West of Loathing is an oddball Wild West-themed adventure game/RPG hybrid with an expansive world and a cast of hilarious characters.
Release Date: August 10th, 2017
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
West of Loathing is a humorous adventure game/RPG hybrid set in an alternate version of the Wild West in which necromancers run free and cows are killing people and destroying their houses. Choose one of three classes—Beanslinger, Cow Puncher, or Snake Oiler—and venture out West in an attempt to find your fortune. Build your character the way that you want to by spending experience to upgrade skills and stats. Travel between dozens of locations, completing tasks for a cast of odd, but hilarious characters. Take part in turn-based combat or talk your way out of it. Unlock a selection of strange perks by performing various actions. Stick your hand in spittoons and hope that it doesn’t dissolve. Just be sure not to get so angry that you pass out along the way.
- An expansive open world – explore dozens of locations that are filled with puzzles, quests, and secrets.
- Build your character the way you want to – all skill and stat upgrades cost experience, allowing you to spend your hard-earned experience on the upgrades that you want.
- Hilarious characters – interact with a large variety of hilarious characters ranging from a man who runs a jellybean museum to a literal drunken horse.
By Matt Chelen
You’re headed out West to make your fortune. No one’s entirely sure why, but you’re convinced that it’s something that you need to do. Maybe it’ll work out and you won’t be killed by cows, which are inexplicably killing people and destroying their homes. And so, you pack up your complete lack of belongings and hit the road.
This simple premise drives the entirety of West of Loathing. You simply continue working your way westward, your progress cleverly noted by a railroad track that you are helping to build. Other than your journey westward, practically everything you do is optional. There’s quite a lot of content out there to explore, but very little of it is mandatory. It’s a system that makes the world feel fairly alive and filled with content and unique characters, but one that left the game feeling fairly inconclusive due to the fact that there’s no real main story. There are a few larger, parallel stories at play, such as the search for a powerful necromancer, but the true end of the game comes suddenly. You complete a quest, which unlocks the credits, and you watch them. As you watch, the game informs you of the results of your exploits and then lets you continue playing, should you want to. I wasn’t particularly fond of the manner in which it happened, especially considering the fact that it felt as if I had just barely been thrown into another story arc shortly before reaching the game’s end.
Gameplay is an odd combination of point-and-click adventure games and RPGs. The game world is separated into dozens of small zones, which can be explored in a manner similar to that of point-and-click games. Some zones contain puzzles; some puzzles give you everything that you need to solve them, while others require you to find or create items elsewhere. You travel between these zones using a node-based world map; you click a node and automatically travel there. As you travel between zones, you might come across any number of encounters. You could be drawn into a fight, come across a trader, find a cache of resources that has long since been forgotten, finding a new location, and so on. Many of these encounters either are or contain choose your own adventure-style skill and stat checks, requiring skills or stats of a specific level in order to either succeed or avoid combat. Others simply require you to own a specific item. In addition to occurring during travel, encounters can be triggered by “wandering” the surrounding area, a feature that allows you to quickly go out into the world without leaving the zone that you are currently in.
The RPG systems are fairly deep, allowing for more customization than I anticipated. At the beginning of the game, players choose one of three classes: Beanslinger, Cow Puncher, or Snake Oiler. Each has a number of stats and skills that must be monitored and upgraded. The three primary combat stats are Moxie, which affects your aptitude for ranged combat; Muscle, which affects your aptitude for melee combat; and Mysticality, which affects your aptitude for using magic. These are three more stats that directly affect your maximum health, the amount of action points you have, and so forth, but they aren’t used in stat checks, as the three primary stats are.
Skills are broken into two categories: Combat and Miscellaneous. Combat Skills are active skills that are used in combat, whereas Miscellaneous Skills are skills that provide increasingly higher bonuses as you level them, allow you to craft certain items, or give unlock additional skill check options during encounters. Most skills are learned from books and most of those books are dedicated to a specific skill, but class-specific skill books give you three seemingly random choices of skill per book.
While this system may seem fairly standard, one specific feature transforms it into a deep, customizable system. Whereas other games give you skill and stat points upon leveling or reaching a certain experience milestone, all of West of Loathing’s skill and stat upgrades cost experience. Because experience is the only currency for upgrades, you can legitimately build your character however you want. If you want to pile all of your experience into stats, you can do that. If you want to level up all of your Combat Skills early, you can also do that. As long as you find the requisite books to unlock the skills that you want to upgrade, you have unrestricted freedom over your character’s build, which is a far rarer trait than one would expect.
The system is further augmented by perks, which are obtained in a mixed bag of some of the most surprisingly awesome and truly bizarre ways imaginable. For example, I was given a perk that gave me a 20% resistance to all elemental damage for bravely sticking my hand into a very specific spittoon in the game. However, while most perks affect your character’s stats or skills, some, such as the “Stupid Walking” perk, give you unlockable in-game options. In the case of Stupid Walking, you walk in a hilariously poor manner. Ultimately, the perks system is a welcome mechanism of granting additional rewards and doling out consequences for very specific endeavors.
Early in the game, you’re asked to choose a “pardner,” an additional character that tags along with you and can be controlled in combat. Oddly, despite the fact that you can control their actions in combat, you can’t manage their growth in any way. You can’t manage their inventories. You can’t equip them with unneeded gear. You can even manage their skills or stats. Outside of combat, they are completely autonomous, gaining experience after the occasional fight. Additionally, your pardner serves as your quest log, reminding you of the tasks that you’ve offered to complete for others and offering additional insight at key moments.
The game’s combat system is turn-based, taking place on a 6×3 grid—one 3×3 set of squares is dedicated to friendly units, whereas the other is dedicated to enemies. Units can’t move at all, but the grid does play into combat somewhat. The Beanslinger can summon both an additional unit and walls that block both melee and ranged attacks, but not magic attacks. These are summoned in predetermined locations in a predetermined order, but the position of walls in relation to friendly units is important because they only block one row. This only adds a light tactical element to the game, but it is a welcome nuance, nonetheless.
One feature that is fairly unique to West of Loathing is the Action Point system. Upon entering battle, the main character is given a specific number of Action Points that is determined by a combination of their skills, stats, and equipment. This allotment of Action Points is only given to the player once per fight; they do not regenerate each turn. Because of this, there’s a certain weight to each of your actions. Especially when playing as a Beanslinger, a class that relies almost entirely upon Action Points unless you specifically dedicate experience or gear to Moxie or Muscle, it is important to choose your moves wisely, as running out of Action Points could leave you practically helpless.
Perhaps because of the limitations placed on Action Points, battles are fast-paced, often ending within seconds. While the large variety of Combat Skills that are available to you allows you to carry out complex, well thought out tactics, it’s often the simplest tactics that win fights. I found myself using the same simplistic routine battle after battle, often winning within two turns. There were many skills that I simply never used. There are certain Combat Skills and weapons that deal elemental damage, as well as enemies that have a 100% resistance to specific elements, but such details were rarely a concern. Furthermore, whether you win or lose a battle, your health is automatically regenerated upon exiting combat and, if your pardner died, they are automatically revived with full health. In a way, battles almost feel peripheral, a feature that is secondary to the game’s exploration and puzzling elements.
That notion is exacerbated by the game’s seemingly poor balance. I explored practically every zone in the first two of the game world’s three sections. I didn’t complete all of the content within each of them, but I did complete quite a lot of it. For the first two sections of the game, I easily cut through basically anything I fought. However, the few fights that I didn’t win easily were crushing defeats, often ending with my character getting one-shotted by an opponent. Upon reaching the third section of the game, 90% of my battles ended in my character getting one-shotted. I played as a Beanslinger and received several debuff Perks due to carrying out actions that I won’t spoil here, but their effects weren’t felt at the time that I received them. Perhaps I had ultimately done something wrong by choosing the healer pardner and focusing primarily on the stats that I needed, Gumption and Mysticality, but the end result is that the game’s difficulty curve just felt odd. There were very few fights that I either barely won or barely lost; almost all of them were clear victories or crushing defeats.
I also felt that the game’s time system was poorly utilized. At the beginning of the game, you take up residence in a room in a tavern in the town of Dirtwater that has been paid for for a month by its previous tenant, who died right after paying for it. The tavern’s owner graciously allows you to stay on said tenant’s dime. Now, whether the game actually has a time limit of a month, I don’t know. I personally finished the game on day eight. The reason for that is that there are only two ways that time moves forward: either you lose a fight while angry and get so angry that you pass out or you go back to your residence and sleep until the next day. As time doesn’t move forward automatically, understandably, few quests use waiting as an element. In fact, only one mandatory quest does. Given that, the system served little purpose, as there’s no reason in particular that an in-game system had to denote the passing of time when you passed out.
However, one aspect of the game that was handled exceptionally well was its humor. Kingdom of Loathing’s signature style of bizarre and literal humor is here in spades. I was greatly amused throughout most of the game, having laughed out loud a few times, particularly when reading through the narrator’s increasing discomfort with my propensity for sticking my hand into disgusting spittoons. The franchise’s universe is very well represented.
West of Loathing is one of the most enjoyable games that I’ve played this year. There are a few issues, such as the confusing nature of the game’s main story and an odd difficulty curve, but I had quite a lot of fun throughout my westward journey. The game world is expansive and its characters are hilarious—it also certainly helps that it offers a unique take on an underrepresented setting in gaming. It’s largely a great game and a welcome addition to the franchise, but, above all, I have no doubt that it will have you chuckling all the way to Frisco.