Hard West 2 is the best kind of sequel, because there’s no requirement for having played the prior game in order to start playing. This is a standalone game that is better than its predecessor in every way, bearing a lot of similarities to the first Hard West, a game made by a different developer. This is a brutal and punishing turn-based strategy game that keeps you on your backfoot as you taken on human and supernatural enemies. This take on the wild west is a refreshing take, but its gameplay is what will hook you throughout its bloody campaign.
Going back to play the original Hard West, a game I really enjoyed, I was surprised to find how much was improved. The first game is seven years old, so with the times it just had a different kind of turn-based combat that now feels stiffer than what’s here. The things Hard West 2 retained is the overworld map and traversal, conversational elements, and the joy of discovery. It’s clear Ice Code Games kept what worked, and reworked what didn’t. The result is a much smoother experience, as missions are lengthy for a war of attrition that will truly test your skills and ensure that every decision is carefully planned.
Hands-down, Hard West 2 has one of the best tutorial missions I’ve ever played. And not just from a teaching stuff to you perspective, but from what’s involved and how it introduces you to the world. It feels like you’re learning things as the character does. The premise is simple, you’re part of a band of bank robbers looking for their next big score. What they think is a train full of valuables turns out to be more than they bargained for, and quickly become outmatched. It’s not long before the train transforms unnaturally into a ghost train with spider legs that move it forward. The big bad you were robbing is actually the devil, and after a fateful encounter, he takes your posse’s souls like he’s Shang Tsung. Now on a redemption arc to regain them, you’ll be on a quest to buff up while also helping others and yourself along the way.
The “Hard” in Hard West 2 shines in the excellent and engaging combat system that has been built upon. There are three difficulties: Easy, Hard, and Nightmare, with Hard being the “Normal” of the three options, and the developers intended way to play the game – I would say that it’s tough, but fair. If you set yourself up with some safety net saves, you could roll back after a death and come through the other side with only a few scratches. Combat is rather straightforward, but its intricacies lie in team composition and abilities. While you may have five or six people in your posse, only four members may be used at once (though there are occurrences where it lets you have five). From there, each character must use their three action points to the fullest whether it be for repositioning, shooting, or using a particular ability to aid in battle. When you go to perform an attack, you’re given a preview of the base damage as well as the bullseye damage (a buff) that it will do, in addition to the percent chance it’ll take to hit. Any missed shots due to positioning or RNG (which is thankfully low in this game) turns into luck. Another neat mechanic that can be banked or cashed in for better chances to hit on the next attack.
The biggest and best thing about the combat in Hard West 2 is the new Bravado mechanic. It’s quite literally a game changer, what was previously the Chain Kill card in Hard West became what this is today. When one of your characters kills an enemy, all their action points are restored. This can result in a chain of kills that can wipe the field of weak enemies or ones you’ve whittled down along the way. You can even use friendly fire to your benefit, since the posse is vulnerable to being hit, their death could activate bravado to keep the chain going. It’s a bold move to play that way, but if you can make it work in your favor, then it would be worth it; like when Keanu Reeves shot Jeff Daniels in the leg in Speed in order to save the hostage. Almost every encounter is multi-staged, where you’ll fight through a gauntlet before you’re done, which feels like a war of attrition by the end of it. Though I have to say, Ice Code Games just gets it, and the mechanics they’ve employed in every aspect of the game is just so fun.
While you do maintain an inventory, this is not a traditional RPG, so you don’t level up, you don’t invest skill points to better yourself. That’s all handled through the still brilliant card system. Returning from the original are cards you collect from main and side missions. You’ll then equip up to five cards per character that will enhance their base stats such as their total health points or the amount of luck they can have. It even follows rules to that of poker, where having a proper hand such as a pair or a flush can have even greater benefits to who is holding them.
For a game set in the wild west, there should be little to no surprise for the types of weapons you’ll have: pistols, melee, rifles, shotguns are all what you’d expect. However, the supernatural elements sprinkled throughout will introduce more fantastical weapons like quad-barrel pistols and rifles with ammo chains that give you incredible offensive opportunities with great damage. As important as the weapons you carry and use are, so are consumables and throwables to regain health and do massive damage in an area of effect.
There are status effects in combat that can be a real bummer, and very detrimental. For instance, your posse can be stunned, poisoned, bleeding, and more. Some characters can remove this effect early, others have to endure it and possibly miss turns. This helps you prioritize targets to prevent future statuses from being applied. Posse members don’t die permanently, but they will go down in a fight, and upon completion of the encounter will get up, but at one health point. In order to replenish health out of combat, you must camp or use healing items, as it doesn’t happen automatically. It’s easy to forget to do that as you head into the next battle, with most of the posse clinging to life. It’s just one of those things that keeps you thinking all the time, and I like that it doesn’t let you rest.
Missions have main objectives to complete, but there are side objectives that pop-up, whether you choose to go for them is up to you. Doing so will result in better loot, but it certainly doesn’t punish you for not always being able to complete them. Missions themselves range from rescues to kill everything to heists. Things get interesting when a particular mission will have round limits, creating challenges to overcome and optimizing the encounter. At the end of a mission you’ll be treated to a screen that shows your stats on kills, turns, and bravado streak. It also shows what objectives you completed or didn’t, as well as showing the loot you got – but doesn’t show what you missed out on. There’s some really memorable fights. It’s been a while since game had such a strong start, like the attempted train robbery that kicks things off. And thankfully that’s not the only one, there’s multiple train heists where the train is always in-motion, and it’s one of the many highlights of the game.
While there’s linearity to Hard West 2 being mostly mission to mission, you do have freedom. You will get to traverse the overworld on horseback, on top of a map to take you to the next town or mysterious object that’s undiscovered. This will have you meeting characters to simply gain information from, or have join your posse. I really like the variety of environments, and for a wild west game to start off in the snow to then move onto deserts, plains, and trains never lets it feel stale. Along your travels you can take wanted posters for bounties, or engage in dialogue with the locals.
Whether part of a main mission or not, dialogue choices will have impact to the loyalty of your posse. Though I found my choices in the early going to be all net positives, but the back half of the game does raise the stakes by introducing consequences for your choices. And some choices require resources you may or may not have, and thankfully the game lets you stop, and try to acquire them and come back to. While I wasn’t disappointed with this aspect of the game, it did slow down in ways I didn’t want it to.
The exploration is great, characters and interactions feel special, and left to your own detective skills in some cases to track down the next lead or find a wanted criminal. It’s a game that’s mission-based, but is a cohesive and streamlined to be really enjoyable and kinetic. While it puts the “hard” in hard west, it is a wholly satisfying combat experience. Bravado is going to be a mechanic we see with a different name but used the same across future turn-based RPGs. while not totally new, just remember that Hard West 2 is out here reminding everyone how great it is. Ice Code Games nailed this, and Hard West 2 is a paramount purchase for anyone who enjoys the wild west, supernatural, or turn-based strategy games.
A Steam code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes