Welcome to the Wastelands. No, no. We aren’t talking about Las Vegas or West Virginia. Welcome to the post-nuclear fallout badlands of Russia.
Set in 2005, Atom RPG places you directly in the boots of a Soviet special forces cadet tasked with assisting in the restoration of the Soviet Union after the Cold War ends in mutual nuclear destruction in 1986.
Made by indie developer AtomTeam in the style of Wasteland and Fallout 1 and 2, Atom RPG promises the best of classic RPGs, but is this adventure worth the time?
Much of the game operates similar to your standard classic RPG, and this is not a knock. Though nothing groundbreaking, everything from combat to character creation and the subsequent effect on the gameplay is well-designed.
Combat is grid-based with movement and attacks dictated by how many action points you possess. You will have two forms of attack costing more or less AP depending on which you choose. This can either be bare hand and feet attacks, long or short range weapons, or some combo of either. Thankfully, you will generally have more attack points to begin with than your early opponents.
Unfortunately, as I will explain shortly, you will discover rather quickly just how ill-equipped you are for the realities of the wastes almost immediately.
The best-laid plans of mutants and men often go awry in the wastelands. The skills and stats you choose during character creation will heavily affect your game, especially in the early stages. You can choose from the usual range of stats such as strength, endurance, and intelligence.
Your skill sets include weapons specialties such as Martial Arts for bare-handed knuckle-busting, long and short range weapons, gambling, survival, and lock picking. You also have the option to choose a “Distinction” which will auto-allocate your skill and stats points to create a very specified type of character for you.
These can be both a blessing and a curse. In fact, the downsides that come along with the “perks” of these distinctions might be worth avoiding altogether unless you already have a set strategy for the game.
For instance, you can choose to be a “Savage Hunter” which will drastically increase your damage to animals. However, no one will like you (you lose Personality points) and you will have trouble carrying all those animal skins with a significantly reduced carry weight. Some Distinctions like “Diplomat” which heavily focus on Speechcraft might not be a bad choice, but you have to make certain you deal with the fact your weapons skills will suffer significantly.
I chose to bypass the “Distinctions” and ended up making three separate characters throughout my time with Atom RPG. My third character was lower in Speechcraft and personality than the two previous, and I noticed how helpful being able to smooth talk my way through the world was from the get-go.
People easily volunteered additional information, and in one instance I was allowed through without proper papers. My other two characters were given a much harder time of things. Lockpicking came into handy right off the bat as well. It is amazing just how many locked containers I came across early on. But, I suppose that makes sense in a savage post-apocalyptic landscape.
Intelligence and mechanical skills will also come in handy during the first hour or so.
Though I prefer a character more heavily skilled in the gift of gab, I gave my final character a heavy focus on Strength and Martial Arts. This is because of how high the difficulty can be during random encounters.
When you leave a specific area such as a town or a bunker, you will appear on the world map. Using map scrolling with WASD you will locate a destination and then click on it, sending your character on their way.
During your journey, you will encounter events that range from meeting a friendly caravan to running into bandits. Even as prepared as you are regarding attack power and resistance to enemy attacks, running into four bandits, two of which are armed, within the first 30 minutes of the game almost guarantees your death. At one point, I admittedly only made it to a nearby bunker on luck. Instead of running into armed bandits that could kill me in a few shots, I ran into some giant ants instead. Giant ants are much more easily dealt with, largely because they cannot carry guns.
The game seems to be designed to push the player to heavily allocate points to only a couple of skills and stats, slowing down later progress in others.
For example, though you get a few guns early on, unless you heavily allocate skill points to their use from the beginning, they won’t do you much good. On my first run, I gave my character high personality and Speechcraft skills, allocating an average or below average amount of points to most of the other skills and stats save for intelligence. Lockpicking, and technology. All was going fairly well until the one time I could not talk my way out of a bandit encounter and then I was dead.
In fact, even with my reasonably high Speechcraft, I didn’t succeed in talking my way out of very many bandit encounters early on, thus leading me to a frustrating familiarity with the death screen.
The storyline might be your standard post-apocalyptic RPG fair, but being in another country is an exciting change. I found the writing to be enjoyable. Though you will have many standard interactions with NPCs in towns and cities and other areas, you will also run into some interesting characters.
I appreciated that the creators did attempt to create unique personalities for the people that populate the world, and you will see that come through, sometimes in fairly amusing ways.
Aside from the high difficulty, particularly in the beginning where it seems nigh on unfair, Atom RPG is very well designed. Though punishing, it feels satisfying to know your character design choices do make a significant impact on your progress and that playing the game again with different stats and skill selections will significantly change your gameplay experience, even if it does not have a huge impact on the overall story.
Atom RPG demonstrates well precisely why classic RPGs maintain a healthy audience even to this day.