|Release Date||August 10, 2017|
West of Loathing is a comedy adventure game with heavy RPG elements set in an absurd spaghetti Western world. Players take on the role of The Protagonist, exploring a large open-world in search of a Necromancer so that you can save the world, as protagonists are wont to do. Mostly though, you’ll spend your time exploring an impressively packed and detailed world that just happens to take the form of stick figure doodles.
West of Loathing is a surprising game. The thing that will draw most people towards it will either be the absurdist humour or the atypical art style. Those are certainly the things that caught my eye when I was browsing through Steam’s latest releases. Anyone purchasing the game on the cheap (it’s only £7.99) might expect, as I did, little more than a humorous, throwaway game that holds your attention for a few hours with witty jokes before moving onto something more substantial.
Don’t get me wrong – the humour is incredibly on point. This might be one of the funniest games of the year. West of Loathing’s Old West is a world where you search haystacks to find needles. It’s a game that will award you with the “silly walking” option in the menu for reading a book in-game, and then actually have your character perform a variety of silly walks. It’s a black-and-white game with a colourblind setting. There are so many hilarious moments to unearth on your travels, and you’ll be happy to find each and every one.
But West of Loathing is so much more than that. It’s a silly, goofy little stick figure game with an impressive amount of depth in almost everything that it does. You can blast through the game’s main story in a handful of hours, but you’ll spend so much more time scouring every nook and cranny of the Old West trying to find each and every last quest, random encounter, location, joke and more. Not only is this a world packed to the rafters with content – it’s packed to the rafters with content that’s worth finding.
And that’s a critical difference between West of Loathing and many other, much larger RPG’s. I lost track of the amount of times I was lured away from my Necromancer hunt, sometimes for hours at a time, by my discovery of a new area or by interactions with an excellent (and large) cast of NPCs, all of whom it’s a genuine pleasure to interact with. In West of Loathing it’s sometimes a struggle to remember what your overarching goal is. Not because it’s forgettable, but because you’ll find some new awesome thing every few minutes.
What’s perhaps most surprising about the game is how deep its RPG mechanics are. Upon starting a new game you’re given the option to customise your character. You get to select your basic class from three options – Cow Puncher is your melee class, Beanslinger is your magic-based class and Snake Oiler is a ranged-based class that can also collect medicine and venom from defeated snakes.
These classes determine what perks and abilities you’ll be able to unlock, upgrade and utilise throughout the game. Basically they let you decide what kind of play style you’re going for, whether you want to be physical, magical or ranged. Beyond your combat abilities, you’ll also be able to upgrade stats and more general abilities to increase the usual stats (health, action points, etc.) but also unlock abilities you can use to help you get around the world.
Lockpickin’ allows you to make use of those needles you’ll find in haystacks, for example. Intimidatin’ can unlock entirely new avenues in conversations, even allowing players to sidestep combat altogether. There are a huge amount of these types of perks, though you’ll need to find them (mostly from reading books) to be able to unlock and begin upgrading them.
They add an extra dynamic to the game beyond simply fighting, as well as unlocking alternative paths and allowing West of Loathing’s clever quest system to shine brightly. There are some really ingenious alternative ways to complete quests if you poke around the world a bit. Convincing bandits that this isn’t the life for them, intimidating enemies with your beefy muscles or luring them in front of a cardboard jail that you can push on top of them are just some of the highlights.
Of course, when that fails there’s always combat. This is the one area of West of Loathing which is entirely as simple as it looks. It’s turn-based, mixing special abilities and items that won’t necessarily end your turn with your standard attacks. While there are a massive amount of different enemies you can fight, from skeletons and bandits to giant rock monsters, robots and so many more, most fights tend to feel the same once you’re a little ways into the game.
There’s just not a lot to the combat mechanics. There are only really two types of fights – those that you’ll win easily and those that you definitely won’t win (without a liberal use of dynamite). Most fights will take the form of the former, though West of Loathing isn’t afraid of kicking your teeth in should you wander into an area you’re not ready for or bite off more than you can chew. And while the game is good about hilariously warning you when you’re about to kill yourself, a lot of the time you’ll blindly stumble into an unwinnable fight.
Luckily, West of Loathing’s death mechanics fix one of the more annoying issues with standard RPG mechanics. Rather than lose your progress when you die by having to trudge back to wherever you last saved, West of Loathing deposits you just outside wherever you died and lets you continue playing. It even gives you a new status effect that increases your stats. If you die too many times you’ll pass out and awaken back at your inn to start the day anew.
There is a hard mode available for players who want a challenge, though once you find and activate it there’s no going back. Mostly, though, combat is the weakest part of the experience. It isn’t bad at all, merely competent. It’s obviously a good way to earn XP to level your stats and abilities. If you wanted to you can even turn on automatic levelling and let the game take over assigning XP for you, which seems to work quite well.
When I went into West of Loathing I honestly didn’t expect to find such a deep and wonderful experience. It seemed like the kind of game that would entirely rely on its humour and quirky art style to keep players interested. And while these are definitely the game’s two strongest traits, they’re intertwined with a great RPG with a densely packed, meaningful world to explore and a huge cast of brilliant characters to interact with. This is definitely one journey that’s well worth taking.
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