The Wild, Wild, WILD West
All the way back in 2003, an MMORPG called The Kingdom of Loathing was released by Asymmetric Publications, LLC. Rather than marketing itself as a clone of other popular MMOs at the time such as Everquest or Runescape, The Kingdom of Loathing took a rather unique, and quite tongue-in-cheek approach to building their game. The entire game seemed to be drawn in Microsoft Paint, containing stick figure characters and and a world completely devoid of color. On top of that, nearly everything within The Kingdom of Loathing was satirical; players would pick from classes such as Pastamancer, Turtle Tamer, or Disco Bandit, and venture across the lands of The Kingdom of Loathing battling anything from ordinary rabbits to bloodthirsty demons (and even the occasional apathetic lizardman). In The Kingdom of Loathing, meat was the primary currency, spoons were used as weapons, and absolutely nothing made sense. Despite how bizarre and, well, not normal everything within Asymmetric’s MMORPG was, they ended up doing quite well. The Kingdom of Loathing is still alive and well in 2016, and has entertained over 2 million players to this date. Now, 13 years later, Asymmetric has unveiled the second game in the Loathing series; West of Loathing.
West of Loathing is an RPG set within (as the title of the game has probably given away) the Wild, Wild, West. As a young adventurer, you wake up and decide one day that it’s time to make a name for yourself. Sure, life on the farm with your loving mother, hard-working father, and ultra-geeky brother is nice, but it just isn’t for you. You could be shooting bad guys, learning a new trade, or… uh… shooting bad guys! With a really cool gun! Besides, life on the farm is really boring. So, after hastily making your life-changing decision and saying goodbye to your family, you head toward the nearest town with nothing but a mostly-empty backpack and a heart full of dreams. Onward to adventure!
Let me first clear things up by saying that, while it does occur within the same realm as The Kingdom of Loathing, West of Loathing is completely and totally a standalone game; nothing about it is massively multiplayer or online-only. Much of the gameplay involves exploration and interaction, with players being able to interact with nearly every object and individual within each area all with largely unique results. Through thorough investigation, players are able to discover new locations, acquire new items, and even make some new allies. While there are many familiar elements where interaction is concerned, nearly everything within the game thus far has that unmistakable infusion of weirdness and eye-rolling (but in the best possible way) humor that is shaping West of Loathing up to be just as weird as its predecessor. One of my personal favorite interactions was with the spittoon in the bar, which essentially described to you in painstaking detail how disgusted and nauseous your character was becoming as they began digging through the jar full of spit and old chewing tobacco. Not only was it funny, but it was one of those moments that made me think “yeah, wow, people really do a lot of weird and socially inappropriate things within RPGs and almost always get away with it.
As goofy as it may look, West of Loathing is a legitimate RPG with what appears to be considerable effort put toward both combat and character development. While enemies appear as you explore whatever dangerous area that you’ve decided to saunter into, combat does not occur in real-time. Rather, touching an enemy will begin a turn-based combat engagement. Combat occurs on a grid, with players and enemies attacking one at a time (think Final Fantasy X in terms of attacking, with players attacking as soon as the decision is made). The fact that there is a grid gives the appearance that players and enemies are able to move around during their combat phase (thus possibly adding an additional element of strategy) however I wasn’t able to figure out how to do this, nor did any enemy move from the square that they began on. My position also didn’t seem to have any effect on my ability to use both ranged and melee weapons and skills, as my character would walk up to the enemy for melee attacks and then walk back to his square. While confused as to why the grid was there, it didn’t have any impact on how enjoyable combat was, and I’m chalking it up to the fact that I was playing an Alpha version.
Defeating enemies, completing quests, and certain interactions award your character with experience points. Rather than requiring a set amount of EXP to level up, gained experienced can be spent as you’d like in order to increase stats and power up skills. I found the ability to allocate experience freely quite enjoyable, as it added a large amount of customization to character building. However, while the freedom to build my character as I saw fit was nice, I was a bit confused on the stats themselves. West of Loathing uses unique names for stats (some of which appeared in The Kingdom of Loathing), such as Mysticality, Moxie, and Grit. While I appreciated the creativity, I couldn’t find anything that explained what exactly the stats, or even some of the skills, were used for. As one of those people who will delve into a Wiki just to make sure that I know every little detail about how stats and moves work within a game, it was a little unnerving to just put invest in certain stats “because it sounded right”. Once again though it was probably an Alpha thing, so I’m not worried about it being a problem in the actual game.
Do you like stick figures? Hopefully the answer is a resounding “absolutely!”, because West of Loathing has adopted the same artistic style as its older brother. Everything is black-and-white, and people are stick figures. While it may seem like a bit of a letdown to some of you, I can assure you that the artistic decisions made within the game seem to fit the overall feel quite well. And, while the figures themselves may be sticks, the animation is anything but stiff; characters and objects move quite smoothly.
All-in-all, West of Loathing is shaping up to be a great game, and I’m sure that it will turn out to be an incredibly enjoyable experience once the full game is released. While the world within West of Loathing may be strictly black-and-white, the game so far is about as colorful as you can get.