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ATOM RPG Review

by forgottenlor, 2020-03-30

The digital age and crowd funding have supported a market for retro games and ATOM RPG is a perfect example. Anyone who has played the classic Fallout will feel very familiar with the game’s UI, color pallet, overworld map, and the general gameplay including its combat, character system, and branching dialogues.  For anyone who hasn’t played Fallout, ATOM RPG is a post-apocalyptic isometric RPG. It features a well balanced mix of story based quests, which can often be solved without violence for those characters with the appropriate high skills or attributes; also, exploration in a big open world via world map, and turn based combat featuring an action point system.  Unlike many other post-apocalyptic RPGs, ATOM RPG is set in the Soviet Union, and its tone is less grimdark, which isn’t that hard since most post-apocalyptic games feature a world fallen into total savagery. Gameplaywise ATOM RPG doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but in a retro game, that is exactly what the core audience wants. In this case, ATOM RPG offers fairly complex character mechanics, and a number of ways to build a character that will reveal itself as a failure at some point during the game. For those looking for a lengthy game with a balanced mix of combat, story, and exploration, Atom RPG has a lot to offer.


Understanding how to use pre-war technology can occasionally come in handy. Like when you're exploring pre-war bunkers.

 

Story and Atmosphere

You start as an agent of ATOM, a secret military organization that predates the nuclear apocalypse. You’re sent out into the wastes to find a missing expedition and that’s when everything begins to go wrong. And while ATOM RPG can at times be dark it is definitely not a game that takes itself too seriously. It is full of jokes and references to Fallout, other RPGs, and science fiction films and is occasionally extremely silly.


While most post-apocalyptic games take place in a nightmarish future America, ATOM is set in a bizzare future Soviet Union.

ATOM RPG’s world also stands in contrast to those of other post-apocalyptic games where the world has descended into savagery and where the absolute worst characteristics of mankind are on display.  Rather the game’s world is inspired by the feudal world of the middle ages. One perfect example is that early on in ATOM RPG the mayor of a small town asks you to investigate gangsters who he thinks want to take over his town. And while these gangsters are by no means nice people, you quickly find out that their leader sees the town as an investment. They should pay him protection money, as should the local farm and distillery, and he will defend them. And as it turns out he means both parts quite seriously, and in one quest you can help assemble a team of crazy ex-soldiers (which is a reference to a 1980’s B-action T.V. series) for his agent to protect the village against a group of slavers. While the game also has its share of slavers, cultists, and psychopaths, they don’t rule the world, but are hounded and hunted down (with your help, if you wish) by the powers that be.

ATOM RPG is full of references and jokes, in this case a reference that is a joke. It refers to a very old CRPG from the mid 1990s that only old and grizzled CRPG veterans like me might catch.

ATOM RPG is also set in a post-apocalyptic Soviet Union. This goes far beyond just statues of Lenin, Russian shop signs, and the names of towns. The perfect example is another quest where you are asked by an election official to influence the outcome of an election. What isn’t important to the official is who wins as he sees strengths and weaknesses in both candidates. What is important is that everyone votes for the same candidate, including the rival candidate, since in a proper soviet election there is unanimous consent (at least officially).

ATOM RPG is a very quest-oriented game, but the vast majority of quests are side quests. The main quest line is made up of only a handful of quests with noticeable difficulty bumps in between. The main quest’s story is very recognizable to anyone who has played such post-apocalyptic games, but since it at the same time pokes fun at the standard post-apocalyptic plot it still seems fresh, even if it isn’t brilliantly told and doesn’t have especially memorable characters.

Your companions are often recognized by the game and occasionally have a lot to say to certain NPCs.

There are few recruitable companions in the game. They actually have a lot of extra dialogue at certain points in the game. Also, a lot of the NPCs you run into acknowledge what your companions are saying and will reply to them. That doesn’t make them necessarily deep or interesting, unfortunately. You also only have very limited control of them in combat, though you do get to level them up, so you can at least control their character development, even if you are limited by their starting builds. They will also always be weaker than your main character, making them occasionally liabilities in combat.


Mechanics           

Anyone who has played Fallout will recognize the skill and attribute system in this game. Attributes are selected initially, and skills come from a wide array of weapon and non-combat skills. There are no classes, so you can invest your skill points as you choose. Certain non-combat skills are very useful and let you get through tough quests without fighting. However, avoiding or reducing the difficulty of some combat often requires you to pass an attribute check, and in many cases the attribute needs to be very high. There is also a perk system, but this is actually quite different from Fallout, in that there is a perk tree, and the cost of perks go up for every perk you have, so at later levels the intervals between gaining perks are actually quite long.

ATOM RPG's perk tree. You get 2 perk points per level, and the cost for a new perk is 1 point+ 1 point for every perk you already have. At this point I need 7 perk points for my next 1, which requires gaining 4 levels.

Combat is based on an action point system and generally each weapon has two or three alternate attacks, depending on the weapon type and quality. Your character can have two weapons or items equipped at once and can freely switch between these. They can also access their inventory, but that costs quite a few action points. Some quests require combat to solve, and regardless of how you build your character you may find yourself unable to avoid combat at other points, simply because you couldn’t have possibly pumped up all of your attributes to 8+ and you would have needed say an 8 Luck to have avoided this combat. So, it’s important that your character be proficient with at least one combat style. Also, while you can avoid a lot of the random combat on the world map, a lot of the wealth and experience you’ll need to get past the story quests require you to win a number of these random combats. Quest experience alone simply won’t suffice. In addition, it’s important to note that you can recruit a number of companions in the game and these seem to only gain experience from combat.

This is one of the game's more difficult optional combats. It requires the expenditure of large amounts of amunition, as you can see.

A last word of caution to Fallout fans, my super-duper character build from Fallout 2 had a lot of problems in the very last section of the game, because even though the games seem very similar, the makers of ATOM RPG also built in some encounters that reward you for investing in certain skills and attributes that might be considered dump stats in Fallout. And so as similar as the games initially seem, there are some important differences. For example, a lot of the better firearms in the game, even pistols, require an above average strength to wield. The better melee weapons on the other hand require a high dexterity.

 

Journey through the Wasteland

Once you leave the game’s first area where you complete a number of simple tasks, you’re sent onto the world map. In good retro game tradition, your character will probably quickly run into a random encounter, outnumbered by better equipped enemies. . . and your character will die. During the mid- game, you’ll wipe out the same enemies without breaking a sweat and sell all of their stuff so you can save up for that new sub-machine gun you were eyeing in the store. You can wander around the world map at your leisure, but most places of import will be pointed out to you beforehand by quest givers. That’s not to say all quests are handed to you on a plate. A number of quests are actually quite hard to solve, and you are given no or very vague instructions of how to start. But it is true that the vast majority of the game’s bigger locations are quest related. There are a number of interesting small areas though, that you run into. You can also go where you want, when you want, with only a few late game areas shut off or requiring vast sums of money to travel to.

This is what the overland map looks like. As you travel across it you consume food and can run into random encounters. The green circled areas are locations: either settlements with quest and NPCs or dungeons with lots of enemies.

Traveling across the wasteland requires food, and at the very least some water and vodka, if you don’t have enough funds for a proper poison antidote or anti-radiation medication. At least your character won’t be dying of hunger, radiation or poison and will just be in danger of dying from gunshot wounds or animal bites. There is a danger in alcohol and medication, though, as your character can become addicted.

ATOM RPG gives you a pretty vast world to explore. It took me about 45 hours to get to the end game, and I did not solve all of the side quests. In addition, my character had very high skills in survival and speechcraft and thus could pretty much choose when and if to engage in random encounter from the mid game on. Other character builds and more thorough players could certainly spend much longer finishing the game. ATOM RPG’s world is also pretty open. I actually finished a massive number of side quests before entering the first big dungeon, because I overlooked one easy method of getting into it until much later in the game. Also, once you enter a new settlement, you’ll get a ton of quests of various difficulty which might send you all over the game world.

The game world has a decent amount of variety as well. There are a few mega dungeons, with a mix of combat and puzzle solving elements. There are settlements where you’ll be talking to tons of NPCs, bartering and trying to solve quests, mostly in a non-violent manner. Then there are smaller overland areas where you’ll find stuff and maybe have a fight or two. In this ATOM RPG has the gameplay variety that players of classic CRPGs expect.

 

Presentation

While Gutsy the Clown has a nice portrait, the figures and landscape scream "indie."

ATOM RPG is obviously a retro indie RPG, both in visuals and sound. There is no voice acting in the game, and the player will do lots of reading. The graphics are obviously not cutting edge, and though the character portraits are well done, the character and monster models look primitive. On the other hand, for most players interested in this kind of game, the graphics will probably be sufficient, as this type of game tends to be aimed towards hardcore gamers more concerned with gameplay than presentation.

 

Conclusion

I really enjoyed ATOM RPG. Its clear the developers were huge Fallout fans who understood what elements made that game fun. Also, the unique Soviet setting and the tongue in cheek tone of the game make sure that its not just another Fallout clone. Still ATOM RPG falls short of brilliance. To try to explain this I will make a short comparison to another Fallout like game, Underrail. Underrail is clearly focused on exploration and navigating combats which can be approached in a number of ways. It does these two things extremely well, which make it a brilliant game. ATOM RPG on the other hand is focused on quests and has a lot more NPCs and dialogue. While its writing is probably better than Underrail’s I don’t think the npcs or dialogue are much above average, and that prevents ATOM RPG from shining in what is one of the game’s focuses. While that might make the game fall short of becoming a classic, it doesn’t prevent ATOM RPG from being a huge, challenging, and very fun RPG. Anyone who pines for the classic CRPGs from the turn of the century won’t be disappointed by ATOM RPG.   

 These mutants are decidedly of the unfriendly variety.

Box Art

Information about

ATOM RPG: Post-apocalyptic indie game

Developer: Atom Team

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Post-Apoc
Genre: RPG
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: Unknown
Voice-acting: Unknown

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2018-12-19
· Publisher: Atom Team

More information


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Summary

Pros

  • Unique Soviet setting.
  • Great mix of combat, dialogue, exploration, and quests.
  • A game with a large scope and open world.
  • Lots of possible character builds.

Cons

  • Story and writing only average
  • Companions not very memorable.
  • Random encounters
  • Retro graphics (for those that don't like them)

Rating: Very Good

A very good game that is just short of being excellent, because of one or more minor issues that reduce the level of enjoyment a little bit.

Review version

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