In the realms of the immersive sim, Arkane Studios has reigned as king for the better part of a decade. From Dishonored, to Prey and now on to Deathloop, they’ve explored numerous intriguing settings, but one that has been left ripe for the picking is the American frontier. It’s here that Wolfeye – a studio founded by Arkane founder Raphael Colantonio – has chosen to set their first game, Weird West.
This is a game setting that absolutely lives up to its name, with all the trappings of the Wild West, from its dusty, arid expanses, to its small towns and outlaws, but then transformed by the supernatural, feeding elements of Lovecraftian horror, medieval fantasy and even the piggy man myth, drawn in part from American Horror Story.
You’ll experience this setting through the eyes of five characters, each of their stories changing the world and overlapping in some ways with later characters. It starts off with Jane Bell, a retired bounty hunter who traded in her fearsome reputation to settle down and have a family… until one day her son is murdered right outside her home, and her spouse kidnapped.
Immediately you’re handed all of the freedom of an immersive sim, to search through the environment, pick up and move all manner of objects, and just interact with things in a way that makes sense. You can fill a bucket of water (or find one that’s filled with rain water) and use it to put out fires, create fires by shooting an oil lamp (when it’s not raining), find the key in your barn to open a locked door, grab a shovel and head out to where Jane buried her gun. You can also use that shovel to bury your son, then dig him back up and (because video games) and take his skull with you on your subsequent journey.
Setting out from her remote home, with Sheriff Flora Albright inviting you to meet up with her and interrogate part of the Stillwater gang that was responsible, travelling takes place on a world map, setting a destination and then crossing your fingers that you don’t land in too many randomised encounters. A pack of coyotes could launch themselves at your camp, for example, forcing you to whip out your gun to fight them off.
The combat in Weird West very much depends on how you want to play. Scoping out the Stillwater camp – at which point you discover they’re really just lackeys for Sirens that disguise themselves as humans – you can try to go in guns blazing, this top-down action RPG looking a little like a twin-stick shooter at these times, albeit with plenty of Max Payne-style slow-motion diving. The gunplay has had to be carefully crafted to let you, not just shoot in a flat circle around you, but also intelligently target enemies that are higher or lower than you, and also shoot up destructible elements in the environment.
Alternatively, you can sneak in around the side and find a broken spot in the wall to clamber, open up locked doors with your lock-picking skills, find a rope that lets you head down into the well for the underground passages, and sneak up behind enemies and use a charging blade attack, before hiding the body out of sight. Then there’s the option that’s somewhere between these approaches, creating a distraction (perhaps slapping a horse on the butt to get it to bolt out of camp), and then using some tactical shooting to set fires from oil lamps, and throwing cluster dynamite for big explosions.
One thing’s for sure, though: you want to kill everyone in sight. If you kill off a boss character, all of their henchmen might think better of it and try to run away. This, however, can lead to a vendetta being formed, with that character then hiring others to try and take you out later in the game.
That’s just one example of how your actions can have a rippling effect through the world. Each of the five characters will have a lasting impact for those that follow, depending on how you choose to play. If you get in a fight and kill off a whole town, for example, that town will go into an abandoned state for a time, but eventually a new faction will move in, whether they’re human or supernatural, and you’ll likely have even bigger problems to worry about when you visit there next.
The five characters are connected through an overarching story, but can come into direct contact. Gear can be passed from one character to another – or Jane’s son’s skull, if you really want – and you can recruit previous characters in the story to join your new chapter, and all the while there’s also an overarching progression system.
Each character has their own specific abilities that are augmented and unlocked by using Nimp Relics that you find through the world – Jane’s ‘Banned Hammer’ ability lets you empty her gun’s magazine ultra-fast – but then there’s also Perks for things like lockpicking that apply for all your characters, unlocked by collecting Golden Aces. It’s an intriguing system that should ensure you never feel like you’re starting from scratch with each one.
It feels like we’ve only just scratched the surface of Weird West. With the breadth of open-world that can be offered through a top-down action RPG and the depth to the environments and the gameplay options available to players through an immersive sim, it’s the kind of game that lights up your eyes as you imagine all the possibilities it can offer.