Structurally, West of Loathing is one part old-school CRPG (due to it being a spinoff of a 2003 web game) and one part semi-open world modern RPG. The CRPG aspect is demonstrated with the game’s various skill mechanics, which can positively or negatively modify stats and/or provide specific perks related to NPC interaction, item crafting, or looting. Food, booze, and potions can also be consumed to further increase stats; however, there’s a limit to how many items you can consume in a given day, which can be reset if you rest at an inn or pass out after getting very angry from losing too many fights.The primary gameplay loop consists of exploring the open region, finding new locations, and completing quests of various complexity to progress. When the player reaches the huge mountainous region, the key to progressing the story and reaching Frisco is tied to assisting the railroad line make their journey over.
Combat in West of Loathing is simplistic and turn-based. The player gets skills tied to their specific job class, and can learn additional skills from books. Other skills not tied to the player’s job class can be earned from obtaining necromancy (or ‘Nex-Mex’) tomes or…playing a tabletop RPG campaign with a bunch of nerds. Stats and damage are calculated based on efficiency and resistance to melee, magic, ranged damage, status effects, and specific damage types. Pardners have a smaller skill pool but can offer unique support to the player, such as healing or providing defensive cover. The player gains EXP from successful victories, and can disperse EXP to their stats or level up skills.
Overall, West of Loathing is a surprisingly robust and addicting game. While a standard playthrough can take around 10 hours or so, the various sidequests, numerous locations to discover, and novel ways to build the protagonist offer a dearth of objectives to complete. You can technically get away with only finishing the bare minimum of story quests, but the game does a good job chaining in extraneous events, and incentivizing overworld exploration. The game allows for fast-travel from any location, which makes revisiting previous locations easy. Combat encounters are fast (and can be made faster by toggling a speed setting), and mostly don’t feel like a stalling hindrance to the exploration’s momentum. Slowly building up the protagonist is very satisfying, especially since many of the perks can show up unexpectedly. Being a Snake Oiler, my character was an adept trickster, which allowed me to progress past certain sidequests and, later, enabled some smooth talking to avoid combat encounters. In a different, longer CRPG, Divinity: Original Sin II, I built my character as a charismatic joker, which was also useful for bypassing fights later in the story, so I was delighted I could do something similar in West of Loathing. On this topic, in contrast to Divinity: Original Sin II, West of Loathing is much more succinct, but doesn’t trade game length for depth. As a whole, the game reminds me of 2000’s-era flash games (unsurprising given its parent game), but with the added depth of modern game mechanics. In summary, I enjoyed sending my silly little stick figure out to whip bandits with poisonous snakes, collect rare jelly beans, and disgustingly manhandle numerous spittoons.
West of Loathing’s humor is an excellent mix of puns and sheer wittiness that feels genuinely clever and avoids falling into early 2000’s “lul randum XD” humor. You can unlock a perk from the beginning of the game that does nothing but make your character walk in silly ways that is appropriately called Stupid Walking. There are binoculars that can be used to scope out new locations, but they are also pointedly disposable binoculars, and can’t be used more than once. Put enough points into the Foragin’ perk, and you can harvest Pepperoni mold from graves to create Tombstone pizza. The protagonist apparently cannot spell “sarsaparilla”, resulting in multiple inventory variants of the drink with different, incorrectly spelled names. Even visually, the game is pretty hilarious. The stick figures walking around in a 3D plane thanks to Unreal Engine have a goofy contrast with the UI and menus reusing the same structures from Kingdom of Loathing.
West of Loathing does have some issues, but thankfully none that are especially glaring. On the more nitpicky side, I wish the game used a tab system instead of a scrolling list to organize the inventory. I also wish the game had a better means of tracking side quests, because it’s very easy to get distracted and forget that you need to get x item for y NPC in z location because you found a random ranch and needed to shoot some Hellcows. On the more serious end of issues, the game autosaves by default, and you cannot manually save. This was likely done to prevent save scumming and encourage multiple playthroughs, but it can be pretty frustrating if you mess up a sidequest (like the quest to get the secret third party member) and get locked out for the rest of the game. Lastly, there’s some occasional obtuseness with some of the game’s puzzles. There’s an infamous puzzle involving having to guess the name of a favorite granddaughter for a ghost in one of the graveyards, and the correct answer is randomized per playthrough. Thankfully, the game has a very extensive Wiki, so help isn’t too far away.
Pros: Short overall playtime. Extensive character building, world exploration, and sidequest gameplay mechanics that are both robust and form an addicting gameplay. Excellent sense of humor, wit, and puns.
Cons: Some minor UI issues and general lack of an in-game sidequest tracker. Game exclusively autosaves. Obtuseness of varying levels show up in later game quests and puzzles.
West of Loathing is available for the PC through Steam and the Nintendo Switch. West of Loathing is a nice little CRPG that maintains much of the satisfaction from longer titles in the same vein in a smaller package, with plenty of humor to top things off. I had a darn tootin’ time with West of Loathing and highly recommend the game for a cozy weekend in or a break from playing something longer.