Weird West is one of the most absorbing experiences I've had this year so far. Wolfeye Studios has managed to push the immersive sim to new depths while mixing together complex interweaving stories, an imaginative supernatural take on the pioneering wild west frontier, as well as rewarding level and quest design. While there are complaints to be had at certain character and story elements, as well as some unpredictable combat, this is a stellar start to this studio and one of the first must-play games of 2022.
Have Gun Will Travel
The big idea behind Weird West is that it doesn't have a singular major storyline, but five. You start the game as a retired bounty hunter forced to strap her guns back on after the death of her child and the kidnapping of her husband. But once that storyline concludes, your perspective shifts to another character and their own unique challenges. The Pigman is a victim of a horrendous experiment tracking down the ones responsible. The Protector uncovers the gruesome truth behind a mythical gold mine. The Werewolf attempts to raise an army to wipe out a coven of witches. Finally, there is The Oneirist, a cultist coming to terms with a vision of the end of the world.
This entire story structure is brilliant. First, it serves as an introduction to Weird West's dark colonialist fantasy universe. In many ways, it is not dissimilar to the world of Dishonored: a familiar setting corrupted or changed by the introduction dark magic and existential horror. But while the island of Dunwall was a pastiche of Victorian squalor and penny dreadful stories, the lands here are tinged with the gritty survival of early settlers, southern gothic sensibilities, Appalachian folk horror, and a tinge of new age occultism.
Weird West is one of those rare experiences that lets you see the consequences of your actions in more than just a cutscene. Did you reap bloody vengeance on the mad scientist in the Pigman journey but let their experiments roam free? Congratulations, you now have hordes of pigpeople to worry about in the rest of the journeys going forward.
These overlapping stories manage to showcase all of the different elements of this world both efficiently and slowly. The Bounty Hunter story is a straightforward revenge tale that many Western stories have told in the past; The Searchers but with cannibalistic ghouls. The Pigman story leans more into the grotesque with body horror and steampunk mad science. The Protector story steps into overt supernatural elements like speaking with spirits and cursed artifacts. By the time the credits roll on your first playthrough, you'll understand this world on a fundamental level and it will feel completely natural.
This does lead to some questionable subject matter, but Weird West does take measures to address them. First and foremost, the entire Protector storyline is mired heavily in story tropes and ideas from indigenous peoples, some of which can be potentially viewed as problematic. But Wolfeye does preface this entire story chapter with a brief message citing their inspirations as well as the measures they took to not directly and explicitly use elements tied to certain spiritual beliefs. While I am not qualified to say whether or not the studio succeeded in their sensitivity, an effort was made nonetheless.
Trailblazing and Setting Blazes
These separate storylines also showcase the depth of Weird West's gameplay. While Wolfeye Studios have emphasized the complex immersive sim elements of the game, a lot of the structure and feel harkens back to classic Black Isle CRPGs or the classic Fallout titles. This ranges from the inventory management menus to the open-ended level design. Something as simple as “go to this town and get this item from this building” can be handled in a number of ways including sneaking in under the cover of night, breaking in through a window and running out, leaping down a chimney like Santa Claus (yes, really) or just killing everyone in the town.
When you are able to play around with this systemic playground Weird West genuinely comes alive. Being able to pick up an armchair and use it to brace a door so a patrol couldn't follow me into a basement gave me the same kind of thrill as shooting an oil lantern in a mine over a minecart full of TNT to reduce a room full of outlaws into giblets. This is to say nothing of the insane elemental chain reactions that come from the tiniest spark. For example, I was told to burn down a library since it was full of some eldritch fungus. Without question, I threw some molotovs at this fungus...only to find out both it and the spores they produced were highly flammable. Two seconds and a flash of flame later, I reloaded my save.
while Weird West's interlocking reactive systems are impressive, it can feel downright chaotic in a straight up gunfight. More times than I can count explosions of various elements erupted within seconds with characters using special attacks and buffs. It is all of the complexity and spatial reasoning of an isometric tactics game all playing out in mind melting real time, and it can be overwhelming.
What helps build on this foundation are two special resources. The first are Nimp Relics, which give your characters special supernatural powers. These include abilities tied to certain weapons like being able to shoot a silent shot from a rifle or making your revolver shots electric, to character specific abilities like the Werewolf being able to put down pools of healing or the Pigman being immune to gunfire for a few seconds. The second are Golden Ace of Spades cards which give minor ongoing benefits like bonus damage with explosives or being able to jump higher. But while Nimp Relics are tied to whatever character you're playing at the time, Golden Ace of Spade bonuses are shared across all characters in a playthrough.
In fact, the broken-up story structure leads to some of the best complications. Weird West is one of those rare experiences that lets you see the consequences of your actions in more than just a cutscene. Did you reap bloody vengeance on the mad scientist in the Pigman journey but let their experiments roam free? Congratulations, you now have hordes of pig people to worry about in the rest of the journeys going forward. Did you let a certain character escape on some moral ground? There's a good chance they will return in some capacity. In fact, one of the bigger surprises in the game is that when you control different characters, you can actually recruit the people you were playing as before. They'll even retain the same armor, weapons, and inventory items they had when their story ended. Weird West's biggest hat trick is remembering everything you've said and done with such accuracy and it never gets old.
One, Two, Three Draw!
If there are a few spots where Weird West's gameplay does feel underwhelming, it is in the combat and traversal. During my first playthrough, I mostly stuck to sneaking around and taking calculated shots with my silenced rifle and bow, with a direct fight being a last resort. This is because while Weird West's interlocking reactive systems are impressive, it can feel downright chaotic in a straight-up gunfight. More times than I can count explosions of various elements erupted within seconds with characters using special attacks and buffs. It is all of the complexity and spatial reasoning of an isometric tactics game all playing out in mind-melting real-time, and it can be overwhelming.
What doesn't help is the top-down isometric perspective. It makes aiming a weapon tricky at best, which is not helped by any kind of aim assist or lock-on. The closest tool that game gives you to take your time and catch your breath is a John Woo style slow-mo leap, but it is of limited use.
Finally, while Weird West's worldbuilding is stellar and its level design is genuinely brilliant, it doesn't exactly endear itself when it comes to the human element. There were multiple times where I reloaded a prior save state due to some dumb mistake on my part, only to notice that support characters speaking to me had completely different names and faces. It was an immersion-shattering moment because, unless they were key to the plot, people in this game were just mere set dressing for the various venues.
Weird West Review | Final Thoughts
While the human cast can feel interchangeable and its gun battles veer too far into overwhelming chaos, I still highly recommend Weird West. Wolfeye Studios have created a unique occult western world packed with history, texture, and delight, all bolstered by some impressive immersive sim elements that make it all infectiously replayable. Check it out, if you can.
TechRaptor's Weird West review was conducted on PlayStation 5 with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox One.
- Fantastic Worldbuilding
- Reactive Dynamic Immersive Sim Elements
- Complex Overlapping Storylines
- Bland Interchangeable Human Cast
- Unpredictable, Chaotic Gunplay