Xbox One, PS4, PC
March 31, 2022
Weird West is an action roleplaying game developed by WolfEye Studios and published by Devolver Digital. The game was first announced at the Devolverland Expo on Steam in 2020 and its development team is led by Raphael Colantonio, who is best known as the founder of Arkane Studios.
We had a chat with the development team back in July and were lucky enough to catch a preview of the game in November. What stood out to us in both the preview and the interview was the sheer amount of variety the game presents. At first glance, Weird West looks like a grittier version of Desperados III, complete with some of the Lovecraftian monsters you might encounter in Grim Dawn or Darkest Dungeon. Mostly, you’ll make your way across multiple levels either by sneaking or battling it out, similar to Partisans 1941 or the Desperados series. However, once you get stuck into the game, it’s clear that Weird West offers a lot more than simple stealth mechanics peppered with fantastical monsters. That hasn’t changed with the release of the full game; both through story and procedural generation, Weird West offers up a universe that is as layered as it is thrilling.
Some of the inspirations for Weird West were Ultima 7 and Ultima Underworld, as well as French and Belgian comic books. This is reflected in both Weird West’s art style and its story. While the game’s graphics do have a gritty edge to them, the high contrast visuals make for an alluring and mysterious world. Starting the game as bounty hunter Jane Bell, you’ll wake up on your farm with a fragmented memory and a missing husband. After a brief cutscene where you find out that your child has just been murdered right outside your door and your husband has been taken away by a group of bandits, you’re let loose in the Weird West world. From that point onwards, you can start exploring the game’s map. While initially the map is covered by a fog of war, you’re able to travel around the map freely straight away, allowing you to uncover more of the map the further you travel.
While visually, the map looks very similar to other top-down titles like the Wasteland series and Pillars of Eternity, practically speaking, your character’s avatar will move across the screen from one location to another as they travel. Unlike looking at a load screen in between locations, you’ll see your character’s journey play out in real time. It’s during these trips that things can get interesting. WolfEye Studios has added random encounters to the game that are procedurally generated, so each time you travel from one location to another, you’ll have randomised encounters with travelling merchants, angry gang members, or a pack of wild animals that must be fought off. While some elements do overlap across several scenarios, the environment, enemies, and characters you encounter will differ every time. This makes the game dynamic and brings the wild, wild west feeling to life.
This variety extends to the game’s story and immediate environment: while you start the game as Jane Bell, the game features five chapters, and each one has you playing as a different hero. Without wanting to give anything away, you’ll quickly discover that all heroes’ fates are intertwined through a period of memory loss and a brand they find on their neck. Once you finish each chapter and move on to the next hero, you’re able to recruit heroes from previous chapters as followers since they’re still just as keen as you are to understand what has caused their memory loss and the brand on their body.
“…the game’s environment offers players plenty of room to explore and scavenge.”
The hero mechanic doesn’t just stop with the game’s storyline, either; in Weird West, you’re able to upgrade a hero’s skills and abilities through dedicated skill trees. Once you start a new hero’s journey, the perks and abilities you’ve unlocked roll over to the next character, allowing you to keep building on the playstyle you’ve developed. This is one of the things I love most about Weird West: the different heroes offer you a fresh perspective on gameplay. While I found it a pity that I had to part with cherished character-specific weapons, I appreciated the fact that my skills and abilities weren’t lost. It made the transition from one chapter to the next feel like an achievement rather than a punishment.
Added to this, the game’s environment offers players plenty of room to explore and scavenge, allowing you to make money quickly and upgrade weapons. Every object, character, and building in Weird West can be interacted with in some way: objects can be picked up, broken, or thrown around, doors can be blown up or lockpicked, and even story characters can be killed. Similar to games like Breath of the Wild, players are encouraged to experiment with things they find in their environment when sneaking and in combat. Much like the Desperados series, combat happens in real time on a top-down layout. Levels are laid out like maps, with enemies patrolling certain sections. On a dedicated mini map, your enemies are represented by red dots and their field of vision by a cone, and different types of enemies range from gang members, to sirens, and wild animals like dogs and coyotes. If you prefer to avoid combat, you can sneak past enemies, knocking them out with stealth attacks. Alternatively, you can go in guns blazing, which means enemies will flock to you. Weapons include guns, dynamite, bows and arrows, knives, and machetes. Explosive barrels, poison, electricity, and even weather effects can all be used to tackle waves of particularly tricky enemies when hit with a particular weapon. When I came across a large group of enemies standing on a wet floor, for example, I was able to take them out by throwing several lightning grenades. In this sense, some dungeons almost feel like puzzles; strategising your way through particularly difficult dungeons is one of the most enjoyable aspects about the game.
This, together with the NPCs you’ll encounter in the game and Weird West’s reputation system, gives the world a lot of depth. While the reputation system will feel familiar — actions like stealing will negatively affect your reputation, for example, while helping people will do the opposite — it also features mechanics like vendettas and its ‘friends for life’ feature that add to the game’s dynamic nature. Once you free an NPC character from a trap, for example, they’ll become a friend for life. These friends for life can intervene in the middle of combat later in the game, particularly if you’re in a very tight spot. During my playthrough, an NPC that I had saved from a cellar during my very first hour of gameplay made an appearance at the very end, right when I ran out of ammo, which made it feel all the more special.
Vendettas, however, can make a playthrough harder for you. A vendetta will kick in if you make vengeful enemies in the Weird West world or accept a bounty without finishing the job. While I found that vendettas didn’t impact the outcome of the main storyline, they did mean that I had a lot more travel encounters involving battles with angry gang members and bounty hunters, which made the wandering across Weird West more suspenseful. On top of this, the game also features a huge variety of characters: there were plenty of female characters, POC characters, and characters that could be read as queer.
That said, I did find that combat felt cumbersome at times, and bugs were a regular occurrence. As with most similar titles featuring RTS combat, timing is everything, both when you’re in the middle of combat and when you’re trying to sneak past enemies. Both in combat and with sneaking, I had some frustrating glitches pop up, which forced me to repeat an area from scratch. Several times, I was spotted by enemies when sneaking, even though they were on the other side of the map, and at one point a barrel that I wasn’t even standing near spontaneously burst into flames. At times, companions I recruited were randomly spotted by enemies too, even though they are not meant to be detectable when your hero character is safely hidden. In addition to this, the camera wasn’t always immediately responsive in the middle of the action either. Whenever this happened, I was quickly discovered by enemies or blown up, since my character’s movement was too laggy and slow to properly react. Added to this that, while enjoyed the process of gathering parts to upgrade my weapons, I felt like using different kinds of guns didn’t make much difference in terms of damage output, it made combat feel like an obstacle at times, rather than a highlight. Considering that so much of Weird West relies on stealth and combat, even a delay of a few seconds makes all the difference.
Overall, however, these small drawbacks shouldn’t be enough to stop players from exploring Weird West’s world. WolfEye Studios has created a unique story universe featuring an environment that encourages players to be curious. The game’s strength lies in the way it pushes you to actively problem-solve and experiment with objects in your environment. All this, topped off with stunning visual style and interesting story mechanics, makes for an exciting ride from start to finish. If comic books, stealth mechanics, and cowboys appeal to you, Weird West is not to be missed.
- Gorgeous visual style
- Interesting world, characters, hero mechanics, and storyline
- Plenty of variety through travel encounters
- Dynamic perks and abilities system
- Clunky camera at times
- Combat can feel cumbersome
Overall, Weird West dishes up an alluring world that you can explore to your heart’s content. Its story structure and procedurally generated travel encounters will keep players on their toes and ensure that no two playthroughs are the same. Even though there are a few glitches and the game’s camera can feel a little clunky at times, the visual style and depth of Weird West’s world more than make up for it. If you have a soft spot for comic books, interesting stories, and dynamic characters, Weird West will be a great addition to your library.