When I think of Wild West with occult and horror settings, the first thing that jumps out is the TTRPG Deadlands. It was originally released in 1996 by Pinnacle Entertainment Group as an alternative play style to other TTRPG at that time. It was a Steam-Punk-like Wild West game where you took on Vampires, ghouls, and other fantasy creatures. Then when I heard that there was going to be a video game coming out with the same type of premise, I was immediately drawn to Devolver Digital and WolfEye Studio’s Weird West.
Weird West eases players into the world of the supernatural by way of the cowboy archetype. There are familiar tales, of bounty hunters and lawless desperados having shootouts in the middle of towns. There are bullets whizzing overhead and slow-motion dives during a stagecoach robbery and an endless amount of gunplay. Then on top of all this, you get the privilege of bringing in the supernatural. With the addition of the normal outlaws of old, you get tossed new issues to deal with. Ghouls, ghosts, and ravenous hordes of zombies or vampires OH MY! We are definitely not in Kansas anymore Toto.
The overlapping of familiar western outlines is a major appeal to me, and thankfully, it’s not just a cover-up of what else this game provides. This bizarre world of the old west manages to not feel like it’s a random thought to bring in sales, but it’s telling a story about average people trying to make their way through an uncaring, even hostile world.
There are five tales that are explored, as the player is led through five different people getting by in this harsh and at most times brutal western frontier. There is the retired bounty hunter seeking vengeance, and she relies on conventional tools of her trade. She is the tutorial quests for the game that give the basics of living in the Weird West such as visiting the saloon, the gun store, the stables, and the bounty board, to name a few.
Between hunting down a few criminals and eventually managing to finish my quest, I was able to make a living as a bounty hunter and I had a blast (pardon the pun) doing so. A post-conclusion screen showed me all the choices that I made, with bullet points that indicated I could’ve taken it a few different ways. I even reloaded later, just to shake things up and see what changed. The replay value for this game is top-notch.
As my second story began to unfold, I was enthralled to find out I was a pigman. Yes, it is exactly how it sounds. I was a monster created from man and pig parts, with absolutely no memory of who I was before I was given this horrid fate. Now due to this new character, the world I came to know has become something different for me and my new character. Stores didn’t want me darkening their doorstep. Sheriffs warned me that I’d be run out of town if they saw me walking around in daylight. My closest companion was a fellow monster. The means of getting resources and surviving had to shift, and fast. My method for making it in the Weird West was completely up-ended, and I loved it.
Weird West has many strengths, and for me, it was the chance at the different opportunities I could use to get what I needed. Helping someone out might get me some key information, or I could just as easily steal it, learn it through a note somewhere, or find it organically. Yes, those cracked rocks can be broken open with dynamite, or TNT barrels. And I could absolutely overcome terrible odds by summoning a tornado and lighting it on fire. At one point, I spent a long time trying to stack barrels and jump over a gate, only to realize that I could’ve just shot the switch to open it from the other side. Yes at this point, I became very Nintendo Pissed (so mad at the game that I wanted to throw a controller into the wall) at the game. However, I didn’t stop playing it.
Each of the character journeys felt rewarding. Not only was it a new narrative that opened up to me but they each encouraged their own approach to the playing style. While some perks persist across multiple if not all characters, each new face has its own abilities to master using ancient relics. The pigman could use his power bar to make bullets bounce off his skin or execute a powerful charge through enemy ranks. The warrior of the Lost Fire nation, meanwhile, could summon the help of a ghost bear. There is even a werewolf character, who felt like two characters combined into one. Did I mention how much I loved the TTRPG Deadlands? This is an amazing tribute to it, even if it wasn’t supposed to be in any way.
The story is compelling too, even though it sometimes gets a bit messy. I really enjoyed the overall arc and the greater questions Weird West poses to the player, even though the last chapter felt weaker than the others. Seeing how different characters approached this world, comparing factions like the future-protecting Oneirists with the pious wolves was engaging and kept me focusing on everything happening around me. At times, I was impressed by how Weird West remembered my choices and carried their consequences through stories. Letting one outlaw escape led to headlines of rampant pillaging. Unfortunately, that was not the same with every decision I made, but I did not dwell on this so much.
Now for some people that have never played a game like this or in a world like this, they may feel that this world is daunting at first. I am pleased to say that if you stick with it for just a while, Weird West does create an amazing frontier to explore. It’s a brisk journey from character one to character five, and I saw the credits roll at a little over 17 hours of game time. But for my time, I just wanted to get through the game. However, if you know me then you know that I have to collect everything so I started a new game immediately and have been exploring.
I have to say that there’s a lot to do if you just want to spend time in the world. Side quests and bounties provide a lot of extra objectives to pursue, and there’s also the allure of seeing how some stories could pan out differently. I did accidentally kill a story-driven NPC and to my surprise Wolfeye let me do it and adjusted quickly. I was more shocked when even the narrator responded in shock to my actions. I damn near lost it.
Weird West draws players in with its setting, and then builds a world that asks interesting questions about what they want from it. It presents a bizarre world to tell a story about real, human struggles in a world of monsters and hardships. The game may have some hitches (which they have been addressing daily to make it the best they can) and messiness, but it’s a journey worth taking if you’ve ever been nostalgic about the good ol’ days or you just like the idea of charging into a group of enemies as an unstoppable fantasy monstrosity. Who could be wielding two shotgun barrels blazing, with electric western riffs ringing out in the distance? As the last enemy falls you stand on your back haunches and let out a primal howl at the moon.
Weird West is out now for $39.99 on PC through Steam, GOG, and Epic Game Stores and also on Xbox One and Xbox Series X, and Playstation 4.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Weird West for PC provided by Devolver Digital.