Weird West Review
Weird West is a western horror RPG by Wolfeye Studios and published by Devolver Digital which basically takes all of the fringe encounters you experience when roaming the outskirts of the Red Dead Redemption Badlands and turns it into its own game.
Weird West starts off like any given Western, with the story of Jane Bell, a retired bounty hunter thrown back into the fray when her son is killed and her husband captured by a human trafficking ring. As she delves deeper into the gang behind the crime, she realizes that the humans trafficked are literal cattle to be served to Sirens, a cannibalistic shapeshifting troupe. Welcome to the Weird West, indeed.
The game takes you through an interconnected story told through different characters that live in this hellish world, experiencing these encounters and living to tell their tale once it’s done. The deeper you go into the rabbit hole, the weirder the stories get. Just when you think it gets too weird, trust me, it gets even weirder.
The Good, The Bad, and The Weird
At its core, Weird West is an isometric RPG that introduces you to a number of characters and elements that lets you switch perspectives between them, taking control of different stories and views that ultimately combine a western into a magic-filled combination that somehow works.
While it would have been great, don’t expect a fully voiced RPG experience. Weird West gives a grizzled voice-over from a storyteller who sounds like Nick Cave from Bastion and randomized mumbling represented by the voices of the characters in the game, making for a lot of reading as you progress through the game.
There’s a bit of a learning curve for these types of games if you aren’t used to them. Weird West gets a little more involved when it comes to combat and to a certain point, the interaction with the world.
The game is technically an open world where you can discover different parts of the map as you traverse the Badlands, each new encounter or town in Weird West is loaded onto a new area the way old-school RPGs are represented by an overworld and towns scattered across the map with random encounters in between.
Not all encounters are combat-related, as some of them will put you into contact with merchants, eccentric magicians, and even highwaymen who will want to negotiate for your life before trying to take it. Each of these encounters is presented as its own area where you would have to move to the edge of the map to go back to the overworld, becoming a nice surprise for similar games of this type and one of the better mechanics in Weird West.
However, the quest design in Weird West could’ve used more work as they follow a basic fetch/delivery formula. You take package/letter/hostage from Point A to Point B and fight anything that prevents you from delivering/retrieving this package. This is rampant in both the main story and the side quests and after a while, tasks become repetitive and tedious. The same goes for the bounty hunting mini-game, but there are a few story-based investigative quests that break the mold, which is sadly few and far between.
Weird West impresses with its storytelling and presentation as the game is able to sustain interest with the subject material, character motivation, and plot progression through sheer writing alone. It is quite a feat, and as I progressed through the different perspectives of each character that I’ve played, the world of Weird West got increasingly engaging. I was hooked.
It’s High Noon… at Midnight
Weird West takes the isometric RPG formula and infuses real-time combat, so when guns are drawn, there’s no pause in between to roll for initiative. You have to learn to shoot to kill or you’ll be taking a dirt nap throughout your journey.
You can choose to engage enemies in Weird West through stealth, open combat, or a combination of the two. While it is tempting to take on the game on easier difficulties, the higher the difficulty settings are raised, the more you’re inclined to be creative in how you deal with your aggressors. Stealth combat involves sneaking, knocking your enemies out, or catching them unaware with quieter weapons such as the bow.
As part of the learning curve, aiming takes a little bit of getting used to in Weird West but is a key component to making combat scenarios more dynamic. Aiming is quite similar to The Ascent but is a lot more involved and requires a little bit more dexterity.
Besides gunfights, you also have access to your arcane abilities and skills, which can turn the tide at any given time. Each area has environmental triggers such as explosive and corrosive barrels as well as your own elemental effects from your skills. You’ll eventually learn to combine skills, adding to the already dynamic combat.
Weird West only gets better when you start building a posse made up of mercenaries that can be recruited around each settlement either for coin or similar interests. You can form a party of up to two extra recruits who mostly serve as your extra mule, meat shield, or gun depending on their skill level. Watch out though because once they’re dead, it’s permanent. So bring an extra shovel to bury someone where they lie.
As you build your relationship with these NPCs, you can earn a Friend For Life, which allows them to show up in unexpected situations especially when you’re in a pinch. The better your reputation grows as you complete quests and turn in bounties, the better recruits you will be able to take along in Weird West. Conversely, if you kill too many named characters or commit too many witnessed crimes (yes, someone has to see you doing it), you can get a bounty on your head, start a vendetta with a larger community of lowlifes, or worse, one of the weirder creatures you don’t want to encounter in your travels.
I enjoyed how immersive this system in Weird West gets and how it plays along with the combat mechanics. It even gets more complex when you start adding morality choices in the mix with the reputation system – Should you play more paragon or renegade? Unlike Mass Effect, these choices have clear consequences, the effects of which you’ll certainly feel throughout Weird West.
Remember the Alamo
Perspective changes across characters are quite similar to something like Octopath Traveler or 13 Sentinels, where you get about a 3-5 hour journey with each of the five characters. You get no experience rewards, and you can only boost your character through perks, skills, and equipment through a simple but rewarding crafting system.
Removing the experience meter gives you more freedom to do what you want without feeling like you’ve missed out on rewards better earned by being a boring do-gooder. You can opt to commit genocide or you can opt not to even fight at all. Hell, you can stand back and watch everyone fight and just loot the bodies later. What will matter are your decisions and the relationships you build throughout the game.
All your decisions as these characters in Weird West matter because their influence will carry on throughout your playthrough. For example, a vendetta you started with, Jane Bell, will haunt you when you’re in the shoes of Clarence Quigley or Across Rivers in later chapters.
What’s ambitious with Weird West is how they’ve made it possible for you to have absolute freedom in your choices and actions. You can do almost anything in the game (including cannibalism) as long as you’re willing to suffer the consequences (Weird West does draw the line with violence against children).
Kill as many faceless NPCs as you want, but when they have an identity, they can start a vendetta, transfer a vendetta, or even become an ally. You can end up killing a key character, which means that you may have to find your way around completing certain quests. If you’re used to an orthodox progression system, this may be frustrating so careful consideration of your actions will be key.
Or worse, it can trigger some game-breaking glitches.
Open world games with branching arcs are prone to these types of glitches as regularly seen in other similarly designed titles. Weird West is prone to many of these frustrating progression-breaking glitches that sour the experience to the point of even rage quitting. Sometimes they even trigger because of bad luck.
I’ve repeated several chapters a few times because of multiple story progression glitches. If you do a mission out of order, it can either block access to a quest area entirely or it’ll loop a mission including its cut scene blocking progression to the next chapter. One way I rectified that issue was to do the mission in the “correct” sequence, which is contrary to the game design’s encouragement of “absolute freedom”.
So save often, it can save a controller from getting thrown.
What we liked:
- An absolute atmospheric gem for an isometric RPG inducing creepy horror vibes as well as the veneer and charm of the Wild West.
- An ambitious proposition allowing for absolute player freedom where all choices are valid including killing off key characters but you can still complete the main objectives.
- Fantastic story featuring disparate characters moving along a larger more sinister plot.
What we didn’t like:
- Frustrating technical issues range from progression breaking and immersion breaking glitches.
- Most quests are countless variations of fetch/delivery quests that get repetitive and story-based investigative quests are few and far between.
- A bit of a learning curve for the gameplay especially when starting out.
Verdict: Wait For It.
Weird West is a game that I enjoyed because of its unique take on both the Western and Weird sci-fi sub-genres, making it an impressively immersive RPG experience. What sullied my experience were the multiple glitches on top of the repetitive quest system, preventing me from completing the story because I played the game the “wrong” way.
Weird West is designed to be free-flowing but these glitches are fundamentally the antithesis of what they’ve designed the game to do. I’m a patient gamer when it comes to gameplay bugs, but when glitches stop story progression because of something the game has been designed to do, it’s really a red flag going forward. It can be patched eventually but until then, minus points for now.
Otherwise, Weird West has ambitious and interesting concepts that really shine. Combat, after you’ve gotten used to it, is frenetic and creative. Character progression prioritizes world-building and player decision over experience point hoarding, and the main story is also tantalizing. If not for the progression bugs I encountered, Weird West would easily be one of my favorites of the year.
*Weird West was reviewed on a PlayStation 5 with a review code provided by the publisher.