Weird West’s depiction of the American frontier isn’t just full of surly gunmen, tumbleweeds, and dusty trails. This take on cowboy country is also a powder keg of supernatural schemers and brutal beasties, and it’s when ordinary elements bump up against the otherworldly that the game world booms with personality and a sense of place, making you want to bash every barrel and poke your head through every doorway in case you miss something.
The winding story of this RPG game follows five protagonists from very different walks of life, all linked by the same common denominator: they’re all possessed by you. You are literally inhabiting their bodies, taking over their lives at pivotal moments and using your wits and their corporeal forms to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding how you came to be such a people person.
Admittedly, playing as a ghost isn’t at all unusual by Weird West’s standards. The world, created in part by founders of Arkane Studios, is teeming with fantastical and often horrifying creatures like flesh-eating sirens, savage pigmen, and cave terrors. Factions of witches dedicate their lives to wielding dark magic, while enterprising travellers sell trinkets to ward off ill omens. The mixture of mysticism and horror blends well with the sense of adventure and danger common in Westerns – it often feels more like an over-the-top Robert Rodriguez romp than a contemplative Sergio Leone flick.
As you’d expect from a team of ex-Arkane devs, Weird West fully embraces player agency, and most quests can be tackled in multiple ways that go far beyond arbitrary dialogue trees. You might be asked to pick a side in a conflict, or encouraged to use your wit instead of your brawn to navigate an enemy stronghold.
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Actions have consequences, and occasionally you’ll stumble across characters from resolved questlines who either want to hurt or help you. Leave a gang member alive after a shootout and they might form a vendetta against you, rallying a posse of their own to hunt you down. Similarly, murdering everyone at a remote ranch leaves it abandoned for a short time, but you might return later to find it repopulated by other factions, wild animals, or something darker still.
Unfortunately, the act of actually clearing out strongholds is where things begin to shake loose for Weird West. Taking a stealthy approach through densely populated enemy encampments rarely goes to plan, but it’s a combination of unpredictable AI pathing and uneven detection ranges that usually gives my position away, rather than my own cloddish movement.
This is a rich world teeming with darkness and occult curiosities
Short enemy patrols are consistent and easy to follow, but guards on longer routes seem to frequently lose their way, causing them to either get stuck or veer off-track, turning erratically as they attempt to correct themselves. You can pick up debris from the floor and throw it to cause distractions, but the reactions are never consistent. Maybe a guard will bite and walk towards the point of impact, giving you time to sneak past them or take them down. However, they’re just as likely to get startled by the sound, which breaks their patrol and dooms them to walk in a stilted circle until you put them out of their misery. The best stealth games rely on robust, reliable enemy AI, and Weird West falls short in this regard.
Getting past an area that’s full of enemies is just as awkward when going loud. Initially, gunfights are fast and furious twin-stick shootouts with a punchy arsenal of 1800s revolvers, shotguns, and rifles. But once you start thinning out the crowd, the enemy AI exposes itself as pretty dumb. Many enemies stop taking cover, and sometimes they go a step further, strolling away from combat altogether. The general dimness of the enemies is matched by a repetitive and limited pool of enemy types, so combat typically comes down to how quickly you can land your shots rather than your tactical nous or loadout.
And that’s a shame, especially when you meet new protagonists with distinct playstyles. In most scenarios, the simplest approach is to run and gun your way through levels – Weird West has the toolbox of a good immersive sim, but there’s rarely a reason to open it up. You can also recruit a steady stream of willing fighters by rescuing hostages and helping distressed locals, so if combat isn’t particularly challenging solo, it becomes mindless when you are joined by up to three eager allies. Of course, they are also subject to the same AI quirks as the goons they’re fighting, and if any of them die the downstream effects can affect the main story, so there is some jeopardy involved in bringing friends along.
Even if combat isn’t always on target, every new step towards uncovering the mystery of your connection with these fateful characters is worth taking. This is a rich world teeming with darkness and occult curiosities, and as an experiment in world building from some of the best minds to ever do it, Weird West hits the bullseye.
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