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West of Loathing Review: Stickman shenanigans in this hilarious wild west RPG

We review West of Loathing, a rib-tickling role-playing game for PC and Mac. Look past the childish scrawls that serve as the game’s ‘graphics’ and you’ll find the most hilarious title of recent memory, not to mention some rather addictive gameplay.

West of Loathing is certainly one of the more unique RPGs in recent times. Watch a Let’s Play video and you’d probably think it was some kind of Flash browser game, a relic from the turn of the millennium that has for some reason been released in 2017 on PC. Don’t let looks fool you. This surprisingly deep adventure is one of the most gripping titles released this year so far, while the shoddy presentation actually works to its benefit.

The first word that springs to mind after spending countless hours with the game is ‘charming’. West of Loathing has heaps of charm, thanks in large part to the wonderful cast that you meet on your journey. From cowardly cultists to drunken horses, pretty much every living (and not so living) creature in the game boasts incredible amounts of personality. You won’t find any cardboard cutout characters here, despite that 2D presentation. Even seemingly innocuous extras filling up a scene tend to offer a surprising bit of backstory, or at the very least a hilarious throwaway insult or comment.

At the start of the game your self-named protagonist decides to leave the dull-as-dishwater family homestead and venture out into the world, in search of adventure. So far, so very familiar, and West of Loathing certainly enjoys playing around with RPG tropes. So naturally, one of your first missions involves clearing out an inn’s cellar of pesky rodents; just one of several jobs you’ll need to complete to afford your first horse and ride on out of town.

As the game progresses you’ll spend lots of time exploring West of Loathing’s expansive map, which is packed with dozens of different locations to visit. Only a portion of these are available from the off of course, until you’re strong enough to progress to the next area. Along the way you’ll get in lots of fights, collect equipment, level up your skills and do all of the usual RPG gubbins.

However, that’s pretty much where the standard stuff ends. West of Loathing’s main strength is its tongue-in-cheek approach to pretty much every aspect of the game, which deliver LOL after LOL.

For instance, the further you progress in a typical RPG, the more badass your character looks. Not so here. Your stickman hero will end up decked out in top hats, flares and all kinds of ridiculous gear instead. Likewise, the character classes are far from traditional. I opted to play the game as a ‘cow puncher’, who is basically a tank character. My combat skills mostly involved twatting people really, really hard in the face, which was always fun to watch.

A lot of the humour comes from the ridiculous situations you find yourself in also. Forget the usual dreary fetch quests and the rest. West of Loathing has you offing baddies by dropping buildings on their heads, dispatching aliens with their own technology, dabbling in weird rituals and all sorts of nonsense. I could talk for hours about the stand-out moments in West of Loathing which had me spitting coffee all over my computer screen. However that would undoubtedly ruin them for you, so I’ll just leave it here by saying that this is the funniest game I’ve played in a long, long time.

However, you’ll certainly need to take plenty of notes. You’ll find lots of locations where you’ll need to return later in the game, with the relevant skills upgraded or items in your pack. One glaring omission in that respect is the complete lack of an in-game journal, which would really help for keeping track of missions and other interesting stuff that’s happened. The best you get is your optional secondary character, who can offer a vague idea of your main objective at any given time.

So what about the other RPG elements of the game? Well, for the most part they’re a success. Combat for instance is turn-based and reminiscent of many other titles such as Stick of Truth. Choosing the best powers to unleash each turn and the correct order in which to take down your opponents plays a big part in your chances of success. It’s simple enough to pick up in no time, while also complex enough to keep things interesting for the duration.

There’s a fair bit of grinding involved once you hit a certain stage of course, to avoid being overwhelmed by the majority of opponents. However, this isn’t anywhere near as horrific as many ‘serious’ RPGs. West of Loathing is quite generous with its experience points, even dishing them out for simple things like going to the toilet. You can use these to upgrade all of your base skills (muscle, moxie and mysticality) and powers, to suit your personal playing style.

All in all, West of Loathing is well worth picking up just to have a good laugh. The fact that it’s a pretty good game as well is a bonus, although hardcore RPG fans will probably be put off by the simplicity of it all.

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