I haven’t played any of We Happy Few since my review of it last year. I had a rough time of things at the game’s initial release, so the idea of jumping back into the drug-addled dystopia of Wellington Wells wasn’t one that initially grabbed me, but with the Lightbearer DLC’s release I was convinced into giving it another chance.
While the main game was a strange half-survival/half-story hybrid in a half-procedurally generated world, the DLC takes on a far more straightforward approach to things. Worrying about Joy or anything else falls to the wayside in favour of telling a story, which makes every second of this little expansion much more bearable as a result. You start off as the titular Nick Lightbearer, a befuddled and drug-infused rockstar who is something akin to a dystopian version of The Beatles. It’s basically just The Beatles, but now.
You wake up in a hotel room, covered in blood, next to a groupie who isn’t a groupie but a rat, who isn’t a rat but your ex-manager, who isn’t your ex-manager but a hallucination. Still with me? From here, you journey out into the world, trying to figure out what the hell happened. You have to pick up your weapons from your hotel room, which are an amp – which you’ll fix later – and a guitar, which is apparently magical.
The gameplay in Lightbearer is very different from the main game, but still built on the same cracked foundations. For starters, everyone is really hostile toward you for some reason. Your adoring fans will happily punch you to death and the paparazzi use cameras so powerful that they can temporarily blind you. It’s a good job then, that you can use your trusty guitar to defend yourself. You can beat them over the head with it… wait, no you don’t. You strum along to fire out magical musical notes and can also deflect incoming attacks using the power of sound too. It’s all a bit odd and is probably due to the fact that Nick is almost constantly on drugs, so you’re never sure if anything is real at all.
The upside of this is that you get some entertaining sequences that wouldn’t be possible if you were playing by the expected rules, but the downside is that the story can feel a bit pointless overall. An unreliable narrator is a fun thing to have, but not when you end up questioning whether or not what happens in the game is actually happening at all. It all feels a bit hollow as a result.
This combines with some of the wonkier aspects of We Happy Few, like the combat itself and the platforming, to leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. There’s also the small issue of Nick Lightbearer being an insufferable, unlikeable cliche. He’s every bit the idea of a rockstar, but without any of the charm that the archetype needs in order to make them worth paying attention to. There were times when throwing him into whatever danger was nearby was preferable to having to listen to another second of his inane drivel, and it’s something that I took great pleasure in doing. This speaks volumes about the excellent voice acting, but I still loathe the character.
All in all, Lightbearer is a marked improvement on the main game, and it feels as though the DLC is the kind of story-driven experience the team behind We Happy Few wanted to make all along. It somehow makes the main game retroactively worse, while also being intensely confusing. The story is short, which is a mercy, but it’s very hard to say this DLC is the reason to jump into We Happy Few and give it a shot, because there still isn’t really any reason to do so.