ATOM is a love story to the early Fallout games. It’s a difficult survival game that is both potentially amazing and inherently frustrating at the same time.
I’m going to be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with this game. There are things about it that I love, but then there are parts about it that just frustrate me. And that, in and of itself, is fine, but the thing that really boggles my mind are that the things I love about this game are also the things that I don’t like. The game is hard in a way that is challenging, but also frustrates me. I feel directionless but can embrace the non-linearity. I dislike that I died so easily, but that made the survival aspect that much harder and pulled me into the world. Now, before I go much further into this, I feel I need to preface that ATOM is still in the development stages. We have a working Demo, but that Demo is far from polished or even complete. As such, this isn’t so much a “review” of the game as much as it’s a “preview” of it’s boons and banes. I’m going to take a look into three elements that, at least for me, stood out as the cornerstones of what makes this game something special: survival, exploration, and dialogue.
One thing you need to understand about ATOM is that the game is basically a love letter to the early Fallout games and other games in a similar category like Wasteland. And these games that ATOM draws it’s inspiration from have a rich setting that makes for a great survival game. However surviving also turns out to be one of the hardest aspects of the game. You’re dropped into the game with very little by the way of supplies, and you need to find a way to work your way up to getting resources. The game gives you minimal guidance on this, leaving it up to your personal skills on trying to figure out how to get from one day to the next. Getting food, water, medicine, weapons, and money is really difficult. There are some easy to find chests around the first city that contain some minimal basics. And there is a quest in the first town that can get you a gun for free, which is a huge plus. However there isn’t much help beyond that. And while survival being difficult isn’t a bad thing, the lack of direction from the game itself makes it frustrating and confusing at times where you don’t know how to get from point A to point B. So your best bet is to usually just explore and hope you get lucky and find something.
With the setting and need to gather resources, exploring is a big draw of the game. And ATOM makes exploring really fun and difficult. Once you’ve explored the main city you’re able to go to the main map and walk around and go to different areas. Some spots will have loot for you to find, and others might bring you face to face with random enemies. Combat becomes a big thing when exploring, and while the combat system is relatively simplistic it was also easy to grasp and enjoyable. The downside of Exploration is that, unless you’re lucky and are able to handle yourself in a fight, you’re going to be running away a lot. Early on in the game, I was ill equipped to deal with most of the enemies around me. This probably has a lot to do with how I built my character and didn’t properly manage my resources, but if I ever was unlucky and wound up in a fight where my enemy had a firearm I was basically dead on the spot. At one point in the game, I took a quest to explore an old building and upon my exit was met with a fight that was statistically unwinnable for me. I had explored to the point where I was stuck in a corner doing one of the first quests the game gives you and was unable to progress no matter how I managed the dialogue trees. Maybe it was just some bad luck on my part, but frankly once that happened I lost a lot of motivation to keep playing the demo that I had been previously enjoying.
The character dialogue in the game is probably one of my favorite things, and ultimately what sets ATOM RPG apart from the games it takes its inspirations from. Every character has a somewhat unique dialogue options. This goes so far to the point that there are some quests that can be solved within the dialogue menu exclusively. There is one element of the game, called “Speechcraft” which basically functions like a D&D Diplomacy check. In fact, there are a lot of these stat-check scenarios in the dialogue. Most in the early game had to do with Speechcraft, but as I progressed passed the first area I found more that had to do with strength or repair skills. I love stuff like this, since it adds a lot of replayability to the mix and allows for different play styles. Want to focus on your speaking skills instead of combat? With enough stats in Speechcraft you can talk your way out of a fight. Want to be useful in the realm of repair? You might be able to get a piece of old machinery up and running. And if all else fails you can max out your strength stats and try to Leroy Jenkins your way through with guns blazing. However, the presentation of these fantastic dialogue features and different play styles that come with them is that it’s all in a menu. I probably spent at least half of my play time navigating the dialogue menu and asking every character the same 5 questions over and over again, and getting some variation of a similar response. While what everyone had to say was different when it comes to word choice, ultimately at least half of the characters weren’t giving me much additional information. Talking to the NPCs got really boring very quickly with how mundane and repetitive it was. But you still want to talk to every one of them because you never know which one will give you the golden nugget of information that will help you progress to the next point.
ATOM RPG is a fun game with a lot going for it conceptually. The current execution, based on the demo, seems to be a bit lackluster. That can, and most likely will, change come the final version of the game. I have a lot of hope for what ATOM RPG will become, but ultimately I can’t suggest this game to everyone. I feel like this game will be best enjoyed by people who loved the adventures that games like Fallout 2 or Wasteland had to offer. If you have never played Fallout 2 or Wasteland, you may as well go and play those first before giving ATOM RPG a shot. ATOM has potential, but there is also a lot that can go wrong. Ultimately, if you’re not sure if you’ll like the game or not you can always go and check out the Demo and give it a shot yourself.