Krater's ARPG formula leaves a bit to be desired.
By Daniel Wilks on July 2, 2012 at 5:25 pm
I like games that do things differently. When you play little but RPGs and puzzle games you need that variety to keep things running smoothly. With your grandiose epics, like Mass Effect, Dragon Age or Skyrim, that difference can come from story and character as the mechanics kind of play second fiddle to the narrative. Action RPGs, or games of acquisition as I still prefer to call them, are pretty much the exact opposite.
The differentiating factors between them have to be mechanical more than narrative, because it’s the combat and loot that keeps you playing (and replaying) them rather than the compelling story. When the most nuanced character interaction in a game is how far the loot flies from a body once it is eviscerated you really have to have solid fundamentals to keep people interested.
For games of acquisition this is where things get a little tough. While there are some mechanical elements that can be played with to create an interesting point of difference, others are so fundamental to the nature of the games that they are all but sacrosanct. You can really see this in the way different ARPGs handle character creation and loot.
Nearly every ARPG will have some unique point of difference in their character selection. Whether it be the hybrid multi-classing of Titan Quest, the universalist approach of Diablo III in which every player of the same class gets the same skills but can augment them in different ways, or the very straightforward character-speccing of Torchlight, pretty much all of them use similar styles of randomised loot tables. Occasionally an ARPG will play with the fundamentals of combat somewhat, such as the omnipresent companions in Diablo III, the reliance on ranged combat over melee in games like Space Siege or a shift to first person as in Borderlands, but they are the exceptions, not the rule.
I bring all of this up because I recently had the dubious pleasure of reviewing Krater, an interesting but ultimately doomed strategy/ARPG hybrid that fails because it tries to reinvent too many wheels whilst ignoring most of the fundamentals.
Instead of allowing players to choose and create characters, Krater puts the player in charge of a team of three rather generic, gas mask wearing staples: a tank, DPS and healer. Instead of skill trees or advancement, each character has two skills and a number of slots that unlock with levels for augmentation to add effects to one of their two skills and raise their stats. Loot drops are limited to the single weapon each class can wield, augments, crafting items and vendor trash. There’s no sense of character development or continuity as players are encouraged to employ new characters rather than spend ludicrous amounts of cash to increase the level cap of the characters they already have, and no sense of advancement thanks to the lack of loot or skill advancement.
I may complain that things get too samey, but sometimes I think you have to admit that some of the omnipresent tropes in gaming are there for a reason. The wheel has already been invented.