Weird West

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about Weird West for a while now. It’s not that I don’t have a lot to say about it; it’s that I’m struggling to put those thoughts into words. See, Weird West is something that you feel rather than experience on any intellectual level.

I can talk about what the game is. It’s basically a top-down RPG in the style of, say, Wasteland 3, only taking place in an occult-infused Wild West setting. While that gets to the core of what this game is, that doesn’t say anything about how it feels. And therein lies the problem.

Weird West is absolutely dripping with atmosphere. This is immediately clear from the hyper-stylized menu screen and the gunshot sound effects that accompany menu actions. When the narrator starts rambling in that Sam Elliot-esqe drawl and a low synth tone underscores everything, you kind of just settle into the game’s world, like you’re slowly lowering yourself into a warm bath — only that bath is filled with dirt and grime and puss from the last dozen scoundrels who washed themselves here.

Weird West is off-putting and captivating at the same time. This is a world of cannibals and occult rituals and people whose brains have been Frankensteined into pig parts. It’s seedy and unforgiving, but all of it is presented with a cel-shaded look that rounds off some of the rough edges visually. There’s a lot of ugly in this game, but it’s a cartoon ugly rather than an ugly ugly.

Weird West

And this is a game that responds to everything you do. Most video games feel like a standard mattress, where you press into it and it immediately springs back into its previous shape when you withdraw your hand. But Weird West is more like memory foam. Only it’s a memory-foam mattress that was dunked in that dirty bathwater I mentioned earlier.

Have I made my point with that dirty-bathwater analogy by now?

When I first started playing Weird West, I decided to see if I could murder everyone. And it turns out I could — including characters who were important to the story. I started a fresh save to try to play as more of a straight shooter, so I didn’t see how those decisions ultimately played out. But I’m curious to see how the story might progress with main-quest NPCs buried in the dirt.

Weird West - General Store

I did, however, see a lot of the game’s Vendetta feature, where killing one NPC that another NPC is friends with will often cause them to round up a posse and come after you when it’s least convenient for you. You could be in the middle of a battle with Sirens (the overpowered human-eating monster things), and suddenly you’ve got a gang of human enemies popping shots at you from behind a boulder.

But this works in the opposite direction as well. If you make friends with NPCs, they might show up to help you out in a particularly difficult firefight. If that friendly NPC dies, though, they’re gone for good and they will no longer rush to your aid.

The game is split into five “Journies,” and each one of these puts you in the shoes of a new character. I completed the first Journey by rescuing the character’s husband, but I didn’t hunt down the person who captured him (Shelby Cross). When I started the second character, I found a newspaper clipping that talked about how Cross had murdered one of the NPCs I’d befriended in that first story. This made me want to start a new file and hunt down Cross before the rescue mission to see if I can keep my new friend alive (I haven’t attempted this yet).

Weird West

When you kill someone, vultures start to descend on their corpse. You can then kill the vulture and cook and eat it to restore a tiny amount of health. If that body is discovered by enemies, they’ll sound the alarm and go on the offensive, but you can bury bodies to prevent them from being found (and you can dig them back up later if you’re into that). If you’ve not been discovered yet, you can startle horses or chuck items to distract your enemies. Or you can spill barrels of oil or toxic chemicals to make your enemies more flammable or cause them to be poisoned.

When you kill guards in a particular location, then come back later, you’ll find their bodies laid out in a graveyard. This means you can dig up their bodies and loot them, in case you forgot to do that the first time. This also serves as something of a tally system so you can see what your body count looks like.

Weird West

Oh, and if you wipe out an entire town, it might become a ghost town, with packs of monsters moving in.

I think a person’s interest in Weird West will persist so long as they approach it with curiosity. If you keep asking “What happens if I…?” the answers will keep surprising you. If you decide to settle into a combat style, perhaps you really like popping off dudes from afar with your rifle, then it can start to feel a bit repetitive.

Personally, I like to monkey around with game systems and see what sort of gameplay emerges from those experiments. I was still testing and discovering new things when I was 20 hours deep into the game; a lot of other folks would probably be tired of experimenting by that point.

I’m tempted to say that Weird West isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly for me. I adore this game world, even though the malleability of its game systems keeps distracting me from actually accomplishing anything in it. With that said, I think Weird West is one of the best games to come out this year so far. But that, of course, is a matter of taste. This meat has gotten a little discolored in places, and I think someone dipped it in that dirty bathwater too, but it still tastes pretty decent if you cook out the maggots first.

Wait, that analogy is disgusting. I apologize.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for Weird West on Steam, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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