Weird West – Review

Weird West is a top-down immersive sim set in a supernatural parallel to the American frontier. There are cowboys, saloons, ranches, and shootouts, yes, but also shapeshifting flesh-eaters, werewolves, pig-men, witches, and more. Immersive sims have seen somewhat of a resurgence in the last 10 years or so, after almost dying out entirely in the early-2000s. This is largely thanks to Arkane Studios who are responsible for the Dishonored series and the Prey double reboot.

Upon learning that the team behind Weird West, WolfEye Studios, was started by former Arkane heads, the choice of genre begins to make a lot of sense. WolfEye is a brand new studio, only formed in 2019, and Weird West is their first game, so does it live up to the pedigree of Arkane’s finest, or is it a wobbly first step towards mediocrity?

You begin the game playing as Jane Bell, a bounty hunter dragged out of retirement after the Stillwater Gang kills her son and takes her husband prisoner. Your first adventures in the Weird West may be with Jane, but she is only the first of five unique characters you will play as, each with their own chapter. The other characters include a cursed pig-man, a righteous werewolf, and a hunter of the Lost Fire Nation. Each of these chapters is around five hours in length depending on how many bounties you go after and so forth.

After you complete one story you move on to the next chapter, learning more about a different faction and taking on a new role and skillset. Also, everything you did has an impact on the state of the world and this also carries over as you play. This includes your choices, how many people you killed and who they were, the information you uncovered, places you went to on the map, and your perks. You can even go visit your former self and recruit them into your posse.

Each character is out for revenge of some kind, but the story isn’t afraid to get a little… well… weird, at times. There are plenty of strange folk in the Weird West and part of the appeal of this game is truly not knowing what the hell you’re gonna come across next. The pace is kept brisk too because you know that before long you’ll be whisked to the other end of the map to start afresh with a new character.

Weird West has a sort of grim graphic novel visual style, with lots of heavy outlines and muted colours. A lot of work has clearly been put into the art whether it’s the HUD, UI, or character portraits. The graphics overall may be a little rudimentary but considering the size of WolfEye’s development studio (20 people), and what Weird West is going for, it’s hard to call it a flaw.

As for how it plays, it’s essentially a cross between immersive sims like Deus Ex and Dishonored, mixed with top-down, point-and-click RPGs like Desperados or Divinity: Original Sin, and even a touch of Diablo. A big difference with Weird West is that there’s no pause button to plan effectively. While you can slow down time indefinitely at the press of a button, you can never really stop everything to queue up actions or anything like that.

I played with a mouse and keyboard, using WASD to move around and right-click to aim. You then have other abilities assigned to the numbered keys and a Max Payne style slo-mo dive-n-shoot by pressing shift while aiming. It took me a while to get used to these controls, especially because when things kick off it can get a little overwhelming without a tactical pause. Over time, however, you learn how to prepare for combat to break out and any point, and also just… roll with the punches.

A big part of Weird West is dealing with the consequences of your actions in the world. The game actively encourages you to go with the flow and not stress about perfecting every encounter or exploring every inch of every area. This is especially true when tossing up whether or not those in your posse catch a stray bullet and die on the job. A big problem I personally have with games like Deus Ex or Dishonored is how much time I spend quicksaving and quickloading. I want to make sure that if I’ve committed to a pacifist or ghost run that I maintain that throughout the game.

Weird West is different in this aspect. Outside of a few specific stealth missions (more on that later), I never felt like entering combat or being spotted sneaking was a fail state it was just… a situation I now had to deal with. If I get spotted while sneaking through a backwater town full of werewolf outlaws and have to kill everyone in the vicinity in order to escape, for example, that town is now considered abandoned. This will change the world and the next time I visit, there may be an entirely different faction who has now claimed it as their base.

Additionally, all the werewolves I slaughtered will now be buried in the town’s graveyard so if I missed any loot I can go dig ’em up again. The simulation elements don’t end there: you can set traps by placing explosive barrels near a door, then luring an enemy through or throw an electric grenade into a pool of water to stun enemies in a group. There are also natural elements like rain which make you and your enemies vulnerable to lightning damage, and tornadoes can spawn when it’s windy, wreaking havoc on friend and foe alike.

The main story quests are similarly complex. Let me provide you with a long-winded but pertinent example. A fairly early lead on the trail of finding Jane’s missing husband took me to the estate of Mayor Weekes, a slimy, ill-omened man who grows tobacco in a walled estate. By this point, I had learned that Weekes is trafficking people to flesh-eating monsters called Sirens. He claims to know where Jane’s husband has been taken but wants you to clear out a nearby rival tobacco farm as payment for the information.

Screw that, I thought to myself and told him I’d think on it. The first opportunity I got I started to explore the mayor’s estate. The guards would threaten to murder me on the spot if I went to enter any of the other buildings, but I had noticed the mayor’s residence had a balcony and on a whim figured I’d try and get up there. I jumped onto some crates, which let me climb onto the roof of an adjacent single-story building and then leap across to the mayor’s balcony, where I found an unlocked door. This let me into the mayor’s upstairs bedroom which I promptly stripped of all valuables, including a cell key I found in his bedside table.

This was particularly interesting as I hadn’t seen any cells in my exploration of the estate so far. Thinking there must be a hidden underground lockup somewhere, I made my way over to one of the buildings I hadn’t been inside yet. Booking it past a woman scrubbing the floor, I went into a storeroom, walked passed some shelves, and there it was, a hatch in the floor. Down I went, where I found a man in a cell. Once he realised I wasn’t there to further his torment, I asked him if he knew of my husband and where he might have gone. The prisoner told me that Mr. Bell had stolen a gun and escaped, but due to various complications had made his way to a new location.

So I had a new lead, and I didn’t have to do the mayor’s dirty work. This whole sequence was such a blast because the game gave me absolutely zero indication that there was any other way to get the information I needed without clearing out the rival tobacco farm for this evil man. No objective markers, no lines of dialogue, it would’ve been quite easy for me to have gotten to the bedroom but completely missed the key, therefore never even thinking to look for a cell.

This is just one example from one particular quest in one particular chapter of the game. It’s impossible to say from only one playthrough, but the potential amount of branching choices and consequences in the main story alone is mind-boggling. I very much look forward to seeing what other players discover.

Weird West can be a little fiddly at times, which is not all that surprising given the size of the team. Just little things like it being very difficult to interact with or loot the thing you want to when there’s a bunch of stuff around you. A more frustrating issue arose when I was trying to stealth my way through a brothel. I had gone from room to room, patiently waiting for various characters to move so I could progress, only to be caught on the second floor. Because this made me instantly fail the quest I went to reload a save. Loading this save put me in a room full of people and I was instantly discovered again however when I had initially made that save the room had been empty. Ultimately I had to load an earlier save and this didn’t happen again but still, annoying.

The procedurally generated elements (bounty hunts, towns, NPCs) feel a little tacked on, for the most part. It’s more ‘content’ to delve into if you really want but is absolutely not necessary to complete the main story. The end result is a system that feels a little fatiguing and pointless. I suppose it’s kinda cool that two different save files would have a map populated with completely different towns and NPCs etc, but it also makes the towns and NPCs in your save file feel less important.

Just progressing through the main narrative you will see every level and enemy archetype, so there really is very little to draw you towards padding out that experience further with a bounty hunt or some other kind of simple mission that is really just more of the same.

I did want to give a brief shoutout to one element of the game that I thought was handled with a rare sensitivity and care. The Lost Fire Nation is a faction of the Weird West inspired by a real native American tribe, the Anishinaabe people. WolfEye Studios claim to have consulted with Indigenous communities and collaborated with the award-winning Anishinaabe game writer Dr. Elizabeth LaPensee to ensure the art, writing, and lore were respectful. Something you don’t see very often in this industry and worth praising.

Weird West is an exciting experiment from a fresh studio made up of industry veterans. It’s one of those games that I’m glad exists, even if it doesn’t completely blow me away with every aspect of its design. There’s a fair bit of jank and a bug here and there, and the procedurally generated fluff that sort of hovers just beyond the light of your campfire may sap some of the ‘immersive’ from ‘immersive sim’.

Despite this, Weird West delivers an intriguing world with refreshingly complex quest design and a unique narrative structure that lets you try out five different roles all in one story. It’s an impressive debut from WolfEye studios and a fitting tribute to the genre that put their founders on the map.

Rating: 8/10

Weird West was reviewed on PC via Steam using a review code provided by the publisher.