West of Loathing
Developer Asymmetric prICe Us$ 11
Do you have that one, amazing friend who effortlessly puts you at ease and knows how to make you laugh? I do. It’s like she arranges her loungeroom so that guests are naturally filtered towards the comfiest seats, while she delivers hilarious anecdotes en route. West of Loathing employs a similar, welcoming feng shui, right from the menu screen. I knew to casually shoot the bottles lined up for me, before “new game.” I then shot carnival ducks for a while, before shooting my class, from cow puncher, bean slinger and snake oiler. (Fighter, mage, thief.)
I immediately grokked what this experience would be, despite apparently being the only person in the world who never played Asymmetric’s similar MMORPG, Kingdom of Loathing. And, as expected, I loved every moment of silly dialogue, animation and managing stats. Gameplay prioritises challenge, without creating stress, and encourages non-linear problem solving, based on divergent choices for character build. It’s basically a Western-themed version of Quest for Glory. (That looks like Diary of a Wimpy Kid.) And, it’s entirely single-player, but very replayable.
Even at your first location; the family home you are leaving, you’ll learn that every action is meaningful. By combing your bald head, you gain experience. By accidentally walking too close to a cactus, your character will cry out in pain and then, after many such clumsy moments, get the Mostly Scabs perk which grants +5 maximum hit points. Content is locked out from your first conversation and I thoroughly regretted not taking Safecrackin’, even if Foragin’ allowed me to harvest many useful alcoholic drinks from the desert foliage.
Indeed, the tutorial town then locks out potential “pardners.” The town doctor/ drunk, who I chose, is so useful I couldn’t help but wonder what amazing feats might be performed by those I left behind. Killing skeletons and visiting graveyards allowed my pardner to take down even the toughest skeleton boss with one hit, simply because she’s interested in human anatomy. Cows, however, we had to avoid. But with the first narrative gate, structurally, being to raise 5000 meat to blow up a mountain range, the ways you can choose to approach this are varied.
In fact, it would be impossible to detail all strategies, so here are mine. Knowing what my overall goals for progression were, mostly involving gradually moving a train and investigating both spooky and alien mysteries, I explored map locations to see what could be engaged with each day. If, for example, my Moxie were only slightly too low for some task, I could consume an inventory item to raise it temporarily. Brilliantly, if you lose fights, you get angry (and associated buffs) twice, but the third time will progress the action to the next day and reset all of your buffs.
West of Loathing is like an old friend, even for someone who never played Kingdom. Occasional imperfect aspects, like how early combat can get into tedious loops before your abilities are more varied, are offset by how welcome the game makes you feel. My favourite moments included arguing with the narrator over whether I really wanted to search a spittoon for treasure and discovering that my weird, accidental behaviour had unlocked ridiculous perks. Content is organised in a way that makes this a highly replayable and warm experience.