It’s a comedy RPG
Although it borrows from various genres including point and click adventures and JRPGs, West of Loathing is, first and foremost, a comedy game. It may not always stack up with the best RPGs regarding mechanics, but it succeeds in its primary goal: it’s damn funny (more on that later).
It’s technically a sequel…But that doesn’t really matter
Developers Asymmetric released WoL’s precursor, Kingdom of Loathing, way back in 2003. It was a browser based RPG with the same stick-man style art and offbeat sense of humor, and it had some pretty impressive elements for such a small scale project, such as player-versus-player competition, a persistent in-game currency, and even clan organization with live chat. Luckily for those who missed the original, you don’t need any knowledge of the Loathing universe to get the most out of WoL.
There’s a fun Wild West theme
It’s technically a fantasy RPG, mixed with a sub genre sometimes referred to as ‘Weird West’, so expect the odd goblin to crop up from time to time, There’s not much story to speak of, but what plot there is has your character leaving the safety of his or her family’s farm, and setting out on an epic journey. And yes, you’ve guessed it: you’re heading West.
There’s even a classic extended credits sequence
It’s not a Western without an opening carriage ride and some lingering shots of vast desert vistas. And it’s all set to some particularly stirring music. Speaking of which…
The music is genuinely great
The western-themed soundtrack isn’t just good for a low-fi, low-stakes indie game. It’s a punchy, dramatic score full of highs and lows, gusto and whimsy, and it wouldn’t feel out of place in a serious Western game or even a movie. Asymmetric deserve credit for putting the effort in here, and it reads as a sincere homage to a well-loved genre.
The graphics settings are ‘Good,' ‘Bad’ and ‘Ugly’
Because how else would you label them in a western-themed game?
There are classes…But these aren’t your usual classes
Before you begin your adventure, you’re encouraged to choose your path in life, and that means picking one of WoL’s…let’s say ‘unusual’ classes. Will you take the role of a Cow Puncher (broadly, a fighter), a Beanslinger (sort of a mage) or a Snake Oiler (I don’t really know, but you get a briefcase full of deadly snakes to use on people, so how bad can that be?). The longer you play the game, the more you realize these esoteric classes don’t really have a lot of bearing on the actual gameplay you’ll experience in WoL. But they sure are characterful, and that’s entirely the point.
The currency is meat
That’s right. To buy things, and that goes for anything from weapons, to useful items, and horses to ride on, you’re going to need meat and lots of it. The locals won’t accept anything else. What’s that you say? That doesn’t make sense? No. You’re right. It doesn’t.
Simple item puzzles and fetch quests are the order of the day
The barkeep needs you to recover some lost mugs. The hostler or horse merchant (“every day I’m hostling” he remarks) needs you to track down his runaway horses. The man who has half-transformed into a cactus needs something to read (yep, actually). It’s all standard RPG fetch-quest nonsense, but it’s all just silly enough that it keeps you entertained. It’s mainly due to the quality of the writing, which is never less than brilliant.
The combat is pretty…meh
WoL employs a turn-based combat system that will be familiar to anyone who’s played…Well, any game with turn-based combat ever, really. When you encounter an enemy on your travels, you can choose to fight them, which triggers a separate screen. Each combatant takes it in turns to choose an attack to use, ranging from your basic melee and ranged attacks, to weirder alternatives, such as my Snake Oiler’s ‘deploy snake’ combat skill, which has him producing a slithery critter and throwing it out onto the battlefield, where it’ll attack any enemies automatically. The thing is, there’s very little actual depth to this system beyond picking your strongest attack, and using it on your enemy till they run out of HP. I don’t want to criticize WoL for not being XCOM — it would be unfair to expect this style of game to have battle mechanics that deep — but, like fellow comedy RPG South Park: The Stick of Truth, combat is by far the weakest element here, and it’s just a shame it wasn’t given just that little bit more polish.
You can ride horses. Including ghost horses.
Well, how else are you going to make it West? On foot? I hardly think so.
It’s actually funny
When I said WoL aims primarily for comedy, I meant it. It’s utterly packed with jokes in the style of a good animated comedy movie, barely leaving you enough time to laugh at the last gag before throwing another one your way. Everything, from the stuff you interact with in the world, to the items you place in your inventory, has some sort of humorous line attached to it. It recalls the joyous way ’90s point and click adventures would find new ways to assail you with jokes, both visual and verbal, almost every second you were playing. Of course, just as in most comedy movies (and every single ‘funny’ game ever made), not every joke lands, but the success rate is far higher than most games ever muster. I’ll put it this way: there was a permanent goofy smile on my face throughout my time with WoL, and that’s high praise from this perpetually dour Brit.
The merry way WoL goes about its business is infectious. Like an excitable puppy, it just wants to make you happy. And for that, I admire it more than practically any other game I can remember of the last few years. Now excuse me while I go back to punching cows. Just like my father before me. And his father before that.