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Weird West review: Turning the old West into a sandbox

Someone shoots an explosive in Weird West.
Weird West
MSRP $40.00
“While it has its quirks, Weird West is a bit of storytelling spectacle that seems to have been hand-crafted for diehard RPG fans.”
  • Brilliantly storytelling
  • Well-developed characters
  • Impactful choices
  • Creative combat
  • Clumsy NPCs
  • Weak ending

I don’t keep my love of the old west a secret. If you’ve read my opinion pieces about Red Dead Online before, you’ll know that I’m drawn to the setting like Americans were to the west coast. If I see a game with a cowboy in it, I’ll yeehaw my way straight in.

That’s how I was originally sold on Weird West.

But Weird West is not a cowboy game. It’s hardly even a western game. Weird West, an immersive sim from two of the minds behind Dishonored, is a much more unique story. It clearly has Dishonored‘s bones, offering players multiple ways to sort out encounters, though it lacks the same polish. Instead, Weird West‘s take on a fictional American frontier meets Dungeons & Dragons hosts the most engaging stories, even when it shows its janky side.

Kick dirt

Weird West doesn’t put players into the shoes of one cowpoke, but five different figures. Each is unique to the game’s setting in their own way. Players start off as a woman whose husband is kidnapped, forcing her to pick up her guns and return to her bounty hunting ways as she tracks the villains that took her man.

During this first adventure, the West is large, scary, and strange. I started by traveling to another farmstead, and immediately, Weird West showed me that I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. At the start of the mission, my first goal was to retrieve my horse. I quickly notice that there’s a house on the farm, which I could break into if I so dared. To do so, I could kill the owner and find out or wait for night and sneak in through the window.

In a moment that hooked me into the game, I realized that I had turned a major boss into a simple paycheck.

At this point, traveling across the West is at its most exciting. Only a corner of the game’s sizable map is visible — though it’s not like you’ll actually see every inch of it. Weird West takes the same approach to travel as the original Fallout, where each location is its own zone that players have to travel between on the map. Similarly, time passes as players travel from town to abandoned mine and back to town. An adventure might feel like it took 20 minutes, but for the character, it’s been a week.

The passage of time is just one of the many variables Weird West keeps track of. Every decision — including whether or not players pursue some optional objectives — feeds into the development of the game’s world and its ending. At the end of the first character’s act, for instance, I could either immediately save my husband or chase after the boss of the gang that kidnapped him. I opted for the former, and when I started my adventure as the game’s second character, found a newspaper that said the gang boss was still alive and that his group was still kidnapping people across the west. I ended up taking his poster off a bounty board with another different character, just because I needed the cash. In a moment that hooked me into the game, I realized that I had turned a major boss into a simple paycheck.

Choices and consequences in Weird West overlap each character, making the game just about as immersive sim as it gets. Killing a character or leaving them alive changes main quests, saving people or leaving them to die changes locations. Whatever you do in the world will, in some way, be shown to you — and not in the same way that Skyrim did, where you’d kill a world-destroying dragon and be called a nobody. Choices in Weird West lead to my favorite kind of consequences: Visible ones. There’s magic in seeing a world change because of your actions, and Weird West has that in spades.

Two characters talking to each other in Weird West.
Devolver Digital

I only wish that all five of the stories told in Weird West were given the same amount of energy. The bounty hunter’s story (the first in the game) is one of the most exciting, and the second is one of the most interesting. Unlike the rest though, the game’s last story doesn’t examine the character that players fill the shoes of at all. Instead, they’re a blank slate, and their story simply points towards the end of the game. It’s a disappointing finale when the remainder of the game’s cast is so colorful.

Whack West

From the get-go, Weird West‘s world and story are innately intriguing. It opens on a robed person strapped down to a chair before a strange mark burns onto the screen. Immediately after, you’re thrown into your adventure as the bounty hunter. It has mysteries and story beats that tie together seamlessly.

Between those beats is the rest of the game, which, while stable, is just south of fully functional. I never had any issues with the game crashing or maintaining a stable framerate, but NPCs behaving the right way was an entirely different story. Sometimes my followers would end up on nearby rooftops whenever I was walking through a town, or when in a cave, they’d walk above the ceiling, clipping out of bounds.

Fighting enemies is difficult enough because of the game’s camera, which can’t be moved while aiming a weapon. 

While those gaffes never really took away from the game, NPCs acting as if they’d just been kicked in the head by a horse didn’t help in combat. Fighting enemies is difficult enough because of the game’s camera, which can’t be moved while aiming a weapon. When allies are mindlessly crouching behind cover and refusing to shoot, things get a bit more frustrating.

Characters fight in an underground temple in Weird West.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Blazing saddles

Combat in Weird West isn’t all bad, though, presenting plenty of options in most situations. Each of the game’s five weapons has unlockable special abilities. An upgrade for rifles, for example, silences their next shot and makes it deal extra damage to unaware enemies. This attack, paired with a bow and arrow and the ability to knock enemies unconscious, makes stealth perfectly viable throughout most of the game.

Weird West isn’t just a sandbox, it’s your sandbox. 

I didn’t end up using it all that often, though, instead opting to kick most doors open and go in guns blazing. Weird West has plenty of offensive upgrades too, some that make shotgun blasts deal explosive damage or turn revolver shots into bursts of lightning. These two effects, along with some others in the game, work in tandem with the game’s environmental effects too. Shooting a bandit that’s been sitting out in the rain with a lightning round deals extra damage, and blowing up an enemy covered in oil yields explosive results. Between environmental opportunities and skills, some of which persist between characters while others don’t, combat isn’t just unique to each encounter but to each character.

Of course, you can also keep things the same if you’d like. Since the adventure picks up with the next character where it left off with the last one, you can even recruit your previous characters to be followers. That gives you access to your former gear, which you can reclaim for your new character. Weird West‘s fourth character starts off with a bow and arrow, which I quickly swapped out for a long rifle by finding one of my previous characters and borrowing it from them.

A dark ritual taking place in the game Weird West.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The way you approach everything in Weird West is totally up to you. You can embrace each character’s special abilities or simply run to your last character, get all your stuff, upgrade your weapons, and blast enemies away — or main story characters away. You can even off your past characters if you really didn’t like them. I didn’t do that myself because it’s a bit too off the beaten path for me, but the option was there. Weird West isn’t just a sandbox, it’s your sandbox.

Our take

There aren’t many games out there like Weird West. It’s an immersive sim that drives itself forward with an intrigue-filled story that doesn’t let go. Even the way that story is told, from character to character in a constantly evolving world, is a rarity nowadays. That aspect is done better here than in most other games. While it slows down as it eases into its final act and its NPCs leave quite a bit to be desired, Weird West is for the RPG fans who really love their role-playing.

Is there a better alternative?

If you’re looking for a better western RPG than Weird West, your only option is 2016’s Red Dead Redemption 2. But if open-ended gameplay is what sounds interesting, the Dishonored series has been dishing that out for quite a while.

How long will it last?

While I was told a run through of Weird West would take at least 20 hours, I managed to beat the game in just 15. If you’re trying to complete all of the game’s side quests and optional objectives, I see how it could stretch up to 20, though.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Weird West certainly isn’t the best immersive sim out there, but the things it does right, it does better than most of its peers. If this game can smooth out its edges, it’ll be even easier to recommend.

Weird West was reviewed on PC.

Editors' Recommendations

Otto Kratky
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Otto Kratky is a freelance writer with many homes. You can find his work at Digital Trends, GameSpot, and Gamepur. If he's…
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