Weird West is a smooth, smooth ride through a rugged, rugged place

Although I have been very enthusiastic about Weird West since its announcement last summer, when the time finally came for me to play a preview last week, I was unusually hesitant. Primarily it was because I loved the concept of the game so much (“What if Dishonored and Desperadoes III had a rooted baby, let it watch too many horror movies?”) That I did not really want to face the possibility. that developers WolfEye Studios may have fallen short on it. But more than that, I was worried that I should… yes, make an effort.

For some reason, my enthusiasm for starting new games has taken one of its periodic dives over the last month or so, leaving me in the comforting arms of old favorites I can play on autopilot. Time and time again, I get to the point where I hit games on something before I – completely unreasonably – convince myself that it should probably be a lot of hassle for moderate reward. And no matter how promising an extensive, top-down immersive sim set in a world of haunted stetsons sounded, I was sure it would involve a lot of nonsense with inventories, reading long texts, and going on sidequests.

However, I am happy to say that I was completely wrong. Because even though Weird West involves all of these things (and has even more complexity than the hefty dose I was expecting to start up), I have not had it easier to get into a game in a long time. Admittedly, the build I played contained only one of the game’s five character campaigns. But unless the other four are all located in a Tesco parking lot or something, I can highly recommend it to you.

Weird West is an easy game. And I do not mean it in the sense that it offers flimsy barriers to progression: it is respectably hard in the traditional sense. Where it really offers a light touch is how many of the traditional RPG hard edges it polishes away, or at least does a good deal of chamfering, so you can dedicate your brain to the really interesting challenge of killing cannibals outlaws .

The tutorial, for example – usually my most hated element in any game – is wedged out almost across the width of the first campaign, with concise little explanation boxes popping up so infrequently that they never seem to break the flow of the action . The same goes for dialogue. Weird West’s authorship is excellent, but it has been used sparingly. I can think of many beautifully written RPGs that I have saved in ten minutes because I did not want to read a short story before I shot my first rat and it never fails to make me feel guilty.

Another example: swap. I actually do not enjoy looting that much, truth be told. For the same reason that summer blockbusters do not pause for a quarter of an hour after matches, while the heroes rummage around in garbage bags to sell old nails, I very quickly go cold on a game when I feel it is my duty to search every corner of an area to “tax” before I can sensibly move on. Make no mistake here, as Weird West has many, many things to pick up and sell. But harvesting them never feels like a mandatory task. When I jumped from place to place on the map, I generally always felt like I had mistaken enough items during my main business to feel compensated without having to go back and toot on the toilets.

“I can think of a lot of beautifully written RPGs that I’ve saved in ten minutes because I did not want to read a short story until I shot my first rat.”

However, when the game forces you to go hunting, it gives you a good reason to do so. Ammunition scarcity, at least in the early part of the game I played, is perfectly calibrated. Snails are not so rare that I was trigger-shy, but gun fights tended to empty my pockets frighteningly fast, leading to some glorious steeplechases through clusters of blood-soaked sheds while I seemed to re-equip in panic.

Weird West is, as already mentioned, an “immersive sim”. That is, it aims to give you as much freedom as possible to choose how you want to achieve your goals. And it does not go around. From a stealth system with the most satisfying liquid creep I have encountered in eternity, to divine combinations of elemental damage facilitated through barrels of oil, water, poison and the like, to a wide range of skills, perks and special abilities , the supply of toys is large.

That should be overwhelming. When I think back, I’m sure I should have regularly cursed myself for forgetting that whole game systems existed, or never bothering to use certain items, or sinking into selectable paralysis when I approached an enemy camp and just logged off to get some strawberry milk instead. . But again, somehow all the familiar pitfalls of the genre were eluded.

As easy as it sounds to say, I can only put it down to a very careful design on WolfEye’s part. There’s a lot going on in Weird West’s user interface, and I admit there were a few persistent confusions tucked away in it (what determined, for example, the weapons I could easily bring to hand, or the way to activate weapon-specific skills). But given the sheer amount of options it tried to arm me with at any given time, it held up admirably well.

Even one of the most faithful bastions in RPG frustration – the strange misery of feeling the need to take the “nice” option at any given decision point – crumbled a little for me during my adventure through this Arthur Morgan anxiety dream. Weird West’s world feels so murky, lawless, and really chaotic that when I came to choose how to interrogate one of the gang that had captured my husband, I thought barely twice before I started snapping my fingers.

Of course, I also did nice things. But it is crucial that I did them when I felt the situation deserved it, rather than because I was trying to achieve some arbitrary moral apotheosis. Huh. I think … played a role?

On top of all this, of course, I also enjoyed the things that I already knew I liked about Weird West and that I have written about before. The sublime use of colors; the John Carpenter-like musical moments; the disturbing second-person tale of an ash-tongue cowboy.

I already knew that I also liked the general psychedelic yeehaw horror mood in the surroundings. But I was not prepared for how satisfying the idiosyncratic implementation would be. As I have already mentioned, the scripture crackles. Instead of leaning on the kind of half-hearted invocation of vague lovecraftian things that too many games tend to lean on, Weird West creates his own distinct tone – a little bit of Deadwood, a little bit of Bone Tomahawk, a little bit 1940s pulp horror cartoon. . After seven minutes, when I found an excerpt from a label manual that contained a single, understated reference to some kind of damn old god, I knew I was waiting.

It would be wrong to quit without acknowledging the harsh edges I encountered, primarily in the context of the enemy’s AI, which was downright bizarre at times. Sometimes the back-headed bastards of the antagonist Stillwater gang seemed completely unable to comprehend the deaths of their comrades, just a few feet away from where they stood. They seemed so eager to sprint into raging fires that I almost considered lightening my teeth, purely out of sympathy. Then there was the time when a guy was stuck inside some forest. And the occasion where, when I left a dungeon, I found out that the defenders of the surrounding camp had all come back to life and stood still, pointing their weapons at the horizon while I brained them one by one.

I feel like these things could use some work. But as you can see, it did not exactly ruin my fun. One of the benefits of a deliberately disturbing setting, I suppose, is the ease with which bugs can be camouflaged as features. The bottom line is that even though the AI ​​remains completely unchanged in the time leading up to launch, I will remain just as eager to jump in and waste my hours scolding it. And that’s a feeling I haven’t had in a while.

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