by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
A missing door
There’s an early quest in West of Loathing where the local sheriff asks you to bring back the jail cell door that was stolen during an earlier breakout by a gang. As I approached the gang’s hideout, I discovered that the sentry outside was fast asleep, allowing me to either sneak past him or coldly shoot him dead. Opting for the violent approach, I was met with a text option indicating that I would be a horrible, ruthless person if I shot this man. After confirming that I still wanted to kill him, the game repeatedly warned me of the consequences of doing so, before finally ending his life. Throughout this, my stick-figure character goofily grinned, ending the scene by doing multiple cartwheels towards the gang’s hideout.
This moment confirmed two things for me: First, I had made the correct choice to be learning how to perform silly walks, and secondly, West of Loathing is shaping up to be just as surreal and weird as The Kingdom of Loathing, which is a good thing.
West of Loathing is an upcoming single player RPG that was described to me by one of the developers as “Like Skyrim, but with stick figures.” This is the second game that Asymmetric Publications are making with the Loathing brand, with Kingdom of Loathing being the first. For those unaware, the latter is a browser based multiplayer RPG that was originally released in 2003, quickly attaining a large following for its surreal humor and parodies of both fantasy and popular culture. I have fond memories of playing the game throughout middle school and high school, as I was charmed by the admittedly simple graphics and solid writing, which managed to be consistently funny without being tiring.
Continuing in Kingdom’s tradition, West of Loathing features stick figure art that looks crude at first glance, but is filled with animations and details that provide both contrast to the game’s often dark dialogue and quests and are filled with silly details that help improve the overall experience. For example, talking to one character revealed that her family had previously ranched cows for generations, but were later killed after passing cows discovered her family’s history, burning down the ranch and everything in it. When you meet one of the cows, it’s literally on fire and floating. This kind of humor permeated my brief time with the game, and most importantly, never felt like it overstayed its welcome.
Much of the game consists of exploration and completing quests typical to RPGs, with a variety of methods to complete quests in game. There is rarely one dialogue option for conversations, unless you’ve exhausted all talk from a NPC. The right words can secure you companions to aid you in your journey through West of Loathing, though my demo did not allow me to explore that side of the game. Instead, I got multiple accounts of the game’s combat system, which is primarily based off which class you choose to create.
A touch of class
The beginning of the game sees you pick from one of three classes, each ridiculous spinoffs of the traditional warrior, mage and rogue trifecta - Cow Puncher, Beanslinger and Snake Oiler. My chosen class, the Snake Oiler, actually uses a snake as a makeshift bullwhip. Combat is turn-based, and has you choose from a number of actions that are either free to use, like a basic attack, or cost action points to use special abilities. Admittedly, the combat is extremely simple in the beginning, with little difficulty to be found in most fights. But as the demo ended, I saw glimpses of what the combat could become when the game forced me to decide whether to use my expensive, difficult to get items to defeat surprisingly tough opponents.
Beyond choosing different classes and different options for solving quests, choosing what horse you ride at the beginning of the game will affect what encounters you come across in your journey. A basic horse will provide the regular experience unaltered, while an undead horse will cause more supernatural elements to seep into the game. My personal favorite is a googly eyed horse that apparently makes the game weirder than it already is - an accomplishment, if true.
West of Loathing stands out from the crowd of RPGs because of its pedigree and dedication to humour, something that few games succeed in capturing. The gameplay was fun, with enough variety to encourage experimentation in multiple playthroughs. It’s set to launch on Steam in a few months, where we will see if the game can continue to be just as charming as its opening moments.