West of Loathing is the spiritual successor–possibly sequel?–to browser-based RPG Kingdom of Loathing. If you’re familiar with Kingdom of Loathing, then you’ll most likely know what to expect. Silly-looking stickmen in a weird yet enchanting take on the Wild West setting; a fun and captivating world full of sharp and absurd writing. If you’re not, don’t let its simplistic art style fool you. West of Loathing is a rich and hilarious game loaded with sharp and endearing comedy and light yet engaging RPG elements that come together wonderfully to form a delightful adventure that oozes charm.
West of Loathing is available on Steam for $10.99.
In many ways, West of Loathing starts off as your typical role-playing adventure. You begin at home, eager and inexperienced, ready to begin your heroic adventures. After being offered the choice between being a magic beanslinger, some sort of snake tamer, and something to do with punching a cow (?), I took a briefcase full of snakes (which my stick-mother told me belonged to my grandmother) and immediately accepted that this was anything but your typical role-playing adventure.
The story of West of Loathing is as suitably silly as its fantasy Wild West setting. A big bad necromancer is bringing cows back from the dead following a magical disaster referred to as The Day The Cows Came Home, and I guess you should probably stop that from happening, right? That’s pretty much the plot, and that’s about as seriously as the game takes it. Along the way you’ll encounter a huge variety of characters, living and dead, happy and sad, drunk and not-drunk.
There are numerous towns you’ll come across in your travels, each of which have their unique predicament. For example, one of the earlier towns you visit has a jail full of empty cells and a handful of wanted posters. Complete each of these side quests and the cells will nicely, and satisfyingly, fill with the hooligans and miscreants you apprehend. Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the game’s relentless humour.
Pretty much everything is a joke in West of Loathing. From the weird and wonderful characters, to the absurd situations you find yourself in, even the descriptions of items you pick up are packed with little jokes and one-liners. It would get annoying if it wasn’t so warm, endearing and endlessly charming. Even when a joke doesn’t quite land, you can’t help but love the game’s relentless silliness.
Adventure and RPG elements
West of Loathing presents itself as an RPG, starting off by offering you a choice between three equally ridiculous classes, but it’s more of an adventure game really. There are certainly enough RPG elements to keep the game fun and interesting if that’s what you’re looking for, but that’s not the focus.
Throughout your journey, you’ll earn EXP for pretty much everything you do. Whether that be winning a fight, completing a quest, or simply picking up horse poop from the floor (someone’s gotta do it, right?) you’ll be rewarded with EXP. This is then spent on your handful of stats, such as the aptly named “Grit” and “Gumption”, most of which affect your combat abilities and level of interactivity with the world.
Skills like lockpicking and safecracking will help you get into more places and loot more stuff, whilst your Hornswogglin’ will enable you to bluff or trick your way past people. There’s a solid level of depth to be found within these systems, and they’re rewarding and engaging to dig into, but they aren’t the focus.
The true focus, and where the game excels, is its weird and wonderful world, brought to life fantastically through its sharp and hilarious writing, fun and original characters, and its bizarre blend of fantasy and Western fiction. You could spend hours talking to each and everyone you come across and they will still manage to consistently surprise you. As I entered a new town and took my first step into their rough and greasy saloon I had no idea what to expect, and I was almost always impressed and entertained.
There’s a huge amount of things to do, and you pick up a pretty hefty number of side quests when exploring a town. Fun and varied as they are, it can be a little difficult to keep track of them all at once. You can ask your pardner for tips, and they’ll point you towards a side quest, but aside from that there’s no real quest tracker. The game would benefit from a quest log of sorts, even if it was just a rudimentary one.
The game’s combat is simple yet pretty fun. A pretty basic turn-based affair, its mechanical simplicity is backed up nicely by the game’s array of stats, weapons, armour and items. During your adventures, you’ll come across a myriad of silly–and occasionally quite powerful–weapons, both melee and ranged, that range from sharp six-shooters to crowbars. There’s also a huge variety in the bits and bobs you can strap to yourself and call armour.
Items from your inventory can also be used, sometimes with an interesting dilemma. This piece of dynamite sure would make short work of these skeletons but what if you need it for a quest right after the fight? Many of the items you pick up, at least the ones that can be used in combat, also serve a purpose outside of combat and can often be used to solve puzzles or access obscured items or areas. The game does a good job of highlighting when an item has a use outside of combat, though.
Alongside your own deadly arsenal, you also have the option of travelling with a companion–or rather, a “pardner”. You have the option to go solo, if you wish, which the game essentially treats as a hard mode. If you wish to travel with a pardner, you’ll be accompanied by one of several characters (depending on your choice). These characters will aid you in combat, bringing their own unique skillset and leveling up as you and growing stronger, but also aiding you in your various quests. They’ll also hang around and serve as a handy hint system, guiding you on your way if and when you need it. They add a nice layer of interactivity and pepper the world with even more charm.
Graphics and Sound
There really isn’t much to say about the visual style of West of Loathing. Take a look at one screenshot and you know exactly what you’re getting. That’s not to say it’s bad per se; it matches the game’s silly and irreverent humour and they certainly have a lot fun with it, but it’s undeniably simple. Thankfully, then, the game’s fantastic soundtrack and wonderful sound design do an excellent job of propping up an art style that could come off as bland and uninteresting.
The varied and jaunty soundtrack brings a fantastical element to the colourless world, occasionally adding to the absurdity and hilarity at times. The game’s overall sound design, meanwhile, is thoroughly excellent. From the popping and cartoonish gun sounds to the happy little jingle rewarded at victory that never fails to be satisfying, West of Loathing is a pleasure on the ears, and a fine example of how sound design can prop up a simple or potentially underwhelming art style.
West of Loathing is a fun, quirky and wonderfully unique role-playing adventure. Its RPG elements may be quite basic, but there’s more than enough to keep you satisfied and entertained. The main draw, however, is easily the game’s warm, rich and hilarious writing. West of Loathing is packed with charming comedy, weird, wacky and endearing. It’s hard not to be enraptured by the incredible charm that West of Loathing presents, and its sharp and jaunty presentation further aids the fun and silly atmosphere of the game.
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