We've been keenly awaiting the arrival of Wolfeye Studios' Weird West for quite some time now, with a crack dev team put together by Arkane founder and former creative director, Raphael Colantonio, alongside former executive producer Julien Roby, it's an immersive action RPG that's shown real promise in previews and one that's got undoubted pedigree. Indeed, with its DNA steeped in the likes of the superlative Dishonored, Prey and Arx Fatalis, if you're a fan of refreshingly freeform RPGs full of choice and consequence, there really is quite a bit to get yourself excited about here.
And, thankfully, it's excitement that isn't in the slightest bit misplaced as Weird West delivers a delightfully dark and twisted tale that funnels players through the intertwined destinies of five strangers as they battle to get to the bottom of the occultish mystery that binds them all together. It's a mystery that takes place in a wild west plagued by monstrosities; witches, pigmen, cannibal cults, evil spirits and sirens, in a world where ancient relics, runes and dark magic sit side by side with the gunslingers, shootouts, twirling moustaches and Stetsons we might normally associate with a trip through ye olde west. There's as much Ravenous and The Witch here as there is Shane or Unforgiven.
That Arkane DNA is easy to spot too in Weird West's masterful melding of its many RPG systems. There's all-sorts of mechanics at work here; a robust reputation system that's affected by the actions you take as you mosey from town to town and shootout to shootout, vendettas that see AI characters hold long-lasting grudges, permadeath for key figures in the campaign, great big skill trees full of upgrades and abilities - earned here through the collection of golden playing cards and glowing "Nimp Relics - and campaign missions that react and respond to the choices you make as you go about solving the ludicrous issues and situations thrown at you.
In terms of those upgrades and abilities, each of the five strangers you assume control of over the course of the roughly 20 hour campaign can feed relics and golden playing cards into skill trees that give them access to a range of powers that compliment your particular playstyle. You can choose to pump points into making your guns more powerful, for example, imbuing bullets with electrical damage or having your bow's arrows pierce armour for a certain number of shots. You could also decide to make yourself quicker and quieter, feeding points into improving your chances of remaining undetected as you skulk around environments picking off foes, choking them out and hiding their bodies. The stealth here is, in fact, far better than we had anticipated and quickly became our preferred method of combat where possible, at least for our first rodeo through the campaign.
Each character type; bounty hunter, pigman, protector and so on, also has a handful of unlockable abilities that are exclusive to them. The pigman can stomp the ground to damage nearby enemies or charge foes to send them flying all over the shop, whilst the protector has the ability to call forth hurricane storms or even a great big bear spirit to fight on his behalf. There is, in short, plenty of choice here with regards to how you go about refining your combat experience, and this is then layered into the game's wonderfully dynamic environments which are carefully constructed for maximum carnage.
Every environment you travel to across Weird West's impressively large world map sets you down in a carefully curated little tinderbox full of oil drums, poison, explosive barrels, traps and so on, giving you the tools to create absolute chaos and then letting you go about setting it all off in the manner of your own choosing. The combat here really is chaotically engaging stuff, with gunfights that require a certain amount of pre-planning if you're to stand any chance of surviving for more than a handful of seconds at times - and this is where the game's slow-motion, bullet time-style, dodge roll really comes into its own.
You've got a great big purple AP (action point) bar on the right side of your screen you see, that fills as you attack or take damage from enemies, and this governs the use of your various unlocked abilities. It also allows you to use this slo-mo dodge mechanic, activated by hitting the roll button as you aim, to dive through the air and pump enemies full of holes as time slows to a stylish crawl. It's absolutely essential to your chances of surviving when the action really kicks off and you'll find yourself gulping down a ton of purple tonics to ensure your AP gauge always has enough juice in it to allow you to let fly with a few rounds from your shotgun or bow as your character pulls a slow-motion stunt roll out of the bag. It's extremely satisfying stuff.
All of these various aspects; the environments full of fire and poison and dangerous potential, your powers and the game's unpredictable enemies make for the type of immersive RPG where save-scumming is absolutely accepted and expected, as your best-laid plans fall apart in a blaze of fire and gore and you find yourself whipped back to your last quick save point to try over and over again. Can it be frustrating at times? Yes. Did you really take care to plan what you were going to do, heal your party and ensure you had the ammo to succeed before you set fire to that pigman's head? Probably not.
There's loot galore for the loot fiends among us to pilfer from crates and drawers and bank vaults and so on too - be careful not to be seen or you may end up in jail - and all of this results in the type of game that, on paper at least, can sound like the sort of thing you need to take a real deep breath before diving into. But that's the beauty of Weird West, it manages to pack in all of this stuff; the depth, the choice, the reactive environments and mission storylines whilst also managing to feel wonderfully streamlined and breezy at the same time. Yes, you can choose to get deep down and dirty with all of the systems and mechanics on offer here, you can spend an age hoovering up all of the side quests, mining for ore, crafting vests, upgrading weapons and investigating every blood-soaked cave you come across for new weapons and nimp relics, or you can just focus on blasting baddies and taking what you get as you ride like the wind through the critical narrative missions.
Wolfeye Studios has designed this game to accommodate players on all ends of the spectrum. We chose to comb every inch of the place for golden cards and relics, because we've got a rather worrying addiction to rifling through every bin, desk and barn we can find, but if we hadn't, if we'd just blasted through the main missions and left most of the dungeons and caves alone, we're sure we would have found enough in the way of upgrades and fancy weapons to keep us going anyway.
It's tempting to march to through the narrative at quite a brisk pace here too because it's all so bloody well written and put together. Having five different protagonists, as it turns out, is a masterstroke in terms of keeping things feeling fresh and lively. As soon as we began to tire ever so slightly of playing the solemn bounty hunter seeking revenge, we were thrown into the shoes of a mad pigman on an entirely different mission, and then on to the next and the next. We don't want to spoil any of the fun or detail in how it all escalates here so we'll remain vague, but how these character's stories and fates are intertwined, how the game goes about manipulating and playing with this stuff, is super clever and satisfying to engage with.
The way in which your protagonists appear in each other's worlds, how you can recruit your past self into your current gang after you've assumed a different role, makes for some real tense action as you attempt to keep these characters you've bonded with alive and kicking. There are some great revenge moments here, some brilliant twists and turns and the strength of the writing, on top of all of those systems of play that merge so well together, result in a game that it's really quite difficult to find any great fault with.
Yes, there are times when the enemy AI lets things down, occasionally becoming unresponsive, failing to notice a comrade being beaten to a pulp right nearby, freezing in place or walking through a walk, - but this is stuff we expect from a big messy action-RPG like this, where so many systems are at play at any given time. This handful of small bugs aside though, Weird West is really is just an absolute cracker, a massively atmospheric, clever and chaotic western/horror RPG that's a real sign of intent from Wolfeye Studios and another huge win for Xbox Game Pass. We recommend you saddle up for this weird and wonderful adventure as soon as you possibly can.
Weird West is a fantastic debut from Wolfeye Studios, a slick and addictive action-RPG that delivers a top-notch narrative alongside some delightfully chaotic combat in a world that absolutely oozes atmosphere. The Arkane DNA is evident here in the slick selection of powers and abilities, the choice-driven storylines and combat that gives you the tools to experiment, to toy with your enemies and approach problems from multiple angles. Side missions are delightfully well-written, there's a ton of dungeons, looting and crafting to dig into and, beyond a handful of buggy enemy encounters, the whole thing looks, sounds and plays like a dream.