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Following a successful crowdfunding campaign and an early access phase, ATOM RPG was released back in December of 2018. The game offered a unique spin on the classic Fallout formula - it moved the action to the other side of the Iron Curtain and gave us all a taste of the Soviet Wasteland.
ATOM RPG was pretty well-received and successful enough to warrant a standalone expansion. Entitled Trudograd, that expansion has recently entered early access. Having enjoyed our time with the original game, we jumped on the first opportunity to check out what the new expansion had in store for us.
Back to the Soviet Wasteland
Despite being a standalone expansion, Trudograd is positioned as a direct continuation of ATOM RPG’s story. It even lets you import your old character. But even if you don’t have your old save files or simply decide against importing a character, you will still be technically playing the ATOM agent from the original game.
As such, when starting your Trudograd adventure, you will be asked to create a new high-level character and then answer some questions that act as a recap of your earlier major decisions.
Trudograd’s story takes place two years after the grand finale of ATOM RPG where you defeat a mushroom cult that wants to take communism to a brand-new hive mind level. In the process, you happen to learn that the cultists were trying to prevent an asteroid from hitting the planet and eradicating the human civilization for good.
With the general level of technology greatly diminished by the nuclear apocalypse, dealing with this asteroid, that some consider to be a UFO or a mystical omen, is proving to be quite a challenge.
As ATOM’s hero, you are of course the one tasked with finding a way to save the world from complete and total annihilation. To do this, you’ll need to find a secret railgun that’s rumored to be hidden somewhere in the relatively well-preserved snow-covered city of Trudograd that revels in its corruption.
At this point, whether or not this story will work and end up being satisfying remains a mystery. The current early access build of Trudograd is a far cry from something like Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord that offered hundreds of hours of entertainment straight out of the gate. Instead, Trudograd’s early access version in its current iteration is more of a demo with enough content to last you somewhere between four to eight hours.
This content is spread across five areas. It’s hard to say at this point how much bigger the final game will be, but by the looks of it, the developers still want to add more encounters, locations, quests and dungeons, or in numerical terms, roughly 70% more stuff.
And while most of the existing areas are clearly unfinished and lack polish, the very first location is already quite impressive, featuring a combat quest with different sides to support, an investigation where everything is not what it appears, a quest that introduces us to the new trap-finding system, and plenty of challenging skill and attribute checks.
If the rest of the game ends up being as good, Trudograd is going to become something no RPG enthusiast will want to miss.
Another thing Trudograd already has going for it is the increased production value. Despite some missing UI elements and audio effects, the game already looks and plays much better than its predecessor. And overall, it feels more ambitious, thanks to the new atmospheric live-action cutscenes, weapon modifications, and a neat little card game that vaguely resembles a cross between Hearthstone and Arcomage.
So, what about the systems fueling the game? At their core they’re still very much inspired by Fallout, but by now they feel unique enough to be their own thing. Attributes are mostly the same, but then you have skills that on top of merely making your character more proficient at something, also provide extra bonuses when you reach certain skill levels.
Then, there are the so-called distinctions that act as Fallout’s traits, but are closer to something like Arcanum’s backgrounds in how much they affect your character. And finally, instead of Fallout’s perks, you have abilities that are separated into several ability trees. Each time you gain a level, you get a few ability points to learn something new.
Trudograd’s take on the ability tree differs greatly from its ATOM RPG predecessor, and is overall much better. However, the way abilities are grouped together right now makes very little sense. Say you want to become good at using heavy armor. The way things work now, you’ll need to first invest a good few points into the tinkering tree. And if you want to get more skill and ability points when leveling up, you will first have to become a better medic. It’s safe to say that this system still needs some work.
Another thing that can go either way at this point is the new weather system. Right now, your character has a warmth meter that goes up and down depending on the temperature outside. And while in theory battling the elements can be a fun challenge, cold has completely replaced radiation in the current build, which is quite a bold move for a post-nuclear game.
Welcome to Turnipgrad
Finally, let’s discuss the game’s biggest issue. Its writing.
It’s important to note here that by the time I played the original ATOM RPG, it has received numerous patches and content updates. As such, it’s hard for me to gauge the extent of its journey when it comes to dealing with writing-related issues.
Still, as it stands, Trudograd’s writing is dire, no other way to put it. Even looking past all the typos and odd word choices, something that’s easily fixable, it’s extremely hard to enjoy Trudograd’s writing. Many of the game’s quests and interactions simply feel broken on a fundamental level and make very little sense.
At the same time, the game also features a good number of quests that, thanks to their unusual premises, unorthodox solutions and numerous angles of approach, are actually pretty engaging and fun.
And while the original ATOM RPG was far from perfect in this regard, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad. As such, I hope that by the time Trudograd leaves early access, its writers can fix some of that jankier stuff. Because right now, calling Trudograd’s writing uneven would be a colossal understatement.
And, of course, all of it is exacerbated by the game’s never-ending desperate attempts at being funny. If you played the original ATOM RPG, you should know just how much it liked its references. Instead of toning those down, Trudograd dials things up to eleven.
Soviet culture, modern pop culture, Internet memes, anime - it’s all there already, and given Trudograd’s current limited scope, it’s all very dense.
Usually, I’m more tolerant than most when it comes to silliness, puns, or zany references. But when a Soviet wannabe opera singer starts complaining about haters, or when your character, a high-ranking government agent, replies to a martial arts instructor by screaming “Ora-ora-ora,” that’s where even I can no longer take a piece of media seriously.
Also, what’s the deal with all the turnips? Why are turnips funny? Why does the game keep mentioning turnips? How are turnips connected to either the Soviet Union or the nuclear apocalypse? What’s the joke here? Was Blackadder’s Baldrick one of the writers? I don’t get it.
I really hope that as the game grows, its writers realize that they have something with a potential to be great on their hands, and as a result rethink their approach.
As mentioned above, Trudograd looks better than the original ATOM RPG, and for the most part, it even runs better. The game now also has a weather system that on occasion covers your screen with very impressive blizzards. Paired with a dynamic day and night cycle and sporadic illumination provided by campfires and flaming barrels, this results in a rather neat-looking representation of a post-apocalyptic world.
The audio effects supporting this all are fairly powerful as well. The limited voice acting, on the other hand, is not quite as impressive.
Unfortunately, while the game generally runs well and doesn’t take too long to load, its weather effects seem to be completely unoptimized right now, tanking your frame rate whenever they’re on screen.
When it comes to bugs, I didn’t notice anything especially egregious. The game did freeze on me a couple of times and some UI elements weren’t translated, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for an early access project.
The options menu is pretty limited in what you can adjust right now, but already you can speed up animations and increase the size of the game’s UI. Both of these features are always nice to have.
The original ATOM RPG felt very much like Soviet Fallout. Trudograd somehow manages to avoid evoking the same feeling despite still sharing numerous similarities with its predecessors. It’s both familiar and fresh at the same time. If, come full release, it manages to elevate its locations to the level of the very first one, it can easily become a game you wouldn’t want to miss.
However, in its current state with sparse content, abysmal writing, and half-baked systems, I can’t recommend the early access version to anyone who isn’t driven purely by curiosity or a desire to support the developers.