AtomTeam's successful Kickstarter project ATOM RPG, bringing in $33,521 US dollars from genre hopefuls, is now available for all CRPG fans to enjoy. As many other CRPGs, Atom RPG is set in a post-apocalyptic, barren wasteland and the player is tasked with building their character, finding a mysterious individual and take down mutated beasts and corrupt, evil humans on the way to finding said individual. For those of us who played and loved titles such as Wasteland 2 and the classic original Fallout games, it's clear that these titles inspired Atom RPG. If one has a quick look at the Kickstarter page for the project, even the devs are really upfront with their inspirations, and this is certainly not a bad thing, considering the CRPG genre is a wilting one release-wise but still sports a huge, dedicated fanbase and Atom RPG seems to be a love letter to all the older titles that fanbase knew, loved and want to see again, us included.
Atom greets the player with a quick cutscene, explaining the predicament we as survivors are in. The third World War, we're told, was a nuclear one, with the Soviets seeming to be the catalyst with its acquisition of nuclear weapons. We're told the bombs dropped in 1986, so we're going to assume the Cold War was the beginning of our world's end in this alternate timeline. What's unique to Atom RPG is this timeline, as the game is set in 2005. No-one's been in a vault behind blast doors for hundreds of years and civilisation is still made up out of pre-war survivors and then added to with younglings roaming the wasteland as if the landscapes of Earth was always dirt and radioactive sludge. This makes for a potential dialogue goldmine, matching post-war babies with pre-war veterans, and the game most certainly takes this opportunity and shines on that front.
After a quick debriefing, the player gets to choose and customise his or her character and it's a classic CRPG recipe even here. Instead of getting to customise your avatar in the game, you pick one based from photographs in a huge stack of what looks like classified, government documents. After picking the one that the player feels best suits them look and statistics wise, they get to level their chosen one by putting the points given in two categories: characteristics and skills. Characteristics are your core stats such as strength and intellect, meanwhile, skills hold the specific weapon traits such as weapon category knowledge (Martial arts, Pistols & SMGs, Automatic Firearms etc.) as well as action and action specific skills (First Aid, Speechcraft and Barter etc.). One can also pick a distinction which is a drawback/positive trait category, sometimes giving the player a boost in one area while putting another area of expertise down.
The game also holds a skill tree to put points into when the player levels up and we have to say that finding this out came as a surprise about seven hours in. We either missed a critical text tutorial somewhere or there simply was no information given regarding the fact that this skill tree existed. Said skill tree is pretty straight-forward however and gives the player the option to build his or her character as he or she sees fit. What's more is that it's a pretty substantial menu (once you've found it) with plenty of strategic point placements to be made to get that skill at one end of the tree that you really want.
Speaking of not realising major mechanics in the game exists, Atom RPG is, like many other CRPGs, very vague in some of its dialogue. There's a lot of reading to do and a lot of details one has to pay attention to in said dialogues in order to know what comes next in a mission strand, side quests and main missions alike. Some of these mission strands are hard to catch up on because of broken translations and odd sentence structure on the developer's part, making some of the mission objectives a guessing game. This being said, the dialogue is, for the most part, well written and speaking to random strangers in the wasteland is a joy. Characters are funny, they tell interesting stories, and in no part of the game did we feel like reading was a chore. If you're not a fan of heavy text-based dialogue, however, Atom RPG is most definitely not the game for you.
Story-wise, starting off, the player (a government special forces operative working for a branch called "Atom", tasked with restoring the world to its pre-war stage) sits alone by a fire in the desert, listening to a tape recording containing classified information, so classified in fact, that the recording has to be destroyed upon hearing the message. The mission given to the player is to find General Morozov, a higher-up who went missing under mysterious circumstances. After destroying the message, our protagonist sits by the fire, getting some rest before heading out, minding his/her business, commenting on what a nice day we seem to be having in the cold, nuclear wasteland when five men approach. One of the men asks our character if she's Little Red Riding Hood on a mission to bring food to my sick grandmother before her demise while nodding at my supplies. "Are all those bags yours?" he asks with a grin on his face. "I could help you carry them for a price". The many skill points we put into speechcraft instantly show their value as we get two skill exclusive options right off the bat to tell the strangers to bugger off in two manners, differing in the amount of aggression displayed. We decided to use our strength option, buffing our character's petite female body to that of a very, very small man (it turns out we're not the Hulk with beginner stats) but neither of the strangers seems very intimidated. In fact, the leader of the bunch walks over to us and knocks our badass lady to the ground with one light punch. As we wake up, this Little Red Riding Hood's gear is long gone. Looks like grandma will have to manage.
The following main story missions of this post-World War 3 adventure are well written and straight-forward, as are the side missions as previously stated, with the only drawback being the translation issues, making the objectives vague at times.
Moving on to positioning and combat; Atom RPG sports a simple mouse button focused control scheme. The W, A, S and D buttons are used for moving the camera around and actions, dialogue and menus are handled with the mouse buttons, as well as an old-school, turn-based combat system based on initiative. The system reminds us of the one used in Wasteland 2 and while it mostly works in Atom RPG there are some issues with it. First of all, the combat is extremely simplified, there are few ways for the player to spice things up with tricks up their sleeves once combat starts. A combat encounter starts, the player gets to move around the combat grid based on their initiative points (or action points), shoot or hit an enemy, and then it's the opponent's turn. For the most part, this works just fine but we couldn't help but notice that some weapon classes have a huge advantage in battle. We went for a strength based character and picked up rifle-bearing companions along the way and had we not had them by our side, we'd be toast before our first turn came (and dying sends you straight back to the title screen, so make sure to save often), especially since the enemies a bit into the game are brutal. Putting your skill points in a weapon skill other than melee and melee weapons seems to be the way to go, at least early on.
With the RPG elements, the narrative and the combat covered, there's also the crafting and merchant system to talk about. Your crafting abilities in the game are decided by the number of points you have put into the tinkering skill. Crafting is definitely useful, some items you can purchase are expensive and creating them yourself is easy and simple. We would, however, recommend players put some points into the barter category as we seemed to sell things for mere pennies quite often.
Atom RPG is a love letter to the classic CRPG genre. Those of you who dream of a new Fallout or can't wait for the new Wasteland to come out should definitely check it out. The game has a solid narrative, a long storyline, interesting dialogue, retro (but lovely) visuals, and an old school combat system. There are a couple of bugs, weird translations, and some odd NPC behaviour in combat, but these issues are easily fixed with a patch or two and are minor enough to still get through the game. For all you genre fans out there, this indie is a real gem and it has the potential to grow into something even bigger in the future - and we'll be following said future closely.
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