West of Loathing

PCPOWERPLAY - - Indies -

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.

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