Originally published at: Review | Weird West - XboxEra
Weird West is the first game from new developer WolfEye Studios. Set in a fantastical version of the American Wild West you’ll take control of multiple, quite different characters throughout multiple journeys. This is an immersive sim that rewards your cunning and punishes your cruelty. The gameplay is sharp, the story is engrossing, and the music is excellent. It’s all coming day one to Game Pass and I’ll explain why this one is worth your time.
Things start rather grim. The bounty hunter journey is up first, and after your world gets turned upside down the tutorial smartly teaches you the dense amount of game mechanics. First, you find a shovel and dig up your old gun, being forced back into a life you thought was left behind for good. Shovels are oddly important, as burying those you leave behind can be key. This game is full of small touches like that, and it helps sell that you are a major part of this living world. I’ll keep things as spoiler-free as I can, like always, but I do have to say just how effective the beginning of each journey was for me. The influence each one has on the next is fantastic as well. I wish I could go into more detail but once you see what I mean I think you’ll appreciate it all that much more for having experienced it with no knowledge going in. Honorable actions will add to your reputation and dishonorable chip away from it. This matters in how you’re treated within towns, by folks you meet out on the trail, and repeated hostile actions can lead to bounties being put on your godforsaken head.
The main voice acting is the narrator who is both written and acted well. Sound effects for enemy screams are haunting, and the writing, in general, is excellent. This is an American West full of horrors and using a day/night cycle areas can change dramatically depending on the time of day you visit them. That time-of-day system plays into a timer mechanic which I generally hate in video games. It is generous enough here though, as well as being tied mainly to side quests/bounty hunts so that I never grew to hate it. The map is large, and I’d suggest saving up the money to buy a horse asap as it helps you avoid some of the nastier random encounters. Through the use of procedural generation and allowing of player choice my playthrough has been markedly different than that of others I’ve talked to during the review period. One shady character I helped thinking I had no other choice was double-crossed in another’s playthrough using a method I simply hadn’t thought of. This player agency is a hallmark of the immersive sim genre, and it helps this game in a big way.
A Damned Fun Shooting Gallery
Through a mix of rather forgiving stealth and twin-stick action, you’ll work your way through a story that is easy to mainline if you so please or can last many dozens of hours if you want to search every nook and cranny in the game world. Nothing is off-limits exploration-wise, though certain story areas are gated through keys or mainline progress. You can go anywhere and die a horrible death in one hit if you so please. They do a great job of balancing the difficulty, and normal is a solid mix of tough fights that never led me to frustration. You can make things nice and easy both difficulty and controls-wise as well. The accessibility options are fantastic overall, and for those who want a real challenge, Nightmare mode lives up to its name. The game is primarily a shooter at first, though you’ll be able to gain access to abilities suited for each protagonist during their playthroughs. The bounty hunter’s massive leap and stab with her melee weapon is great fun, as is the pigman’s charge and stomp. The star of the game though is the ranged weaponry when it comes to combat though.
Using twin-stick controls, that you can customize as you wish for stickiness/speed, you use the LB to choose between a variety of ranged and melee weaponry. Holding down the left trigger puts you into aim mode and the right stick aims as the right trigger attacks. You’ll come across a wide variety of rarity-rated pistols, shotguns, rifles, bows, and melee weapons. You get a lot of these while playing and inventory space is limited so get used to holding X to break down gun after gun which gives you a small amount of ammo for its type. I wish there had been a “break down all unequipped weapons” button but I couldn’t find the option. You cannot break down melee weapons from what I’ve seen as well, which was a bit frustrating. Anything you don’t break down you can sell though, and the game’s economy is rough but fair.
Healing and potions are tied to the d-pad and are easy to use, but abilities are tied to first aiming with the weapon equipped. Then you follow that up by holding down the left bumper while still holding down the left trigger, then you must press the corresponding face button. It works in practice but can be awkward to do quickly in combat. Clicking in the left stick puts you into stealth mode, which you will be using a lot. Your character can take a fair bit of punishment, but bandages aren’t cheap, and finding food on the go can be tough at times. Another way to heal is to find a bed in a relatively safe area and sleep for 8 in-game hours. On longer main story missions you’ll want to try and avoid damage as much as possible.
The key to surviving is finding the golden playing cards. These are the only source of progression that lasts through each journey, and feed into the perk system. These are many upgrades that help everything from being able to take more damage, earn more money in chests, jump higher, and more. It’s a fun system that encourages exploration and side-quests. Your bank deposit box seems to carry over through each playthrough as well, which helped me out quite a bit in the later journeys as things could get quite difficult as my previous actions came back to haunt me.
Lipstick on a Pig
Graphically the game is in the ok range. It runs well though loading times can feel a bit too long. Going for a more painterly look it isn’t a technical showpiece by any standard. The art direction is excellent though, and the enemy variety is fantastic. The 3D models look and animate well enough, and the drawn portraits during dialogue look great. There is a lot of talking in the game outside of combat areas and it’s handled well. Your choices matter, and earning friends is key to survival. One main mechanic is the “friend for life” system where a previous person you helped in some way will come to your aid mid-fight if your health hits a certain low point. The number of times this saved me from having to re-load a quick save is too high to count.
Music is excellent as well and it helps set the sinister mood at the appropriate times. The lack of voice acting was a bit jarring at first, but I grew to enjoy the odd almost ethereal sounding samples used. Weird West lives up to its name, with odd, dark, and adult material permeating throughout the story. I replayed a side mission repeatedly when it required full stealth because I knew it would follow through on the grim outcome it had promised if I was seen. Quick saves are easy to access in the pause menu, as are quick loads though those do feel like they take too long most of the time. Play areas in general aren’t very big, so it was odd how long a small square slab with a few NPCs on it could take to load. Leaving an area and accessing the main map requires you to get near the edge of the playfield, it looked off at first, but I soon grew accustomed to it.
There is so much more I’d like to say about the game here, but it would delve into heavy spoiler territory so instead let me just emphasize how damned fun Weird West is. Coming in part from one of the founders of Arkane Studios the DNA of games like Dishonored is present throughout. I’m excited to see how people play through each journey and just how much that varies from my own, and if they run into any issues I did not. The game was stable and well-polished, with only a few minor movement-related bugs and one time where an auto-save trapped me in a death loop. Thankfully the game keeps two auto-saves, so I was able to go back to number 2 and only lost a few minutes of progress.
This is an excellent game, and it’s on Game Pass day one. Engaging combat is matched with stellar writing, great music, and most importantly it’s just damned fun. Weird West is one hell of a debut from the team at WolfEye Studios, and it is well worth your time.
|Xbox Series X
|Xbox One, Playstation 4, Windows PC
|March 31st, 2022
|M for Mature