Weird West takes on a lot as the debut title from developers Wolfeye Studios. The game is an isometric twin-stick shooter, action RPG built above immersive sim mechanics. Some of the developers were the original founders of Arkane Studios and it shows. Arkane is renowned for its immersive sim titles and that pedigree is found within Weird West. Despite the game’s jack of all trades appearance, it is the master of most.
Welcome to the Weird West
Weird West reimagines the traditional Wild West as we know it. It incorporates elements of dark fantasy by pitting magical creatures side-by-side with traditional Wild West tropes such as lawmen and gunslingers fighting it out in a new frontier.
In Weird West, players will play as five distinct characters where each has their own journey (chapter). Each character represents a different faction from the game’s universe. Although all of the characters have different backgrounds, they are intertwined by destiny through a mysterious marking.
Every protagonist has a specific motivation and conflict they are going through. For instance, Cl’erns Qui’g the Pigman is haunted by his past. He can either pursue revenge or ask for forgiveness. This dilemma was constantly threaded throughout his journey. Along the way, players will have to make impactful choices that will eventually lead up to a climactic finale.
These internalized conflicts really resonated and the choices you made for each character also tied into the intertwined narrative nicely. The story was well realized and linked well between the diverse cast of intertwined protagonists. In fact, these choices are ever-present throughout Weird West and are one of the game’s many strong points.
Weird West’s Impressive Immersive Sim Mechanics
Immersive sim is a term that is thrown a lot in the gaming world. But to me, it invokes certain characteristics. First and foremost is the level of interactivity in the game world. Second, immersive sims allow players to decide how they want to play the game. Usually, this involves a combination of going in gun-blazing, stealth approach, or silver tonguing your way out of conflict. Third, your choices have true consequences. Weird West does all of these in spades.
Players can interact with just about anything in the game world. You can mine ore veins if you have a pickaxe or dig up graves to loot corpses if that is your preference. Players can even puncture cacti and drink its water to recover health. You can pickpocket characters and even pat horses. The amount things you can interact with seem almost endless and I absolutely loved this aspect of the game. It truly made the world feel alive and dynamic.
Weird West does a great job of laying out gameplay parameters for players. There are plenty of options if you prefer going in stealthily. Players can use a bow and arrow, abilities to silence their rifle, knock out enemies and hide in foliage to maintain a stealthy demeanor. This suited my play style wherein, I liked to remain undetected for as long as I can. If that plan failed, shooting first and asking questions later always worked out well for me. However, the last immersive sim characteristic is where Weird West truly shines.
Player Agency and Consequences
Consequences actually mean something in this game. For instance, if you select a threatening dialogue choice early on during a conversation with an NPC, then they could withdraw important answers. But if you play it cool, you might get some useful intel. Another example is after completing multiple bounties on the same factions will result in vendettas. These vendettas will cause the faction to randomly attack you when you least expect it. The reverse can also happen.
If you save an imprisoned NPC, they can and will return the favor. This usually comes in the form of them randomly showing up to help you in a fight when things get heated. Also, it is worth noting that vendettas and random people you saved do carry over to the other playable characters. For instance, if you recruit the previous character in your posse then their vendettas and helpful characters will also apply to you as well. It is an interesting mechanic that stood out to me and I loved these random encounters, despite the vendettas proving to be a nuisance at times.
In Weird West, the game features a point-to-point travel system. Along the way, players can be interrupted by attacks by vengeful bandits and creatures, running into merchants, and strange mystical figures that tie into the game’s narrative. This system works well and complements the game’s immersive sim mechanics. I can’t help but feel that developers Wolfeye Studios absolutely nailed the immersive sim aspects of Weird West. The way the world reacts to your choices and actions is immense and truly satisfying.
Weird West sports a cel-shaded graphic style that works well. It gives the game a comic book look, and it complements the overall western dark fantasy atmosphere vibes the game is giving off. Character models looked decent for the most part, but are not particularly spectacular. Because the game has an isometric view, you are not afforded too many details on the different parts of the game world, even if you zoom in all the way. Despite this, the game has a consistent aesthetic. The same applies to the environment.
The western setting does place some limits on the scenery. Although Weird West does enough to differentiate the different biomes (desert, caves, mines, swamps), they do become repetitive quickly. Eventually, the environments become indistinguishable from one another during my time with the game. But there were some locations that stood out.
Some of the areas such as cultist hideouts and decrepit basements had walls filled with incessant scribbles. These writings stood out quite a bit and were consistent with the dark fantasy theme that Weird West is going for. But again, after seeing it a few times, I became desensitized to it.
I do enjoy twin-stick shooters. Their simplistic shooting mechanics reverberate well with me. Luckily, Weird West did not disappoint in this department. Gunplay was fun and satisfying. Landing shots on unaware enemies never got old. For the most part, the game controls were smooth. I never felt hindered when it came to movement or shooting. However, like any other game that employs twin-stick mechanics, long-range attacks can be tricky to line up, but that is a flaw that is pervasive across most twin-stick shooters. Fortunately, Weird West features a bullet-time mechanic allowing you to slow down time to help you aim your shots. It was a fun feature that brought back memories of the Max Payne franchise.
I loved the intuitive reticle and line when aiming with weapons. The line gives provides you with useful information. For instance, the reticle line will blink and turn orange if your shot is blocked. This is extremely useful if you decide to approach a situation stealthily. These subtle touches are the kinds of quality-of-life systems that elevate a game from good to great.
At times, melee combat can become hectic when engaging multiple enemies, as you have to move and aim in the direction of your attack. Overall, the game is not challenging, albeit for the higher-tiered enemies that are more bullet sponges than difficult. But there are tools at your disposal to deal with these kinds of threats.
Abilities & Perks System
The ability system expands out to both weapons and characters. Drawing your weapon (holding LT/L2) will result in activating weapon-type specific abilities. some of my favorites were the Lightning Rounds for the revolver and Sentry Silencer for rifles which is useful if you decide to prioritize stealth. Also, the shotgun’s ability to negate reloads for a few seconds really came in handy when I needed to clear out powerful enemies around me.
Additionally, each character also had 4 unique abilities they can activate. Players can activate these abilities when they do not have a weapon drawn. For instance, the Native American, Across Rivers, can summon a bear spirit that will maul your enemies. While Cl’erns Qui’g the Pigman spews acid on the floor that’ll damage incoming enemies.
There have been some significant UI updates since the preview build we saw last year. The finger gymnastics that were previously required to activate the abilities have been replaced with a trigger pull and a button press.
I felt the abilities system was well thought out for the most part. However, weapon unlocks do not carry over between characters. I felt it was a bit annoying to unlock some of the same weapon abilities whenever I started a new character. But luckily, Nimp Relics (ability upgrade points) are easily attainable and was not more than a minor inconvenience.
Lackluster Loot & Leveling
There are 5 main weapon types: Revolvers, rifles, shotguns, melee, and a bow. Each weapon has different tiers, which in turn plays a part in increasing the character’s level (as well as the abilities you’ve unlocked for the character). However, the level system is not very intuitive and is not properly explained.
In addition, the loot for the most part is underwhelming. The different tier levels could have incorporated additional buffs or status effects to help differentiate between tier levels. But instead, the game opted for these options through abilities. It felt like it was a missed opportunity. Also, players can upgrade their weapons to different tier levels via the blacksmith forge. Though itis quite expensive to do so because finding the materials to upgrade your weapons are quite scarce.
Solid Performance and Frustrating AI
On the performance side of things, Weird West performed admirably. I did not experience any noticeable frame drops or stutters on my Xbox Series X. My entire playthrough was buttery smooth. Though I have to admit, I do have a TV with VRR. So, perhaps the technology is doing some behind-the-scenes magic that I am not aware of, but I can only report on my experience. However, not everything was peachy when it came to the technical side of the Weird West.
In one instance, I loaded into one of Weird West’s main hub towns. But for some reason, the textures did not load in. As expected, everything looked terribly drab and washed out. Additionally, the game’s AI worked against the game as well.
Sometimes when a vendetta against you and your posse occurs in a town, all hell can break loose. If an enemy starts shooting at you, your posse will immediately start firing back. However, they will likely hit a civilian in the process and thus the entire town will turn against you. This happened to me several times and it was frustrating when I just wanted to sell some loot in town but ended up public menace number one. I had to reload my save files several times or just avoid a certain part of town where I knew enemies would open fire.
The other glitches and bugs were not as frustrating but were actually kind of funny. For instance, if you pick up slim items like a candlestick holder, the item would float between your hands. Sometimes, when you are indoors, the shadows on the walls would flicker if you moved the camera around. But again, these issues do not hinder the experience.
Final Thoughts on Weird West
Weird West is a strong debut for Wolfeye Studios. A lot of time and consideration went into crafting a fascinating setting and intertwined narrative. The game’s immersive sim mechanics are deep and truly reward player agency. The twin-stick combat works well enough as do the perks and abilities systems. Though the loot and leveling system were both underwhelming and the AI can act up at times. The cel-shaded graphics, while not groundbreaking, suit the aesthetics the game is going for and remain consistent all around. All in all, Weird West continues Devolver Digital’s strong pedigree of indie titles. Do not miss out on this wonderfully weird title.
*Note a game copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.