Weird West Review: "A Living And Reactive World, Shaped By Your Gameplay"
The immersive sim genre has long been designed to facilitate a player's every whim and wish, giving them the tools to creatively solve problems while avoiding situations that can diminish that agency. Weird West attempts to tackle these same ideas, but with an isometric perspective inspired by CRPGs of the past that lets it combine many tenets of the RPG and immersive sim genres. How does this different approach work for Weird West though, and does it allow it to reach the heights of its forefathers?
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Mark Of Colantonio
Weird West starts off a little, uhh, weird. It begins with a cutscene that sees someone (you) bound to a chair in a room with a group of mysterious figures, and five blacked-out portraits. They talk vaguely about counting on you for something then brand you painfully on the face, which causes one of the portraits to receive a mark, before a fade out puts you into the shoes of the person.
See, Weird West takes on an episodic format, letting you take the reins of five distinct and wildly different characters on their journeys around the frontier. Each one receives the same mark branded onto them at the beginning of their story, and it all plays a part into the wider mystery surrounding these shadow figures from the intro and how the fates of all the characters tie together. Over the course of the game, you'll slowly begin to unravel the background plot that permeates the land, but each of the characters has their own narrative tale too. This also leads to a wealth of roleplaying options and scenarios, that facilitates your ability to be good, evil, ambivalent, nihilistic, and more.
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The first episode sees you take on the role of a retired bounty hunter called Jane Bell. In an interesting reverse of the typical damsel in distress trope, your husband is taken captive by a group of cannibalistic bandits, while your son and dog are murdered. It's a strong and simple beginning that sets the dark tone for the world of Weird West, while immediately engaging you.
The second story is even darker and weirder, as you play a person who was forced to undergo a sick experiment that turned them into a Pigman, leaving them with amnesia and a lot of confusion. This is one of the stronger episodes from a narrative standpoint, as you'll come to understand your past and what led to your circumstances, while also wrestling with the moral dilemma of revenge vs forgiveness. Each episode takes on a different thematic battle that you'll decide through your actions and choices, and many decisions will have consequences for future characters and the overall world state.
There are a few ways this can play out, from the factions and friend-for-life systems, along with your reputation, which ranges along an honourable scale. All of these mechanics interlock and are designed to add unique touches to your playthrough, but they don't all feel fleshed out.
For instance, the friend-for-life mechanic can see you make allies by helping them out with a quest, or freeing them from captivity. The caveat is that this has no bearing on the game apart from them randomly jumping in to help you with combat - even if they have no reason to be there. It feels like a hollow attempt to add consequences, and most of the time it occurred, it made no sense, since it will often be a random farmhand that comes to assist in a locked dungeon halfway across the game world.
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No Country For Pigmen
Outside the narrative choices you can make - which are often binary, or require playing a certain way throughout the episode - there are also plenty of choices from a gameplay standpoint. This is pegged as an immersive sim after all; mechanical interactivity, and creative thinking are a standard, and thankfully there are many ways which Weird West facilitates this for the player.
Different elements can react with objects in the world, such as fire catching bales of hay alight or creating a puddle and using electricity to create a surge, stunning, and damaging enemies. There are plenty of ways these systems and others can interact, thanks to the ability to pick up objects, character and weapon skills, and even things like time of day and weather conditions. The mechanical reactivity does more than just making gameplay more open-ended for players, as it helps to immerse you in the world and make you feel like one with a living, breathing environment.
These choices extend to many of the mission scenarios too, but this doesn't seem to be the case for each episode. The starkest difference was between the first and second episode, in which Jane Bell's story had plenty of opportunities to approach each objective differently. An example came when I was tasked with getting information from a prisoner in the town of Quickbend. There were several methods to approach this: getting drugged wine from a bartender for the guard, winning a duel and getting an invitation into the same building, sneaking in through an open window with parkour, going in guns blazing, and more.
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This is just one mission from this episode, but this freedom doesn't extend into episode two, where the majority of the missions involved dungeon delving by either killing or sneaking through linear hallways. The option of lethal vs non-lethal still exists, which extends through the whole game, but this feels like an empty binary in the sections that are less open-ended.
For A Few Bullets More
Combat is optional, but whenever you take part in it, you're likely going to be killing, as there are no non-lethal options beyond stealthy knockouts. The combat is mostly fine, but it can feel awkward to get used to due to the free control you have from the isometric perspective, which is rare for RPGs. Right-clicking will let you aim, giving you a line to aim at enemies, and options like a slow-motion button and the dodge roll mechanic help to alleviate the finicky nature.
Each character is given a set of abilities for combat as well. These are upgraded with a resource called Nimp Relics which can be found by exploring and doing quests, and these skills are split into character and weapon abilities. The weapon abilities always remain the same, which is disappointing as they run the gambit of being fairly generic to begin with. Character abilities do step it up a bit though, letting you introduce more powerful moves like one character with a tornado, or another with a cloud of poison gas. These are a set of tools that you can use creatively to complete your objectives, and they add just enough dynamism to combat encounters to stop them from being repetitive even 20 hours in.
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The Good, The Bad, And The Weird
Weird West really is a wonderfully wild experience. Its mysterious and fantastical take on the American West is a unique change-up for a typically overdone setting, and the elements of black humour help to bear its bleakness. Many of the immersive sim elements gel well with the CRPG design to produce a living and reactive world, shaped by your gameplay and narrative choices. Some of its systems don't quite feel worked out yet, and it doesn't always stay consistent across its five episodes, but Weird West is a grand debut from WolfEye that understands the core of what it is to be an immersive sim.
Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.