If you’re living under a hectic routine, where you occasionally feel the need to wind up and use a getaway drug away from reality, chances are you will end up in the world of video games. Storytelling experiences where you carve out your own adventure – they feel like treats after a hard day at work. That’s exactly why I like RPGs – they allow you to engage in a quality story, dig up some lore, and go on an adventure in another dimension where you aren’t bound by the shackles of responsibilities. One common day of Googling, I came across We Happy Few, which happened to look “just like any other RPG”. But the experience of playing it was very different.
We Happy Few is an RPG made by Compulsion Gaming and published by Gearbox Publishing. The game came out of Early Access on August 10, 2018. The game is available on PC, Xbox One and PS4.
We Happy Few
The game plays extraordinarily different from other games, so I personally felt the need for explaining the background for the tale and a bit about the characters. We Happy Few is set in 1960s England in an alternate timeline where Germany won World War II. (I know this might offend some people, so read ahead at your own risk). Every citizen under thirteen was made to leave England to go to Germany (more specifically, Berlin) after England surrendered to the enemy. The law enforcement of England was made to dance to Germany’s tunes until they left the country for good.
The depression following the departure of the Germans with their young ones ultimately led society to search for a getaway drug to leave that “Very Bad Thing” behind. This led to the creation of a type of euphoria-inducing drug called “Joy”. While drug influenced England drudged on, soon a time came when a divide between the Wellies (who succumbed to the side effects of Joy) and the Wastrels (people who stopped taking Joy). This led to a multilayered society, with the bobbies keeping the piece, and arresting any Downer (people to refuse to take their Joy) on sight.
While the story plays along the tune of the setting, the setting gradually becomes more important than the story itself. This is because the protagonists, who live in Wellington Wells, a small region in England, all manage to be extremely generic and not worth remembering. Moreover, every character’s story builds up the events that led to the present day in the first case, which lays a much greater emphasis on the past and the setting of the game than the story itself.
Story & Narrative
The game tells its story through three Acts. The first Act sees you play as Arthur Hastings, the main protagonist of the game. The first Act feels like a sort of introduction to the game along with all its mechanics, and the other Acts add little except some sort of character specific mechanic to keep things interesting (which almost looks as they are trying too hard to make the ‘secondary’ protagonists interesting).
Arthur’s story runs around how he deceived his brother Percival, which makes him go to any lengths to be reunited with him – even to the extent of taking Joy. He isn’t a guy to let go, that’s for sure.
Sally Boyle and Ollie Starkey, the secondary protagonists have a shorter story than Arthur. However, character design really doesn’t seem to do a proper job either for Sally or for Ollie, since they both seem to be overshadowed by Arthur, and seen as someone related to Arthur rather than individuals made for the story.
There are a lot of ‘filler’ missions in between, which feels totally unnecessary (this includes the Weird Sisters missions in Sally’s story). However, the game does a fantastic job on the narrative, as it is paced well enough for anyone to properly follow it. The sardonic tone, which is especially evident through the side missions, is sure to engage players as they find their way out of Wellington Wells.
The game’s lore develops indirectly through several means, which includes letters, diaries and anything else that is readable in the world. There is no one directly telling you what happened, but Arthur, Sally, and Ollie remembering their past due to the withdrawal of Joy, as well as the people in the world mentioning several facts all, add up as parts of a gigantic puzzle. This, again puts some focus on the lore, much more than the character’s lives themselves.
It seems like humor was the chief selling point here instead of the structure of the quests. Tons of Victorian references, help to focus more on the setting than the story themselves. While this complements world building, considering how forgettable the main characters are, they reduce the investment into the narrative itself.
Gameplay & Mechanics
The game, while advertised as an RPG, plays a lot less like an RPG, and a lot more like an action-adventure game. This is evident from the fact that there are very few decisions you can make in the game which affect your progress in the game. With no branching paths to offer replayability, the lack of it often means once you’re done and dusted with the game, after a single sitting. This ruins the immersion and makes the game feel more linear than it actually is.
While the game’s side quests are not necessarily fetch-quests, they do feel like padding. Side quests do give you access to rare crafting materials which help you craft better stuff earlier on. Some side quests are pretty hilarious too.
The game’s crafting system is where it really shines. You can pick up useless items such as twigs and turn them into something useful. There is a wide range of items that can be crafted – including throwable weapons as well as medical stuff, or even clothes for fitting in the right atmosphere at the right time. Everything feels natural, and somehow bolsters other mechanics of the game. The game does make you explore quite a lot to find otherwise easy to find raw materials – but that helps you know about the map, as well as unlock new side quests which reward rare items or crafting materials once done.
The game has a pretty decent leveling system, which unlocks various useful skills as you level up. The underlying theme of sarcasm creeps here too, especially in the language used while dealing with NPCs. The game actually makes it important to level up, which becomes clearer as you progress throughout the story, which does mean you need to do some exploration and side quests if you want to be fully prepared for the main campaign.
The stealth mechanics are a decent addition to the game, but it does not discourage full confrontation. However, while going into highly guarded areas, it is always recommended to stick to stealth (unless you feel the need to continuously load from a save until you get it right).
You can hide in tall grass, which masks your presence unless an enemy is extremely close to you. Need to get past an enemy? Simply throw a few bottles to get the bobbies distracted, then work your way past them. With the simple click of a lockpick, unlock the treasures hidden in chests, or through locked doors to slide past enemies easily. Attire influences how people look to you – wearing a torn suit in front of Wastrels and a fresh suit in front of Wellies is the way to victory. Also, while walking among the Wellies, don’t forget your Joy!
The game’s combat allows you to attack other players either at a distance with throwables or at close range with melee items. Almost any item you find worthy and in shape can be used as a weapon.
Different weapons handle differently. Weapons like Bayonets inflict piercing damage which makes opponents bleed, while blunt weapons like spades stun them for a limited period of time. The diversity in weapons, as well as their handling, helps you become tactical in your approach to completing objectives.
Weapon usage requires stamina, as does a sprint, so you’ll be wise to time those blows properly (an enemy off his guard is a weak enemy!). Knowing when to fight and when to run away is one of the main decisions that the player might have to take while progressing through the story.
Some character mechanics, like Ollie being bolstered through hallucinations where he sees Margaret alive and being stirred on to find out the truth about the German invasion of England, or Sally tending to Gwen, feeding her and taking care of her were welcome additions.
Sound, Graphics & Optimization
If you like listening to the music, you might as well get the extra music tracks. The track takes your mind from the modern world to a retro-futuristic era in a city on the edges thanks to the addiction to a drug that enjoys the status of legality. The music is iconic – it defines Wellington Wells and reflects the theme of the story in general.
The game has a cartoonish feel to it, yet somehow feels realistic in the use of certain textures, particularly that of foliage. Different districts of the game are designed to reflect the culture of the district, with the Garden District being depressing, with overgrown weeds and abandoned houses, and the Parade District being a no-civilian area, filled with guards everywhere, while Hamlyn Village is a more cheerful area, with the bright roads and the banners.
The game was tested on the following PC:
CPU – AMD Ryzen 5 2600
GPU – GTX 1060 6GB DDR5
RAM – 16GB DDR4
Optimization isn’t one of the brighter points of the game, since FPS drops are a menace, and they seem to occur irrespective of the graphical settings you are on. This actively degrades the user experience and should be fixed before anything else.
We Happy Few is definitely a game you like, but not one that can keep you hooked for the entire length. If the lure of traveling to a drug-fuelled dystopian paradise with retrofuturistic vibes, with a lot of witty humor and sarcasm thrown in, then the game is worth a buy during a sale. If you’re looking for the hardcore RPG experience, though, you should probably find something else to satisfy your urges.