The minute I saw the announcement trailer for Weird West, I knew I was in for a treat. A supernatural fantasy immersive sim set in an alternate version of the wild west frontier got my attention immediately. It also helped that the developer, Wolfeye Studios, were made of the creative minds behind Dishonored, one of my favorite modern videogame IP.
Thanks to Wolfeye and publisher Devolver Digital, I was able to sit down and play a bit of Weird West. Officially it was the first five hours of the game and the first of five stories that will be told in this world. While the build I played contained a lot of what I loved from Dishonored, there are a few areas where it can use a bit of spit and polish.
Have Gun Will Travel
The beginning of this preview build started with a bang. I played as the housewife living a quiet existence in a house in the middle of nowhere. This didn't last too long as a gang of criminals showed up, killed the children, and captured the husband. Thanks to some rich and eloquent narration, I was told that I had to “dig up the life I buried long ago” in order to seek justice for myself. Five minutes later, I was digging up a gun and outfit from a shallow grave near an old tree and riding into town for answers. If you're familiar with any old Western stories, this is a shocking but effective cold open.
But, since this is Weird West, things got appropriately weird real fast. I traveled across the world map to a small down, spoke with the sheriff, got some leads, tracked down outlaws, got into some shoot outs, then encountered a group of mysterious individuals who could turn into inhuman monsters, was handed a mysterious box by a witch who told me not to open it under any circumstances, talked with some ghosts, and barely survived fighting off an ambush by werewolves.
A lot of this is due to Weird West's structure. Broadly speaking, it's an action RPG with immersive sim elements. There's a world map with points of interest. While traveling from place to place you can stumble across random encounters. Combat is real-time with an emphasis on cover-based gunfights. This is spiced up by stealth elements where you take into account visibility, lighting, and sound to sneak up on opponents for a quick takedown, as well as supernatural powers and abilities you can pick up along the way.
Fortune is Here If You Survive
A lot of what I loved about Dishonored is present here. The supernatural elements are steeped in creepy Southern Gothic imagery. Shrines made of bones topped with cow skulls. Outlaws dressed like scarecrows with esoteric symbols marked on their vests and boots. Long stretches of desert punctuated by things out of place like a painter's canvas. In many ways, Weird West feels like a horror-themed album cover come to life.
In addition, the immersive sim elements have led to creative solutions to problems. This started with things like using rope from my inventory to explore an abandoned well and escalated to electrocuting enemies during a thunderstorm to shooting out oil lanterns against pursuers covered in poison (and highly flammable) gas. It doesn't exactly hit the elemental density as something like Divinity: Original Sin 2, but it's a great start.
One of the coolest additions is a reputation system and how helping people rewards you. In addition to recruiting allies into your own posse, the more you spare or help people along the way increases your reputation. The higher it is, the more likely a character who owes you their lives will show up during a gunfight and help you out. It's Weird West's way of rewarding you for not being a complete sociopath at every turn while still reinforcing the setting's nasty action-focused tone.
Part of these creative solutions is because of much more resource scarcity than I was expecting. Every single gun battle I caught myself doing an ammo count and trying to make each shot matter. Not to mention it helped me take stock of the various powers I had unlocked. Like the studio's prior work there are special items, in Weird West's case Nimp Relics, which can be spent on getting supernatural powers. Some of these are unique ones like being able to kick interactable objects really far, or special abilities tied to your weapons of choice. My powers of choice were creating a shrapnel mine and placing them at strategic choke points. Accompanying that, I had an ability that let me keep firing my shotgun in quick succession. Considering it was a basic double-barrelled weapon, this was a big deal.
But what kept my enthusiasm for Weird West firmly at arm's length were some issues I had with the build I was playing, big and small. While the level and scenario design were open-ended, giving plenty of paths and options for both stealthy and assault approaches, the enemy AI wasn't completely there. For every instance of standard video game jank, like guards giving up too quickly after being on alert, there were moments where enemies instantly knew where I was, and immediately called every single one of their buddies to turn me into chunky salsa.
In addition, there's a vendetta system where if an enemy escapes, there's a chance they'll get a posse together to hunt you down. When I went back to town to do some weapon and armor upgrades I was jumped by one of these vendetta gangs. After taking out the gang I was immediately chased out of town for defending myself. After being told I was wanted for murder in that town I just rolled my eyes and reloaded my last save.
This is not meant to discredit Weird West in the slightest. Refining such dense elements in conditions in an immersive is a lot harder than it seems, and with the game's release just a few short months away, there's always a chance for improvement.
All in all, I see plenty of potential in Weird West. I love the juxtaposition of familiar Western tropes through a twisted unnatural lens. I love how the persistent nature of the world makes me feel clever in how I use it. I love my glimpses at the worldbuilding through bits of dialogue and important characters. But as a technical experience, there are a few bugs to work out.
TechRaptor previewed Weird West on Steam with a code provided by the publisher. The game is set for release on January 11th, 2022.