Recently, we saddled up and ventured back to the old west to check out 612 Games' ambitious western-themed MMO, just off the back of its November update. The early access title, whilst still yet to undergo a great deal of polish, has an expansive scope and if handled correctly, could provide a satisfying substitute for Red Dead Redemption on the PC. Its premise certainly holds promise along with its PvP gun slinging duels, experience-shaping morality system, and free upcoming expansions. But before we delve deep into the nitty gritty, we should perhaps reiterate the fact the title is currently in an early alpha state and as of present, has no confirmed release date.
Right off the bat, it was clear how much attention 612 Games poured into creating an authentic Wild West experience. The atmosphere that has been created showcases the greatest area of potential for the forthcoming title; everything from the water coloured stills during loading screens to the chilling whistles of the main score was lovingly representative of the era. Pre-launch screenshots of the title were even mistaken to be from Red Dead Redemption, which just shows how well the developers nailed the setting. That being said, not everything about its presentation is equally excellent. Character animations and movements do appear sketchy and this coupled with the lack of voice acting felt awfully jarring against its open world, which for the most part, is a visual marvel.
We have to say that PvE content in its current state is feeling a little lacking. At present, there are no main story missions, but instead a series of smaller quests that you can accept from NPCs at your own pace. These saw us gathering medicine to help a sick cow, hunting pesky crop-munching critters, and scouting out land for a prospective house buyer. Many of the quests boiled down to little more than fetching objects or travelling to certain areas, which we felt became a little tedious after a time. We also caught sight of a number of daily errands, but from what we observed, these seemed to share similar objectives with the only variation being the cash and XP rewarded. There are also light crafting elements and opportunities to mine for valuable gold, but these aspects sadly felt equally shallow.
Also hindering this aspect of the game is the fact that the open world, whilst undeniably pretty, feels largely barren and empty. Red Dead Redemption's world, for example, was filled with bandits and ravenous animals at every turn, making for a setting that felt alive and dangerous. Granted, we are well aware that WWO is far from complete and lacks the budget of Rockstar's masterpiece, but more of a looming environmental threat would certainly make exploration more interesting. It's open-world also lacks variation; many of the towns and farms you encounter feel eerily similar, and the mountain peaks that outline the horizon are unreachable. 612 Games has revealed that a new region inspired by Mexico is set to arrive in a future update, so let's hope that can help provide us with a more varied landscape to explore.
The PvP portion, however, is where things seem the most focused. An aspect we particularly liked was a cat and mouse style mode between players falling on each side of the law. By stealing items or harming civilians you'll be branded as an outlaw and left banished from town with a bounty on your head. Conversely, you can visit the sheriff's office and take on the position of deputy, accepting bounties and ridding the land of dangerous criminals. Deputies and outlaws have their own separate territories, and both receive special bonuses for eliminating each other, which made for some bracing firefights across the map. Duels are the next main style of PvP play, which sees you and an opponent frantically race for the trigger to be the last man standing.
Looking to the future, 612 Games has listed a series of free upcoming expansions, and these offer insight into how the title may take shape in the coming months. These include a house building mode which broadens the customisation options and lets you establish your very own ranch, a train robbery raid mode that occurs at set intervals, and of course the aforementioned Mexican-inspired portion of the map. All of these new additions look to flesh out the core experience even further and its great to see that they're set to be available for free. On top of this, we also noticed other aspects of the game that were labelled with 'coming soon'. These included an RPG-like player skill tree and an auction house system that allows players to trade items between each other.
While we have a few minor concerns, Wild West Online is shaping up to be a promising MMO with an intriguing approach to the western genre that we've yet to see really establish itself in gaming. It perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of old western classics and its PvP modes, coupled with its forthcoming expansions, highlight real potential. That being said, its PvE aspects are lacking, largely due to the absence of a central campaign and a thriving open world. Let's hope that on the road to release 612 Games can recognise these shortcomings and work to deliver a more rounded experience with regards to its PvE and PvP modes.