by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
The Cows have Come Home
I just pulled a snake out of a briefcase to poison a cow that had emerged from a portal that leads to an alternate dimension. It was an infernal cow, and it was here to strike vengeance on all the farmers who previously had cows. You see, The Cows have Come Home, and they were devoted to destroying everything in their path with fire and brimstone.
In case you can’t tell, West of Loathing is a very unique game.
West of Loathing is a single player RPG with turn based combat developed by Asymmetric, the developers of the long running stick figure browser MMORPG Kingdom of Loathing. And while the latter game earned a legion of dedicated fans who fell in love with its rudimentary graphics and ridiculousness, West of Loathing seeks to do the same, except the fantasy kingdom has been replaced by a Wild West setting that is described, quite accurately, by the developers as Skyrim with stick figures.
It begins with your custom character waking up in your family’s home, saying goodbye to your parents and brother and striking it out west to seek your fortune and fame. You explore a myriad of locations across the world, completing quests and generally uncovering all of the mysteries and puzzles that are scattered throughout the land. It’s standard RPG fare, except most quests in other games don’t involve investigating a haunted pickle factory, fighting a troupe of demonic clowns, and building a railroad that is actually named Manifest Destiny.
From the get-go, West of Loathing’s absurdity becomes readily apparent, as you choose from a list of classes that includes a cow puncher instead of a warrior, a magician who specializes in casting spells through cooking and beans, and a snake oiler who is quick with a gun and carries around a briefcase full of snakes to throw at your enemies. They may be clones of tried and true RPG classes, but they’re injected with enough humor and flair to make them stand out.
The same can be said for the turn based combat, which looks simplistic at first but actually has some depth to it. Apart from a series of basic attacks to damage enemies, you must rely on a limited pool of action points that determine what special abilities you can use and whatever usable items you have in the inventory. Basic attacks were enough to win the day in most fights, though in the more challenging fights I had to use every tool at my disposal in order to win.
As varied as the options are, I found myself disliking fights after a while. I found a majority of battles could be won without needing to use a lot of your abilities and items, and the repetitive nature of those fights only made me want to complete them ever quicker in order to get back on with the rest of the game. The few fights that were challenging were interesting to play, but those were few and far between. And because losing a fight only means that you are auto-loaded to the start of the room or location where the fight took place, meaning there is little incentive for not losing as the punishment is so trivial.
But where West of Loathing falters in combat, it absolutely excels in exploration. Discovering new locations and quests is always a delight, as you encounter ridiculous scenario after ridiculous scenario that must be played to be believed. In addition, there are plenty of puzzles scattered throughout the world that allow you to complete some quests non-violently or are entire quests unto themselves, many of which are difficult to solve but supremely rewarding to complete.
The game revels in weirdness, and I was continually surprised at where it would take me. There is a demonic clown circus that refuses to take anyone who ran away from home because they have no open positions. The stage coach for the hub town is named C.T. Nelson’s Coach Co., and I am fully aware that I may be the only person who laughed at that reference. I drowned a man in a bathtub, yet my character held the same dumb grin the entire time I was doing so. I read a sad postcard from my brother, at which point I unlocked Nostalgia Mode, which paints the world in sepia tones for no other reason than my character reflecting on the past.
What’s more, many of these jokes and humorous situations will have an impact on gameplay. If you accidentally send two postcards on the same day, the clerk at the post office will rant about a massive mail conspiracy that they believe the government is covering up that goes on for paragraphs. If you run into too many cacti, your health increases because your body has recovered from so many wounds. I once said that my middle name was Sneaky during a quest, only to later discover that my character suddenly acquired Sneaky as her actual middle name because I insisted it was true.
These are minor things by themselves, but added up together they make every action, no matter how silly, feel important. It encourages you to always search for new things, and the game rarely disappoints when you uncover a new line of text or an item that is completely insane in design.
It helps that the game’s stick figure aesthetic is a delight to look at, as it hides plenty of little details that help to elevate the overall experience. From the little piles of poop littering the ground in some places, to the continually rolling eyes on my crazy horse, West of Loathing has plenty of smaller details that are a delight to find. And while the dumb, goofy grins on over half of the cast of characters is fun in and of itself, watching them move about helps to make the world that much more lively, even if they are just a bunch of stick figures. I seriously recommend turning on Silly Walks for that reason.
West of Loathing is the rare game that makes me want to explore every nook and cranny to find new quests, new texts to read and most importantly, new jokes to laugh at. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed this much while playing a game, and I look forward to exploring West of Loathing again and again in the future.
Extremely funny, well written, charming world and quests
The turn-based combat isn’t very engaging