If stories and advertising are to be believed, the Old West was not an easy place to live. Whether you were just trying to make a living or roaming the wilderness, it's apparent that only the toughest and most rugged were able to survive let alone thrive. As a result, numerous games have been set in the West and some have added some supernatural flair to it. In 2015, CreativeForge Games brought forth Hard West and now Ice Code Games is trying to follow it up with Hard West 2. As a posse of characters brought together by a tendency to be outlaws and a desire for revenge, there's quite the long and bloody journey ahead.
While the first Hard West had a decent base for its story, Hard West 2 manages to be even more direct. You take on the role of Gin Carter, a skilled gambler and gunslinger who has gathered a gang of outlaws and outcasts. While trying to pull off a train heist, they unwittingly find themselves aboard a Ghost Train. They confront the demonic conductor Mammon of this ghostly vehicle only to challenge him to a contest and lose. Before too much harm can be done, Gin and his posse scatter.
After putting his gang back together, all of them are driven to find Mammon and shoot him full of holes. A tale of revenge fits well in a western setting and the supernatural angle adds another layer to it.
Though the previous game has a story, the gameplay is so open-ended and free-form that the story had little presence. In the sequel, the story is clear, present, and with characters that are more fully-developed. Rather than gathering random individuals into your posse, these members are fleshed out, distinct, and with weight to who they are and why they do what they do.
Then there's the gameplay mechanics. Like the previous game, the title maintains a turn-based strategy system similar to that seen in the XCOM series. You have to guide your characters around the battlefield to vantage points where they can land hits and stay in cover. Instead of armor, there's a Luck system that gives characters a chance to enhance their shots and avoid fire. Each character also has a list of traits and their own special skill that can affect how fights play out. Cards also return as a main accessory with each one providing a positive effect and different hands unlocking traits.
All of this comes together in a solid blend of RPG and strategy that offers a lot of variety without being overwhelming. What's really satisfying is the Bravado system, which allows you to chain kills between characters making for much faster-paced and enjoyable combat. This also opened up a lot of room for optional objectives that provide nice strategic challenges for a worthwhile reward.
Then there's the overall sense of direction. Rather than having a full map to scour over looking for random events, you actually get to move the posse from place to place. Points of interest sit nicely on the map while also standing out. This also plays into the idea of choices that can affect which characters like you more, what items you can get, and what consequences you receive from making rushed decisions. This adds a little element of strategy to the exploration aspect of it all.
Even the sharpest shooter in the West can be ambushed from out of sight, and there are a few things that have ambushed Hard West 2 in its gameplay. The most notable are the technical issues. While they aren't game-breaking, they are noticeable and do break immersion. The speedup is helpful for going through enemy turns quickly and traveling, but it will speed up and slow down at random which is disruptive. There are also text prompts which fail to be responsive, preventing interaction and even progress.
The other issue is that despite being set in the Hard West, the tone is easier than usual. Unlike in the previous game, units don't die when they reach 0 in combat, minimizing the risk of using aggressive tactics. Though you do get choices during certain events, the negative outcomes never seem to be that bad. This also applies to companion choices where you'll often have to side with a companion on an issue. However, there's no downside to choosing one over the other; it just determines who you want to like you better first.
Hard West 2 Review | Final Thoughts
Hard West 2 is a turn-based strategy game with RPG elements that takes place in the Weird West setting. It's evident that Ice Code Games have studied the first game and have worked hard to improve it. The overall aesthetics are better, there's more focus on story, direction, and characters, the RPG elements are more prevalent, and the combat is faster and more satisfying. However, they've ended up toning down the difficulty in certain areas, and there are some technical issues that still need to be ironed out. Looking beyond to the horizon coming over desert sands, it's worth it to catch the Ghost Train with a dedicated posse and deliver a whole new Hell unto a cocky demon.
TechRaptor's Hard West 2 Review was conducted on PC through Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.
- A more focused story with in-depth characters.
- Faster turn-based combat with more RPG elements and challenges to face.
- More direction and streamlined navigation with a choice system.
- Technical issues which distract and affect certain aspects of gameplay.
- Difficulty has been reduced and lacks a strong risk vs. reward component.