Can this dungeon crawler make an impact being released so soon after Diablo III?
Enjoyment is governed by expectation. This unwritten rule means sometimes those big triple-A releases aren’t as fun as those delightful ‘indie’ games which take you by surprise. It’s an interesting phenomenon and one which is very apt for Krater, as it can be inevitably compared with fellow dungeon-crawler, Diablo III.
Yet despite both coming out within weeks of each other, really these two releases are quite different. Sure they both fall under the umbrella term ‘Dungeon Crawler’, but while Blizzard’s creation features a more traditional level-up structure focused on one-character, Krater sees you switching out members of your team of three regularly, as you seek to meet the challenges posed by a post-apocolyptic version of Sweden. Rather than having a dark fantasy tone, Krater has an atmosphere which is somewhere in between Fallout and Borderlands, with lots of kooky characters, great animated cutscenes, a stunning soundtrack and one-liners ripped from Hollywood blockbusters to give the game some colour.
The tone works really well and is supported by an open-world full to the brim with quests involving players hunting down mutated creatures, talking with mask-clad crazies and venturing into underground and overground facilities. The hard elements of producing a fun atmosphere and crafting an interesting narrative are carried out with a great vigor – the only problem is, Krater‘s combat isn’t terribly interesting.
Rather than controlling just one character at a time, you control a team of three which can consist of healer, shooter, tank and rogue classes. Each character only has two skills, which can be heavily modified and upgraded, via skill allocated boosters and implants. As a result no character is all powerful outright, with more of an emphasis placed on how your team supports one another, rather than just creating super aggressive builds. This challenge, albeit an interesting one, is really hard to get to grips with at the start as you struggle to heal, attack and support simultaneously while the game doesn’t allow any pausing, instead everything takes place in real-time – not allowing you any time to think of your next attack. The stress associated with battling harder foes makes battles exciting, but inevitably seeing your force get entirely wiped out is frustrating and sadly a regular occurrence. This combat model feels more in tune with the co-op potential of each character being controlled by one player online, and in single-player it can get really difficult.
There’s plenty of questing to be done in Krater and after the first five hours or so the challenge goes from being manageable to incredibly frustrating, as you come across groups of enemies with healers, absurdly powerful melee attacks and bosses which make your level fifteen squad come across as a bunch of pansies. Soon gameplay degenerates into a slog, as every mob needs to be carefully thought about in order to avoid your team being incapacitated.
Here Krater also does something different, with team members accumulating fatigue whenever knocked unconscious and if their bar fills up they have a chance of either being struck down by a permanent injury or worse yet dying, without any hope of revival. That penalty will either pique your interest or make you decide that this game isn’t for you, regardless it’s a welcome addition which gives questing an additional edge of tension – something most dungeon crawlers distinctly lack.
There’s no doubt that Krater is a difficult game and that’s intentional by Fatshark, but these deliberate injustices also extend to the levelling curve for each of your mercenaries. Some can progress up to five, whereas others tap out at ten or fifteen. If you lose one of the game’s more powerful characters in a particularly rough dungeon, it can be incredibly frustrating to not only lose all of that character’s progress, but also have to grind easier dungeons to get his or her replacement, and their abilties, up to speed. There’s no doubt that this arbitrary limitation is to artificially lengthen the game, and it feels harsh on the player, especially as you lose all the boosters or implants you’ve plunged into character when they pass on.
Overall Krater is a polished experience which has more than enough personality to warrant it’s paltry asking price of £11.99. Sure it doesn’t quite offer the scope, grandeur or complexity of Diablo III, and it’s more than happy to kick your arse whenever you get complacent killing mobs, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth checking out – especially if you’re looking to crawl some dungeons in anything other than a fantasy environment.
Additionally this release will certainly get better over time, and when Fatshark finally get around to adding a multiplayer component we’re suspect this experience will really come into its own.
A hard as nails experience which certainly isn’t for everyone.
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