Weird West is an expansive action RPG whose superb world building is let down by some disappointing design. Our review…
What do we look for in an open world? The freedom to roam unshackled by the demands of linear narrative? A similar sense of scale to the one early European settlers presumably felt when first setting eyes upon the vastness of the North American expanse? Those wondrous moments when you find something unexpected at an unmarked corner of the map? Weird West provides all of those, that is until humdrum mission design and lacklustre combat mechanics cloud its sheen like a sheriff’s badge coated by desert dust.
The drastic perspective shifts of its episodic structure and the quality of the prose that fleshes out its unwilling protagonists’ back stories – as well as the overarching narrative that links them in a single, apocalyptic destiny – help retain interest for a while. Taking the role of five different characters, including a bounty-hunter, a werewolf, and a cultist, you can pursue their individual agendas through a series of vintage genre locations (the local despot’s hacienda; the weather-beaten mountain quarry; the ghost town) while unravelling the mystery that unites them. In a premise strongly reminiscent of legendary 1989 RPG Curse of the Azure Bonds, each of your charges embarks on their adventure after discovering a series of glowing marks on their necks, and coming to an unsettling realisation: their thoughts and actions are now controlled by someone else.
For a couple of chapters it remains a fascinating enigma, elevated by WolfEye’s atmospheric transformation of the American West into a haunted wasteland where a hag encountered in the middle of a bog will spout cryptic clues about your previous lives, and shipments of human captives are carted across the plains to be consumed by a cannibalistic sect.
For all of its memorable sights and personalities however, combat remains the primary mode of engagement with Weird West’s world, and its flaws are, accordingly, woven into the fabric of the overall experience. Occupying an uneasy midpoint between Desperados III’s meticulously choreographed violence and the button-spamming carnage of Diablo, a satisfying heft and variety of tactical approaches paint a positive first impression. Solo infiltration via stealth, forming a posse of hired guns for an all-out assault, and utilising the environment to your advantage are all valid ways of tackling its numerous skirmish scenarios.
But, as soon as you acquire some decent upgrades for your arsenal and invest a couple of skill points in the right perks, there’s no scenario the game throws at you that can’t be overcome by a shotgun blast in the face. The overwhelming efficacy of your basic offensive options means that the quartet of individual skills that differentiate each character will languish unused, while the otherwise uninspiring loot offers little incentive to become embroiled with the identikit side quests, mostly boiling down to three or four basic templates. An open world’s success is arguably measured by how well it encourages you to stray off the beaten path. Despite an intriguing start, Weird West eventually only ever makes you gallop through to its conclusion.
Weird West director Raphaël Colantonio and vocalist Ava Gore, collectively known as Weird Wolves, have concocted the perfect musical accompaniment for the game’s pulpy, eerie vibes. The soundtrack is all the more impressive for its eclectic range, from gloomy Americana to dark ambient.