Review – Weird West
It’s no surprise to me that the first game the 2019 founded development studio WolfEye Studios is an ARPG Immersive Sim. The Founder/Creative Director, Raphael Colantonio, and CEO/Executive producer, Julien Roby, both came from Arkane Studios and worked on one of my favorite Immersive Sims, Dishonored. It was clear by their studio’s mission goal that they were taking all of their experience and crafting something that focused on gameplay freedom that Immersive Sim fans would love. Now enters Weird West. Were the former Arkane Studios developers able to elevate their skills in the indie scene? Grab your six shooters, put on some wards, eat some wolfsbane, and let’s head out.
Weird West takes you through a version of the Wild West that takes inspiration from folklore and horror stories. You will be experiencing this world through five different character’s storylines that intertwine in a few ways. Each character offers the player a different viewpoint, story, and even interactions with familiar characters. I really enjoyed how different each character felt in the world, and despite revisiting the same locations, you’ll get different responses from the townsfolk or different gameplay options. There is an overarching story that ties these characters together, as well as some key recurring NPCs that make these stories feel bigger than just these characters.
However, the story never tries to outshine the characters, which lets you connect more with them and make decisions for their character. I was always genuinely invested in them and didn’t feel like they were throwaway characters to facilitate the main story. The gameplay itself also helps you role play as these characters, but I’ll get into that more later. Decisions made during the main moments of the character stories can and will effect all characters, even once you have moved on to the next one. In this way the world does very much feel alive and reactive to your decisions.
The only negative things I have to mention about the story aren’t huge, but it could be enough for some to possibly give it up early. The beginning of the game is a bit of a slow burn, as it feels more like a simple isometric twin stick shooter. Even the story itself doesn’t really start living up to it’s “weird” title until the second character. The game starts of with a fairly vanilla revenge story character, and while there are a couple interesting parts with a Siren and some Cannibals, it wasn’t engaging me. The gameplay still offered that Immersive Sim freedom, but I was doing more side stuff and bounties than continuing the story. Luckily, once you get to the second character, Pigman, things finally get bizarre and I was hooked.
Gameplay and world setup feels similar to that of Fallout 1 & 2 , with a large world map that your character will travel across and will run into random encounters. Once you reach your destination, you go back into the isometric gameplay within a small contained literal map area. Each landmark you visit on the map is a square shape with a border that looks like a ragged map edge. To leave that area, simply go to the map boundary and hit the exit button to travel to your next location. Only when you’re traveling will time continue, or once you reach your destination you can loiter or sleep to progress time.
This is important as some of the side missions and the bounty contracts will give you a certain amount of days to complete them. So if your destination is a two day trip and your bounty only has a five day limit, probably not best to explore. You can purchase, or steal, a horse to increase your travel speed, your storage limit, and escape random encounters. Just be careful stealing a horse because you can get negative reputation, and the horse will leave you once you reach the destination.
Speaking of reputation, this is an important part of Weird West. Your reputation can change a lot of things about how the world and NPCs interact or treat you. If you get a low reputation through various nefarious acts, bounty hunters will track you down, shops will increase their price, but with immersive sims there is always a give and take. Sure being more reputable is nice, and bringing in alive bounties may be more lawful. However, you will start vendettas with outlaws who will plan for your demise. Me, I took a different approach for each character. I mentioned the Pigman earlier, well, he was my low reputation character that stole, slaughtered, and didn’t care since everyone was cruel to me for my looks.
As you spend a lot of time within this world role-playing, one thing that did get a bit stale were the locations. Obviously this is a side effect of having a lot of content and smaller budget, but you will revisit the same locations for different side missions and bounties. Eventually it got to the point where I stopped doing bounties and side stuff (besides some important characters), and simply focused on the main story content. Once you visit the same map for multiple bounties, and a few missions, you get a bit tired of it.
One aspect I did love about the gameplay and the multiple character storylines is that once you move on to the next character, you can revisit the old character and recruit them to your posse. They will retain all the gear you left them with as well, and you get some cool dialogue and interactions between the characters. You don’t have to recruit only your previous main characters, as there are plenty of other mercenaries for hire, but they’ll usually have the best gear and cool moves.
Speaking of gear and moves, the general combat is a twin stick shooter with weapon types including a shotgun, rifle, pistol, bow, melee, and explosives. Each type has a couple variations, like molotov cocktails or TNT, and Double Barrel or Pump Shotguns. You then have level tiers running from base, bronze, silver, gold, and legendary, each offering increased stats and legendary provides unique properties. Armor doesn’t have much variety, just the level tiers and an unique property depending on the hide used to make it. You can mine for the various metals and upgrade your weapons and armor to the next tier. For example, if you have a silver revolver, you’ll need ten gold nuggets to upgrade it to a gold tier revolver.
What I found to be a bit lacking in the gear is that no matter the character, they can use any of the weapons or armor and special move upgrades for the weapons don’t change from character to character. In this aspect it makes the characters feel less unique. Every character has the same weapon ability upgrades, and these do reset once you move to a different character. Picking weapons and upgrades felt less character dependent and simply more what you wanted to use. The only unique portions of the skills are four character abilities. Which isn’t much since you will unlock these very fast and then there is nothing unique to unlock.
The character moves are cool and very different from each other at least. Werewolf has the ability to turn into, well, a werewolf, as well as pray to create various aura’s around himself and the posse. The Protector can summon a tornado that lifts and throws enemies around, and even summon a spirit bear to fight alongside you. Pigman is a bit more of your berserker with a charging ram move, a stomp that disorients, and laying puddles of poison around himself. Bounty Hunter has a powerful spartan kick that stuns, and the ability to lay down mines. The Oneirist can teleport, as well as leave a decoy clone while turning invisible.
That was just two of each characters moves, but what I do love about this immersive sim is that you don’t always need to use your moves for combat. Werewolf and the Oneirist both have abilities that can be used for players who have sticky fingers. Sure, the Bounty Hunter may have to wait at night, climb the roof, drop a rope down the chimney to rob the local shops. But they can use their invisibility to sneak by or the Oneirist can teleport to location inaccessible to the other characters. Or you can just slaughter the shop keep, your choice.
Gunplay and controls aren’t always tightest and I did find some issues. The twin stick shooting didn’t always feel as fluid as it should, and it’s very easy to accidentally move the cursor off an enemy. There doesn’t deem to be much of a soft lock. The general movement is also a bit stiff, and I would get caught on certain small things in the environment too often. There were also a few glitches and annoyances. At one point I purchased a horse, but for some reason if I went up to the horse to ride it, it would give me negative reputation like a stole it.
If I just left the map without selecting the horse it wouldn’t do that. When I would hide bodies in hiding areas like bushes, the enemies would still be able to spot the bodies even if they couldn’t spot me, which was a constant issue. Even if I stealth knocked out an innocent NPC, and no one spotted me, I would still get negative reputation when I left the area. Some of the issues were clearly glitches that were never game-breaking, the others I don’t think were gameplay intended like the enemies spotting “hidden” enemies.
Visually, Weird West is definitely going for that cool art direction and design over eye-melting graphics. Unfortunately, there are situations where things look a bit muddy and it can be hard to make out characters. I would end up using my mini-map to track the red dots more so than observing the area. Luckily, when the designs hit, they hit. I truly loved some of the areas and designs despite some flickering shadow glitches. The map is broken up into various sections which all have their own style. Forests, deserts, canyons, bogs, and underground mines of course. Each have their own color pallet and visual style, even if the main towns feel a bit similar in layout and architecture.
Sound design is a bit hit and miss for me. The only voice actor is the narrator that does an impressive western styled gruff voice. He delivers the lines well, but that’s about it when it comes to voice acting. The other characters make random guffaws and grunts here and there, that work well enough. The general sound design is fine with the weapons and special attacks having some nice high quality sound effects, but unfortunately nothing that really stood out as impressive. The soundtrack has some nice western themed tracks when there is an important story moment which does indeed help drive those story elements home. However, for the rest of the game the soundtrack sits comfortably in the background being overlooked.
Weird West is a fantastic ARPG Immersive Sim that really gets you invested within its world. The veteran skill behind this game surely shines throughout this title offering something fun and fresh. I easily spent over fifty hours in Weird West and that’s even having to rush the last couple chapters. I enjoyed losing myself in this world and its characters experimenting with the gameplay tools and options provided. Even if it doesn’t hit perfect on every aspect, this is a title you will not want to miss if you’re a fan of the genre.
The art direction and designs shine here over pure graphical clarity. There is some issue with visibility since things can look muddy, as well as flickering shadows.
Gameplay freedom is what Weird West encourages with its immersive sim and that delivers in spades. However, general combat and controls can feel a bit wonky.
General sound effects are fine with the various weapons and enemy grunts. Music has its moments, but mostly remains in the background.
After a bit of a slow burn, the story does start ramping up with the “weird” aspects and delivers a fun and unique experience. I do wish there was more depth in the character abilities and more location variety.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Weird West is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X via Backwards Compatibility.
A copy of Weird West was provided by the publisher.