I’ve never been a huge fan of the western genre. Firefly and Westworld are quasi-westerns, I guess, and that’s about as close as I get to enjoying it. If the genre had more aliens, ghosts, and goblins, I might have developed more of a taste for it. West of Loathing has all that and it’s funny to boot. Genuinely funny, not “funny for a video game” funny. I spent nearly the entire ten hours of my playthrough with a smile on my face.
Ostensibly, West of Loathing is an RPG, although its mechanics have about as much depth as its graphics. It’s an RPG in the same way that the recent South Park games are RPGs: all the tropes are there, but it’s just the mechanism by which the game delivers the jokes.
You start by choosing between the three classes for your character: Cow Puncher, Snake Oiler, and Beanslinger, roughly translated as melee, guns, and magic respectively. Your class determines your starting stats, however these are easily tweaked as you level.
Your XP can be spent on the base stats of muscle (strength), mysticality (magic), and moxie (accuracy), however you also need to worry about your internal organs, which determine how many potions you can drink, and there are plenty of combat skills to upgrade as well. There’s a long list of stuff to spend XP points on and it looks daunting until you realize you don’t need to worry about any of it. By default, your stats will be automatically updated as you earn XP, although it might be better to take control yourself if you prefer to min-max.
The combat system is technically turn-based, although that might be a bit of a misnomer because fights often finish before your opponents take a turn. You can wear a hard hat to make the combat, well, harder, but I don’t enjoy turn-based combat anyway so blazing through it was a relief.
West of Loathing might look and play like an RPG at first glance, but the experience feels very different. It’s not here to challenge you; it’s here to make you laugh. Walls of text are typically a sign of bad writing in RPGs, where every other word tends to be a new noun generated by a computer whose only conception of names comes from The Similarion. West of Loathing certainly gives you a lot to read, but the content is light, and even a little childish at times. That’s not to say the target audience is children; just that the language is simple and easy to read.
That’s a good job too because there sure is a lot of reading to do. Just walking up to a spittoon brings up paragraphs of text as the narrator attempts to dissuade you from digging your hand further into the messy contents that it describes in graphic detail. This happens every time you find a spittoon and, as far as I can tell, the writing is always different. Someone went to the effort of writing pages of text just to put you off claiming whatever minor reward was at the bottom of a manky spittoon. You could easily click through all of it in seconds, but you won’t.
After a brief tutorial, you buy a horse (or the ghost of a horse, in my case), and start exploring the wild west. There isn’t much of goal other than to explore, although you will need to complete a couple of mandatory missions to unlock new parts of the map. Each location is small, with most being no more than three screens, but a lot is packed into a small space. My personal favorite was the ghost town where the buildings themselves were ghostly and the inhabitants presumably died of paperwork, such was their obsession with rubber stamping every little thing. They demand permission slips to burrow staplers and get the right lead in your pencil. It probably should be annoying, but it manages to be hilarious, especially right at the end.
Despite the simplistic art style, there’s a hell of a lot going on in West of Loathing if you take the time to explore. There are huge side quests involving aliens, missing jelly beans, and a tabletop roleplaying game. They might all be fetch quests, but the dialogue you get in return makes it more than worth it.
The only real negative is that there is no journal to help you keep track of it all. You can ask your partner for tips on what to do next, but it would be much easier to look it all up in a journal. At times, it feels unnecessarily convoluted. In one area, I needed heat resistance which can be gained from a few different consumables. Nothing particularly challenging about that, so long as you remember to look out for consumables with that particular benefit. However, with so many different quests on the go, it can be tough to remember it all, especially if you take a break for a few days. Even if you do remember that you need heat resistance, will you remember where you needed to use it? The inventory also gets a little cluttered. There’s a lot of stuff to pick up, ranging from clothing, to stat books, to what seems like hundreds of different consumables, and it takes a long time to flick through it all.
West of Loathing is a wonderfully charming adventure where the stick figures that populate the towns have more character than most of the life-like models in big-budget productions. You’ll spend more time reading than fighting, but when it’s this funny you won’t mind too much.