We've been exploring WolfEye Studios' supernatural take on the Wild West.
I have always been a big fan of Western movies. My grandfather introduced me to them at a young age, and now I'm quite familiar with the likes of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, Clint Eastwood and so on. With this being the case, when WolfEye Studios unveiled Weird West back in 2019, I was intrigued and couldn't wait to see how the developer managed to bring the Wild West and the supernatural together in harmony. With that very game set to release today, I've been playing Weird West for a little while now, and have plenty of thoughts about this intertwining and broad RPG adventure.
The idea behind Weird West is to lead five unique yet interconnected characters through their respective storylines, all set in the Weird West, a sort of supernatural take on the Wild West. The storyline is essentially split up between these five characters, with each character's arc being a defined chapter in the grander narrative. The way the characters are connected is through a supernatural bond, one where the player experiences the narrative seamlessly, but the characters become independent once you move on from their tale. It's a strange storyline that is rooted by a mysterious encounter at its centre that unravels and makes sense as you reach the end of the core narrative. Essentially, as the player you'll learn some overarching pieces of information during the first story with the bounty hunter Jane Bell, then a bit more during the Pigman tale, then something else during the Native American, Across Waters' story, and so on.
It's an interesting story that forces the player to have to adapt to new playstyles frequently, as Jane Bell's strengths with firearms and as a upstanding law abiding official is vastly different to how the Pigman tale unfolds, where you're a far more capable melee combatant and also unwelcome in a large proportion of settlements, due to the reputation that the ghastly and savage pigmen people have. For example, you may be looking for new guns, and as the werewolf-afflicted character Desidério Ríos, you'll head to the town of Grackle to get some new gear. Simple. As the Pigman (whose real name is Cl'erns Qui'g), you'll be shot on sight when entering Grackle's boundaries, meaning you'll have to find new gear by looting in the Weird West, making this tale significantly harder to survive and complete than other stories.
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The idea of being given a new character and having to build that person up from scratch is also supported quite heavily with the customisation system. It's a bit of a double-edged sword from what I've seen, as you expect to have to find new gear and items each time you're handed a new character, but the fact that your abilities (responsible for allowing your weapons to fire Lightning Rounds, fire quicker, or a range of other handy upgrades for firearms, bows, and melee), which are acquired by spending consumable Nimp Relics, do not carry between characters stings quite a lot, especially since all of the abilities are the same for each character, bar three-to-four character-specific ones. Considering the Perks (responsible for extra health, faster reload speed, more explosive damage, etc.) do carry between characters makes me question why one is permanent and another is character specific, as all this choice does is limit your interest in really committing and focussing on developing the abilities as they are not carried forward.
Yet even with the progression having its flaws, Weird West is still a fantastically realised game that you'll want to explore. Each location of the wider map has its own secrets, be it loot to find, or a tough group of enemies to face. There are also plenty of side quests that will take you off the beaten path to help residents of the Weird West, all so you can earn some new gear and create lasting friendships and relationships with those that you help, with some characters even becoming Friends For Life and will come to your aid in a tough fight. And this works both ways, meaning if you decide to become an unlawful individual or cross the wrong people, you'll find yourself with vendettas to handle, vendettas that will see characters hunting you across the whole map. As the Weird West has a supernatural setting, this might not even be a gang of outlaws, and could be a group of ravenous greed-afflicted savages that want nothing more than to claim the loot that you possess. It really is a fabulous example of an immersive sim, one where the West is what you make of it, and your choices do have consequences, both good and bad, and on how future character's arcs unravel.
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In a similar vein, as this is an isometric RPG, you'll be glad to know that Weird West plays incredibly fluidly. Whether you intend to use stealth and strategy to quietly move around a location (bearing in mind, Weird West isn't a seamless open world, but rather a map that features a bunch of individual locations you can visit) to eliminate any enemies in your path, or instead favour the more direct approach of letting your six-shooter and repeater do the heavy lifting, the gameplay, the movement, the shooter systems, they're all top notch. This also extends to the visuals and overall presentation of Weird West, as it's a very striking game, one that the soundtrack and art style really work well together to create an impressive, immersive and unique version of the same Wild West we've seen explored countless times before.
I will say though, the West can be a very difficult place to survive, whether you are a pigman or not. Between travelling to locations, there will be random encounters that will pop up, some of which are good and many of which will put you in a tough situation. You can choose to avoid some of these random events, but many you have to face, and if you're not prepared, may just mark your death, or the death of a follower you've recruited. The really frustrating part about these encounters, is that a lot of the time, they are actually unavoidable, and when you die and re-load you'll run right back into the same event, which will see you trapped in a cycle of death until you manage to scratch and claw your way through it. The easiest solution to handle this cycle is to be well prepared all the time, but often, after clearing a location as part of a quest, you'll be strapped for ammo and consumable items, and these random encounters will appear on your way to a nearby town to stock up again. Needless to say, the random design can be very problematic and challenging to overcome.
While it has its flaws and isn't perfect, the progression and random events are two good examples of this, Weird West is still a rather impressive and competent RPG. If you enjoy Western tales and are looking for a game to sink countless hours into as you comb the pretty packed world in search of all of its secrets and goodies, then WolfEye Studios' Weird West is the game for you. It's challenging, polished, engaging, and brilliantly presented, and is yet again another fantastic title on the already astonishing portfolio of Devolver Digital.
8 / 10
Brilliantly presented. The world is a joy to explore and unravel. Gameplay is top-notch. Story has plenty of twists and turns and forces you to try new playstyles.
Progression can feel meaningless at times. Random encounters can put you in a very challenging position.