Review: Weird West

Posted 2 months ago by Eric Van Allen
Weird West

Fistful of relics

Weird West eases players into the weird. It starts out with familiar western tales, of bounty hunters and lawless desperados. Shootouts will have bullets whizzing overhead and slow-motion dives, with revolvers and rifles sending rounds blazing across the screen.

Then there’s ghouls, ghosts, and ravenous hordes. Hints of something greater begin to emerge, as characters talk to your avatar with an alarming familiarity. Witches meet you at the crossroads, offering moral quandaries and games in exchange for power. Weird West is an immersive sim, and it aims to immerse players deep into its wonderfully weird world.

Weird West (PC [reviewed], PS4, Xbox, via Game Pass)
Developer: Wolfeye Studios
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Released: March 31, 2022
MSRP: $39.99

Weird West is an immersive sim from Wolfeye Studios, and the debut project from a studio founded by former Arkane developers. Rather than a 3D first-person approach, Weird West looks further back. Its isometric viewpoint and overworld travel map reminded me right away of the first two Fallout games.

The setting of Weird West is going to be the main draw because it is, simply, the weird west. Cowboys and bounty hunters clash with sirens and pigmen. Long-forgotten specters roam the land, haunting homesteads. A Spanish mission is occupied by werewolves.

Overlapping oddities with familiar western paraphernalia is a major appeal, and thankfully, it’s not just skin deep. The bizarre world of the west manages to not feel like it’s strange for strangeness’ sake, but it’s telling a story about average people trying to make their way through an uncaring, even hostile world—the ugliness, and also the importance of our own empathy and care, even when the world doesn’t naturally reciprocate it.

These tales are framed through five journeys, as the player is led through five different people getting by in the West. The first, about a retired bounty hunter seeking vengeance, is odd but straightforward. Yes, man-eating monsters are involved, but the bounty hunter relies on conventional tools of the trade. Her quests led me through the basics of living in the Weird West: the saloon, the gun store, the stables, and the bounty board, to name a few.

I made a living, hunted down a few criminals, and eventually managed to finish my quest. A post-conclusion screen showed me all the choices I made, with bullet points that indicated I could’ve taken it a few different ways. I even reloaded later, just to shake things up and see what changed; more on that in a moment.

Because when I started the second journey, I was a pigman. A monster I had only heard about in missives and loading screen legends. With no memory of who I was before, I was now a monster made of man and pig flesh.

Stores didn’t want me darkening their doorstep. Sheriffs warned me that I’d be ran out of town if they saw me walking around in daylight. My closest companion was a fellow monster. My means of getting resources and surviving had to shift, and fast. My method for making it in the Weird West was completely up-ended, and I loved it.

Weird West has many strengths, but it excels in those moments where narrative and gameplay overlap. Often I would feel like I was getting away with something, only to later feel like it was just another option laid out by Wolfeye for me to progress. Helping someone out might get me some key information, or I could just as easily steal it, or learn it through a note somewhere, or find it organically. Yes, those cracked rocks can be broken open with dynamite, or TNT barrels. And I could absolutely overcome terrible odds by summoning a tornado and lighting it on fire. At one point, I spent a long time trying to stack barrels and jump over a gate, only to realize I could’ve just shot the switch to open it from the other side.

Each of the journeys feels rewarding, because they each encourage their own approach. While some perks persist across characters, each new face has their own abilities to master using ancient relics. The pigman could use his power bar to make bullets bounce off his skin or execute a powerful charge through enemy ranks. The warrior of the Lost Fire nation, meanwhile, could summon the help of a ghost-bear. There is even a werewolf character, who felt like two characters combined into one.

The story is compelling too, even though it sometimes gets a bit messy. I really enjoyed the overall arc and the greater questions Weird West poses to the player, even though the last chapter felt weaker than the others. Individual story arcs like the pigman’s were the most compelling, as were the sections that let me explore a world firsthand. Seeing how different characters approached this world, comparing factions like the future-protecting Oneirists with the pious wolves, was engaging, and kept me locking into everything happening around me.

At times, I was impressed by how Weird West remembered my choices and carried their consequences through stories. Letting one outlaw escape led to headlines of rampant pillaging. But other times, it felt like they didn’t translate one-to-one. A character who I left alive, for example, was later described as dead by another in dialogue. It was a minor hiccup, but a few times I noticed points where my decisions hadn’t lined up perfectly with descriptions of the game world.

The main frustration with Weird West is in the glitches. Some are being addressed in a day-one patch, but there were enough that I made a habit of quick-saving very, very often. Sometimes dialogues wouldn’t trigger. And in general, stealth was finicky. Enemies would sometimes spot bodies I had left in bushes, where it seemed like they should’ve been fully hidden.

Weird West‘s isometric camera will also be a point of contention for some. As much as I appreciated the nostalgic feel and some of the clever use of foreground-background layouts, it was also difficult to make distant objects out or line up long-range shots. Contextual abilities, like the slow-motion dodge roll, also take a little while to get used to.

Getting used to both the combat and stealth takes a moment because of that, though it also makes battles feel frantic in a good way early on. Panicking as a bear bears down on you feels about right, and the way that certain environmental factors can overlap and cause chain reactions lets the combat feel chaotic and constantly evolving. Melee weapons always felt a little more awkward than the rest, but that’s about the worst of it.

Though the world can feel opaque and daunting at first, Weird West does create an amazing frontier to explore. It’s a brisk journey from character one to character five, and I saw the credits roll at a little under 20 hours, but there’s a lot to do if you just want to spend time in the world. Side quests and bounties provide a lot of extra objectives to pursue, and there’s also the allure of seeing how some stories could pan out differently. I did kill some story-critical NPCs to see what happened, and yes, Wolfeye lets you do it and adjusts accordingly. Even the narrator, who is excellent and sets a perfect tone for the story, responds in shock to your actions. It’s very good.

Weird West draws players in with its setting, and then builds a world that asks interesting questions about what they want from it. It’s extremely nostalgic in ways, but also feels like it could kindle some fire for more exploration of these older styles of RPG. Ones where you need to comb over every inch of an area to scrounge supplies because your character made enemies with all the local towns, or gets caught up in an ambush because they were caught traveling alone without a posse to back them up.

Weird West presents a bizarre world to tell a story about real, human struggles. It might have some hitches and messiness, but it’s a journey worth taking if you’ve ever been nostalgic about the good ol’ days. Or you just like the idea of charging into a group of enemies as an unstoppable fantasy monstrosity, shotgun barrels blazing, with electric western riffs ringing out in the distance. Saddle up, pigman. That’s your cue.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

8

Great

Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

Eric Van Allen