[Review] West of Loathing - Nintendo Switch
As I previously mentioned in my Super Preview Roundup! from May, I have been looking forward to West of Loathing basically since it's announcement. It's release on the Nintendo Switch has finally enabled me to slaughter ghostly cows and grind skeleton bones on the go. So, was the excitement and wait worth it?
West of Loathing is based upon a browser based game that I had previously never heard of called "Kingdom of Loathing". It reached between 100,000 and 150,000 active players in 2008, and became profitable through donations and merchandising sales instead of utilizing a subscription service. The MMO spawned a kickstarter funded card game entitiled Mr. Card Game, and now we've been treated to the latest spinoff, a single-player role playing game full of the simplistic stick figure based artwork and surreal humor that fans of the series have come to expect. As a person that was previously ignorant of the series, I will say that the humor hits often, and feels completely natural. The humor of West of Loathing lends a lot to the personality of the game, and it just works, much more often than it doesn't. It never feels forced, and it never seems like it is trying too hard to get a laugh. You either get it, or you don't, and move on.
So, any ways, West of Loathing has a very simple premise. You choose and name your character, and then choose from one of three classes- Cow Puncher, Beanslinger, and Snake Oiler.
Cow Puncher is centered around melee combat and enables you to craft items using Leatherworkery, and its associated with the Muscle stat.
Beanslinger is the "mage" class of West of Loathing, and gives you the crafting ability Master Cookery, and is associated with the Mysticality stat.
Snake Oiler is a ranged combat class that uses Potionology to craft stat boosting consumables, and is associated with the Moxie stat.
I went with the Snake Oiler class, but each class is fairly well balanced, so choose whichever one you prefer. Later on, you will also be able to select a pardner to accompany you on your journey to the Wild West, and can utilize their class to help better balance out combat, supposing that you finish their side quest. After choosing your class, you go to say your goodbyes to your family, and your mother will offer you a book that teaches you a skill to use for the rest of the game. This choice lends itself to a little bit of replayability, as you will not be able to acquire these skills any other way later on, and so you will run across certain situations that can only be overcome with one of the abilities that you don't have.
So, you embark on your journey, and talking to NPCs is how you figure out where you need to go, and where you can also go if you want. There are tons of side quests to be had, and most of them only take a few minutes to complete. Each side quest generally has a location associated with it, and once you've become aware of a reason to go to a location, you can fast travel to it at any point in time. Occasionally on your treks between locations, you will encounter others or be ambushed by baddies, and you fight or gain experience as appropriate. There is also the option to "wander about" from your current location, and this may help you unlock new locations or encounter new enemies related to a side quest.
Combat is turn based, but goes by pretty smoothly, and the comedy present in the settings and dialog carries over to the fights, as well. It usually only takes a few rounds of combat to win, and if you get knocked out you just wake up back at the main hub city to try again, losing some loot in the process. Successful fights result in skill points, and those can be spent whenever you have enough to buy or upgrade a new skill. Every class has several skills to learn or master, and none are useless, although some are definitely going to be used a lot more frequently than others.
In addition to the general impetus of wanderlust and the desire to make a name for one's self, the game also includes a story about a necromancer out west that needs to be reigned in because he's bringing things back to life. It's nice to have an antagonist, even if his presence is more of a convenient explanation for floating cow skulls and animated skeletons than it is a strong narrative lynch pin. This doesn't detract from the game's atmosphere or experience at all.
West of Loathing is full of chuckles and belly laughs. There are even a couple of groaners thrown in, and even the narrator takes some jabs at you to question your choices and make double and triple sure that you are performing the action that you really, really want to. Especially when that action is really disgusting. There are turn based battles, and the overly simplistic art style may turn some people off...but the excellent writing and humor makes up for any shortcomings in this department. Even for people that don't particularly enjoy turn based combat, the battles are quick, and the game itself is over pretty quickly. If you love to laugh and have a good time with games, West of Loathing is an amazing gem.
*Review copy provided by Asymmetric