If Will Wright is considered to be the “king of The Sims”, then surely Raphael Colantonio ranks as one of the guys to have pioneered the immersive sim. He served as co-creator for Dishonored while helming several projects at the studio before departing to start something of his own in Wolfeye Studios. Their debut title, Weird West, is an action role-playing game that combines traditional rootin’ tootin’ calamity with an immersive sim’s signature ‘choose your own adventure’ flexibilities to create a game that has depth and character far beyond what a debut title should.
Although my preview shone a spotlight on the plight of retired bounty hunter-turned-revenger, Jane Bell, who’s taking back up her irons to avenge her son and rescue her husband, the game’s main draw is the Weird West itself. It’s a tried and true setting—arid wastelands and cutthroat thieves—but the team offers up a fantastical take that melds fiction and fancy to bring to life creatures whose names are usually only whispered in hush tones over a bar.
It’s a veritable dustland fairytale, and it’s the fact that we’ll learn more about it and its people through a series of intersecting stories that makes Weird West an alluring draw. It’s hard to tell based on Jane’s story alone, but if this team can nail true consequence that permeates all of the game’s stories, then they’re onto a fun jaunt here.
For all of the things Weird West tries to do, it ends up feeling like a mixed bag. It does the role-playing stuff really well, whereas the action doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. It opted for an almost twin-stick approach to the controls, which ultimately felt imperfect and cumbersome, to say the least. As a result, I steered clear of all-out combat where I could, deciding to take an uncharacteristic quiet approach. It made for a fun change of pace, although I feel the clumsiness of the gunplay left me starved of the possibility I know the game offers. And there is a wealth of it, although every so often I’d try something clever—like throwing a candelabra into an oil spill to start a blaze—only for nothing to happen.
With a gamepad, the combat is a little more manageable if you’re only aiming for the bare essentials like aiming and squeezing the trigger. All of the extended combat options, like abilities and even kicking, are a mess of hot-keys that really made any instance of fighting in this game a trial.
As I said, Weird West does get the role-playing bits right. An unfortunate by-product of this is that you’ll be doing plenty of menu diving to make sense of it all. Like most immersive sims, there are plenty of world-building records left around to help flesh out the world’s stories, there’s an inventory for just about every class of item, and there’s a couple of upgrade systems at play. Gold-plated Ace of Spades cards—a rare find in the world—serve to buff your passive perks, while Nimp Relics help upgrade both your arsenal and hero alike.
I also quite liked the random encounters Jane would stumble into as she endured a several-day trek to the next hitching post. Whether it was bandits who saw it fit to rob her blind, shape-shifting creatures eager to separate her flesh from bone, or a mystical witch looking to strike up a deal, I felt like the world was alive and kicking, and how hard it’d kick was almost up to the roll of a die.
As a conversation-focused experience, Weird West will surprise you how often an innocent chat can turn south and descend into hellfire. I do expect the final game to throw a few moral quandaries at the player, on top of the few that the preview already presented. What I’m eager to see is whether the final product sees these choices through to meaningful resolutions.
The world map itself is a large, overwhelming prospect that speaks to the many adventures that this game promises. Jane’s slice of the story is surely only a small sample of the final product and I got nearly ten hours out of her plight alone. It’s clever how the developer handles the scale of their own setting, by offering up small, curated areas that achieve all they need within the map’s edges. Whether the land within the border houses conflict, mystery or the next story beat, it skirts the modern expectation of an open-world with deft expertise.
Although I’m eager to check in on Weird West at launch, I can’t help but feel it’s going to benefit from another couple of months of polish. It isn’t without its bugs—most of which can be ironed out by a quick save reload—and I’d love to see Wolfeye Studios, with an industry veteran heading it, streamline the clunky combat and go that step further in ensuring anything you dream to be possible within this world is.
Because I’m more than ready to get full as a tick drinking up all that the Weird West has to offer an odd fish like me.