The "immersive sim" sub-genre of video games has existed for a long time, but some of the most well-known entries come from Arkane Studios, creators of Dishonored, Prey, Deathloop, and many more. The original founders of Arkane Studios built a new team with WolfEye Studios, and its mission was clear: combine an immersive sim with an isometric action-RPG. The result is Weird West, a game that freely embraces player choice and freedom in a twisted mesh of dark fantasy and the Wild West.
In Weird West, players will experience the journeys of five entirely separate characters, each with their own struggles and tribulations, in a branching quest to decide the fate of the world and unravel the various mysteries clouding the intricate story. Weird West is resplendent with world-building details, overlapping systems and mechanics, and a narrative that actually changes depending on your actions. Unfortunately, it's also mired in a myriad of minor bugs and issues, and lacks polish in both visuals and performance.
Bottom line: Weird West's astounding world-building and intriguing singleplayer campaign are worth the cost of entry on their own, but the game's lackluster technical performance and polish are huge negatives that prevent it from achieving greatness.
- Immensely detailed world and lore
- Interesting multi-chapter, choice-driven story
- Many ways to play and reasons to return
- Unimpressive visuals and performance
- Experience plagued by dozens of small bugs
- Emotional story moments fall flat
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Devolver Digital. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
Weird West: What's good
Weird West boasts of an impressively crafted dark fantasy rendition of the Wild West laden with drama, gore, and terrifying threats. The episodic story that weaves through it is just as ambitious, with every choice and action affecting the overall path. Players can spend an eternity piecing together this foreboding universe by listening to conversations between NPCs and characters; rooting through abandoned homes, towns, and other varied locations to unravel the mystery of what happened; immersing themselves in a library's worth of books, letters, notes, and scrolls — and so much more.
|Xbox version||Xbox One|
|Play time||25-30 hours|
|Launch date||March 31, 2022|
|Xbox Game Pass||Xbox, Cloud, & PC|
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
WolfEye Studios succeeded with aplomb at building the world of Weird West, and you feel the attention to detail as you explore. Besides the information pertaining to the plot and the world it resides in, there's also a surprising amount of interactivity in Weird West, and plenty of overlapping systems combine to make the world feel more alive. Beyond a standard day and night cycle, Weird West features a variety of weather patterns and environmental effects, all of which affect gameplay in various ways.
Oil barrels can be used to spark massive fires, either from nearby open flames or your own Molotovs and gunfire, which can then spread through fields of grass, buildings and objects, and people. Rain can put out fires and soak into players and animals, rendering them resistant to burning but more susceptible to paralyzing lightning effects (which can also happen dynamically, thanks to thunderstorms). Harsh chemicals or poison can wear down people's health; fresh water can be used to quench thirst and replenish life. All this and more, and players can use each of these effects and the surrounding environments to aid them on their quests (or be hindered by them).
This focus on creating an interactive world also extends to the player's character and how NPCs perceive them. There's a full-fledged karma system in Weird West, which dynamically changes depending on your actions (at least, the ones you are seen doing), and it's entirely up to players on what kind of person you want to be in Weird West. Seek a high reputation and earn discounts and more favorable comments from surrounding NPCs as your standing grows, cast your reputation to the wind and become a despised criminal, or mix the two however you'd like.
These systems mean there are always a variety of ways to approach any task, regardless of how you prefer to play. Objects can be moved to create obstacles or clamber to hard-to-reach places, allowing you to sneak unseen or discover secrets (and there are indeed secrets). Ropes can be used to rappel down chimneys and wells, while lockpicks can unlock doors and chests you're not supposed to have access to. I've hardly covered it all either; the possibilities in Weird West feel endless.
Weird West's world is impressive, and it's clear WolfEye wanted to make it a memorable one to explore. One thing to note is that Weird West is not an open-world game, although it does feature a large map packed to the brim with a diverse range of locations to discover. Weird West eschews the boring travel between each location in many open-world games to instead deliver miniature "slices" of the world (stylized to appear as if you're playing on an actual map) with every location, with random events that can occur in between. It may not be beloved by every player, but I found this approach to be more than acceptable.
Weird West's journeys place you in the shoes of five unique characters, one after the other, each of whom is on the verge of facing some monumental threat to their existence or the Weird West itself. Each character's personality and story is unique, and each journey introduces new information that helps fill the pieces of Weird West's narrative puzzle. As you move through each chapter, you can recruit new members to your posse and form new alliances (including with characters you previously played as!). All of this is done well, and the process in which you transition from one character to the next is fairly seamless.
Your perks, which can grant you bonuses to store prices or increased jump height — and much more besides — carry over in their entirety. Each character also has an ability page, with four unique character abilities and a swathe of weapon abilities that, while the same for each character, do not carry over if you've unlocked them. Interestingly, you can also retrieve your valuable gear, weapons, and other items by revisiting the previous character you played as and adding them to your party, although this strangely includes forcing you to reread every book you've read in order to add them back to your Journal (I can't fathom why Journal entries don't just carry over).
With an astoundingly in-depth universe and a vast cast of characters to learn about, Weird West is set up nicely to deliver a powerful narrative. I'm happy to report it mostly succeeds. Weird West's story features a separate chapter for each character, with an overarching plotline connecting each before reaching an ultimate conclusion in the fifth (and final) chapter. Starting with the story of a bounty hunter trying to reclaim their lost husband from vicious cannibals, Weird West quickly expands to place the fate of the entire world in the hands of characters, and makes it clear your choices matter.
There is no wrong way to play Weird West. Even if you murder every person you come across (including major story characters), there are still ways to progress the story by exploring the world, reading journal entries and notes, and more. You're never prevented from doing something simply because it would "change the story," and Weird West often provides the players with moments in which they're clearly expected to make a choice. At the end of each character journey, you're presented with an overview of some of the biggest choices you made, which simultaneously hints at the various alternative paths you could've taken.
I personally felt WolfEye Studios did a great job with this. There is a plethora of written dialogue filling every orifice of Weird West's story, and it changes dynamically as you make choices. It's not just the story of Weird West that changes, it's also the world — locations can change over time depending on your actions; encounters can be directly affected by what you choose to do; characters can perceive or treat you differently depending on the consequences of these decisions.
I noticed the way I played Weird West had direct and noticeable effects on the game and the direction the story took, which is exactly how any game that claims to "respect player choice" should behave. I will say that the "final decision" in Weird West's story (no spoilers) isn't intrinsically tied to how you played the rest of the game, and is more reliant on how you feel about the way you played the game; you can make any decision at this point regardless of your choices throughout your playthrough of Weird West. I don't see this as a negative, necessarily, but it is something to note.
Weird West: What's not good
Let's start with a simple observation: Weird West is not a particularly attractive game. The overall art design is more than serviceable, with an interesting and exciting approach that I enjoyed exploring as I played, but positives appear to end there. Weird West's graphical fidelity and visuals leave a lot to be desired, mostly from a technical standpoint. A lot of these issues can be attributed to the fact that Weird West is an Xbox One title (not even Xbox One X enhanced), and as such lacks a ton of features, but this doesn't even cover it all.
Weird West appears fuzzy at the best of times, and never feels particularly smooth to play. It lacks HDR support, and doesn't benefit from any backward-compatible features on Xbox Series X|S like Auto HDR or FPS Boost. On a 2013-era Xbox One these weaknesses could be forgiven, but Weird West feels out of place on Xbox Series X, without even taking into account all the various performance issues (more on that later).
These issues are exasperated by textures that consistently appear even more low resolution than the rest of the game, especially noticeable in signs and text while exploring the world. Frequent glitches caused the game's lighting and shadows to flash or disappear, while textures occasionally appeared significantly darker than expected for long moments at a time. Weird West's uncommon cinematics combined all of these issues and made them glaringly obvious.
The visuals in Weird West never felt like they hindered my ability to play or my enjoyment of the game, and for the most part, faded into the background as I grew accustomed to them. That being said, every glitch and unreadable sign was noticeable, and every visual or graphical issue that appeared was another reminder that the final product of Weird West's graphics didn't match the promise of its art design.
Married to the visual flaws is the performance on hand in WolfEye Studios' debut title. Even on Xbox Series X, I noticed loading screens persisting for several seconds longer than expected, frame drops and lags as the game attempted to reconcile with the consequences of an action-heavy scene resulting in story progress, long moments waiting for the pause menu to load while the game froze, and more. Quick Resume support missing is one thing, but Weird West also didn't like being suspended in general, even if it was just to jump into an app for a few hours.
Once again, none of these performance flaws made playing Weird West impossible or even more than marginally frustrating, but every dropped frame and moment of hesitation begged for my attention. I rarely experienced any significant performance drops in the middle of combat, when it could adversely affect my gameplay, but the performance issues were always waiting just around the corner, waiting to strike when I least expected it.
Finally, Weird West has bugs. No, I'm not talking about the Ridgebacks, a disconcerting mythical enemy consisting of a hive mind of insects inhabiting a body; I'm talking about the dozens of cases in which Weird West didn't work as intended or as I expected. The game is absolutely plagued with seemingly insignificant issues that nonetheless build up as you play, ranging anywhere from objects and characters mysteriously resetting upon reloading a save (causing bodies to be discovered on more than one occasion) to AI companions getting stuck in the strangest of places or managing to enter combat even when they shouldn't be able to.
It may seem like I'm talking in circles by claiming that none of these bugs appear to be major or game-breaking, but it's true. For the third time, Weird West's issues in a specific area comprise innumerable minor examples that aren't too egregious, but verge on frustrating in the long term. I should mention that Weird West is getting a day one patch update resolving several of these issues, and some of the more annoying problems I experienced were reported to me as being fixed in this update. Still, that leaves dozens more almost-negligible flaws that will likely remain in Weird West at launch.
If I could only levy one complaint at Weird West's narrative, it would be how the game appears eager to move on from critical moments in the story, seemingly for the sake of brevity. It's undeniable that WolfEye had to write substantial overlapping plot to account for any number of player choices, and as such Weird West feels hesitant to linger on any one moment. Emotional or drama-laden scenes lack punch because of their fleeting relevancy, as the game scrambles to prepare the player for what comes next.
It's not quite accurate to claim Weird West's campaign resembles a vast ocean that is only a handful of feet deep, as WolfEye clearly invested a lot of time into making the world — and the narrative weaving through it — feel whole and unique. Still, there were multiple moments I felt the story should've hit me harder, made me feel more, and persisted in my thoughts a little longer.
Weird West: Should you play it?
Weird West is a classic example of "death by a thousand cuts," with an absurd number of small flaws spread across its visuals, performance, and stability, ultimately reducing the otherwise exemplary experience of exploring the dark fantasy world and influencing the direction of the intriguing story. Weird West lacks polish, and feels as if it needed considerably more time in development for its technical performance to match its artistic vision. Still, at the end of playing, I didn't feel as if any of Weird West's issues prevented me from having fun.
Weird West probably isn't ready to join the list of best Xbox games in its current state, but it's still a good title that will, hopefully, improve over time. WolfEye Studios intends to support Weird West for months after launch with new game modes, events, story content, and more — if this planned support also includes much-needed polish, Weird West has a chance to go from "good" to "great."
I greatly enjoyed exploring the brutal, unfriendly world of Weird West; I enjoyed playing through its equally dark story and witnessing the results of my actions come to life in the aforementioned world. WolfEye Studios did an admirable job executing its initial quest to mash an immersive sim with an isometric ARPG, and crafted a memorable game that I look back on fondly (despite its issues).
Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.
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