About a week ago, Swedish developer Fatshark sent us a "pre alpha" build of Krater, their upcoming post-apocalyptic tactical strategy / action RPG hybrid. Krater is planned as an episodic game with at least three major installments. The first installment, Shadows over Solside, is planned for release at some point in Q2-Q3 of this year (that is, within the next six months). The build I played had several of the game's locations in place, but many gameplay mechanics weren't available yet. Still, I was able to see enough of the game to get a sense about how it will play.
Krater takes place in a huge impact crater in Sweden. Inside the crater are towns, caves, lush green forests, and even some abandoned pre-war buildings. That is, the crater contains everything you'd want to see in a post-apocalyptic RPG. Of course, none of this makes a lot of sense -- the bottom of a crater is about the last place you'd find survivors -- but Fatshark isn't taking the premise too seriously. Krater looks like it's going to have a lighthearted tone, and so you just have to take the world for what it is and go with it.
In the game you control up to three "free-diggers," who function as soldiers. These soldiers don't have personalities or agendas. They're more like what you'd find in tactical strategy games (think X-Com: UFO Defense) rather than RPGs. But soldiers have a class (tank, healer, ccer or dpser) and attributes (strength, stamina, focus, intelligence and defense), and they can wear equipment. Other things about the soldiers, such as how they gain levels, what those levels mean, and what other sorts of bonuses they can earn, are still being decided.
Right now the only way to improve soldiers is via enhancements, which improve attributes, and components, which improve skills. Soldiers are only allowed a certain number of enhancements and components (your starting soldiers only get 5 and 2 respectively), and currently these upgrades can't be removed or replaced, which forces you into tough decisions. Do you permanently add low level upgrades to your soldiers, or wait for better stuff? Chances are, you'll need to replace your soldiers anyway as the game progresses, since more expensive soldiers have more slots for enhancements and components, and so they're likely to be better than your starting soldiers, upgrades or not.
Soldiers are also given two skills each. These skills are mapped to the 1-6 keys, making them easy to trigger. During my time with the game, the dps skills were broken, so I went with a tank, a healer, and a ccer. The tank's skills are Cleave, which generates threat and hits enemies in a 180-degree arc, and Stomp, which taunts and hits all nearby enemies. The healer's skills are Heal, which is slow but powerful, and Channeled, which is fast but less effective. And the ccer's skills are Stun, which stuns a single enemy, and Cast Area Slow, which slows down all nearby enemies. At least at this point, these are the only skills available to the classes and there isn’t any way to add new ones. But this is an area that's probably still being worked on as well.
Combat in Krater is in real time, and there isn't any way to pause the game or slow things down and give orders (apparently, Fatshark wants the single player campaign and the multiplayer co-op mode to work exactly the same). That makes battles a little hectic. Your soldiers automatically attack nearby enemies, but you have to trigger the use of skills yourself. That's not too bad with the tank, since his skills don't need a target, but I had trouble managing the healer and the ccer at the same time, and mostly just focused on the healer.
If a battle goes badly for you, and some of your soldiers lose all of their health, then they don't die, but they do receive a minor injury. Then if a soldier receives four minor injuries, they become a major injury, which reduces attributes in some way (for example, I saw "smashed teeth," which reduced stamina). And if a soldier receives four major injuries, then he dies, and you have to recruit someone new. Krater only has auto-saves, so even if you're careful you'll probably end up sustaining injuries, but luckily the main town includes a hospital, where you can heal injuries for a (relatively expensive) price.
When you kill enemies, they usually drop equipment or ingredients. It looks like Krater is going to have a pretty substantial crafting system, where the ingredients you acquire will allow you to create weapons, enhancements, and components. Soldiers don't wear armor (they have fixed environmental suits that kept making me think of the clockwork dolls in 9), but they do have a gadget that they can wield, which appears to improve the ingredients they find. Equipment is also rated as "white" (normal), "green" (good), or "blue" (great), which should be familiar to anyone who has played an action role-playing game. I didn't see any unique or set items, but it's early yet.
Krater is played using an overhead view (necessary since you're controlling three characters). You left click to interact with people and objects, and to select your soldiers, and you right click to move and attack. The QWE keys can be used to select your soldiers, and the 1-6 keys to trigger your soldiers' skills. The camera automatically follows your soldiers around, which works well if you keep everybody together, and not so well otherwise. If you decide to move the camera manually, then you can use the arrow keys for it.
Supposedly, Shadows over Solside will have over 200 quests available. The build I played only had 16 quests, and they were of the action RPG variety where you just talk to somebody, fetch something, or kill something (mostly the latter). It doesn't look like you'll get to make any choices in the game, other than to accept or decline quests, so the replay value might be low.
I spent a few hours with Krater, which was enough to see all of content that is currently available. The writing in the game is fun (and seemed surprisingly well written considering it's probably all being translated from Swedish), and the combat sequences are fast-paced and energetic. Right now there's a lack of things to do since most of the content isn't in place yet, but I'm optimistic that Krater will turn into a fun game. Look for its first installment within the next six months.