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I first heard of Atom RPG when it entered Early Access on Steam back in 2017. It caught my attention mainly for its brazen resemblance to classic Fallout and Wasteland 2. It even includes the subtitle “Post-apocalyptic indie game,” just as the original Fallout was subtitled “Post-Nuclear Role-Playing Game.” It’s actually blatant how much Atom apes from Fallout. As a Fallout fan, I couldn’t help but find it slightly pretentious. The one distinctive feature is that Atom is set in Soviet Russia, more specifically in 1986, at the height of the Cold War, in the aftermath of a nuclear cataclysm.
My first forays into Atom in Early Access were marred by a general underwhelming feeling. That will probably happen with most Early Access titles, but there are exceptions. I wanted to like Atom, but I also felt that it couldn’t possibly live up to the legacy of classic Fallout titles. I’m still ambivalent toward the game as a whole, though there are parts of it that I definitely enjoy. I suspect that its popularity comes mainly from a Russian fanbase. Those are the only ones who will be able to parse the references to Soviet history and culture. As a Western outsider, I cannot relate.
Atom RPG’s Robust Character Creation
Atom’s RPG system is mainly based on GURPS, just as the original Fallout was before Tim Cain, Chris Taylor, and Jesse Heinig developed the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system. The character creation prelude feels very robust and highly customizable. You can lower each stat even down to 1 (except Intellect, which has a minimum of 3 requirement), just as you could in Fallout. This will probably enable many interesting builds. I imagine the initial comic relief of certain low-stat builds doesn’t really sustain itself across a full playthrough, though. Since I haven’t completed a full playthrough yet, I can’t speak to the variety of possible builds. The system seems very flexible, that I can say.
If Atom does manage to keep itself as fresh as Fallout does to this day, it might endure as a decent clone. Part of Fallout’s greatness (both Fallout and Fallout 2) is that to this day you can see players trying different builds, and being able to complete the game. Just the other day I saw a Reddit post about a Fallout run where the player finished it with only a set of brass knuckles for a weapon. This is just one of the dozens of stories from players on how flexible the system was and remains. So if Atom can live up to that flexibility, it has potential.
Subpar Writing And Confusing References in Atom RPG
Back in March, I reported that the Atom Team had hired a writer to improve the English localization of Atom. That went into effect with the Quality of Life Update later that month. That’s when I finally decided to give Atom a proper playthrough, and since then I still find myself struggling with the writing. There are some decent bits, of course, but overall there’s a lot lacking. While I can see the writers try to give the characters dimension and quirks, it’s just not enough. The writing simply doesn't engage me. And it looks like every character gets the exact same type of questions, with a lot of meaningless lore dumps.
The writing in Fallout is far from perfect, but it is distinctive enough, and it has some hilarious bits. The writing in Atom feels toothless by comparison, it just doesn’t have the edge and wackiness that Fallout did. Not to mention that the constant references to Soviet history and culture just fall flat for me. I’m sure if I were Russian and had grown up before the collapse of the Soviet Union, as many Russian fans of Fallout did, I might enjoy it. It’s definitely a risk the developers took, and maybe it paid off with the fanbase they have now. For me, it just doesn’t do it.
Atom RPG's Post-Launch Support And Beyond
In spite of my criticism, I actually do like the general feel of Atom. The interface, the fast travel screen, the art direction, all of it feels on point. This is very much a labor of love. The Atom developers really love what they do and they will keep doing it, even if Atom doesn’t reach a lot of commercial success, which is admirable. The game will keep receiving updates and post-launch support for a while. The developers continually reassure fans that the game will keep improving as a product. In fact, they just released another big update recently.
While I have my misgivings based on what I’ve played so far, I intend to keep playing Atom, and maybe I might even complete a playthrough at some point. I can’t say it’s the kind of game that keeps me hooked for hours, but I do want to see more of it. If you’re a Western fan of Fallout, you’ll probably have the same issues with it that I did, but you might still enjoy it for what it is. It just depends on what you liked most in Fallout: the RPG system and combat gameplay, or the story and worldbuilding.