Preview: Weird West
If you’ve been a semi-casual Gamer Escape reader this past summer (which you should be, duh), you’ve probably come across our past coverage of Weird West, a top-down cel-shaded action RPG developed by some of the core staff behind Arkane Studios and games such as Dishonored. Published by Devolver Digital, it drew me in since its initial reveal at The Game Awards 2019 with its mixture of Max Payne-esque combat and immersive RPG-like systems, all set in a mystical version of the wild west as you fight off zombies with magic.
It sounds like no strange territory for the same guys behind Prey, but to see for myself I was able to play a four-hour-long demo of the game courtesy of WolfEye Studios. While it still has some work before launch, Weird West is shaping up to be a shining beacon during a year full of long-awaited titles and should be on your radar next January.
Weird West is played through the perspectives of five different characters. The demo started me off as a former bounty hunter, going back to her roots after her son is killed and her husband was kidnapped by an evil cult-like organization. Starting at the scene of the crime, you dig up your gear and set off on a new journey, traveling to each sectioned area across a wide map and encountering friends or foes along the way as you search for your husband.
I was intrigued by the premise of a twin-stick action RPG, and the blend of high-stakes combat and intricate leveling systems that affect not just yourself but the environment around you kept an iron-clad grip on my mouse and keyboard. Putting this demo down was hard simply because the game felt so good to play. Combat felt weighty and fluid, and being able to utilize unique abilities like a Max Payne-style slowdown while spitting fireballs never gets old. The controls are a bit unwieldy and took some getting used to, mainly remembering that certain actions like reloading can only be done while aiming, but after shooting around for a bit it becomes almost muscle memory.
The isometric angle of the camera also allows for you to scope out your surroundings from an eagle’s eye view, then zoom in closer to actually move around and shoot things. It adds a strategic element, and the fact that the open levels allow you to approach enemies any way you want allows for some serious creativity. Who doesn’t love kicking an explosive barrel into an oil puddle to blow up a horde of bad guys? This universal approach to combat reminded me of Uncharted 4 a bit, in which you can choose to be stealthy and strategic or go in guns ablazing.
Aside from your own weapons and abilities, you can recruit characters all across Weird West to join your team and fight against enemies. While you can collect unlockables across the map to upgrade your special skills, one of my favorite little features in the game is that everything you collect is consolidated; that is, if you loot a fallen enemy or find some treasure, only the best gear will be picked up and anything less will be consolidated as materials, money, or ammo. Mechanics like these help make building your team less of a chore, and they gave me an incentive to stop and loot more.
Your actions in Weird West also have consequences; deciding whether to help or hurt certain characters can affect your reputation meter, and playing your cards wrong can result in NPCs making snide comments and shops refusing to sell to you. I’m not sure if the game will have multiple endings, but this alongside five separate campaigns opens up a world of replayability.
Traveling across the world is done in real-time akin to something like the original Fallout; going from one town to the next can take hours or days, and it’s likely you’ll encounter a potential ally, enemies, or treasure. Uncovering more of the map and exploring each town felt like an adventure, although I wish there was a way to adjust the speed as it can take upwards of a minute real time to get to even a nearby town.
While there’s beauty in the intricacy of the game’s environment and combat, Weird West’s writing left a bit to be desired. The overall plot’s intriguing, but I found myself skipping through character dialogue simply because of how bland it was. There were a few fun moments, like a cute side quest in which you’re delivering a love letter from one gay knight to another, but much of the time the space between points A and B felt like filler. I liked how there were Disco Elysium-style dialogue branches that affect how a character responds to you, but I felt like there wasn’t much differentiation in the results of my actions. Even if the main narrative doesn’t end up being anything super memorable, it’s at least worth sticking through for that sweet, sweet twin-stick action.
Aside from the usual pre-release bugs that’ll be squashed by release, Weird West is shaping up to be an ambitious debut title from industry veterans forging their own path. Weird West will release on January 11, 2022 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Demo and featured images courtesy of WolfEye Studios.