The story is split into three Acts, with Arthur's being the longest and Ollie's being the shortest. Each Act focuses on the different paths and viewpoints of each character, the timeline between the Acts do not line up with each other and are made to be disjointed on purpose. The major differences can be found when Arthur and Sally meet.
- "Happy people have no past."
- — Intro
The first Act focuses on Arthur Hastings, the typically unremarkable everyman who discovers an article at work regarding him and his long lost brother, Percival Hastings. This distraughts Arthur and causes him to refuse to take Joy, becoming a Downer, the name of the outcasts of this strange land.
The player has to complete the tutorial section, Barrow Holm, before being able to enter Eel Pie Holm and roam around freely. The player will learn about combat, distraction, sneaking, conformity, health, food, water and food poisoning in Barrow Holm.
As Arthur makes his way around the districts, he, along with the player, can explore the land and learn what has happened over the years. The further Arthur goes, the more he will remember of what actually happened between him and Percy.
While he believes at first that the constables and Germans had his birth date mixed up, he realizes while talking to Ollie that he had actually lied his way off the train. Later, he hears the inspector he lied to all those years ago call him by his brother's name instead of his own, raising further suspicion on what had really happened.
The Act ends with Arthur remembering exactly what had happened to Percy, which leaves him visibly distressed and regretful, admitting that he will never be able to be forgiven for what had happened. The inspector assures Arthur that he should take remembering as a gift, and that moving forward is mercy. The two continue down Britannia Bridge afterwards.
Arthur is regarded as the easiest to play compared to the other characters, Arthur is capable of using both mechanical and chemical sets without needing outside sources. He is equally focused on stealth as with combat, which lets the player experiment with the world whichever way they please.
Arthur has little to no downsides to his skills compared to the others, though the player may need to finish a lot of quests in order to max all of the available skills.
- "To remember the past is not necessarily to remember how things were."
- — Marcel Proust, Intro
The second Act focuses on Sally Boyle, the brilliant, popular chemist who decides it's best for her and her daughter to escape Wellington Wells as her work has gotten far more dangerous, to the point of risking their lives.
After an accident with her chemical brewing and one of her clients going berserk in her lab, Sally needs to venture out in the world to retrieve all of the ingredients necessary to create the new batch of Blackberry, a special flavour of Joy that the law enforcement and other special people in power takes. All while also taking care of her baby daughter's needs.
While the player has met Sally before during the first Act, it's in this Act where the player learns more about her as a character and the situation she's in, they will also learn that the events between where the characters meet up are slightly different and don't match up well.
While she finds all ingredients to make Blackberry and creates it, she now has to venture out and find a cure for her daughter Gwen's measles, requiring Cod Liver Oil. In exchange for the oil, Sally has to go out and get the Letter of Transit from Robert Byng to give to Arthur.
The Act ends with Sally sneaking out of Wellington Wells at night with Gwen hidden in a modified doctor's bag that she needs to buy from Lionel Castershire, get down the secret boat house belonging to General Byng, then in his boat, and ride their way out of Wellington Wells.
Sally, and her daughter, are finally free from the external pressures who forced them to conform to the city's needs, though this ultimately costed the well being of those still in the city, who cannot function without her special services now that she is gone for good.
Sally is mildly more difficult compared to Arthur, she cannot carry heavier weapons and is also slower when carrying bodies. She cannot craft certain mechanical items or outfits, and thus has to turn to stores for help.
The player will have to actively pay attention to when Gwen needs to be fed or get changed, refusing to care for her is sure to cause Sally to get worn down and have a difficult time carrying out tasks.
Sally cannot choke people out and therefor has to resort to knockout syringes to do the work. Her playstyle is more focused on stealth than combat, so the player's best bet is to lay low, follow the rules, and only get violent when absolutely necessary.
- "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad."
- — Aldous Huxley, Intro
The third and last Act involves Ollie Starkey finding out the truth about the tanks at the Memorial Camp thanks to Arthur, which leads to him heading over to discuss with Robert Byng about the situation, who disregards Ollie's concerns. This causes Ollie to go see Victoria Byng instead, hoping to finally get the truth out for the residents; that they're going to starve to death unless they decide to do something about it.
Throughout the Act, he hallucinates the young Margaret Worthing who acts as his voice of reason in situations.
When he finds that Miss Byng doesn't want to discuss the truth either, he decides to take matters to his own hands and head on over to the Broadcast Tower in the Parade District, wanting to get Uncle Jack, his nemesis, to inform the public of the situation in the city.
When he arrives at the Broadcast Tower, he finds the place ransacked. No Jack Worthing in sight. Ollie finds a tape where it's revealed that Jack himself began to remember the past and ended up destroying the studio with a cricket bat.
Ollie is arguably the most difficult to play as. He has diabetes, which is turned into a core game mechanic, keep it balanced and there shouldn't be any problems. It does lower fairly quickly, though.
Ollie, unlike Sally and Arthur, won't be able to rely on skills to act inappropriately on the streets, meaning the player is forced to conform. Ollie is, however, the strongest out of the main characters, so combat is a breeze.
The end of the game will show a cutscene of Arthur and Chief Inspetor Peters walking on the bridge out of Wellington Wells, Arthur ends up hearing Percy's cries and laments how heinous he truly is. The Constable notes that some people are better prepared than others to handle the truth and the guilt and anguish that comes with it.
He offers Arthur an Oblivion Pill that will make him completely and permanently forget everything. The player is once again given the choice between taking and not taking the pill, this choice mirrors the choice given at the start of the game. To Remember or to Forget.
After the credits, it will show another cutscene of Arthur walking down a path saying "Lovely day for it" to nobody, he then gets distracted by the presence of a young boy. He attempts the same greeting on him, though the boy responds by saying it's actually been quite a shit day, which Arthur agrees with.
Game Mode Differences
Story Mode, unlike Survival or Sandbox Mode, is reliant on the quests present in each playthrough progressing the journey. The player doesn't need to worry about starving, dehydrating or being too fatigued, as these effects don't cause them to enter the dying stage and instead only cuts off part of their stamina bar.
Oddly enough, the time is slightly altered, while the minutes in game go by each second in Survival and Sandbox Mode. The minutes in game go by after 4 seconds in Story Mode, and the player doesn't get fatigued as quickly during Story Mode.
Survival and Sandbox has the wellies perform special actions that they don't do during Story Mode, there's also soldiers and Jacobean members patrolling the streets.
There are noticeable changes between Acts when playing as each character, the most noticeable are the cutscenes.
Arthur sees Sally as the confident, caring and seducive friend he's always known her as, while Sally is far more doubtful of herself and truly believes she's a terrible mother. She sees Arthur as more stern and aggressive, being far more harsh towards her than he perceived, being more apologetic and awkward.
The places where the cutscenes take place are also different, such as when Arthur goes to Sally's home in Act I, while Sally goes to Lud's Holm in Act II. Other changes include whether or not Nick Lightbearer is dead or unconscious, for while Arthur witnesses Nick dying of electrocution in the bathtub, Sally finds Nick unconscious. Considering how lethal Motilene can be, it's very likely that Nick didn't survive the high voltage passing through his body, and that his internal organs got cooked in the process.
With these differences, it's safe to say that each character the player takes control of are meant to be unreliable narrators, it's hard to tell who is truly right of what precisely happened, or if their viewpoints regarding others, the environment, and themselves can be perceived as fact.
Compulsion Games was aware that early access had worked well for games that lacked a strong narrative, and thus focused the initial development within early access on survival, planning to hold back on the narrative elements until late in the process, as they didn't want to reveal the full story until later. Compulsion Games also found it difficult to convince players that story elements were coming for the game's final release.
Compulsion learned that players from early access were much more interested in the game's narrative over the game's survival or roguelike mechanics. At one point, the team tried to remove the survival elements, leaving only the action-adventure gameplay, but felt this affected the balance and flavor of the title, since Wellington Wells was meant to be a society on the verge of collapse due to dwindling resources.
Instead, they added in some of the basics of survival gameplay: instead of potentially killing the player character, factors like nourishment and rest will buff the player if satisfied, and negatively impact them if not. The permadeath facet became an option for more hard-core players.
Narrative director, Alex Epstein, felt the added time to make the changes helped make the game more cohesive, that the main story and the various side narratives were part of a wholly singular game rather than disparate pieces.
While being separate from the main storyline, the DLCs take place at various times during the events of We Happy Few, while also expanding on the lore.
They Came From Below takes place 2 years before Wellington Well's collapse, and focuses on how the city got the futuristic technology they have without that many resources left. Additionally, the theme of the DLC is entirely Sci-Fi.
Lightbearer is trickier to pin point when it takes place, though its themes heavily imply that Nick Lightbearer is working to redeem himself from his past mistakes, journeying from hell to heaven. With this in mind, it's safe to say that the DLC takes place some time while Nick is dying in his bathtub. Additionally, the theme of the DLC is entirely related to the 60's style and music, as well as drug abuse.
We All Fall Down takes place right after Victoria Byng escapes from her house and away from Ollie Starkey, who forced her off her Joy. The DLC also ends with Ollie broadcasting Uncle Jack's final tape to the city, meaning that Ollies' and Victoria's stories likely ends at the exact same time. Additionally, the theme of the DLC is entirely dystopian.