Krater: Shadows Over Solside Review

29 Jun 2012

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Independent
Developer:Fatshark
Release Date:2012-06-12
Genre:
  • Role-Playing,Action
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Top-Down
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Post-Apocalyptic Bliss

At least Krater looks and sounds great. As mentioned earlier, the game sports a vibrant visual style that's different from other post-apocalyptic games, and it runs on a very competent DirectX 10/11 engine (making the game only compatible with Windows Vista/7). There are a lot of nice effects, like running water, real-time dynamic shadows, and depth-of-field that blurs the treetops and other structures close to the game's camera. I did run into some odd performance issues from time to time (occasionally load times were very long, and I encountered a few areas where framerate plummeted) but for the most part the game runs well on my 2-odd-year-old gaming system. Visually speaking, I have no complaints - Krater really does look excellent most of the time, and in a very distinct way. For a game from a small development studio, it's a big accomplishment.

Interface-wise, Krater also works very well. It uses a set of controls that should come as second nature to anyone who's played a real-time strategy game in the last 10 years, with the 1-9 number keys used for triggering special abilities, left-clicks to select your heroes, and right-clicks to move and attack. A number of other RTS-style conventions are also present, like attack-moving to specific spots or queuing up waypoints. The result is a game that plays fast and smoothly, and only makes me wish that the core gameplay was good enough to make it worthwhile.

The real stand-out presentation-wise with Krater is the soundtrack, which covers an unconventional electronic spectrum. Most games in the hack-and-slash genre go for dramatic, orchestrated music, or dark ambiance, but Krater's tunes are upbeat and dynamic - I'm no electronic music buff so I couldn't pinpoint what genre it falls into, but suffice it to say it's all well-composed and distinctive, without being too flashy or distracting, and matches the visual style quite well. Fatshark are offering the soundtrack as a download with the game's collector's edition, and it's one of those cases where I'd say the extra few dollars might well be worth paying.

As a side note, the game is only available digitally via Steam, and as such features standard Steam features like achievements and Steam Cloud save backup. I had no Steam-related issues while playing, but as usual, I think it's worth clarifying what DRM a game uses, if any, and whether it impacts the gameplay experience.

Conclusion

It's a real shame that Krater has ended up in such a poor state. When news of it first appeared a few months ago, I was intrigued by its visual style and theme, but ultimately all those good ideas were just that - ideas. Krater fails to execute on any of its gameplay concepts and the end result is woefully uninteresting, often outright boring and tedious. This is one of those rare games where all the technical pieces fit perfectly and interacting with the game is enjoyable, but the mechanics themselves just don't work. What's worse is that those bad mechanics are only supported by the thinnest and most uninteresting of stories, and the worst of lazy RPG quest design.

Fatshark have been hard at work keeping Krater updated, as they plan multiple expansion packs and have already released patches that improve upon the game (for example, the release version didn't let you upgrade your existing party to higher tiers). Online multiplayer is conspicuously missing, but Fatshark also promise to include it in a future update. All of this support is great and leaves me some hope that the game will eventually be salvaged, but it's the core design that's the issue, not the amount of content, or features, or technical problems. These are problems that aren't so easily patched away or fixed with a tweak here and there.

For now, I simply cannot recommend Krater. Even at low price points, there are much better games out there. It's got good ideas, certainly, and as I've stressed it looks and sounds the part, but good ideas and sharp presentation don't make a good game.
 
 

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