West Of Loathing – The Switch Island Review
Comedy games – more often than not they’re anything but. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever played a comedy game where I haven’t found the writing to be shockingly unfunny and overly proud of itself. Well, I am more than happy to eat my own words here thanks to the utterly fantastic game that is West Of Loathing; a 2D classic RPG set in the Wild West, with one of the most unique art styles I’ve ever seen.
On the surface, the game looks like a simple point and click adventure with basic sensibilities that adhere to traditional game mechanics, and to be fair that is exactly what it is – on the surface. Scratch a little deeper however and what you’ll find is a fantastically written, endlessly funny, heartfelt love letter to RPGs, with a deeper roleplaying system than it has any right to have. In fact, I’m so overwhelmed by the extra effort the devs have put into this game that I highly suggest you stop reading now and just go out and play it; going in blind is the best way to play and I guarantee you’ll be happy with the surprises you find.
For those who’ve decided to stick around, I hope by the end of this review there won’t be a single one of you left who hasn’t already bought it. West Of Loathing is a 2D side scrolling RPG with a simple black and white aesthetic and literal stickman animation. At first this might give you the illusion that the game is cheap; this couldn’t be further from the truth however and it’s clear from the very first moments of the game just how much work went in to making this a well polished product. Almost every aspect of the world seems to have had a decent amount of attention paid to it, and the writing reflects this in spades.
The first thing you do is create a character and choose a class; there are three to choose from that in laymen terms are essentially Melee, Ranged, and Magic. At this point I was still disillusioned, as a big RPG fan I felt the familiar choice of such limited options wasn’t a great sign, little did I know just how much my choice would affect my play-through. As you’d expect the main change that comes from this is the combat style you used, but the deeper changes lie in the options you have as you interact with the world around you. Some problems, for example, could only be solved with a high “Mysticality” skill, something that proved difficult for me after sinking all my XP into creating a highly trained gunslinger. This seemingly simple choice at the start of the game really lends itself to the idea of multiple characters giving the game great replay value.
With a character created and a class picked, it’s time to head out into the world. You’ll start the game at your family farm – small area designed to let you get the hang of the controls. Here you can say goodbye to your parents and brother; speaking to them will net several rewards, and answering their questions will seem pointless at first but in classic RPG fashion will have big consequences later in the game. From here you’ll move on to the town of Boring Springs – a tutorial area that lets you get to grips with the combat and questing, as well as some of the more advanced dialogue options. It’s nothing revolutionary mind you, but even though it’s familiar it’s done incredibly well. In Boring Springs you’ll also have a chance to recruit your ‘Pardner’ an NPC assistant who will accompany you on your journey westward, assisting in combat and providing hints where necessary. Of course, if you’re feeling brave, you can always go it alone. Once you’re all set and ready to leave Boring Springs you’ll be given a blank map and head out on your horse to the town of Dirtwater, where you’ll make your home. From here you can explore the world, discovering new locations and a host of quirky characters to offer you quests or challenge you in combat.
Speaking of the combat this is where the game unfortunately falls short, but only slightly. The turn based system falls a little too close to familiar territory for a game that is otherwise full of surprises. All the usual mechanics are here; a basic attack, advanced skills that require Action Points, as well as potions and items aplenty. There’s nothing technically wrong with the combat and it will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s played a JRPG before, but after the first few fights the encounters started to become a bit predictable and repetitive. Thankfully the options menu for the game is fantastic and gives plenty of options for all aspects of gameplay; among these is the option to adjust the animation speed for the combat. Once I’d turned the combat speed up to 300% areas that previously felt like a grind were now over and done with in a flash, letting me get back to where the game really shines – the story.
The writing – and in turn the story – is so engrossing I constantly found myself reading and re-reading whole encounters just because of how funny I found them. The main quest line of the game sees you helping the Manifest Destiny Railroad Company lay down new railroad tracks to create a line journeying across the entire map. Along the way you’ll meet all manner of crazy and compelling characters with a side quest or two to offer you, almost all of them with a story I wanted to hear and a joke or two to crack. Every person you meet and every location you discover has a fantastic amount of world building detail to it; this isn’t to say there’s heaps and heaps to read through, but what needs to be said is said and the story is all the better for it. I was constantly remarking at the Bethesda levels of world building on offer here; come across a burnt down farm and you can bet there’s a journal somewhere detailing what happened, or an arsonist in the next town over who’s a smidge too proud of his handiwork. Whatever the case, nothing in West Of Loathing is done without purpose, and because of this the game oozes with loving attention to detail by the devs. And this is would be impressive enough without the fact that every bit of writing is steeped in joke after joke, many of which made me actually laugh out loud – much to the annoyance of my girlfriend who just wanted to watch TV. This really is without a doubt the funniest writing I’ve ever come across in a video game, and it’s not hard to see why it was named ‘Best Comedy Game’ in PC Gamer’s 2017 GOTY awards.
Up until this point the game seems near faultless, with almost every aspect being perfect to a tee. Sadly this isn’t the case, there’s no such thing as a perfect game and West Of Loathing is no exception. The one major hangup here comes in the form of the menu systems; there are so many items in the game, pretty much all of which have a use, but I’m sure I never even managed to read/use/sell half of them because the inventory system is just a pain to use. Remember how I compared the game to a Bethesda RPG? Well unfortunately that similarity also crossed over to the menus, with the inventory system being unfortunately similar to the dreaded lists of Skyrim, with very few options on how to manage the contents of your bag. What’s more, at no point in the game did I feel short of cash and so there wasn’t ever an incentive to sell any of the useless items I’d collected. Mind you this only ever amounted to a small gripe with the game, but unfortunately I was opening my inventory often enough that it did cause some notable annoyance.
Overall I enjoyed my time with West Of Loathing more than I ever imagined, and after my roughly 9 hour play through all I can think of now is how I wan’t to do it all over again with a different character class and a new Pardner. And for those of you who are still reading and haven’t yet opened up the eShop, all I can do is shout through my screen and hope that you hear me: GO AND BUY THIS GAME RIGHT NOW!!!