Though each character has a couple of abilities, there’s not enough variety in the enemies or in the fights to create a situation in which you ever really worry about strategy elements; the most of it is coordinating a healing spell or freezing an enemy, or moving one of your weaker characters away from the front lines when they’re stupid enough to wander out ahead. In my playthrough, each fight started with stunning one character, sending my tank in to start bruising guys, and assigning the healer to fire a prolonged healing spell at the tank. Repeat, repeat, repeat, for hours and hours and hours.
The leveling system is at once interesting and frustrating. Characters each have a level cap: 5, 10 or 15. That basically puts a cap on how many implant and booster slots you’ll open up for them as they progress, so you’ll need to be very careful about what you assign where. Eventually, you’ll need to recruit new characters, which you can switch out at any point except in combat to make a team of three. It’s an interesting dynamic that gives you some room to customize, but there aren’t that many classes, so it really doesn’t matter which group you take into any given fight.
While it’s nice to have what amounts to complete control over your characters, Krater isn’t really all that clear with how to really improve them. For instance, I made it through probably half the game with my initial team of characters before I realized that there was a reason they weren’t leveling up anymore — I’d hit their caps and needed to recruit a whole new team. That meant I needed to take an hour off from working through the story or completing sidequests just to grind up some levels on my new team, and it wasn’t long before I realized that the new group, capped at 10, were probably a waste of money because what I wanted were the guys who I could max out. It also meant that I was opting out of adding implants to my guys in favor of waiting for better ones, since the space was limited.
Recruitment is tied to location as much as funds, so finding the right team with the right abilities is a matter of going to the right towns, and that’s even more annoying. Dying out in the world means you get bounced to whatever town you were at last, and since Krater is kind of huge, that often means repeating a big trek. The game is also hindered by some irritating bugs — sometimes you’ll click on a location to send your guys, only to realize you’ll have to send them nearby first before asking them to interact with that spot. Other times, attempting to move around the map ahead of your guys is hindered, meaning you’ll have to click incessantly along the way to get them where they’re going. It’s little things that make the whole experience feel unpolished, and those tiny irritations certainly don’t help larger ones like forced grinding,
Recruitment has another function: replenishing your ranks when your characters suffer permadeth. When you get KO’d in a fight, especially on the harder difficulty levels, your characters incur “injuries.” Too many injuries and they go down permanently: on lower difficulties you can heal them in towns, but on higher ones, you can lose your primary characters and be forced to start over with new ones. Unfortunately, it’s a better idea on paper than in practice, because Krater has trouble with difficulty spikes — you’ll often wander up on a character that can thrash you that you had no idea was about to thrash you. And then you might lose one of your primary characters, and find yourself required to recruit a new one, grind him up to speed, and then invest in all new implants, weapons and other junk to get him back into battle shape. That’s a sizable investment of time, and it’s enough to make you want to just hang up the game and play something else.
There are things about Krater I like. Loot is central to enjoyment in games like this, and you get a fair amount, plus crafting often results in cool new items you didn’t know you had access to. The setting and writing isn’t bad, and it’s refreshing to play a post-apocalyptic game in which every character wears a gas mask but in general, everyone is happy or at least not miserable. The music is great, and even though it’s repetitive, the gameplay isn’t awful.