Around a quarter of my way through Weird West, I made one of the most barbaric moral choices I’ve ever made in a video game. I usually play the good guy in games that involve a moral compass, but in Weird West, you’ll be playing as five different characters over the course of your journey, rather than one. So, naturally, I decided to be as horrific as I could with one of these characters, and after my time with them concluded, I felt rather bad about it. It’s in moments like these where Weird West truly shines. The narrative is well crafted, the world is well realised, and the choices you make can genuinely have consequences in some very interesting and unexpected ways. Unfortunately, the gameplay, progression, and loot hold Weird West back from a game that I can recommend unconditionally.
The setting of Weird West has everything you’d expect from a Western-themed game: dusty towns where folks from both sides of the law come to drink in the saloon; bounty hunters roaming the land for the realm’s worst and wickedest; vultures circling over the fresh remains of a raided caravan. But there’s much more to this Western setting, and that’s where the Weird comes in. Weird West combines Western tropes with the occult and gothic horror, meaning you’ve got far more to fear than your typical outlaws. Zombies, ghosts, werewolves, cannibals and more are ravaging this land, and it’s up to you to try and make this world a better place… or not.
The setting of Weird West is a seriously great elevator pitch, and in terms of setting and character, it absolutely delivers. The narrative is delivered in a unique and interesting way; rather than playing one character through the entirety of the campaign, you’ll actually play as five different protagonists. It kind of plays out like an anthology, although these characters are definitely linked in a way I won’t spoil, and you’ll inhabit the same game world. Each of these protagonists is unique, both from a gameplay perspective as well as in relation to the story. The first character you’ll play as – Jane Bell – is a retired bounty hunter who is forced back into her previous life when her husband is kidnapped by a gang who, unfortunately, also happen to be cannibals. Once her story is wrapped up, you’ll take on the trotters of a Pigman, which is essentially the vessel for a human soul that has been stitched together from the carcasses of dead pigs. Seriously.
Each of these protagonists has their own tale to tell and objectives to fulfil, but they’re bound together by an overarching story that manages to encapsulate a great sense of mystery. They’re all widely different in how the world perceives them; Jane Bell, is respected by the folk she meets and somewhat famous for her previous deeds, whereas Cl’erns Qui’g (the Pigman) is despised, feared, or ridiculed by virtually everyone he meets. It’s super interesting to see how certain characters will react differently to you depending on which character you are currently playing, and there was clearly a lot of thought that went into making this same genuine and believable. As I alluded to in the introduction, it also encouraged me to take a different approach to situations depending on the character I was playing. With Jane, I tried my best to be an upstanding citizen, while with the Pigman everyone hated me anyway so I didn’t mind being an absolute jerk.
Outside of the playable characters, there are plenty of other heroes and miscreants you will meet on your journey. Many of these are incredibly entertaining, and practically all of them are very well written. It’s a fairly grim and serious tale, but that doesn’t mean the writers didn’t manage to inject some genuinely funny gallows humour into it. In fact, one of my favourite characters in the game was a certain talking tree that has some phenomenal laugh out loud lines. The way that Weird West constantly tows the line between horror and comedy is a credit to the talent of the writers. There isn’t much voice acting in Weird West; most of the narrative is delivered by text. Don’t worry if you don’t like text-heavy games though, the writing here is very accessible and there isn’t loads and loads of it.
Deciding how you’re going to interact with the world around you is a huge part of Weird West. In each character’s storyline, there are several instances where you’ll be forced to make huge choices, and these choices do genuinely impact the gameworld in both massive and subtle ways. One thing about these choices that stood out to me is that few of them fell into what we would normally categorise as moral or immoral. Sure, some smaller choices, such as whether to save an NPC locked in a cage or leave them there to rot (or worse) are fairly binary in nature, but in the main story, most of the ‘moral’ choices are morally grey at best, as usually they will negatively impact one group of people in one way or another. On the other hand, some of the immoral choices are absolutely horrific, and I seriously hope that Devolver Digital didn’t keep notes regarding some of my decisions, as I wouldn’t be surprised if they decided to pass them on to the FBI. Jokes aside, the agency that Weird West gives the player in regards to their choices throughout the story is unquestionably one of the game’s greatest strengths.
There are a couple of ways the game tracks your choices. Firstly, at the end of each chapter, you’ll get a summary sheet displaying all the major choices you made in that chapter. It’s a great way to highlight your deeds and crimes, and also causes you to think ‘What If…’, which, of course, can be explored in your next run. The other way Weird West tracks your choices is through a simple reputation metre. Do a good deed, and your reputation will go up. Do a bad one, and it’ll go down. I was much less impressed with this; it’s a fairly uninnovative system for an immersive sim released in 2022. Games in the early 2000s were doing this, after all. There isn’t a whole lot that will happen if your reputation is low or high, either. If you’ve got a good reputation, you might find that shop prices are a bit lower, or that an NPC will join your posse free of charge. Conversely, a low reputation might make the law in town hostile towards you, or you might find yourself with a bounty on your head. There’s more, of course, but it’s all stuff you would expect. It’s fine, it works, but I definitely expected a bit more.
Weird West takes place in a fictionalised version of the American frontier. Rather than being an open world, the game is split up into dozens of smaller maps that are connected by an overworld. You don’t have much control over your character on the world map, you’ll simply click a part of the map you want to go and your character will travel towards it as the crow flies, painfully slowly. I do wish there was some sort of fast-forward feature when travelling; there were definitely times when I probably should have headed to town before embarking on a mission but didn’t want to sit through the travel time. It’s definitely not the game loading either – the maps aren’t big and I was playing on PS5. More often than not, a random event will trigger while you’re travelling. Usually, this will be a group of enemies attacking you, although there are some unique events that were quite interesting. In one event, I witnessed a duel between a sheriff and a bandit. I was given the choice to side with one, but I decided to sit back and watch. The sheriff won, but she told me off for being lazy. She had a point, I suppose!
As you explore the overworld, you’ll discover lots of different locations. Farms, towns, swamps, mines, just to name a few. Many of these are used for the game’s sidequests and main story quests, and range from very small to fairly large. While there is a fair amount of diversity, you’ll soon find some of these begin to get repetitive, especially towns which are practically copied and pasted across the map. This aspect of the game was quite disappointing as I would have liked to see some more unique locations. The design of most areas is fairly linear; there’s not a ton to be found by going off the beaten path. However, there’s a lot of interaction built into these maps, whether that’s crates to search, doors to lockpick, NPCs to talk to, barrels to throw, fires to cook on, and so on. While the locations might not ‘wow’ you, they are brought to life by a pretty appealing cel shaded art style, and a good amount of environmental detail packed into them. My favourite areas to explore were in the North Eastern part of the map, as these were mostly luscious forests and vibrant plains. The brighter areas pop with colour on screen, and there’s something about the shade of green that WolfEye Studios used that ticks all the right boxes for me.
As an immersive sim, you might expect Weird West to give you ways to handle conflict without resorting to violence. While that does happen from time to time, in many cases combat is unavoidable, and as such, you’ll be spending a lot of time shooting or chopping things to pieces in this game. Weird West is essentially a twin-stick shooter; you’ll move with the left stick and aim with the right. You’ll have a variety of ranged weapons at your disposal: pistols, rifles, shotguns, and bows. You can also equip a melee weapon, such as a cleaver or a knife. You can equip one of each weapon type at all times, so as long as you’ve got the ammo, you should be able to handle both close quarters situations as well as those that require a takedown from afar. In addition to this there’s a handful of projectiles to find out buy – such as dynamite – as well as perks, weapon abilities, and character specific abilities to invest points into. Abilities require AP to use, and your points can be restored either through sleeping or with consumables that can be found or bought from merchants.
On paper, this all sounds great, but in reality, it ends up falling a bit flat. Shooting stuff and using abilities is generally fine, but aiming can be a little awkward sometimes as there’s no snap to target aiming or lock on to help guide your shot. I can practically hear everyone reading this telling me to ‘Git Gud’, but trust me when I say that it would have felt a lot better to have some aim assist in the game by default. Where the combat really falls short isn’t in the mechanics themselves but rather the encounter design. While there is some enemy variety, most of the enemies end up feeling the same to fight. They’ll either shoot at you or run at you, and it begins to get stale after a while. This one-note combat is emphasised further by how overpowered stealth is. There’s a perk in the game that increases the damage you do to unaware enemies. Pair this with the silencing ability on the rifle and you can stealth your way through practically any situation. Of course, stealthing through a game isn’t inherently bad or boring, but when there’s only a couple of ways to use that stealth to your advantage, it begins to get tedious after a while.
Another area in which Weird West falls down a little in the loot and progression. You’ll find a lot of different weapons on your travels that fit into one of the archetypes mentioned above. Outside of damage numbers and fire rate, there’s very little to differentiate each weapon within a type. It would have been nice for the weapons to have embraced the fantasy or paranormal a little more to make them unique. The game features some environmental damage types such as fire and poison, so surely these could have been built into rarer weapons in some interesting ways? It’s not particularly exciting to loot enemies when in 99% of cases you’ll be scrapping the weapons they drop for bullets. Outside of weapons, your character can equip one armour piece and two amulets. Again, armour generally provides some physical defence and then might give you extra defence against a specific damage type. Amulets provide more unique bonuses, but aside from a handful of impactful bonuses – such as healing when I killed an enemy – I pretty much forgot I had them equipped. The rest of the stuff you’ll find is junk to be sold at towns, consumables to heal or restore AP, or projectiles to improve your combat capabilities. All pretty plain, standard stuff.
There are two main types of progression in Weird West: perks and abilities. Perks are passive bonuses that carry through between characters, whereas abilities are reset each time you begin a new character’s arc. Perks give you a way to specialise in a particular combat style, as well as offer some general utility bonuses. Abilities are more exciting, as each character gets their own set of specific abilities that mirror their archetype. The Pigman, for example, is a bit of a brute, so he gets a powerful stomp, a charge, a defensive shield, and the ability to spit out poison for a few seconds. Weapon abilities are less exciting because they remain the same for each character, and because they reset whenever you move to the next protagonist, it can feel pretty frustrating to keep having to spend your points on the same ability you like over and over. I got annoyed with this so ended up just investing my points into my character’s abilities, because at least those were unique.
Lastly, a note on performance. I’m pleased to say that Weird West ran extremely well on my PS5, with very few bugs to speak of. In fact, the only bug I noticed from time to time was NPCs getting stuck on terrain, resulting in them doing a bit of a jig. Furthermore, the game ran at an incredibly smooth 60 FPS with few visible frame drops. The only time the game faltered was a very brief stutter when a quest objective was updated.
When it comes to the world, the narrative, and the characters that inhabit the Weird West, there’s a lot to love. If you’re looking for a game that’s well written and where your choices feel important and consequential, then it’s likely you’ll be able to forgive some of the lacklustre RPG elements that unfortunately weigh this one down.