Step out of line in Wellington Wells, and you’ll see the violence inherent in the system.
We Happy Few has crafted a story worthy of its eerie and drug-induced madcap setting (which is extremely welcome, as it was geared heavily towards survival and crafting in Early Access). The stories told of its misfit characters are bleak, witty, tense, and ready to shine a light on their flaws. And yet, like the devilish, grinning masks the populace has donned in conformity, you can’t help but notice what’s just below the surface.
Wellington Wells is a deceptive place. Its upstanding citizens will beat you to death with a smile on their face. They stroll jauntily past rows of shuttered homes, their former occupants on unending “holiday.” High on drugs, you can see the walls and streets splashed with rainbows and vibrant colors. It’s only when the Joy starts to wear off that you may find that things aren’t always what they seem.
We Happy Few’s reliance on copy-pasted rows of uninteresting buildings and lifeless townsfolk (until you provoke them) sometimes makes traversing its randomized world a chore – but its collection of hand-crafted encounters across three engaging stories with unique characters are where this world truly comes alive, even if you aren’t on drugs.
Set among a chain of small islands in a self-imposed isolation from the rest of Britain, We Happy Few introduces an alternate history of the aftermath of WW2 with a very interesting twist that provides the framework for some very compelling stories. The citizens of Wellington Wells have turned to a drug called Joy to suppress the unpleasant memories central to the story, but sometimes it feels like We Happy Few can’t nail down reliable reactions to Joy – some users become stupid, others vacant and vaguely cheery, while others become incredibly violent. There are nods everywhere to the war propaganda of the 1940s, 1984’s “Big Brother” and thoughtcrimes, and A Clockwork Orange’s unapologetic violence. We Happy Few’s story is comprised of three individual tales of those who have renounced their daily dose of Joy – each for different reasons that keep the each character’s story unique and refreshing.
When you don’t conform in We Happy Few’s society, things tend to get violent, fast.
When you don’t conform in We Happy Few’s society, things tend to get violent, fast. Dress the wrong way or act out in public, and the fine folk of the village will call the Constabulary to beat the Joy back into you, which can make for some harrowing escapes at first, but eventually start to get a little too repetitive. Even among the blown-out homes where outcasts unable to take Joy live, fancy clothes or reminders of the good life will cause the drug-free “Downers” to respond with equal fury. In order to survive, you’ll need to learn to blend in while also scrounging for supplies to craft and keep you healthy. With so many kinds of food, drugs, materials, and more to find, I never found the act boring, as I was always looking for that next ingredient to craft a better weapon or piece of clothing.
Survival in We Happy Few involves managing mild penalties to health and stamina. You won’t die from starvation, but there are definite downsides to neglecting your body’s needs such as being unable to fight as long, or take too many hits. On the other hand, being constantly well-fed enabled me to sprint longer which was great considering how much running I was doing between quests. I was able to enjoy the world without having to constantly worry about supplies, but if that doesn’t sound like your thing, custom difficulty settings allow you to tweak combat and survival settings so that you’d never have to worry about eating or drinking at all. Crafting has also been streamlined: Interacting with a locked door prompts a lockpick to be crafted automatically from my materials, making thievery a lot less tedious. I especially loved the stash feature that allows you to dump supplies in a safehouse, and still use them to craft no matter where in the world you are.
To get around villages of potentially hostile people, you can try and conform by taking Joy and dressing the part, get in potentially overwhelming fights with the entire town, or use some light sneaking to avoid night patrols. However, more often than not, I started to find that simply dashing past angry people to the first trash can or patch of tall grass I could find would get the job done. Even when dozens of murderous people were screaming around my hiding spot, they’d never find me, and I could pop out the moment they were done looking and they’d forget anything had ever happened. Because stealth is so effective, I didn’t spend much time experimenting with the other options, and too much of my time was spent sprinting from one target to the next and hiding nearby until it was safe to complete my objective.
The Lonely Hearts Club
While the bland recycled boulevards got old fast, We Happy Few’s moody interiors provided welcome variety and some of its best storytelling moments. Purposely placed notes and diaries help you piece together the state of the world and, unlike most outdoors areas, NPCs here actually have purpose. Fighting, sneaking, and light puzzle-solving has more meaning where there’s not an easy trash can to hide in around every corner. Some of my favorite moments in We Happy Few were finding alternate routes among the rafters to dodge insidious doctors in the tight confines of a medical lab, or cautiously exploring a waste-disposal site overrun by plagued victims eager to infect me while babbling lines from Beowulf in Old English.
Moody interiors provided welcome variety and some of its best storytelling moments.
These places are where We Happy Few’s three main characters’ stories are told. Though their paths sometimes cross, they never really intertwine. Arthur Hastings is the mild-mannered man you first play as, and his quest to find his lost brother by escaping Wellington Wells is intensely personal.On his mission to uncover the secrets that society decided to bury under years of drugs, Arthur’s sad sarcasm and repressed nature gave depth to my actions and decisions. His story also schools you in various mechanics so you can be ready for the unique twists found in Sally and Ollie’s stories.
Sally Boyle’s story provides a stark contrast to Arthur’s. She’s much more at home blending in with the upstanding villagers, but is physically the weakest of the three characters and must resort to superior chemistry skills to either debilitate, distract, and defeat opponents – or improve her own abilities. She may also have one of the most unique and interesting “survival” mechanics I’ve ever had to deal with, though I won’t spoil it for you here. Also cool: bit characters from side quests in Arthur’s story became central to the plot of Sally’s adventure adding some depth to otherwise one-note side characters.
Ollie Starkey’s story is last (you have to play them in order). He relies on brute strength to solve problems where words (and a lack of chemistry knowledge) fail. His personal survival needs include regulating his blood sugar infrequently or face hilarious consequences: let Ollie’s blood sugar get too low and the Scotsman will get even more irritable than usual, yelling at nearby bystanders and blowing your cover. Sally and Ollie’s unique quirks, combined with their perks, skills, and flaws, gives enough variation to their stories so that I never found myself solving a problem the same way (except for running through towns and diving into trash cans, I still did that a lot).
Arthur’s story alone took me around 25 hours, and that’s not factoring in several side quests I skipped. Sally and Ollie’s stories aren’t as lengthy, and add about 10 or more hours to complete each, not including side quests.