Early Access Preview ✎

We Happy Few – “Rogue Expectations”

The opening sequence of We Happy Few is startling, unsettling, and enthralling. With no introduction, you are placed behind a machine and tasked with redacting information from newspapers; think Winston Smith from 1984. The world you are in thrives on an antidepressant called “Joy”, a small pill that not only suppresses sadness, but actually causes you to hallucinate, essentially changing your perception of reality from terrifying oppression, to blissful happiness. But you are not taking your Joy today, today you will see how horrible the world really is, today you are a Downer.

The story's premise is very intriguing.
The story’s premise is very intriguing.

As fascinating as the opening to We Happy Few is, Microsoft showed the whole thing at their E3 press conference and is available to watch right here, it is not an accurate representation of what the game really is. After the ten minute intro sequence, you are thrown into a procedurally generated semi-open world and asked to survive. Right now, We Happy Few is a rogue-like survival game, and a fairly basic one at that.

You have to be concerned with your well being when you first exit your underground safe house and enter The Garden District. Hunger, thirst, sickness, exhaustion, and health are all meters you must keep from emptying, and some of them are easier to refill than others. I found copious amounts of water facets placed around the world, so thirst was never really an issue. Hunger was a different story. Early on, all I found was rotten and moldy food. Sometimes I’d eat this rotten food and be fine, other times I would get sick with food poisoning. One sickness I had caused my character to vomit everything he ate, so I was slowly starving to death. Luckily I found some pills that cured the food poisoning, so I survived to live another day. I actually found it rather easy to survive despite being constantly under threat. While it seemed daunting at first, I eventually got the hang of managing my well being. Keep in mind though, this is a roguelite, so even a single misstep that leads to death means you have to restart from the beginning. Sort of. You can actually turn off permadeath at the start of the game. You can also choose to turn on a “second wind” mechanic which means you simply pass out, instead of dying, if you are beat to death. You then wake up a little while later at the same spot you fell.

From a world standpoint, the one presented here is bland and in stark contrast to the vibrant, complex world on display in the introduction. It is procedurally generated, so the architecture is often repeated and every city block looks similar as a result. Even the NPCs that populate the streets and houses all look the same. The only way to really get around is to use your map because there are very few unique landmarks to guide you around. Your map has mission markers and points of interest marked on it. However, many of those markings don’t translate to any type of minimap on your HUD, so you have to constantly reopen the menu to make sure you are going the right way.

We Happy Few EA Pic2
While pretty at first, the city blocks quickly become repetitive and mundane.

This is a survival game, so naturally there is crafting and an inventory. You have a limited amount of space broken up into blocks, and each item takes up a certain amount of blocks, think Tetris or the attache case from Resident Evil 4. As with most crafting games, exactly what is useful or not isn’t always clear, so you have to play the guessing game on what to keep and what to leave behind, pretty standard stuff for crafting and survival games. What bothered me was the lack of any kind of sorting or organization option for your inventory. All the items you pick up get thrown into the your inventory with no rhyme or reason, so you have to mouse over every one to figure out what they do. Considering the action doesn’t pause when you enter your inventory, this can lead to some precarious situations.

The inventory is simple and could use some organization tools.
The inventory is simple and could use some organization tools.

There is no organize button, so you’ll eventually get to a point where you have single blocks of space placed randomly throughout the inventory, but because they are not all together you cannot pick up larger objects even though you technically have enough room. A simple “Organize” button would have mitigated this, but instead you have to manually move each item around in order to maximize efficiency.

As far as crafting goes, recipes that you can fulfill are highlighted and those you cannot make are red, but hovering over them shows you what you need to create them. Most of the recipes I found appeared in my list by picking up key components. Others seemed to be known right from the start. I did pick up a few recipes strewn about the world, but that doesn’t seem to be an absolute requirement in order to learn all the recipes.

Crafting is also simple, you can either make it or you can't.
Crafting is also simple, you can either make it or you can’t.

Despite being procedurally generated, there are still quests to perform. One quest required me to craft a padded suit so I could collect some honey from a dangerous bee hive. Delivering this honey allowed me to access a new portion of the world. This leads me to believe that there are some rules that govern the procedural generation, for instance if a bee hive hadn’t been generated then I would never have been able to get through that gate. There was another quest that seemed to suggest I needed to give a vomiting man some anti-food poison pills, however, he never stopped vomiting, so I couldn’t give him the pills. The only prompt I had was one to silently incapacitate him from behind, which I did. I guess being unconscious is better than violently throwing up forever?

I am disappointed with the current early access version of We Happy Few on two fronts. I do not feel as though the game lives up to the narrative spectacle I, and I imagine others, hoped for after seeing the E3 trailer. I also don’t think it is a particularly good roguelite survival game. The bland world and clunky inventory leave a lot to be desired. Combine that with an overall lack of challenge and no intriguing reason to push forward, I’m left wondering where they will take the game. Considering the stark contrast between the story heavy intro sequence and the bare-bones gameplay, it’s hard for me to envision a game where these two completely different elements form a cohesive whole.

Compulsion Games has stated that they want to keep the game in early access for at least six months. What they will add in that six months is unknown. What are the narrative secrets they are keeping under wraps? Can they take the somewhat basic survival mechanics and transform them into something unique? I guess time will tell. I do not recommend spending $30 on this game right now as I do not think it earns that price tag. However, if you have an Xbox One I do recommend you download the one hour free Game Preview if you are at all interested in the game. Also, keep an eye on updates because there is a chance We Happy Few will turn into a great, story driven survival game, something the genre is missing in my opinion.

I remember playing Super Mario Bros. and Metroid on the NES with my older brother, and never being able to land on the aircraft carrier in Top Gun. I faked being sick so I could stay home from school and play Quake II once, but now I request days off from work instead of lying. Age of Empires II is still the best RTS, Half-Life is still the best FPS, and I still think the end of Mass Effect 3 was great!