From the ashes, a new society has risen. In the wake of a nuclear catastrophe that wiped out billions, the survivors who dwell in the land once known as Sweden have formed new settlements from the wreckage. Krater is more vibrant than the typically bleak take on postapocalyptic life, and there's a humorous sense of whimsy in the way it envisions Sweden after the catastrophe; for instance, you'll recognize the signs for a company called IDEA as the slightly modified signs of a certain furniture mega-chain. This imagining of Sweden as a land largely reclaimed by nature initially seems enticing to explore with your band of adventurers. But mediocre combat and poor pacing soon take the spring out of your step and make hacking and slashing your way through Krater a slog.
You control a trio of characters who can be assembled from four different classes: the stalwart bruiser; the healing medikus; the long-range, crowd-controlling regulator; and the close-range, damage-dealing slasher. All characters have two abilities--they start with these and never gain any more, so there's little sense of character progression as you level them up.
Leveling up does open up slots for implants and boosters, though, and outfitting your characters with these can boost their stats and add buffs and bonuses to their existing abilities. You can also equip each character with a gadget, which provides a supplementary ability. The freedom to focus on upgrading the stats you want to and to customize abilities with the buffs that you want is welcome. But the pleasure of customization is weighed down by the busywork of frequently needing to return to towns, find crafting tables, and click through the process of creating your desired boosters and implants.
There's an overall level cap of 15, but your characters might start with level caps of 5 or 10, and only by visiting a boot camp and forking over money can you open up higher levels. As a result, you can spend significant amounts of time not earning experience points, if, for instance, you've reached level 10 with your current characters and can't yet afford to unlock the next five levels. This time spent fighting without earning XP feels like time wasted. You can also visit recruitment officers and purchase new squad members who have access to level 15 from the get-go. But this means going through the whole process of leveling them up and outfitting them with boosters and implants from scratch, which is a chore if you've already done this with other characters.
Once they've reached level 15--which doesn't take that long while they're actually earning XP--continuing to improve your characters is a matter of gaining access to better and better blueprints and crafting materials so that you can periodically replace your existing boosters and implants with superior ones. The knowledge that a character is no longer earning experience may encourage you to rotate another character into your squad who can still reap the benefits of XP, but it won't be that long before you have a team of adventurers you're happy with who have all reached the level cap, and again, the knowledge that you're not earning experience in combat makes it feel less worthwhile.
Unfortunately, the combat isn't exciting enough to be its own reward. Despite the fact that you have three characters with differing abilities in your party, there's rarely much tactical depth to battle. Fast reflexes sometimes come into play, as you may need to respond to one of your characters suffering damage by quickly unleashing a heal. But for the most part, what works against one pack of enemies works against another. Since each character has only two abilities, there are only so many approaches you can take to killing enemies, and once you decide upon an effective one, there's little reason to change things up. So you trudge through battles, clicking on enemies and tapping keys to employ your limited range of abilities and gadgets; it's all thoroughly routine.
When you do find yourself coming up against enemies you can't defeat, it's typically a matter of needing to improve your stats with better implants rather than needing to alter your strategy. So it's back to the crafting table again. Should you meet defeat multiple times in combat, your characters suffer injuries, and if they suffer four injuries, they die permanently. But the threat of death seldom generates much tension on the normal difficulty level. Most of the time, you can easily make your way to a town and have a doctor heal your characters before they suffer any injuries.
As you might expect, enemies drop money and loot. Occasionally you come across a weapon or gadget that's better than your current equipment. But much of what you find is only good for selling, and your inventory can quickly fill up with junk. Many recent action role-playing games have made getting to and from town to unload unwanted gear a quick and easy process; Krater is not one of these games. You can extract your team to the surface from any level of any dungeon, but from there, you must make your way across the world map back to the nearest town, and your journey may be interrupted by random encounters. The world map is beautiful, but you traverse it slowly, and since you usually just want to get where you're going, the random encounters that spring up from time to time only serve to further break up the sense of momentum in a game that never gets much momentum going in the first place.
Sadly, Krater never finds a way to distinguish itself from other, better action RPGs out there. At first, the distinctive Swedish setting is alluring, and the ethereal music that plays on the world map lends this land an enchanted feel. But soon each area you visit looks a lot like an area you've already visited, and the tendency of your squad members to utter the same silly statements over and over again begins to grate. And so, bogged down by rote combat and a frustrating leveling system, the act of exploring Krater's large world loses its luster. Currently there are nonfunctioning buttons in menus for online multiplayer options, and you never know what the future will bring. But as it stands, there are far more rewarding adventures for would-be fortune hunters to embark on.