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Krater: The Colorful, Dangerous Lives of Freediggers

Company: Fatshark

Post-apocalyptic worlds have a tendency to be dreary and dire, but the Swedish game Krater bucks the trend by being downright vibrant. A top-down, party-based action RPG, Krater has you navigate a gang of Freediggers through a world surviving the aftermath of a nuclear detonation. The bomb left a massive crater in the center of the game world, which adventurous souls like Freediggers occasionally dive into in search of fortune and glory.

Unlike that other well-known series that you surviving nuclear (ahem) fallout in a drab, gray-and-green world, Krater's developers at Fatshark instead give you a very lush world to explore. Towns are filled with neon lights and scavenged metal patchworked into buildings, while the world outside their walls teems with life and color, albeit of the mutated, trying-to-eat-the-gas-mask-off-your-face kind. There's also a lot of world outside the walls to explore: travel takes place on a huge world map dotted with settlements and zones surrounding the crater in the center.

Krater's Freediggers are equipped in the same way its towns are built, with a combination of new tech and patchwork scavenged goods. Tanks carry rebar clubs wrapped around a concrete head, while ranged attackers snatch up scavenged or tinkered rifles and pistols to keep the mutant hordes at bay. The art style isn't quite as cartoonish as Team Fortress 2, but has a similarly-skewed sense of proportion to it: tanks are big and hulking, while healers are small and slightly dumpy-looking. Gas masks also cover everyone's faces, making every character look just a little disturbed and alien.

I played a pre-alpha build of the game, so only the first couple of areas were available for play. Krater's website says the goal is to eventually build your team of Freediggers up enough to plumb the depths of the world's underside, and that the game eventually becomes an immense dungeon crawl as you go deeper and deeper into the bomb's crater. This sounds a lot like Torchlight, whose random dungeon level generator allows you to keep digging deeper past the last level of the game's story.

Instead of throwing you to the horrors below right off the bat, Krater sends you to the various towns that have survived in the caldera surrounding the crater to build your resources. There are missions to run for various NPCs with occasionally-dubious morals, some confusing world lore imparted through "You mean you didn't KNOW?!" dialogue boxes, and what Fatshark calls an "extensive" crafting system. Players can find blueprints and materials out in the world or purchase them off NPCs, then build their own weapons, enhancements, even unique abilities. Since it was a pre-alpha build, I wasn't able to really dig into the minutia of crafting, but I was able to pick up enough raw materials like duct tape and wire just killing mission-required monsters that I could build just about any blueprint I came across. Once learned, blueprints are stored in a database you can access anytime to build what you need from anywhere in the game world, a definite plus over location-based crafting.

Krater's combat is simple, with each Freedigger on your team filling a role like tank, healer, or attacker. You have a team of three diggers you can take with you on missions, and each has two slots you can swap different abilities into as they power up and you find more blueprints for abilities in the world. The limited party size means you'll have to make smart decisions about which diggers to bring and which to leave, and I'm hopeful there will be scenarios that reward you for leaving behind one of the more "vital" roles like a healer or tank. Another thing to consider are injuries accrued through combat, which cause status effects until they are healed. Some injuries leave behind "scars" after they're healed, which Fatshark devs hope will give the Freediggers more character and encourage players to rotate through team members as the broken hands, cracked skulls and serious concussions start to take their toll.

Trying to navigate and survive Krater can be a bit of a challenge at first, and not because of the mutated wildlife. The very early builds I played had a noticeable lag any time you tried to move the camera around the zone, making it tough to effectively scout ahead and peek around a corner. Keeping your Freediggers moving and fighting together is also tough; too often I would select only one unit instead of the entire group, sending the tank or healer off to die a grisly death as they were swarmed by mutant wolves. Later builds let me lower the resolution and reduce some of that lag, so hopefully it's an issue that won't be present as the game nears completion.

The other issue I noticed is that while Krater's towns and environments are bright and colorful, the enemy units weren't at low levels. I fought mostly mutated wolves and bears during my playthroughs (I think, it's kind of hard to tell since they're all using Swedish names), but all I could make out were rough blobs of black or slightly-darker black with health bars attached to them. Even my Freediggers tended to blend in together whenever I pulled the camera back to get a better look at the overall battlefield. Krater's concept art does show the characters wearing brightly-colored and unique armor or masks, and a dev blog about creatures shows higher-level versions of the beasts do have different colors as a result of their mutations. It would be a bigger help to spread those distinct colors to the earliest levels, though, so players don't have to squint to see what they're doing for the first several hours of the game.

Krater's looks certainly gives it an edge against other post-apocalyptic RPG's, and the game's huge world is an intriguing step forward from games like Torchlight which keep you in dungeon depths for so long you forget what the sun looks like. If Fatshark addresses the performance and control issues going forward, they'll have a very attractive game for RPG fans to dig into.

-Dark Lantern, GameVortex Communications
AKA Russell Jones

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