It was back in 2019 that Arkane co-founder and former president Raphael Colantonio and executive producer Julien Roby ventured out to form a new indie developer in the form of WolfEye Studios. A little over two years later, Weird West is quite the first project from WolfEye. This action RPG follows the quests of five different individuals in an American West full of zombies, werewolves, and dark magic, and while its functionality sometimes leaves something to be desired, its choices, progression, and aesthetic are quite solid.
A wild and creepy frontier
Weird West is built like an anthology of individual adventures. They are in order and characters throughout the land reappear based on what happened to them, but it follows the stories of five different characters as they attempt to survive in a Wild West where monsters, witches, and occult magic are real.
Weird West makes me think of games like SaGa Frontier with how distinct the characters and their stories are, but also in how they interconnect. You don’t get to choose which character you play, instead playing their journeys in a set order, and each is an enjoyably different romp. You start with a former bounty hunter whose husband is kidnapped by a gang selling humans to monsters as live cattle. Down the line, you take on the role of a person who gets turned into a grotesque half-pig, half-human and loses their memory in the process, and later yet you’ll play a Native American “protector” chasing a malicious spirit of greed that’s turning humans into violent maniacs, just to name a few.
Each character journey in Weird West contains a number of key choices that have major effects on further adventures. Did you help a wealthy land baron in the bounty hunter story? That’s going to change quite a few things when that land baron’s property comes up again later in the protector’s story. As the pigman, you might just go track down the bounty hunter to bring them along on your new journey after their leg of the story is done. It’s really cool seeing the effects of your choices and even bringing characters along from an outside perspective once you’ve moved on from them. That doesn’t even include all the side stories in Weird West. It features a huge map full of landmarks to discover and explore, each hiding their own secrets, not to mention random encounters that often feature opportunities for riches or ruin.
The atmosphere of occult is well woven into Weird West, too. Whether you’re playing as a regular human or something more fantastical, the journeys truly do take you into the depths of the occult and macabre. It's all guided by a soundtrack that plays to your gameplay, giving some riveting intensity when you get into a shootout and leaning more into the slow guitar and ethereal choirs when you’re playing it stealthy.
Pack for a long ride
In terms of gameplay, Weird West is mostly an action RPG. Each character you play has access to five weapon types including revolvers, shotguns, rifles, bows, and melee weapons. There are also throwables like dynamite, molotov cocktails, and electric “Thunder in a Bottle,” as well as amulets for boosting your abilities. However, perhaps more interesting is that you don’t “level up” in Weird West. Instead, it incentivizes you to explore high and low in search of Nimp Relics and Golden Ace of Spade cards.
The Nimp Relics allow you to unlock skills associated with your current character, such as a shrapnel mine for the bounty hunter or a bull rush for the pigman, as well as weapon class skills. The Golden Aces allow you to unlock skills that carry onto all five characters such as more health and better damage to unaware targets. In both cases, it rewards checking into every barrel and box in every corner of your journeys. You never know when you might come across that stray Ace or Relic to boost your abilities. I enjoyed it quite thoroughly in lieu of a traditional level-up system, although it’s worth noting that Golden Aces and Nimp Relics don’t carry between characters and you lose them if you don’t use them before a character’s chapter closes, which is a bit of a bummer when you don’t have enough to round out an Ace ability before a chapter ends.
So, what comes of these abilities? Well, much of Wild West plays out as an isometric action RPG shooter. Whatever you have equipped, you can ready and aim with one button and then fire with another. There’s even a cursor system to line up your shots on foes or get an idea of obstructions in your way. I found the bounty hunter was well-rounded between pistols, rifles, and shotguns, whereas I favored using melee and shotguns with the pigman. There’s even a dodge that slows down time when you’re aiming to both avoid attacks and put out some hefty damage in a pinch. That said, I found that sometimes the game seemed to have some issues with aiming at targets at different elevations. There’s plenty of times I thought I was aiming at an enemy only to hit an overhead oil lamp and inform enemies of my presence while lighting my posse on fire. Whoops.
To that end, Weird West is a game that incentivizes saving fast and frequently. There’s just so much that can go wrong and right depending on how you play. I was more of the stealthy type, which is an option as you wander around the game’s foes utilizing cover and sneaking up for silent takedowns before carrying their bodies to a hidden corner. But you can also go guns-a-blazing if you have the bullets and abilities for it. I also found relying on the game’s auto save was not a great idea due to some glitches. It also only saves when you enter or exit an area or do something notable. Crossing into a different part of an area like going down a mine shaft doesn’t auto save.
I also lost my horse after loading an auto save on more than one occasion, which is devastating because horses are how you travel the map quickly and expand your inventory space. Fortunately, it would still let me travel as if I had my horse and whatever inventory I packed onto the horse seemed to reappear when I bought a new one - a relief, but also not ideal. And that brings up another very interesting part of Weird West for better and for worse. Horse inventory and character inventories remain mostly persistent between journeys. That means if you buy a horse in a new chapter, whatever gear it was loaded with at the end of your previous character’s journey will still be there. Likewise, you can recruit up to two characters as your posse members to aid you in your quest, each with their own inventories. If that includes a character you played as before, you’ll find their guns, throwables, curatives, and other stuff are mostly the same as you left it.
Unfortunately, the way inventory and its restrictions are in Weird West means a lot of inventory management in between action. You only get 48 inventory slots on your character, and most stackable items only max out at five pieces (like bandages, dynamite, and ore nuggets). You’ll fill half that space with your armor, weapons, and gear because equipped items aren’t removed from your overall inventory. Also, it’s not easy to get money in this game, so collecting the most valuable mix of junk to sell as you go will have you dropping one thing to grab another thing frequently. Even so, the flipside is that it’s nice to get your stuff back between characters so that you don’t entirely have to start from scratch and can keep building up to better and better gear.
Bullets, bandoliers, and things that go bump in the night
Weird West very much lives up to its name. In each character’s journey, a wide tapestry of dark and spooky adventures play out across the Wild West. Monsters of both the human and occult variety are bound by the decisions you make, and those choices carry on to make each adventure in this take on the dusty unsettled frontier more interesting. I wish that the game didn’t push me to micromanage my inventory so much and that some critical quirks didn’t hamper the experience, but put those issues aside and it’s a deeply interesting narrative with more than its fair share of riveting shootouts and adventure.
This review is based on a digital PS4 copy supplied by the publisher. Weird West comes out on March 31, 2022 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
- Solid array of playable characters and party members
- Interesting choice-driven narrative with big consequences
- Wide map of landmarks and secrets to explore
- Interesting main quests and side quests
- Decent gunplay and melee
- Character progression system encourages exploration
- Elevation messes with gun targeting
- Buggy in some key areas
- Constant inventory management
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Weird West review: Werewolf cowboys & occult outlaws
How is the dialog compared to Disco Elysium?
Unvoiced, but very choice driven and responsive. One series of decisions I made in the first chapter hugely affected the way a situation played out two chapters later. You can outright kill most key characters at any given time if you want. It's kind of more like Wasteland 3 to me in that way.
Interesting review TJ...how long is this game?
Most reviews are saying 30-40 hours.
Accurate. I played for over 30 and that was with dipping into a lot of side quests and extra exploration.
So are you telling me this is go0d?
From a narrative standpoint, it’s really interested how plot points between the five characters tie together. Combat isn’t terrible either. Inventory really drags down that pace tho.