Welcome to the Wild West, but not as you know it.
Launching in January on PC and consoles, Weird West is the first game from WolfEye Studios, formed by the co-creators of Dishonored and Prey. And while it may be very different in many ways, those who love the freedom provided in those games should definitely have it on their radar.
An action RPG played from a top down viewpoint (though you do have a little control of the camera), Weird West places you in the boots of five characters. You’ll take control of each of them piecemeal, finding out what makes them tick as you play through their personal stories, before they’re all brought together for a final decisive chapter.
We’ve been lucky enough to go hands-on with the first of the five characters, a bounty hunter called Jane. She thought she’d hung her guns up for good, but the murder of her son and kidnapping of her husband sees her springing back into action. Digging her old gear up from her backyard, she’s determined to do all she can to save her husband. But she’s aware that it’s a race against time.
Instead of being an open world game, Weird West instead presents players with many smaller environments. They’re not all accessible via the world map from the outset though; you’ll uncover some as you progress the story, while others will be discovered through exploration and delving into side quests. What lies in each area is for you to find out, but the lure of loot is often enough to get you on the road.
There’s a time element to consider in Weird West, too. The game has a day and night cycle and many of the main and side quests you pick up ask that you complete a task within a set amount of time. The question is, are you capable of doing so? Aside from making sure you’re geared up for the task at hand, there’s travel to consider. It might take a full day to reach a destination where someone is in peril. And what if you encounter bandits or coyotes along the way, forcing you into brutal combat?
Like Dishonored and games such as Fallout, Weird West gives you a lot of things to consider, and also gives you a lot of control over your destiny. You may not have created whichever character you’re in control of, but this is still your story to an extent. So, do you kill everyone you meet, or simply knock them out? Play stealthily or go in all-guns-blazing? And it’s not all just about the action. There are a wealth of dialogue options, too, and moral choices.
It’s the little details that really make Weird West stand out from the crowd, as well as the world it takes place in. Enemies have ranks, for example, and if you take out their leader they’ll be less inclined to fight and may even run off. Sometimes killing someone may result in another holding a vendetta against you; who knows when they may strike. And saving someone in a desperate situation may make them a friend for life, perhaps coming to your aid when you need it the most.
And your enemies aren’t just bandits or gunslingers having a bad day – this is the Weird West, after all. As well as dangerous animals such as coyotes, there are a whole host of supernatural forces impacting on the world. In the early hours you’ll have to deal with flesh-eating sirens and strange cultists, for example. It all adds up to make your journey unpredictable, and just that little bit more exciting.
Though Weird West is an action RPG, the RPG elements are rather light. There’s no levelling up, and you can equip a fairly limited range of items. You can, however, find Nimp Relics, items that allow you to learn new skills. Both weapon and personal skills are available, allowing you to develop your characters as you see fit. You can also gain followers who’ll travel with you and assist you in battle, and improve your weapons if you find the required ore.
Playing as Jane using a gamepad – though you can, of course, use a keyboard and mouse on PC as well – we were pleasantly surprised by the movement options available to use. You can crouch behind objects, popping up to shoot and then ducking back down again without any fuss. You can also jump and dodge roll. When it comes to stealth, you can quickly take out enemies if you can sneak up on them, and then pick up and dispose of their bodies to avoid an alarm being raised.
There’s plenty of environmental interaction, too. If there are enemies crowded around a gas lamp, for example, it might be worth shooting it to set them on fire. And barrels of corrosive fluid are fun to kick onto unsuspecting hostiles below. Aiming your guns might be a bit finicky with a controller, but on the whole Weird West is totally enjoyable as an action game, and it’s wonderfully dynamic.
Chances are Weird West won’t have the same level of polish applied to it as a bigger-budget release from Arkane, but it’s obvious that it has just as much love, if not more. It also appears to be deeper and more daring. After playing it for just a handful of hours, it’s clear that this is a game that’s going to have a lot of fans. Ultimately though, the true value of Weird West will only be revealed when we’ve been able to go hands-on with its other four protagonist, and witness the full story that unfolds. Or our story, at least.
Weird West launches 11th January on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Add it to your Steam Wishlist now.