and the game can certainly be frustrating sometimes, like placing the medic in one of the final towns, which is almost needlessly large, at the very back of the town, resulting in you having to run for an abnormally long amount of time to get healed. There are also some difficulty spikes that seem a bit random, where I was not having any trouble at all and then would get absolutely destroyed in one spot again and again, getting sent to the top of the dungeon or (worse) back to town. There are random encounters on the overworld map which can also get aggravating. I eventually learned you can really just run through most of them, but – still – sometimes I just want to be able to go pick up my supplies so I can make better stuff. It’s a minor distraction, but if you get hit by a bunch in rapid succession it can also annoy.
That said, if you are looking for a dungeon crawler with unique mechanics made by a small studio with a lot heart, fun combat, and a nice character customization system, I would recommend you take a look at Krater. It was clearly made with a lot of love and whatever short falls there are to the game, they are well outweighed by the positives presented here. The game has already seen two patches since release and I expect it to see more as Fat Shark continues to improve the game. Krater is available on Steam for $14.99 right now.