I’ve had the chance to play Compulsion Games’ We Happy Few, a game I’ve been highly anticipating since its announcement last year. A few weeks ago it went into Early Access on PC and Xbox One and I wanted to share my thoughts on the eerie roguelike set in a dilapidated world.
The Orwellian-like world revolves around a society in 1960s Britain where the people of Wellington Wells take Joy, a pill to enhance their mood and see the (literal) brighter side of life to fit in. Those who do not take their Joy or aren’t able to are labeled Downers and are exiled to a rundown, disgusting side of town where everyone is mean, sick and on edge. As the main character, named Arthur Hastings, you’re given a choice whether or not to take your Joy. If you choose to take the pill, the game ends, which is a cool touch as a sort of secret ending. But the point of the game, as illustrated by its E3 trailer and the prologue, is to not take your Joy and witness the people, behind creepy white masks, chase after you as you’re now considered a Downer.
One of the most important things to note about this game is that it’s in the alpha stage and a ways off from its full release, so there are going to be issues with this game’s performance. The most notable problem I had was the frame rate dropping significantly during combat with numerous enemies. Some other issues I came across include key characters disappearing during quests, but this was remedied by sleeping. Other issues include silly ones like characters stirring a pot of food with no object in their hands, or hats randomly floating in the air. Again, this game is still in an alpha stage so I’m able to forgive these issues. I don’t mind the floating hats and missing objects, but I hope the frame rate will be more stable in the final version.
When I first heard that We Happy Few was a roguelike, at least in this preview build, I was immediately turned off and my interest in the game took a complete 180. But it wouldn’t have been fair to write it off because it’s not the type of game I was expecting. I’ve been most interested in the game’s story, which won’t be playable until next year and getting a chance to play some form of the game is better than nothing.
Unfortunately don’t think We Happy Few is a good roguelike. You have to worry about thirst, hunger and fatigue which isn’t a big deal in a roguelike. But keeping these sustained is frustrating because the rate at which you become hungry, tired and thirsty happens too frequently. It seemed like as soon as I started a new run/file, I was already hungry or thirsty, and as soon as I’d eat or drink, I’d become tired. Hopefully the rate at which you grow fatigued will decrease as the game gets closer to its full release.
I ultimately felt limited in my ability to explore; I was only able to go out for so long because I knew fatigue would soon become a concern. I do appreciate that sprinting and fighting enemies will drain your energy so picking your battles is especially important if you’re low on any of these resources. There’s also risk involved when eating or drinking certain items, such as rotten apples or other expired items. There’s a chance of getting sick and you have to find the means to cure yourself so you don’t die of sickness, rather than dying from other means.
Before beginning a new file you’re given an opportunity to play with permadeath on or off and a chance to catch a second wind after losing your health. Playing with permadeath on is what I previously described, where thirst, hunger and fatigue occur much more frequently. Playing with it off isn’t nearly as intense, or even enticing, because you can play significantly longer without needing to replenish your energy and there’s never a fear of being scarce on items. Though I hate the rate of fatigue on permadeath, it feels more stressful and more like a roguelike. You’re challenged to explore the locations around you in order to survive.
You’ll often be scrounging around for materials to craft healing items, weapons, lockpicks and more. It’s stressful to be ambushed by two or three people because they caught you stealing, so hopefully you have a pointed stick or a cricket paddle readily available to defend yourself. The weapons aren’t very durable either, so make sure you have a backup weapon or you’ll need to rely on your fists. You’d better hope the right materials are found within the many halfway homes usually occupied by Downers, like metal bits to craft lockpicks or even the rare pill of Joy that you can utilize if you reach the brighter Wellington Wells.
The main objective is to get to Wellington Wells, with the people who take their Joy and are always happy. Through the randomly generated world you’ll either need to find out who won a game of Bingo or acquire a power cell or keycard to unlock a gate that leads to your goal. It’s not always the easiest path though, as to reach another district in the Downer side of the world you’ll need to complete other objectives like retrieving honey for a gatekeeper. That in and of itself is risky because the bees can cause serious damage if you don’t have the proper clothing.
My biggest gripe about exploring the Downer filled world is that you’re often opening your map to see where a quest is or where you need to go next. There aren’t many markers and it’s easy to get lost within the streets and dark, scary corridors that look similar to one another. I’ll often run in a specific direction hoping I come across a building or event I need to reach because I have no idea where it is on my map. A few more landmarks would help navigation so you’re not always returning to the same few areas when scrounging for items.
Once you ultimately do reach Wellington Wells, it’s a fascinating place with roads painted like a rainbow, vendors happily selling their wares and the townsfolk jollily walking about, tipping their cap or giving a friendly wave. Even though you’ve reached what is essentially the end of your run, you’re not guaranteed safety. People will notice your tattered clothes and question if you’re a Downer, and if too many people catch on, you’ll be ambushed by the dozens. It’s nice to come across friendly folks instead of the Downers who scoff at you when you say hello. Even the water and vending machines have Joy. Being on Joy doesn’t change the game, but everything will be brighter and you’ll notice you walk with more of a happy stride and have more confidence. If you’re not on Joy you nervously interact with others and slump or lackadaisically walk about.
We Happy Few has a great premise with creepy characters and a scary world. I’m really looking forward to what the story will bring next year, as it could capture what makes a game eerie, like Bioshock or other thrillers. Sadly, though, it’s not the best roguelike but because it’s still a ways out from the full version, there’s still time to improve upon certain aspects of it, mainly the rate at which you grow fatigued or adding markers to help with navigation. I’d love to see if the game sees any changes throughout the year, but I’m likely done trying to reach Wellington Wells until the story mode is out.