Immersive sims tend to be really expensive to make. That goes with any video game these days, but in the case of immersive sims they are risk-reward. You need that high end budget to create believable worlds, reactive systems, and varying outcomes to make your game feel as immersive as possible. It’s in the title of the genre’s name for calling out loud. Make sure your game is well designed and cross your fingers when throwing it out into the market. Immersive sims were very niche back in the day, and they still are now. Dishonored 2, Prey, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided all struggled to sell more than one million copies during release. They were considered financial failures by the publishers, and some like Deus Ex had work on future entries canceled. Creating an immersive sim now is a suicidal move, and at this point you might as well except your game to appeal to a small group of players. However, I love immersive sims. I’m happy whenever I get the chance to review them, and they are some of the most smartly designed games to be found. What I was not expecting to see today was an immersive sim developed by an indie studio, WolfEye.
WolfEye Studios is a small independent studio founded by Julien Roby and most significantly Raphael Colantonio. If you don’t know, Colantonio was responsible for the direction behind the original Dishonored and Prey. He spearheaded two of Arkane Studios’ biggest projects and two of the genre’s biggest entries. In 2017, after the release of Prey, Colantonio left Arkane due to having creative anxiety. He felt like he was creating cash raking products rather than games with artistic vision. That’s completely understandable as Bethesda, the company who owns Arkane, were really attempting to rake in the dough and push all their games to be big Triple A releases. Which they shouldn’t have expected as Doom, Prey, and Dishonored were not like a majority of Triple A titles at the time. Colantonio left and two years later after his creative anxiety died down he decided to form his own team. Developers who had the same passion as him to create unique experiences. He formed WolfEye Studios, and their first game would be a love letter to all the titles they took inspiration from. Weird West, an isometric immersive-sim that basically wonders what would happen if you took the grim paranormal world of Dishonored and blended it together with the original two Fallout titles and the good old wild west. The results were interesting.
Weird West spent more than three years in the works. WolfEye was creating a ginormous world full of locales to explore, and crazy gameplay systems to be found amongst experimenting with the wizard magic found in this alternative version of the wild west. Anticipation was high and fans of the immersive-sim genre were wondering whether or not Weird West would live up to the likes of Dishonored, Prey, and more. Weird West comes out in 2022 and reception for the game is fairly mixed. Some critics claimed it was a sole hearted attempt, and while it didn’t nail every idea in the book WolfEye’s first game ended up being pretty good. Other critics and players on the other hand were disappointed with how Weird West turned out. The game felt sloppy in certain areas, half baked, and a shell of what other genre entries have set up. As we explored in my Tinykin review, it’s easy to make comparisons when the inspirations are made very clearly. Weird West is stuck in the middle ground between good enough and passable, and is a game that you either come out loving or hating. I was a little bit worried when stepping into Weird West. The universe the developers made here looks interesting and I’ve been meaning to scratch that immersive-sim itch I’ve been having for a while. I heard about the bugs & issues before stepping in, but I tried to stay optimistic. The first few hours did not leave a good impression on me. Minus the performance issues, I didn’t particularly enjoy the way the game played and how they went for twin stick shooting combat. Something felt off and within one hour of playing I decided to drop the game. Picked it up again recently and managed to properly beat it. Overtime, I grew to love Weird West and accept the fact it was no Dishonored nor Prey. That doesn’t excuse the handful of issues packed in, but I just wanted to talk about how this is a good enough game. Today we’ll be talking about Weird West and why it deserves your attention. Saddle up kiddos, let's ride.
The game takes place in an alternative version of, you guessed it, the wild west. Settlers came in and established towns across the deserts, plains, and canyons, but what’s more significant are the many horrors wandering around. This is a world where dark magic exists and horrifying beings were conjured from said magic. Witches, werewolves, zombies, wraiths, mutants, pigmen, and much more. There are ancient relics and runes that can grant magical abilities to their users, and oftentimes these individuals grow mad with power or go insane. This is an unforgiving world, but the residents of it do the best they can to survive. All the while outlaws are on the run and causing more unnecessary havoc and bloodshed. You awaken to a dark room, strapped down to a wooden chair. Strangers in red robes surround you and turn you towards five pictures nailed on the walls. They conjure mystical symbols onto these pictures and when it happens everything cuts back to black. You see the mark burn before your eyes and then you awaken. In whatever body that picture resembled. You live their lives for a bit only to be dragged back to this room. This place where the robed figures can ridicule you more and send you back out into the world. Basically, these beings are forcing you to go on five dangerous journeys and through your own actions they will decide what to make of you. Those 5 individuals have quite chaotic tales to tell.
The first is an ex-bounty hunter by the name of Jane Bell. She’s retired from hunting outlaws and now runs a farm alongside her husband and son. The farm is one day ransacked by a gang known as the Stillwaters, and they end up killing your only son and kidnapping your husband. When the gang members retreat you dig up your old bounty hunter equipment. Gearing up, meeting some old friends, and wanting to exact revenge on the men who decided to f*ck up your life. Second adventurer is another person whose life was f*cked up by terrible people. Cl’erns Qui’g, a man who was kidnapped and grotesquely transformed into a pigman by evil witch Ruth. The spiritual tree which Ruth is using to form the pigmen wants to die, and surprisingly you are the first one able to understand what the tree is saying. Working together with one of the only other pigmen able to speak properly, you decide to burn the roots the tree is connected to, get revenge on Ruth, and figure out who you were in life before you were transformed. Your life isn’t as good as you thought. Third adventure is Across Rivers, a Native American who is doing the best he can to provide for and protect his tribe. You and the local settlers have been at war for a while, but a brief truce has made people start getting possessed by a powerful spirit. You need to hunt down this spirit before he begins corrupting more people. Fourth traveler is Desiderio Rios, recently a member of the Absolutist religion. A group of werewolves who want to enact a ritual that will reveal the Blood Moon. Sadly, the Oneirist are trying to prevent them from unveiling the moon and you will have to fight them while tracking down where the moon is hidden away. Final adventure follows an Oneirist, but I won’t spoil this one. Through them you’ll wonder if this is a world worth living in….
If you don’t know what an immersive sim is and how they work, then let me explain. They are basically light RPGs with simplistic gameplay akin to a shooter. You run around, blast enemies, and try to reach whatever goal you have on hand. What makes them special is how you obtain said goal. The simplest way forward isn’t always the easiest way to go, and you’ll have to think outside the box every so often. You could use stealth, climb around your environment, uncover a hidden entrance, use a key to unlock a previously blocked doorway, blow open a door, or even utilize some of the game’s reactive systems and mechanics. There are a buttload of ways to get where you want to go, and the game often rewards you for taking your time and using creative solutions. Gunfights are great and all, but ammo can get scarce and when you run out during a busy gunfight you are dead. Unlike most immersive-sims though, Weird West has a world akin to the likes of the first two Fallout titles. You travel across a map and once you reach a location you get to explore what may lie there. Sometimes traveling across the map is easy and you can even take a horse to shorten the amount of time it takes to travel, but you will get surprise encounters. Some of these encounters are interactions with NPCs, moral dilemmas, and maybe merchants. Other times they are ambushes and a majority of them force you into gunfights. Seeing whether you were able to save up enough ammo for that moment or you just got completely screwed.
Combat in Weird West is akin to a twin stick shooter like The Ascent or Ruiner. One stick is used to move around, the other is to aim in any direction, and then you have the triggers to shoot. Line up your shots just right and your attacks will land. There are three main weapon types to use and you can unlock more powerful versions of them across your journey. Revolvers which are quick and easy to use, rifles for long distance, and shotguns for dealing tons of damage up close. Each weapon will have to be reloaded when their clips are empty, and you’ll have to take cover behind objects or maneuver around enemy attacks while doing so. Not every area and arena will provide cover, and that’s why you have your dodgeroll as an alternative method to avoid attacks. Doing a dodgeroll will provide invincibility frames and negate all incoming damage except explosives. Alternative weapons include throwables like dynamite, Molotov cocktails, lightning in a bottle, and then there’s bows which I mainly used during River Cross’ story because coming across a bow during other heroes’ tales is very hard. Ammo for guns can be looted off enemies, be picked up, purchased from shops, or if you encounter more guns in the future you can scrap them to get more ammo. Combat is fairly straightforward, but there’s a lot of unique things that can happen during fights. This is an immersive-sim and using your environment you can create events that may play in yours or the enemy’s favor. Shoot a barrel which causes it to explode, or kick the barrel and shoot midair. Spill oil all over the ground and set it ablaze to burn anyone who makes contact with it. Kick an enemy off a cliff and see them drop dead onto the ground. That and you can use all the crazy powers your characters unlock throughout your long journey to create crazy scenarios.
Hidden throughout the world are Nimp Relic. The Nimp Relics can be spent to unlock special powers for your characters. For example, the pigman can unlock a power which allows him to ram through a group of enemies or create a shockwave by stomping on the ground. The protector can summon a whirling tornado to wreak havoc and toss objects about, or summon a spiritual bear to fight alongside him for a short period of time. You can unlock weapon abilities which allows you to specialize in certain weapons. Activate a 100% chance for critical damage with the shotgun, or not have to reload for a few seconds. Then there’s an ability which every character has access to without having to spend Nimp Relics. If you dodge while aiming a gun your character will leap across the air and time around you will slow down. Allowing you to just become May Payne for a bit, fire bullets away, and get the edge on foes. All of these powers will require Action Points, otherwise this purple meter on the left bottom side of the screen. Action Points can be restored by either drinking tonics or sleeping, and if not then you can’t use your abilities further. Health can be restored by eating certain items, sleeping, or using medkits you pick up during your travels.
While traversing across the world you will meet NPCs and they will either help you journey or request favors from you. Helping out NPCs and doing the right thing may boost your reputation, and if you prove yourself enough to certain NPCs they may become friends with you for life. Traveling with you during your adventure or coming in to save you during chaotic fights. You can have two other strangers traveling with you during your adventure, and you can even recruit previous heroes you played as. All of them will still have the gear they had equipped before. Be wary though that companions can die during your travels. If their health bars deplete to zero then they are dead forever. Unavailable for future journeys and future assignments. This also applies to previously played heroes, so if you want to restore their health you either have to have meals together, sleep, or use a medkit on them. Last thing I probably should mention are Golden Aces, which are also hidden around the world just like the Nimp Relics. These glowing cards that when spent will grant permanent stat boosts across all characters. Whether that is increased health, faster reload, being able to jump higher, and much more. Spend all the Golden Aces you have before moving onto your next character, because they will be lost. I learned this the hard way when I had six aces before ending the werewolf’s journey. Besides that there is nothing else to say. Hopefully you can survive out in the cold, unforgiving weird wild west. So long a partner.
I believe Weird West is a good game and at times it can be a great game. If you come in with low expectations and little to no knowledge of any previously established immersive-sims or CRPGs then you might have a fantastic time with this one. However, there are problems that prevent me from calling it a great game or a good successor to what it is inspired by. The most significant being the bugs and performance issues. The game has frequent framerate drops whenever there is too much on screen, there’s pop-in, long load times, textures tend to become fuzzy when turning the camera, and there’s a good handful of bugs which sometimes prevent you from completing quests. At the end of Across River’s journey you have to slay a boss enemy and cut off his head. Unfortunately, the first time I beat this boss his body glitched through the floor and prevented me from looting his head. You may have items sink through the world, and some of these items are needed to progress. The AI bugs out and this can lead to enemies being unresponsive or stopping dead in their patrol paths. The bugs get annoying, but if you push through there is a decent game.
I say “decent,” because Weird West is a deeply flawed gem with questionable design choices. The most important factor when it comes to designing an immersive-sim and any RPG in general is accounting every choice the player has available. The playstyles they choose, who they decide to help, the consequences, and feelings created afterwards. The feelings felt depend on what type of player who you are, but they should feel impactful. Weird West walks on a rope when it comes to choices. Moral dilemmas related to the story feel meaningful as you are deciding what happens to all the major factions and characters in the game. Do we let the Abolitionists live on and take over the west, or do we destroy their Blood Moon and end their religion? Do we attempt to make peace with the settlers and hope they don’t kill more of the natives, or act selfishly as we know they’ll try to harm us nonetheless? These questions are interesting and help add depth to what we're really stories. Gameplay-wise, I never felt like the choices I made when venturing and creating my playstyle felt meaningful. A lot of areas are not built around stealth, and when they are it becomes abusable as you pick off enemies one by one. Investing in better jumping height is useless as there’s not many places to use a high jump, and why save resources when almost every enemy you kill or knock out drops a few bullets. Meaning you can farm for a bit until you have an unstoppable arsenal. You can say, “Screw stealth!” and go guns blazing with no punishment besides ticking off a few NPCs. As if you’ll get that because that mainly happens in townships. Also, bullets cost one dollar each at shops, so you can buy a ton.
All your characters have designated abilities and playstyles, which may divide some players. The joy of an immersive-sim and RPG was creating your build. You still gradually get stronger overtime and it’s nice, but you have no choice over what each character can do. The werewolf can’t learn any of the crazy summoning magic the protector has, and so on. Combat also took me quite a bit of time to get used to. It’s twin stick shooting combat which I am not a big fan of. I get lining yourself up correctly, but you also have to be a certain distance for your shots to hit. There were also times I pressed the reload button and it took an eternity for my character to reload. It wasn’t fun at first and at one point I turned the difficulty down. Not because the game was hard. Weird West is a pretty fair game most of the time, and the only times I hated it was when it forced me into a fight and I had no supplies. However, that’s usually from careless play and blasting through the game. No, I turned the difficulty down because I did not like the combat. Overtime though I grew to appreciate it more and I will say using the bullet time dodge and crazy powers can be fun. I thought the game had a rarity system at first, which I usually hate in games, but it turns out stronger weapon variants often have more stars which is a good signal of what the player should be swapping to as time goes on. Exploration and taking the time to loot and check your surroundings is rather great. You may find weapon caches, Golden Aces, Nimp Relics, and the supplies you need to have an easier time with Weird West. I like the travel system similar to that of the original Fallout. Traversing across the map can be daring and when you are thrown into an ambush you have to be prepared. There are good encounters to be had and those are when your travels are made a bit more peaceful. Again, it can be bad when you are forced into a fight and there were times I just wanted to get to where I needed to be. Having a map with icons you select locations on rather than a sprawling world is much better and a lot cheaper to program.
The gameplay for Weird West is wonderfully messy. It’s rough, but when you start to get a hang of the game it is fun. There’s a good selection of options to use and when you know how each of the systems work you can turn the tides of a sticky situation. I’ve been complaining a lot, so you may be wondering why I even like this game. “Never judge a product by the sum of its parts.” What Weird West does make up for is in all of its other categories. I love the universe of this game, the world building, and the main plot. Each of the five characters had interesting tales, and I was engaged to see how they all ended. The overarching mystery of who the robed figures are and why you take control of these five characters is interesting as well, and the way they connect the five characters together later on was thrilling. The factions for this game were unique and they got you to consider whether they were worth sparing or betraying. It was almost close to the level of depth New Vegas’ politics had rather than everything being one dimensional. The moral choices begged at the end of each journey were meaningful decisions, and this whole game is about doing the right thing despite the world being an awful place to live in. You can persevere and find hope amongst the madness. Rivers Cross, the Native American character, is inspired by a real life native tribe named the Anishinaabe and the developers conducted interviews with the tribe so they wouldn’t misrepresent them. I like it when developers do that, because outside of Red Dead Redemption 2 there aren’t that many good representations of Native Americans.
I love the artwork and art direction for this game. That’s a huge standing point for Weird West. The drawings for each of the five characters are that of a comic book, every character has this cool black and white detailed mugshot during dialogue, and the in-game graphics are cool. They try to have this comic book texturing and coloring despite everything being made of 3D models. That might explain why the game has performance issues. When you walk around the outskirts of an area you see that it’s laid out on a map, which I thought is really cool. It’s like they laid out a sheet of paper, got some props, and just plopped them about to form the area you are exploring. I like the voice they got for the narrator, as he explains key details and what to expect moving forward. You always have to get the right voice when it comes to roles like that. (And also pay them well too.) The game took me close to around ten hours to beat excluding reloading saves and redoing certain sections, and I think that’s a pretty good runtime. Any more than that and I would have gotten really annoyed. Coming up with the final score was really hard. My thoughts on Weird West jumped up and down as time went on, and I almost gave it a 7/10 because there were times I just wanted to stop playing. I stuck around though and eventually I grew to love Weird West. Gameplay is decent enough, the story and world is great, and for WolfEye’s first big game they mostly stuck the landing. I am going to give Weird West an 8/10 for being pretty good. That’s a recommendation in my book, and I hope WolfEye can learn for future projects.
This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!