We Happy Few: Early Access impressions

Game code provided by PR

When We Happy Few was announced with its provocative, intriguing trailer, gamers’ imaginations were enthralled. With an undeniable hint of Bioshock and 1984, the game’s debut displayed Compulsion Games’ retro-futuristic vision of a world rife with government-sanctioned self-deception. With the game’s recent Early Access release, we’ve now been given a glimpse of how we’ll be exploring that world.

A question in the mind of each We Happy Few hopeful has been fairly simple: “What is We Happy Few?” We now have an answer. We Happy Few is a roguelike survival game, similar to the likes of ARK and H1Z1, with a focus on interactions with the zany cast and the quests they will send you on to tell the game’s story. Unfortunately, the early access only gave us a brief glimpse into said story (the component that sets We Happy Few apart). Instead, it focusses on the survival elements and the game’s random encounters.

he only brief glance we get of the story is the opening in which the player sits at a desk, deleting or approving news articles (presumably) depending on how well they fit with the current government’s narrative. Yep, there’s a huge 1984 influence here. As the opening plays out, we’re also introduced to “Joy,” a drug that controls an individual’s perceptions: For example, some of the characters beat a pinata and eat the contained candy, but when your character’s joy wears off it is revealed to be a dead rat filled with what you’d expect. It’s a dystopia wearing a utopian mask.

So there appears to be an incredibly compelling narrative present. The problem is that the seemingly disconnected gameplay may not be worth suffering through for it; at least, at this stage in development.

After the prologue, the game throws you into a small town area with whatever you can find in your new hideout and a very vague goal of “get out of here.” Searching around a bit reveals how to do this: You need to get past a guard by telling him who won the last game of “Simon Says.” We spent a fair amount of time with the Early Access build of the game and didn’t find anything that hinted at an answer to this. Perhaps it isn’t implemented yet and is there to keep you within the area, but if not then it reveals one of the game’s problems: It feels very directionless.

In the procedurally generated town you’ll also stumble upon encounters – essentially randomly selected quests – given to you by the town’s addled denizens, by random items lying about, or by sight of something or someone. These quests, however, feel somewhat disconnected from everything else and aren’t particularly engaging. For example, you might stumble across a man vomiting from food poisoning and need to give him some medication to deal with it or have to deal with a lunatic throwing stones around. There also isn’t really a great enough variety implemented yet that they don’t get stale after the third variation of the same quest.

Quests also suffer from the whole directionless problem as you’ll often be told to get something with absolutely no indication of where you might find it. You’re given a map and a compass, but aren’t given the ability to set a waypoint to ease your navigation of the town, under-utilising the map and rendering the compass completely worthless. Sure, the game shouldn’t hold your hand the whole way, but spending hours trying to find something gets boring real quick.

While you’re dealing with these encounters you’ll also be trying to survive, and there’s a lot going on there: Every five minutes you’ll be prompted to either eat, drink, or sleep based on an ever-depleting gauge. If it’s one of the first two options and your only consumables are rotten food or contaminated water, that prompt becomes sickness which you’ll then also have to deal with. Getting distracted by these elements gets tiresome very quickly, and it would be nice to have the survival element entirely optional as it just gets in the way of experiencing the wonderful world We Happy Few has to offer.

The game does give you some options, however: Before starting a new game, you can opt in or out of permadeath – removing the roguelike element of the game – and activate a second wind to give you another shot when you fall. This ability to tailor the game to suit you is highly appreciated, and will hopefully be expanded upon in the full game.

What We Happy Few gets right, however, it gets very right. The game’s world has a wonderful aesthetic somewhere between Fable and Bioshock that fits the maniacal denizens and the hinted-at story perfectly with its twisted brand of sardonic cheer.

It’s a good thing the game was released as an Early Access title first as it is in desperate need of some work. After an enticing prologue full of potential, it is a little disappointing that the current state of the game not only fails to live up to that, but almost stands in its way. With the right implementation of feedback, however, We Happy Few has the right seeds to sow an Early Access success story. Indeed, at time of writing, a patch has been detailed which promises to deal with some of our gripes (there’s talk of waypoints for example, and loosening survival demands – though no option to remove them). It’s much more of an unfinished project than Early Access games actually tend to be; very much a case of Watch This Space. 

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Written by Adam S

Hailing from Parts Unknown, Adam grew up with a passion for three things: Videogames, anime, and writing. Unfortunately his attempts to combine the three have yet to form Captain Planet, but they have produced some good byproducts.

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