The latest title developed by Fatshark, Krater: Shadows over Solside is a step away from the independent studio’s typical output. The well respected multiplayer centric gameplay of Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West and the forthcoming War of the Roses showcase a design ethic that brings people together, playing on the same battlefield regardless of their proximity in reality. Krater: Shadows over Solside is different: this is a videogame designed to entice a solitary player to command a small team of characters that would normally be controlled by human allies.
Krater: Shadows over Solside is an action-orientated role-playing game (RPG) in the vein of Diablo and Neverwinter Nights. It takes the player on a journey through a neo apocalyptic world in which chaos is the only form of justice. But within that world some crave for order, with three factions warring for control over the titular crater (‘krater’ is Swedish for crater, and so of course the videogame is based in Sweden). This is a world in which the human race is set on rebuilding and repopulating after the fallout, but the fight for control over that progress is the most immediate factor in a city once populated with high rise towers, now levelled to an endless series of caves and tunnels filled with old world treasures and perils. As a freelancer, it’s your ambition to take advantage of the rivalry between factions, taking part in the goldrush where people come back rich or don’t come back at all.
As a single-player experience, Krater: Shadows over Solside ticks all the right boxes of the action RPG genre. The typical combat structure, buckets of loot, unique skills and immersive are all present and correct, but there’s always the nagging feeling that they just don’t gel as well as they should. Krater: Shadows over Solside fails to deliver the same quality package as many rivals in the genre simply by way of the greatest progress being indirect. Characters can be equipped which statistic boosters that have almost intangible effects as opposed to equipping new weaponry, and enemies are rarely interesting in their aggressiveness despite their conformity to reasonably adept AI procedures. It does seem as if Fatshark has intended to progress the action RPG formula with new ideas, but these ideas simply don’t have the same intrigue and quality production as those which were originally in place.
And then of course, you do have to question exactly why Krater: Shadows over Solside doesn’t feature multiplayer gameplay. It feels as though the videogame was designed for it, especially given the fact that the player controls a gang at all times, and yet no option is included, either in the original product or the downloadable content (DLC) made available since. It’s almost as if the developers had intended to include multiplayer from the very start, but had to cut it from the final build due to budget or time constraints, and given the independent nature of the studio behind Krater: Shadows over Solside, perhaps it’s now too big a job to patch into the videogame given the audience that has been established in the months since it’s digital-only debut.
The visual quality is arguably Krater: Shadows over Solside’s most redeeming feature. The world it creates is believable in its bright neon colours and gas mask chic. It owes a lot to the likes of Fallout and Borderlands, but in the same respect the influence of the likes of Bladerunner and Strange Days can also be seen. It’s a visual design that takes post apocalyptic and blends it with traditional science-fiction to great result, and in itself is an aesthetic which will surely be used as a template for future productions in the same way that Krater: Shadows over Solside has used other titles.
The biggest problem Krater: Shadows over Solside faces is that it’s entering a world full of heavyweight competition. Had Fatshark pursued console development as their first outlet they’d have very little beyond the age old Marvel Alliance and the forthcoming Sacred 3 to head them off at the pass, but on PC the wealth of adventures available in Diablo III et al is simply overwhelming. Krater: Shadows over Solside has a great deal of character and a good attempt at innovation on its side, but compared to the genre pioneers it’s simply not competing on an equal footing.