BITG Review: West of Loathing (Steam)

As we have discussed in the preview for this very game, I love Kingdom of Loathing. It is smart, deep and as funny as anything I’ve ever played. We also discussed how I was a little apprehensive about how or if this new Western themed game could compare to the brilliance of KoL.

So strap in and let me be your guide to a hilarious world of deadly snakes, disgruntled skeletons and endlessly lovely spittoons.

So, WoL kicks off with you dreaming of selecting a character class. So far, so BOG STANDARD RPG I hear you cry (well, I can’t *actually* hear you because I am writing this long before you’ll read it, and unless you are in my house or possibly next door and packing a voice that could rival Brian Blessed I wouldn’t even hear you later on) but wait! The character classes are not your usual Western-themed classes – you know the sort, Drifter, Hustler, Old Guy with only One Leg – oho no, you can choose from the ones illustrated by this exceptionally well placed image right here:

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Obviously I went for Cow Puncher. Obviously.

Anyways, after performing some menial tasks around the homestead – highly recommended that you try all sorts of things around the homestead. Not only will it give you some sweet, sweet XP it also reveals some great dialogue and *can* in the right set of circumstances help you out later on (Hint: Let It Go).

Leaving the Homestead behind I began my adventure, and what an adventure it was.

Now a quick point to make here is that WoL is a self-contained game with an ending that is made for repeated playthroughs but not in the sense that KoL is. KoL is a huge and sprawling game that has evolved over many years, and been added to like that mansion in Rose Red. WoL is self-contained in the sense that there is a set amount of locations that you can explore and a narrative that is supplemented by side-quests. Now this is not a complaint – even if it sounds like one – because any new players coming to KoL may well find it overwhelming, let’s not forget that the game has a ‘restart’ option for people who come back to the game after a break, as many players are lost in the multitude of madcap adventuring, so it is a smart move to have a finite amount of content, and even with me being super-thorough I still haven’t explored and found solutions for everything.

My adventure went something like this:

I chose to be a Cow Puncher called Bouncy (a female Bouncy) and I worked with a partner – you get to know some individuals who you can take along on adventures with you. I chose an embittered, alcoholic doctor. Best choice I ever made as it felt like I was on an adventure with myself. Each ‘partner’ has a specific set of skills AND their own motivations and thoughts – to take down a Necromancer as well as building a railroad and investigating some weird sci-fi elements.

So while the visuals are low-fi, the dialogue and writing is better than anything else you’ll play this year. My ongoing adventure took me to many saloons, and many saloons come with many spittoons, and many spittoons lead to many adventures for my hand in that bucket of filth. If I was to try and sum up what it is I love about WoL it is simply that a huge amount of effort has gone into the writing associated with the assumption that a player will try to search something, no matter how disgusting. This is what I like to call Presumptive Design, and is helped by the fact that people who are likely to play a blend of stick men cowboys and Skyrim are likely to want to stick their hand in tobacco and spit. Side Note: I persevered against the game’s advice and I was rewarded with disgusting loot.

So, who is this game aimed at?

I was concerned that the WoL game would be a bit of an exclusive club, that it wouldn’t be as funny for folks who never touched KoL and to a point is sort of is. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work as a stand alone game, but there is extra value in having played both and of course this makes sense, as the player base from KoL is almost guaranteed to translate to WoL and some visual links really help keep things together. That said there is no direct connection outside of visual design between the two games that would be a detriment to those who haven’t explored the realms of KoL and taken on the Naughty Sorceress. I was pleased to see Crimbo mentioned though.

It would be wrong of me to reveal plot details or thread of humour, but rest assured that the game rewards exploration and determination.

I love the game like a child that I didn’t have. A Canadian baby adopted in the heady nights of May.

It is a madcap adventure ins a Weird Wild West, a parody of a subject that is already so ridiculous in its own right. I mean think of any western film. Really think about it. A lot of it is clearly ridiculous. Rango did a fantastic job of pointing out how silly the ‘Legends of the West’ are by simply adding a Chameleon into a town of desert animals. The ‘Old West’ is full of tales of quick shootin’, darn tootin’ outlaws and ladies of the night and that is why Blazing Saddles was so funny. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to parody something silly, so with WoL the team at Asymetric double down with genre expanding elements of fantasy – specifically the event that occurs before the game begins, ‘The Day the Cows Came Home’ – I’ll say no more than that about that, but rest assured it is great. There is a Lore to the game, as in KoL that elevates it skyward like a lift powered by satire.

Of course there are going to be people who don’t get the art style, just as they did with KoL but the art is the key to success. The writing and intricate design – specifically in the Ghost Town and the aforementioned sci-fi elements (even more specifically the usage of punch cards) – are the ‘high def visuals’ in essence. After all. Think of al the ‘gorgeous’ games that have plots that amount to little more than ‘be the guy, don’t die’ and gameplay elements that haven’t evolved in a decade. There is a staleness to AAA titles that simply is not applicable to West of Loathing, instead it feels fresher than my bum after using Original Source mint shower gel, and there is NOTHING ON EARTH FRESHER THAN THAT!

 

In summary I would easily recommend West of Loathing to folks who enjoy a bit of humour with their gaming. The control set up can be played similarly to old Lucasarts adventure games, blended with combat elements from many RPG games. It is smart, it has a plethora of reasons to replay the game – let along the ‘funny walk’ option that I unlocked that was so ridiculous that I spent half an hour walking back and forth at the Homestead on my second playthrough. It is silly, but it not throwaway nonsense, it is the sort of game Terry Pratchett would have approved of and the sort of game that Douglas Adams would have written, if they hadn’t both – inconveniently – died.

More importantly West of Loathing is the sort of innovative and funny game that there should be more of. It isn’t an expensive game at all, and it has more unique elements than a family reunion of the McPoyles.

West of Loathing is available now an is 10% off until August 17th.

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Writer Note: West of Loathing was reviewed from Review Code provided for us. 

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