Feb 18, 2017 | 33 Comments
Preview: We Happy Few has legitimate potential, but a long journey before it is ready
You can see how the base parts go together, but it’s better to hold off for now
Platforms: PC (previewed), Xbox One
Developer: Compulsion Games
What I can safely say is that Compulsion Games is trying to do something legitimately new with We Happy Few. When I first saw the game, I thought for sure I was looking at another take on BioShock or Fallout, and to be fair We Happy Few does emulate certain flairs from those franchises. But when you get down to it, We Happy Few is not the game you’d expect it to be.
We Happy Few is a Survival game, with its inner workings similar to that of ARK: Survival Evolved or Subnautica. The difference here is that We Happy Few is attempting to incorporate narrative into the Survival genre in ways it hasn’t yet been able to produce and that’s exciting. However, as far as what is currently here in this Early Access build, you won’t get to experience much of its story, which is unfortunate because it is easily the most intriguing thing about the package.
You start off in the same place that was depicted in the game’s E3 2016 trailer, the Newsroom of Wellington Wells. As you might surmise, people in Wellington Wells don’t like to hear or read bad news, so it is your character’s job to censor each of the papers. The game gives you the choice to censor or leave as is, which immediately got me intrigued as it seemed like Compulsion Games was teasing a deeper and more subtle actions/consequences system. So naturally, I chose to leave all of the papers as they were. Unfortunately…
We Happy Few’s Early Access build lacks a lot of the features it teases.
There’s an old saying in game development, that no one is going to give two shits about your story if the game you’re making isn’t fun, to begin with, and that’s exactly where Compulsion Games’ focus is at right now. We Happy Few’s current build exists purely to function as a test for its base game mechanics and loops. That’s fine, it’s just important to know what you are getting into.
What you will see from We Happy Few is the core, moment-to-moment gameplay that will form the foundation of the game’s experience. You start off exploring the dilapidated ruins of the Garden District, the home of the downers, denizens who have been cast out of Wellington Wells for not taking their literal happy pill, Joy. Your early moments will be spent scavenging rubble piles, mailboxes, and trash cans until you realize what you find in there isn’t enough to keep you from starving. Speaking of starving…
Your character will get hungry, thirsty and sleepy way too quickly.
This is one of the biggest things that is currently keeping We Happy Few from taking off. Maintaining your character’s nourishment levels aren’t anything new to the Survival genre, but they are in dire need of a re-balance. You will find that your character won’t stay full for very long, as it seems like notifications pop-up every ten minutes (tops) telling you that you need to eat, drink, or sleep. This ends up having a detrimental effect on your immersion factor, as it’s hard to imagine suddenly needing to sleep at 3 PM when I had gotten 8 hours the night before, waking up at 10 AM.
This especially contradicts with the plethora of sidequests that reward you with some of the best items. Many of these quests can and will take upwards of 20 minutes, so if you’re character is getting hungry or thirsty every ten minutes, it makes it feel more taxing than challenging when you have to try to pause the game to eat or drink something and you’ve got a small horde of angry and desperate downers trying to kill you. On the topic of side quests…
Side Quests make up the bulk of the Early Access build, but not all of them work like they should.
It’s pretty easy to figure out how to pick up Side Quests in the Garden District, as just about every square has some sort of a point of interest that will give you a target objective. Unfortunately, there are two major issues that they suffer from, a lack of a waypoint and glitching out.
The waypoint issue is obviously the less egregious of the two, as it’s simply a matter of remembering which square had which quest or what time of day you need to be where. However, quests can sometimes glitch out on you completely, leaving you unable to progress. One of them is the very first quest you encounter, where you find that a woman has hung herself in your underground hatch, and you have to take her outside to bury her.
I ended up dropping her right before exiting the hatch on accident, and I was unable to pick her up again. Instead, the system appeared to attempt to reset the quest, putting her back in the noose, but whatever the trigger was to allow me to pick her up, still failed to load. Granted, this is the kind of minor frustration that you can encounter when playing an Early Access game, so again, it comes back to understanding what you’re getting.
I am authentically intrigued by We Happy Few’s potential, but a lot of that has to do with the game’s world and narrative. There is supposed to be three different playable characters that will all have their own stories, so it really feels like the game is just scratching the surface of what it’s going to end up being. At $30 it’s still a bit difficult for me to fully recommend, but I would say to put We Happy Few on your Wishlist, rather than your Shopping Cart and keep checking back in the future.