Date: November 1, 2021
When I was a kid, I thought cowboys were the coolest thing ever. Older but only slightly more mature, I now think incomprehensible eldritch horror is the coolest thing ever. So, I was excited when I got a chance to check out Wolfeye Studio‘s upcoming Weird West, which combines two of my favorite storytelling genres in one action RPG/immersive sim (creating a new genre that shall henceforth be known as “creepy cowboy”). Releasing January 11th of 2022, Wolfeye Studio’s freshman title sees you guiding a diverse cast of characters through an open world of dusty towns, snake-infested deserts, and abandoned mines turned ritual sites as you unravel the dark secrets of this alternate-reality West.
Wolfeye Studios was founded by Raphaël Colantonio and Julien Roby, the former being the man best known as the founder of Arkane Studios and one of the creative directors of Dishonored. Colantonio was also the creative director on Prey; anyone familiar with both titles should already be seeing a trend here, and you’ll be happy to know that it continues in Weird West.
If you haven’t played any of Colantonio’s previous games, he’s super into making action RPGs that also function as simulations. In both Prey and Dishonored, most obstacles in the game have multiple ways around (or through) them, the other characters in the game have their own routines, and your actions have ramifications beyond the current mission. You can pick up most objects, whether to sell them for junk or to throw them as a distraction, and you can create traps with things like water or oil. These mechanics create a real sense of immersion, since you’ll rarely find yourself unable to do something “because it’s a game” — if you can come up with an idea, you can usually pull it off.
This freedom became immediately apparent to me within my first 60 seconds of playing Weird West, in which I accidentally climbed on top of the table in the room I spawned in, and then set myself on fire with a nearby lamp. I continued testing vertical traversal and object interaction throughout my time in the preview; I’m happy to report that if it looks like you could climb it, or looks like you could pick it up, you probably can. This freedom of interaction allows for thoughtful and creative approaches to combat encounters.
Many quests also offer a fair degree of flexibility in solutions. One early mission required getting some info from a sleazy politician, which could be accomplished either by doing a favor for them (which in turn could be done a few ways) or by finding the info somewhere in his estate. Many missions appear to be completeable exclusively by stealth — though I’m a guns blazing kind of guy and didn’t test this much — and it’s often the case that careful looting or pickpocketing will net you a safer/sneakier path to your objective.
You’ll make your way to these missions by traveling on a world map, which has a nice hand-drawn aesthetic and encourages exploration; the Weird West is dotted with towns, mines, and other places of interest. You can move freely on the map, though every so often you’ll experience random encounters, which vary depending on location and what factions you’ve pissed off recently. Some of these encounters entail combat, while others include bits of narrative or merchant NPCs, who you can choose to trade with or simply rob.
Not only can you rob NPCs out in the desert, but there’s an Elder Scrolls level of theft and town-murder available to players who are into that sort of thing. Towns can even become abandoned, and may repopulate over time with people — or something else (I didn’t get a chance to see this in my preview, but “something else” sure sounds ominous, don’t it?).
The game certainly has a style all its own. Weird West’s hand-drawn textures are vibrant while remaining easy to parse, and there’s decent variety in setting for a game that takes place in the desert. Dark Fantasy Wild West also isn’t a genre I feel like I’ve seen much of yet, and I think the two styles work quite well together. The sound design is suitably eerie, the dialogue decent, and the taste I got of the story left me eager to see more.
I’m particularly curious to see how the various chapters all relate to each other. The preview I played only included the Bounty Hunter’s story, but there’s also the monstrous Pigman, the bow-wielding Protector, a Werewolf, and the Oneirist (a kind of seer). You’ll end up playing as each of these protagonists, and their stories will all intersect in some way. I’m also interested in the way the passage of time is utilized throughout the game. In the preview, there were Bounty missions you could pick up that had to be completed in a limited amount of time. This necessitates some interesting decision-making around traveling and sleeping off injuries, and also adds to the sense of being in a living, breathing world.
As with any RPG worth its salt, you’ll pick up a ton of loot in Weird West, and then sell it in town to buy weapons, supplies, and even a horse (which acts as both an inventory expansion and makes traversing the map quicker). You can also find items that allow you to purchase perks or abilities, but the options the Gunslinger got weren’t very interesting. That being said, she’s clearly the most generic of the 5 playable characters, so presumably the other protagonists have more exciting upgrades available to them.
If I had to point to one thing I didn’t like in Weird West, it would be the controls. I tried mouse+keyboard and a PS4 controller, and found myself frustrated with both. The controls were clearly designed while keeping both input options in mind, and it feels like they managed to find a system that doesn’t work that great for either. Aiming feels kind of clunky, and sometimes inputs would overlap and be unable to press one button while holding another. You also are frequently required to hold down an input instead of tapping, which is a real pet peeve for me as a PC-only player.
Despite the somewhat weak controls, once I learned how to use them, I found combat in Weird West to be respectably fun (though it’s definitely an RPG/Sim first, action game second). The cover system works well, there’s a dodge roll that feels useful but not mandatory, and although the weapons themselves are stock-standard, the variety of approaches to combat more than makes up for it. Stealth feels fair and well balanced, and enemies do a decent job using cover and keeping the pressure on you. There’s an action points resource you spend to do slo-mo dives and cast spells, and unlike many similar titles, your abilities feel like one more tool, rather than an OP go-to in any situation.
The build I played felt a little rough around the edges, but overall I was very impressed with Weird West. It’s a game with clear design goals, and from what I saw I think Wolfeye is well on their way to reaching them. If you think so too, you can pre-order Weird West now and secure yourself a horse named Calamity.
Did you think also think Prey was awesome, but maybe a little too scary? Do you think Raphaël Colantonio and Julien Roby have another winner in Weird West? Let us know in the comments.