Weird West is my new favourite Western.
Video games set in the wild west are surprisingly uncommon. It feels like an era and theme perfectly suited for interactive entertainment, but for some reason there are only a handful that ever come along. Even rarer are those alternative universe Westerns, set in what’s often referred to as the weird west. In recent years, the only ones that spring to my mind are the Red Dead Redemption standalone expansion Undead Nightmare, and the criminally overlooked Hard West — seriously, you should check that one out. Thankfully, we now have Weird West, developed by Wolfeye — who were founded by former Arkane devs. There’s a great theme, and great pedigree, so hopefully we have a great game.
I don’t want to spoil too much story wise, but you begin as Jane Bell, a former bounty hunter forced to unearth her buried guns to avenge her murdered son and rescue her kidnapped husband. She’ll fight her way across the west, making friends and enemies before resolving her tale. Things do not end here though, as you’ll then take on the guise of another denizen of the deserts, and then another, and a further two after that. The five characters you embody have an overarching story that culminates after the 15 – 20 hour campaign, but the individual stories they’ll experience along the way are far more interesting than the resolution to the main storyline. I enjoyed the journey far more than the destination.
The gameplay itself reminds me very much of classic Fallout games, or Desperados if you remember that wild west adventure. You’ll move around an over world map by selecting where to go before exploring your destination. There are towns, mines, temples, and a manner of other places to discover on your adventure, and there’s a lot of scope to go off the beaten path should you want to. Every place you visit has something useful to find, whether that’s items, vendors, or side quests, so exploration is encouraged, although not entirely necessary.
There isn’t a levelling system as such in Weird West, in spite of all those RPG trappings, but you will get more powerful over the course of the game. Each character can use certain items called nimp relics to unlock special weapon abilities — silenced shots, elemental bullets, things like that — that last for the duration of that story. Then there are golden ace of spades cards which are used to give you permanent buffs for the rest of the game. These are a bit more standard, such as more health and increased sneak speed, but the fact they’re persistent is nice.
Those nimp relic abilities are irritating though, as almost all abilities are the same from character to character. Whilst there are a handful of unique ones, you’ll find yourself having to unlock that silenced shot and stun arrow five times if they’re abilities you like. This means you’ll end up spending resources on things you know rather than having enough to try out something a little different. It feels a little wasteful, and whilst it makes sense thematically, from a gameplay standpoint it’s not a great decision.
That repetition is, amusingly, repeated elsewhere. Your travel time on the map is very slow unless you have a horse. You could buy one, but they aren’t cheap and you’ll need to grind a bit of cash to get one. Five times. Because each character needs to buy their own horse. Again, thematic, but not necessarily fun. There’s always the option of stealing a horse, but they run away after a single journey, leaving you to slog your way back if you’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s compounded further by the fact that having a horse allows you to bypass some random events which you’re forced into if you’re on foot.
But when I overlook those irritations, I had a really good time playing Weird West. I loved the world and the people in it, and the way in which they reacted to me. The stories you discover and the choices you make will have an impact on the west and the people in it. If you rescue a prisoner, they may turn up to randomly help you in a future combat encounter. Let a bandit escape and they may jump you at an inopportune moment. Wipe out the population of a town and you may return to find it overrun by bandits, ghosts, or far more dangerous monsters. Those allies you’ve added to your posse? If they die, they aren’t coming back, even if they’re important characters. There’s a living, breathing feel to this game that so many others claiming to “respond to your actions” lack. You can even kill main quest givers and still get through to the end of the game.
Speaking of killing, you’ll probably need to do a lot, and you have a few options at your disposal. Pistols, shotguns, rifles, and the ludicrously overpowered bow will make up your workhorse combat choices, with a variety of throwable weapons giving you alternatives when you need it. Upgrading and replacing those weapons is the other way in which you gain power, and I would often start a character’s journey by finding a few powerful guns early on. Those characters aren’t all that hardy though, so stealth is also a good choice to at least thin the number in that bandit camp before you inevitably make a wrong move and have to shoot your way out. Personally I did favour the sneaky approach, especially once I acquired a good bow thanks to it being silent and incredibly deadly.
Combat itself is often quite fast and brutal. You’re told early on that there’s a cover system of sorts, but I found it quite inefficient and preferred to get stuck in. You always have a Max Payne style slow motion dive as an option which is incredibly useful for dealing damage and remaining fairly safe. I generally enjoyed combat when it kicked off, as you and your posse feel powerful, but not immortal, and even when heavily outnumbered you can come out on top with some careful use of your abilities. The camera does not make things easy though, especially in tighter confines, often obscuring what you’re shooting at. The controls don’t help here either, with the right stick being used to move the camera, unless you’re aiming in which case it controls your character’s targeting. I died more than a few times because of this. Autosaves are fairly generous at least, so there wasn’t always much progress lost.
The music, sound, and visuals all come together well to make this world enjoyable to exist in. Visuals aren’t the most stunning I’ve ever seen, but suit this style of game very well, having an almost comic book style to them, whilst the music hits all those Western notes you’d expect at just the right moments. There’s little in the way of voice acting, but what’s there is good, and once again fits the theme very nicely.
I loved my time with Weird West. There’s a really enjoyable game here if you’re a fan of those classic ‘immersive sim’ games like Fallout and Deus Ex. It’s not flawless, with those repetition issues and a couple of slightly irritating bugs, but if you can look beyond those then this is a really fun experience. There are so many systems to mess around with, from robbing a town blind to sell their goods back to them, to creating an army of allies that can save you when things are looking dire. With each story having more than one conclusion, as well as there being multiple endings to the game, there’s a lot of content here too for completionists. I can’t recommend this game enough to fans of the genre. Go west!