Not going to lie chief. I love well-designed cities in role-playing games. Vault City from Fallout, Amn from Baldur’s Gate II, Sigil from Torment, Mournhold from Morrowind, and Novigrad from The Witcher 3 holds special places in my heart, with Tarant from Arcanum occupying the number one spot. There’s something satisfying about walking into the safety of a walled-up city after a long day of adventuring and window shopping for that one infinity+1 weapon you just can’t afford right now. At the same time, I can’t think of a modern RPG that takes place entirely or at least centered around a massive city and its various districts alone.
This is how I was sold on ATOM RPG Trudograd, the standalone expansion to AtomTeam’s hit CRPG. Trudograd promised to deliver an improved yet focused post-apocalyptic adventure centered around the titular city in the fallen Soviet Union. In the words of the developers, “your goal is to travel to a giant post-apocalyptic metropolis that withstood the tests of nuclear obliteration and social collapse. There you must find what is thought to be humanity’s last hope in fending off the menace from outer space!”
That’s all I needed to hear. The promise of exploring the mysteries of a vast, ruined cityscape untouched by atomic radiation yet plagued by asshole wastelanders was all the motivation I needed to pack my proverbial survival kit and head out for Trudograd (that, and the fact that playing and reviewing ATOM RPG was one of my fondest gaming memories from 2018).
Early Access or A Glorified Demo?
Before we begin, let’s address the mutated elephant in the room. Like ATOM before it, Trudograd is in Early Access for about 6-8 months. That means that what’s on offer right now is just a fraction of what the final game will encompass. Now, I know that Early Access doesn’t have the best reputation these days thanks to STEAM’s glowing ‘quality control’ and the actions of several shady developers. I also know that most people refrain from touching EA products because they do not want to experience games in short, disjointed bits and would rather wait for the full release. That’s completely understandable and no one would blame you for skipping out on EA games, how good they may be.
While ATOM RPG Trudograd only has about 5 major locations, just over 20 sidequests and 3 main quests implemented right now, it’s in a far better place than where ATOM was when it launched on EA. AtomTeam seems to have learned a lot from their first rodeo in EA and have put all that knowledge into making this small vertical slice of Trudograd for potential buyers. Visually, Trudograd looks slightly better, especially at night times. There are lots of QoL features. The translation has improved a lot. It’s less buggy. The inventory and journal systems aren’t a mess anymore and quests and characters are more interesting and varied so far. Overall, there seems to be a noticeable improvement in the coat of polish applied. The devs are also very active in STEAM discussions and are openly taking complaints and feedback there. I think it’s safe to assume that Trudograd will come out better and more refined than ATOM ever did.
Import Your Old Save? Yes Please
Trudograd’s story is a direct continuation of the one from ATOM. Thus it is highly advised that one play it only after completing the base game. Trudograd doesn’t mess around with continuity. You either start of creating a level 15 character from the get-go, or choose from the pre-made ones. Or, if you have completed ATOM, you can import your level 20 character to Trudograd. Even though I was unable to import my badass stalker for some reason, I love a sequel that lets you do this. So glad that Trudograd doesn’t repeat the cliched mistake of purposefully having your character magically lose his memory or skills, thus making him a blank slate for the sequel. I think the last RPG that featured character imports was Underrail: Expedition. Much appreciated Trudograd, much appreciated.
However, this feature I love so much does not scale very well with the available content. Because you’re 15-20 levels in, you start off with so many overpowered perks that it’s easy to break the difficulty and make it a cakewalk. For example, the ability that increases your chances of pickpocketing NPCs by 100% when they’re sleeping just lets you abuse the economy. I had so much shit to sell in a few hours than what the vendors could pay for. Reminded me of this run I made in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, where I did the same thing and broke the game in a few hours. Of course, you can just role-play your way through the entire game without as much as a glance at others’ property. It’s also entirely possible that this gets balanced during the course of the EA period.
A Drastic Change to Exploration
Now, where were we? Ah, yes. Even if you don’t import an old character, Trudograd gives you the opportunity to make your choices regarding settlements and companions from the base game once again, thus simulating a save file like The Witcher 3. You then start off with some very decent equipment in a not-so-classy motel at the edge of the titular town. From there on out, you’re free to pursue the early access content at your own leisure. The biggest gripe fans of the first game might have with Trudograd might be the same reason I like the game so much. The world exploration from the first game (which imitated that from Fallout) is more or less gone. The game will mostly take place either in the multiple districts of the city, with a handful of outdoor locations. At the moment, you can not free-roam in the world map. Like I said earlier, Trudograd aims to be a more compact but focused experience.
At the same time, I can’t say that I’m not disappointed by the design of the city itself. I expected something like Arcanum’s Tarant when the first details of Trudograd emerged. But to my disappointment, Trudograd is not one continuous cityscape but rather made up of individuals maps that are a tad bit smaller than I usually like. Right now, other than city outskirts, all the major maps inside the city are just a few camera pans in size with only a handful of buildings. It’s probably a design decision rather than an engine limitation since Arcanum did a large, continuous city it 19 years ago on a shittier engine. I’m hoping the devs will expand the smaller areas as well as open up some of the barred-up buildings in the final version. There are also some random micro stutters while exploring or initialising actions. But nothing that can’t be fixed.
Other than these few complaints, my experience with Trudograd has been highly positive. The core gameplay remains the same, with the game closely mimicking the moment-to-moment gameplay of traditional isometric RPGs. There are new features such as overhauled crafting, weapon modifications, a GWENT-like minigame, voice-acted interactive storyboard scenes similar to those in Pillars of Eternity, a vastly improved inventory, and a cleaner, easier to use journal. The combat remains more or less the same but feels less clunky. There aren’t many encounters in the current version to fully test most of these features out, so let’s wait on them.
If you think the characters in the base game were over-the-top, wait till you meet some of the whackjobs in Trudograd. Within the first five minutes, a sex-starved pervert tried to get between my character’s leg by pretending to be a suave government spy, There’s an emotionally unbalanced lady walking around with a turnip in her arms who she calls her child. I ran into a rich businessman trying to mentally weaken a husband and wife by manipulating them into thinking that their house is being rented out by living mannequins. I met a too- friendly member of a cult with hooks for hands that worships a turnip goddess. There’s even a distraught husband who thinks his writer-wife is basing her book’s protagonist on a hidden lover. Then there are the people who play a game called Insultothon where two people verbally abuse one another till the other gives up. Mum jokes are forbidden of course.
The quests also seem more varied this time around. Some of my favorites include organizing and executing a heist of a gang stash, convincing an overprotective mother to let her smothered son get a damn job, interviewing various associates of a ruthless but deceased bandit for a seemingly passive journalist, etc. Most of the quests have interesting twists and turns in them and are coated in black humor like the base game. There are numerous ways to get quests done with most quests highly favoring either ‘Strength’ or ‘Speechcraft’ skillchecks, again like ATOM. Do note that since you start off at level 15 or higher, skills require further investment (70 and upwards) to be able to pass even the standard checks.
All things considered, ATOM RPG Trudograd is off to a great start. The content on offer right now may not seem much (around 6-10 hrs). But if you are someone who liked ATOM, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get Trudograd. It all comes down to whether you want to experience the game grow out of Early Access or would rather wait for the final version. Either way, CRPG lovers shouldn’t miss out on ATOM RPG Trudograd. Viva la apocalypse!