We Happy Few has led a long and storied development since its original massively successful Kickstarter back in 2015. One of the crowdfunding platform’s first big successes, the Montreal-made game eventually found a publishing partner in Gearbox. The result is a highly memorable but rough around the edges stealth/action adventure that’s unlike most anything else out there. Is it perfect? Far from it. But if you can get past its warts, you’re going to have a jolly good time in Wellington Wells.
Originally conceived as a roguelike, We Happy Few has morphed into a sly open world game with loads of historical and contemporaneous political intrigue that will keep you guessing until the end. It’s just a shame that the gameplay and overall polish of the thing wind up feeling unfinished. The year is 1964, you play Arthur Hastings – a 30-year-old male who dutifully takes his Joy – drug designed to make you forget the past – until one day he doesn’t. As the memories of his childhood flood back, so too do his memories of what happened during WWII, and how Britain gave into the Germans. The world at large is a mess, and you’re only goal is to find out what happened to your mentally handicapped older brother before you began taking the Joy.
Gameplay is a mix of action and stealth, and WHF does an admirable job of offering play styles for both kind of player. There will always be times when you need to fight, and times where it just makes more sense to hide or run. But Compulsion Games has done well to include highly customizable difficulty levels – allowing you to not only pick between Easy, Medium, and Hard – but to also customize how easy or difficult each of the game’s main systems truly are.
The problem with We Happy Few is the little things. It’s clearly a massive game with huge aspirations, but it’s also very clearly not quite finished. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the Witcher 1. Bear with me. The Original Witcher was a fun but flawed start to CD Projekt Red’s take on Geralt. Like W1, We Happy Few reuses the same handful of NPCs over and over, has tons of weird quest bugs, physics bugs, and general glitches – and yet it’s a superbly realized world with loads of depth in its characters and history. It’s the kind of story and setting you want to know more about, but the game keeps getting in the way of your enjoyment.
There’s a pretty decent crafting system, and you’ll find plenty of recipes and reagents throughout the game world. It’s always fun to sneak up and incapacitate someone, but all too often this is because the AI of the enemies is just plain bad. On easy, they’re far too dumb, and there’s not much change on “Normal”. On Hard, they much smarter, but more annoying because even the tiniest slip up is difficult to come back from. Combat itself is plain as can be – hit people with your weapons, crafted or found, block with right-click. That’s pretty much it. Arthur will get much stronger as the game goes on and you find new items and gain skill points, but his repertoire of combat tricks never really stretches as far as I’d have liked. You’ll be using the same shove/stab/block mechanics for 20+ hours, so get used to them.
Countless times on my playthrough, I’ve found bugged quests (one such quest had the lock on a door on the wrong side, so I couldn’t open it), weird physics glitches, and so forth. But at the same time, I was drawn into the story of Arthur and his brother Percy. I wanted to know what and why the Wellies did what they did to survive. I wanted to find out the story behind Joy, and what happened at the end of it all. But it will likely take someone who can stomach the sort of bugs usually attributed as “charm” to games from Bethesda in order to get through all the jank found in We Happy Few. If you can do that, you’re probably in for a treat.
There are three new paid DLC stories coming post-launch that fill in more of the world, as well as the free Sandbox Mode which will bring back the “anything goes” style of the original Roguelike vision of We Happy Few. I suspect there will be patches a plenty in coming weeks as well, as We Happy Few is a labor of love for Compulsion Games, and it truly has come a very long way since its original Early Access state. The original price of $29.99 for Early Access is to be replaced by a standard $59.99, and the DLC will cost additional, but there’s no set price yet for the Season Pass.