We Happy Few released into Early Access a bit over a day ago, and I’ve given it a bit of a play. While these are my thoughts on the game so far, a gigantic portion of it not yet implemented and is all subject to change.
If you were anything like me, the announcement trailer for We Happy Few during the E3 Microsoft Press Conference, had us frothing at the mouth for the game’s release. We were instantaneously gripped by the surreal and psychedelic world introduced to us in such a brief video. It opened up so many possibilities, and many, many more questions. Naturally, comparisons were made to games like Bioshock, and The Stanley Parable, each with their own fantastical world, and stories with much more complexity than what first meets the eye. So yes, the first 10 to 15 minutes of the We Happy Few are exactly that; I spent time reading all the news stories, trying to decipher as much of the world as I could. I was intrigued and genuinely excited. But then, I went out into the game world, and I got bored. Fast.
Now of course, unbeknown to a lot of people — likely due to the marketing surrounding the game — We Happy Few is an early access game. This is made very clear in a big info-dump page before you start it. The message is quick to clarify that currently, We Happy Few contains only half of the final open world, and there isn’t any story component except for the prologue, until the full release.
So just what is the ‘game’ part of We Happy Few? Well, for starters, it’s a procedural open-world survival game with permanent death (should you choose to enable it). This means the world changes with each new game, and there are lots of ‘annoying life’ meters to manage such as hunger, thirst, and health. These meters are pretty important because the world is out to hurt you, by whatever means necessary. Also, the people that populate the environment are insane; they take pills of ‘Joy’ to force themselves not to recognise the world around them, which has been ravaged by a continuing war against the Communists. Society is hanging on by a thread.
People who fall off their pills are deemed ‘downers’ and can slip into a weird psychosis, presumably from all their memories overwhelming them. So, they can get a bit upset with you from time to time, and attack if you’re not conforming. This can make the survival aspect of the game pretty difficult as finding weapons and medical supplies is not the easiest thing. Additionally, the night and day cycle moves quickly on a 24-hour clock with one minute equating one hour, and sleep is another managing meter, which if you ignore will deplete your energy, forcing you to trip back to your safe-house for some shut eye. Sleeping also has the added benefit of skipping the night, which is when toxic gas patches are littered around the area.
There is a main quest chain to follow, along with other citizens spread around the environment with missions to undertake for them. Unfortunately, the side quests haven’t been very gripping. Aside from the quirkiness of the characters, the activities they have you undertake are very monotonous and boring. Most of them are just pickup/find quests that had me meandering around like an idiot trying to navigate through streets and buildings that looked exactly the same. While you’re walking around you may get forced into a combat scenario, but there isn’t really much to talk about it yet; It’s pretty stock-standard. The weapon swings seem to lock on pretty generously, which is exactly what you want considering most survival games have terrible hit registration. Who knows, maybe I’m just generally fatigued from the survival genre, but managing all these meters and stumbling around trying to find supplies just isn’t fun for me anymore. Perhaps if I was playing it with friends the gameplay would be more enjoyable, however, We Happy Few is a single player game.
It’s not that I think the game is now, or is going to be bad. The inventory and crafting menus are intuitive and quick to pick up on, and the story has potential to be very special. With more work made to the game’s mechanics, environments and activities it could be really neat. But for now, all I could think about while playing was whether or not the survival aspect of the game is doing a disservice to the world. I’m worried it’s just going to feel like a barrier in the way of the next story beat I’ll be dying to get to. Alternatively, maybe the story will represent a very minor part of the game and we won’t experience much at all of the magic we witnessed at the beginning. I’m certainly not making any assumptions of the completed game yet, it could be vastly different; but right now, I’m just worried We Happy Few will fall short of its initial promise.