Immersion doesn’t have to rely on the first-person perspective to be effective, and Weird West is evidence of that. WolfEye Studios, made up of former Arkane developers who know the genre, have made an immersive sim through the guise of an action RPG. This genre-bending oddity of a game shouldn’t work, but it thankfully does. This is due to the multiple protagonists and bizarre, yet engaging world that is molded by your actions or inactions. Weird West is every bit the isometric wild west Dishonored you think it is, but manages to keep some of its secrets to be discovered by experimenting through its gameplay.
The game begins with a very cryptic cutscene with little explanation before you’re dropped into the world of Weird West. And I’m okay with that, because I find that less is more here, allowing you to figure things out for yourself. Things really get rolling once you’re in control of a bounty hunter named Jane Bell who is searching for her abducted husband. As you follow what little threads you can pull, you’ll be drawn to the town of Grackle that’s been absolutely ravaged, and not a single store is functional. The town Sheriff asks you to follow some other leads that should eventually take you to your husband. As you pursue these side quests, the game will be introducing you to each of the game’s mechanics and systems. From stealth being an optional, but beneficial method to getting through an area filled with bad guys to how elements interact like oil and a spark for truly devastating combos. The prologue ends when the first town gets rebuilt, and it’s here the game teaches you all of the basics you need to survive with.
There are five characters in total that you will inhabit, and each of them has their own journey and dilemma to engage with. And every character will have their own unique main and side quests to engage with. Once you’ve swapped to a new character, you can’t go back to them, so it’s best you do all that you need to before starting the final mission for that specific character. As you form relationships with townsfolk, and as long as you stay in good standing with it, you’ll be able to take on bounties for money. All of the side missions you accept have a time limit, and this crunch feels especially heavy. There’s just an inherent stress that most games never explore, even for ones that are time sensitive for the main story. Weird West’s approach is logical and appropriately weighty.
This is an action RPG without levels to represent your strength or power. There are perks you can give yourself through finding golden playing cards all over the map, so long as you’re curious enough to explore and open up every crate and cabinet you find. These perks can do things like enhance how effective med kits are, or let you move faster in stealth. Abilities are purple nimp relics that you also find out in the world through the same means of turning over everything you come across. They could really be anywhere, but some are in more obvious places than others. The abilities are all the same for each of the weapon types found in the game like revolvers, shotguns, and rifles. The personal abilities though, are distinct for each of the playable heroes. Perks are passives, where the abilities either personal or weapon have to be actively called. There’s some interesting combinations, but I found the perks to be more interesting than most of the abilities. I like how Weird West handles the perks system. As you invest in perks with one character, they will rollover into all of the following ones. I wish more than that would carryover between characters, but this by far is the best option. Lastly, gear handles the rest by offering you what is essentially a gear score for the vest that you wear, and the guns you carry. These are denoted by a simple color and star system to convey their effectiveness.
With the aforementioned limited sets of weapons, it doesn’t really let you experiment in the ways you want. A noticeable lack of sniper rifles are missed, but not detrimental to the experience. Aiming your weapons reveals a helpful laser-like guide to ensure you’re on target, or that they’re obfuscated by the geometry. There’s nothing more satisfying than activating the silent shot ability for the rifle and effectively sniping them from existence without a sound. The act of using any of the guns is really enjoyable and satisfying, and it’s intuitive what situation each one is for. What’s not is all of the throwables like dynamite types, to include regular and flashbang ones. They’re fidgety and unreliable in enclosed spaces, and is to a point understandable, but the game rarely understands what you’re trying to do and it’s just not worth the hassle. All of the throwables are very inconsistent, to the point where I rarely used them. What I did end up using a lot of, were the companions. You can hire or recruit others who you befriend to help you in your journey, and having that extra firepower is no doubt worthwhile. While they don’t always crouch when you crouch, they don’t get spotted by the enemy unless the haphazardly decide to engage with them. For the most part, they’re smart about not provoking engagements, even if they don’t look like they’re trying to stay out of trouble. If you’re the type that wants to play the game completely solo, that’s a viable option as well. Companions are not free from risk, you’ll have to keep them alive as they have their own health bar. So if they happen to die, they’re gone for good from your game, unless you reload a prior save. It should be known that friendly fire is possible, so if you don’t want to be responsible for putting your pardner six feet under, then maybe let them stay back at the ranch.
While I never found many opportunities for it, there’s a kick for knocking over barrels, pushing back enemies, or quickly defeating wildlife that become enraged. The aforementioned interactive elements extends so much further than just oil and sparks. It rains a lot here, and when that happens, you and the enemies around you gain the wet status, and are susceptible to electricity. Then there often barrels of poison (for some reason) that will catch fire when broken as well as deal damage over time. Being able to ascertain what’s in the environment to you use to your advantage is not only a fun puzzle to solve, it’s almost necessary in late-game engagements.
You can navigate the world of Weird West on foot, or by horse. There’s a pre-order DLC that just gifts you a horse early on to make navigation faster. But that’s not really a big deal as you can steal or buy a horse of your own not long after finishing the prologue. In addition to the horse making things faster, there is a fast travel system, but it doesn’t teleport you to a location. You still travel to the location, and based on the distance will take a certain amount of time. This is especially noteworthy when dealing with a time sensitive quest. As you make your way to your destination, time will pass in the world for the duration of your ride. There are times where you might get interrupted from one location to the next. These may be avoidable encounters, inescapable ambushes, or roaming merchants if you’ve got things to sell or buy. While it’s possible to camp for rest and restore health, that’s not the only mechanic for forwarding time. If there’s a heist you want to complete at night, you can “loiter” to pass time that will move the hands of time in your favor.
For each new playthrough, the main towns in the game are set locations with names that are the same for everyone. And for everything else, they are randomly generated both in name and locale, keeping things fresh. There’s several biomes like forests, mountains, deserts, and swamps that have distinctive traits of the western part of what we would identify as the United States, though there’s no real ties to our world. It’s unfortunate then, that for all of the abandoned sites like quarries, caves, and ghost towns all have the same layout or template. I wish these places had the random generation applied too, but it only made it easy to navigate.
There were too many times where I bypassed a whole town’s security simply by walking around the perimeter, and then sneaking into where I needed to go. There was one time I did this, and was able to get the my bounty target isolated and knocked them out. I carried them out to my horse, put the cuffs on them, and rode off without a single person notified. This was a wonderful experience, but it felt too easy to repeat ad nauseum with nearly every place I had to do less than honorable tasks. When the stealth works, it’s fun and exciting; but it’s often not clear if you’ve been seen or heard, that I find to be missing some critical feedback to the player.
The choices you make are often not cut and dry. For instance, I had accepted a quest from an NPC who needed a deed in order to help me further my own quest. So I waited until night fell, snuck into their homestead, and stole the deed from the safe in their sleep. But because I had met them, talked to them, and even completed a quest for them, they reported me because they knew I was on their property. This dishonorable act resulted in my reputation going down as a result. I’m not sure what other options were available to me, but that’s what’s so great of games of this genre.
As with any action RPG or even immersive sim, managing your inventory is always a struggle. It doesn’t take long to find a town or merchant to clear it, but you’ll have to make room for perk cards or ability items, your gear, and ammo. As a result, inventory slots will naturally be taken up, where you’ll end up having to make difficult decisions if you’re not regularly selling to vendors. It’s even good to carry a pickaxe or a shovel with you during your travels through the wild west. If you so choose, any and all enemies you kill can be buried on-the-spot, leaving no trace of your killing sprees behind. Doing this serves as an alternative to stealthily knocking out foes, and tossing them in bushes. The number of options and pathways available to you are mostly unknown, but the thrill of discovery is there.
Reputation serves as the morality system throughout the game. The higher the better as you’ll have good standing with everyone you talk to. First you’ll talk about normal things, but it won’t be long before you’re talking about hags, zombies, and other weird shit. The dialogue system is straight forward, but learning more about the world is really fascinating. And your reputation will open up so many more opportunities to take on more quests. The inverse of this, to be essentially hated means going to jail and having people after you all the time, and it’s infuriating. It tends to be better to try to be a respected character to have the least amount of friction and resistance.
Weird West is a fantastic immersive sim that works doubles as an isometric action RPG in concert. Sadly the stealth is clumsy, the throwables clunky, but this is one of the best games of its kind. Over the twenty or so hours, you’ll encounter quirky characters, feral supernatural beasts, and unravel and intertwining mystery across five different playable characters that’s rarely been seen to culminate in a climactic end. Weird West feels like you’re playing something new and fresh, and it absolutely delivers as being one of 2022’s greats.
A Steam code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes