West of Loathing: Review

Written by: Carlos Zotomayor

Games | Sep 14, 2017

Asymmetric Publications game review West of Loathing

This is one of those times where the saying "graphics don't matter" gets put to the test. There's no getting around it: West of Loathing looks like crap. Take the wall drawings of a five-year-old, smother them in condiments, and the resulting mess would still be more colorful than anything this game throws at you.

Of course, looking like wallpaper material isn't what the title wants to be known for; that task falls to its writing. I'm not talking about a compelling storyline, either. Though West of Loathing starts you off with a bit of story in your hometown, the game's main selling point is its humor.

Executed exclusively through text boxes, the funnies are impossible to miss. From the moment you choose your character's class to the towns you visit, the entire experience feels very much like a Choose Your Own Adventure book; albeit with far less choices (more on those later).

Trying to be funny in a video game is a skill unto itself. Unlike movies, television, or audio, the audience plays a much bigger role in this interactive medium. They aren't just along for the ride but rather contribute to the direction of the overall comedy. Not only that, but playing a video game takes far longer than watching a show or listening to a podcast consisting of four people farting into a microphone for 15 minutes.

West of Loathing
's humor is hit-or-miss. While almost every crack is filled with jokes anyone can understand, they only tend to be funny the first time players hear them.

Take for example a spit pot in a saloon. Upon interacting with the object, the game tells you it is ill-advised to go digging through its contents. But seeing as this is a video game, you do it anyway. This executes a series of text prompts detailing an argument between you and the game about the various health hazards of doing such a thing. This is mildly entertaining the first time you do it, but becomes tedious as you enter different saloons to do the exact same thing over again.

Things only get worse as players delve deeper into the game. Once the initial laughs wear off,
West of Loathing fills its locations with far less interesting stories. This is no more evident than in Ghostwood, a town you come across about halfway through the world map.

In lieu of any kind of story or proper gameplay, players have to walk back and forth between a series of buildings to get a set of papers from the town's government. This requires slogging through a seemingly endless stream of text (and some memorization) to complete. I could tell you it gets more interesting, but then that would be a joke the game fails to deliver.

The way text appears contributes largely to the humor's downfall. Without a dedicated button to interact with the world, all thoughts and speech come up as soon as you make contact with the object or person in question. This triggers a bukkake of words that fills the screen and takes the player out of the experience. While the writing itself is humorous at times, the way it is presented makes it feel like the developers chopped off pieces of the final Word document and pasted it into the game.

Which is a shame considering that for the most part, each of the locals has its own humorous quirks. The town of Breadwood is so deep in trouble that the horses are drunk and the mayor is at risk of being run out of the community. There is camp full of marching skeletons and a graveyard full of dead people named Dave. All of these places have their own little adventures, with some locations' activities intertwining with others.

When you aren't investigating derelict mines or getting pricked by cacti, combat is there to fill in the gaps with turn-based action.

This works just as you would expect. With an extra party member in tow, you two take turns whacking away at enemies until one side's respective health bars are empty (you lose the fight once your player character's HP reaches zero, regardless of how many party members are still alive).

There are your run-of-the-mill ailments and useable items, with successful skirmishes rewarding experience points, Meat (the game's currency), and more crap which you stuff into your backpack. Items are numerous and while it can be daunting to see an inventory filled with filled with flavor text and useless knick-knacks, knowing where the standard healing item or explosive is can get you out of trouble pretty easily.

In terms of choices, the game leads you to believe there is more than one way to solve a problem. This is true for some instances but not all of them.

Depending on where you allocate your experience points, certain paths make themselves available. Pumping your character with "Lockpickin' Expertise" instead of "Foragin'" allows you to break into safes but also limits your ability to collect rare plants. Depending on your playstyle, you can customize your character with specific abilities and equipment. However, all skills can be maxed out as long as you continue to gain experience points.

As with all comedic games, West of Loathing doesn't have much replay value. Just like a joke, it becomes stale the more you use it; even more so considering the title reuses some quips on the first playthrough. You can extend your playtime by trying out the different classes and making different decisions, but almost everything can be seen by playing the game once.

Considering how much it does with so little, West of Loathing should be commended on the effort it tries to make. Its combat is ho-hum and the presentation is more than lacking, but amidst the wasteland of mistimed jokes are a few comedic nuggets which would make any prospector show their gum-filled smile.

About the author: Carlos Zotomayor

Zoto can see your underpants. Mmm... tasteful.

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