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I have spent almost all of my time in Weird West not looking for my kidnapped husband who is likely to be eaten by terrifying shapeshifting creatures.
That sounds bad. To be fair to me, I didn’t marry him. Heck, I hardly know the guy. Weird West, which is the debut game from WolfEye Studios, is set in an alternate history of 19th century America where these harsh lands are also populated by monsters of all shapes and sizes. The mysterious prologue immerses us in five different stories — a bounty hunter, a werewolf, a prophet, an archer and a pigman.
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Jane Bell is that bounty hunter, though she retired from that line of work to settle down on a squash farm. At the start of the game, she awakens with a searing pain on her neck, and she rushes outside to check on her family. Tragically, her son has been murdered by the vicious Stillwaters and her husband has been harvested to be eaten by the monstrous Sirens that control the gang. I bury the body of my son, dig up my revolver planted below the tree, and set off into the desert for justice.
Albright, the sheriff of the nearby town of Grackle, informs me where one of the Stillwaters’ bases is located. While with Dishonored and Skyrim, two games that Wolfeye Studios says are tangential to Weird West, I like to go for stealth, I inadvertently opted for a gung-ho approach with Jane. Drawing every outlaw to me, which wasn’t the most "by the book" bounty hunting strategy, I picked them off with my revolver and left a trail of shrapnel mines that unfortunate souls stepped into.
Then, as I searched for clues for my missing husband in the mines, I saw that I could cause a fair helping of havoc for an enemy that would be tough to take down by shooting the oil lamp as he patrolled past it. Oil and flame splattered everywhere, and as he fled down the stairs, I kicked a barrel of poison into the fire, sending purple and blue sparks into the air. It nearly killed him, which is a testament to the utter horror that poor NPC endured for thirty seconds.
It turns out that my husband isn’t here with the rest of the victims — he’s been transported elsewhere but the message telling me that is encrypted. I return to Grackle and the relay operator tells me that it will cost me $250 to find out where they’re holding him.
$250?! Do I like my husband that much? I didn’t accommodate for this in my budget because I wanted to save up for a horse. Plus, a husband is so blasé compared to everything else in Weird West.
Melancholy purples, washed out deserts, reds of every shade under the sun, the team took inspiration from old French comic books when creating this world and the contrasts between the shadows and flames pulls you in close. Travelling clears some of the dark smoke that covers the world map and every location is placed on a literal square of parchment with the people and structures scattered across it like a pop-up book. It's a simple stylistic choice, but one that I appreciated a lot.
I took Monte, one of the sheriffs of Grackle, with me on my journey to see the sights of Weird West. We were interrupted by some Stillwater stragglers, which is one of the collection of random events that might occur while on the road, though we made short work of them. If you kill a high-ranking member of a faction, then their lackeys flee and spread the word while they still can. Later, they returned to ambush us and enact their revenge in the cover of nightfall.
Unfortunately for them, Jane and I have something they don’t have. Collecting Nimp relics allows the player to unlock pivotal abilities in combat, and finding Golden Ace of Spades cards improves survivability with perks that are shared across the five separate characters. Nimp relics are scattered here and there whereas I earned one Golden Ace of Spades card from robbing graves for a shady undertaker. At the same time, I collected a cursed statue that held the spirit of a twisted criminal and I agreed that I would destroy it, though it got very upset with me when it heard that.
The abilities and upgrades are a little like others in the same genre, like fanning the hammer to hit an enemy harder, kicking enemies further to give yourself some space, or improving reload times by 10%, so this isn’t where the allure of Weird West lies. It’s in its set ups that are essentially a sequence of dominoes that, if you are so inclined, let you initiate a series of events that make you look like a badass. Yet, there is no impetus to do things this way either.
While I have enjoyed leaving my husband at the mercy of ravenous monsters with no remorse, I must mention that the game has a number of unintentional quirks like characters popping from one place to the next, floating assets, missing encounters, and picking things up can be fiddly with that isometric perspective. Yet, if you’re a fan of classic fantasy CRPGs or working out whether “here be dragons” really does mean dragons, then Weird West comes out on January 11th for PC and consoles.
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