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Hard West 2

Hard West 2 really does live up to its name

We've been able to dive into the first couple of hours of Ice Code Games supernatural strategy sequel.

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I'm a big fan of the Wild West. That much I made clear in my recent review of WolfEye Studios' Weird West. For me this period and culture is and has been rife with a grand potential for storytelling, so needless to say, when the opportunity to take an early look at the sequel to Hard West landed on my plate, I snapped it up. Known candidly as Hard West 2, this title is coming from Ice Code Games, and once again revolves around a tale of revenge all set in a supernatural and dark version of the Wild West. I've been able to check out the first couple of hours of the game, and I have plenty of opinions.

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The story for Hard West 2 starts with a posse of outlaws looking to rob what seems to be a government train carrying untold riches. In reality, the train is actually far more nefarious and is a spectral vessel known as the Ghost Train, which is commanded by a cruel and sadistic being. It's here, right at the start of the game that the ground for the story is laid, as in a bid to outsmart this villain, the posse's leader, Gin Carter bets his soul and the souls of his companions in an effort to win the Ghost Train. As you can probably expect, this doesn't go as planned and the gang of outlaws gets cheated, and would have lost their souls if not for the quick wit of the magical companion Flynn. From here on out, the story of Hard West 2 asks players to survive the hostile world that the Ghost Train has transported the posse to, all while also mounting an expedition and adventure to hunt down the elusive train and take revenge on the foul devil residing in its engine carriage.

Hard West 2

For the most part, Hard West 2 plays as a turn-based strategy game. You have to command the posse of outlaws, and tell them where to move, who to shoot, when to use abilities, etc. It's very typical in this regard, and from what I've experienced as part of this preview opportunity (which is pretty much the first chapter), it's quite straightforward and refined, and really looks to step-up its difficulty with its X-COM-like percentage system, which can be both unforgiving and very frustrating. Anyone who has played an X-COM game will know what I mean, and will be familiar with seeing a 75% hit chance fail turn-after-turn. It's the sort of system that unless you have literally no other option, there are very few reasons to do anything without seeing a perfect 100% success rate, as otherwise it will probably just disappoint you and leave you in a bad spot heading into the enemy's turn.

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As the gameplay often puts you in unfavourable positions, for example your posse of four outlaws against 10-15 enemies, you do have to be very strategic and smart about how you approach combat - especially since your characters are really not much more resilient than run-of-the-mill enemies. To offset this challenge, Hard West 2 features a mechanic known as Bravado, which is essentially a method for players to capitalise on kills and reset their ability points to be able to move and attack again within one turn. Assuming you keep getting kills, Bravado will keep triggering, meaning with the right set-up and planning, you can eliminate a bunch of enemies without so much as switching to another character. If you move too far, or attack without killing an enemy, that will consume your ability points however, essentially locking that character until the next turn.

On the topic of combat, each of the four characters have their own set of abilities. Gin for example can fire a penetrating shot that can travel through walls and enemies for high damage, whereas Flynn can switch places with an ally or enemy to escape danger or to claim a powerful overseeing position. Due to the preview build only being short, I only got to see one of each character's abilities, but there are more promised for the full game.

Hard West 2Hard West 2
Hard West 2Hard West 2
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Outside of the turn-based combat, the game plays more alike an RPG, and sees you leading the gang around an overworld, where you can visit points of interest, such as towns and unusual and harrowing markers, many of which will provide a place to converse with a new NPC or initiate a side activity where you can potentially earn some new loot or rather face a negative repercussion (i.e. health damage). For the most part, this is done via a branching dialogue system where you choose one option out of a few, which leads you down a certain path. In my experience with the preview build, I've had opportunities to loot a batch of lost crates, which could either provide some new gear or increase the loyalty of a companion, or even the choice to scavenge off a corpse, which will grant me some handy playing cards at the cost of taking damage. Whatever you choose to do has repercussions down the line one way or another, be it positively or negatively.

As for how your looting affects the actual gameplay, this can be as simple as finding consumables such as; Whiskey to provide a bonus in combat and also to heal you a tad, a new weapon to make you a more effective combatant; or some playing cards that can be applied to each companion to give them a statistical boost. These come in a variety like a regular deck of cards, with the King and Queen variants being more potent than say the Eight and Nine variants, and can enhance your characters with slightly more effective movement, better luck when it comes to hitting shots, or by increasing their health. The cards are defined but it's your choice as to how to dish them out, as by combining them to make pairs and other poker hands will reward extra benefits for each character.

Hard West 2
Hard West 2Hard West 2

While my time with Hard West 2 so far has been pretty fleeting, I will say that what I've seen gives me plenty of hope and makes me excited for Ice Code Games' sequel. Sure, it's not easy, and there are times that you'll want to shout in rage at the savage statistical combat systems, but that doesn't change the fact that you'll also be raring to dive back in and retry the same scenario with a fresh perspective. Matching the engaging combat with the immersive RPG exploration and the macabre overworld gives this game a satisfying balance, which all works well to bring to life this unique realisation of the Wild West. Hopefully, this success will transition to the full game, whenever that launches later this year.

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