by Jason Parker [Ragachak]
Kingdom of Loathing is one of the best games you might not have ever played. A stick-figure “MMORPG”, featuring hand-drawn stick figures, more puns than you can shake a stick at. Huh? Huh? Well, West of Loathing is a sequel made by Asymmetric Games, and instead of being in the Kingdom, you’re from Kansas! Yes, you have left Topeka behind forever, and you can’t go back. No, literally. If you try to head east again you can see a sign that says you aren’t allowed back in Topeka. Your only course of action? Head into the Wild West! What I love about this game is that it has a hilarious, off-beat story, but it still makes sense, if you really think about it. It has tons of side-stories, missions, lore, that all gets tied up at the end. No matter how silly you might think something is, don’t forget it. No matter the item, it seems to have a use, depending on how you play. But the story, let’s get back to that. West of Loathing takes place after “The Cows Come Home”. Portals to Hell erupt across the land and began possessing the Cows, and now we have Hellcows. But this won’t stop you! Well, maybe it won’t.
So the plan is to head West. If you didn’t play Kingdom of Loathing, fear not, you don’t need to have mastered the nuances of that browser game to play this. It helps, but not much! The same stat system [Muscle, Moxie, and Mysticality], each play off of the classes. But now there are more, Western-themed stats to join them: Grit [The higher it is, the tougher you are: Stomach Capacity, HP, Pain Tolerance], Gumption [“Your level of “get-up-and-git-er-done”; Speed, Maximum AP, Spleen Capacity], and Glamour [Appreciating the Finer Things: +% to Meat Gains, +%Item Finding, Liver Capacity]. Meat returns also! Yes, Meat is still the currency of the game. You can mine for it, you can acquire it in battle, you can rummage through piles of skeletons for it. So before you can head West, you have to have a character class. Personally, I play “Libby Littlefield, Beanslinger”. the Mysticality Class. The Muscle class is “Cow Puncher” who just happens to be skilled at punching cows. Go figure. The Moxie class is the “Snake Oiler”, who wields a Six-Gun and has a briefcase full of live snakes! Oh, dear a Snake Oil Peddler. I spent more time trying to figure out which class I really wanted than I did most decisions in the game.
The Beanslinger has an Infinite Can of Beans, and can learn new spells from finding/buying books, which teaches new ways to use those beans. From a Bean Barrier to a Bean Golem… but all spells aren’t bean related. One of the paths I walked, I decided to read the Nex-Mex manuals I found, which taught spooky, skeleton-related spells but at the cost of my sanity. Well, at the cost of my hair color; Libby’s hair turned white and lost a permanent 3 Moxie for my dealing with the evil forces. After a few quests in the starting dustbowl town, you start to head West, but you can bring a partner! A variety of folks you have worked with will come with you … but you don’t have to have a teammate. It’s just a lot harder. So you head into the West, to the town of Dirtwater. Mm, Dirtwater. Everything you do matters, and that’s interesting to me; despite it being a frivolous, hilarious game with lots of dry humor, it has a story to tell that you unravel as you go. I won’t spoil it though, so fear not. It’s definitely worth time invested.
Every choice you make isn’t so cut and dry though, and a lot of choices unlock Perks for your character like when I murdered someone in cold-blood, I gained a perk. The game asked me about five times if I was sure I wanted to kill someone while they were sleeping… but it’s the West. It’s an unforgiving, lawless place. One of the really great ones was “Minesplaining”. I tried to explain Mining equipment to my companion, and after a while of doing it, I unlocked the Perk. It gives bonus exp when interacting with Mining stuff. Or “Uncanny Presence”. I’ve delved into so many occult mysteries that I’m only 80% real at this point. It gives 20% to all resistances, including “Sleaze Resistance”. In addition to Perks, you have Misc. skills from books on random salespeople. Buying a book once/reading it gives the skill, but beyond that you spend exp to increase them. Skills like “Bloodbeans” [Combat Regen], “DIckerin” [Discounts at stores], Outfoxin’ [Outsmart people sometimes], “Hellbender” [+Spelldamage]. You can get Safecrackerin’, Foragerin’, and more.
Combat’s incredibly easy too. You [and your partner] are in a turn-based battle. You start with a likely low AP pool [using abilities like Bean Golem, Lava Fava, etc], and you pick to attack, use an ability, or an item. Items don’t use AP and don’t end your turn, so if you have a nice stock of them, you can make a challenging fight considerably easier. There are lots of fights you can avoid, but if you’re say, down in a mine and there’s something in the way, odds are you will have to fight it unless there’s a hidden, clever solution. Then they attack, and you repeat until they’re dead. Pay attention to the items you find too because you can equip some of them, like the Red Hot Poker [which does Hot damage], or a Toilet Pistol [deals Stench damage, applies poison]. Combat can admittedly feel a bit repetitive, but I still enjoy doing it. I found that a lot of my abilities really did poor damage, and wound up relying on my partner to do the bulk of the damage. I probably just didn’t level them enough via xp though.
Early in the game you can take on the task of getting the door to the jail-cell back. A gang took off with it because it had no lock. So they made sure they could never be locked up. Upon getting the door back, you’re asked to get a lock. The trader outside will give you a lock if you bring him a few items, like Soap. A little later in your exploring, you see a gang member sleeping in a bathtub filled with water. You can murder him, tie him up, or ask him to pass the soap. I tied him up, left him there. If I had asked him to “Pass the soap”, he’d have given it to me and the mission would be complete. I thought I could just come back for it, but alas. Now the only way to get that soap is to find a wandering salesperson. It was at this point I decided they could solve their own problems. I mounted my Ghost Horse [yes, my horse is a ghost. Don’t judge me] and with my gunslinger gal-pal, rode West. That’s one of the really charming things about West of Loathing though; there are so many ways to play, you aren’t confined to just one strategy. Sure, some of the fights might require certain tactics, because they’re incredibly hard, but that’s part of the fun.
So you’re heading West. The map is pretty easy to navigate, and your main missions visible, as long as you’ve gotten them started. On the map you can opt to “Wander”, which will send you walking in a circle for a chance at an event. Like a fight, finding a new area to explore, etc. These can become very important for finding items, and I recommend wandering often. Or you can also ask your companion what they think we should do. They’ll likely point to the main story quest, but they can also suggest going somewhere to further their “own” story. My companion, for example, the more Hellcows we kill, the greater chance of her improving her strength. If she suggests to go to a ranch, go there. Kill the cows there, and get stronger. Her damage will rise exponentially, making regular combat so much easier. This is not a game you’ll want to rush through. Take your time, click everything, read everything. Don’t skip stuff, and just enjoy the humor. It has lots of locations to visit, hilarious characters, puzzles, silly, ridiculous nonsense that still somehow matters to the main plot. Don’t be shy, friends: Go West.
Cows with Guns: 5/5 Fantastic
I. Love. West of Loathing. I stress to find one thing that I didn’t enjoy. Is it a great RPG? It tells a story in an entertaining way, has lots of secrets, and is incredibly engaging. So I say, yes. It’s not a traditional RPG, but it’s done in that way that only Asymmetrical can do. There has not been a single time where I felt the need to skip dialogue, or stop because I was bored, or didn’t find myself entertained by a story mission, side quest, or character. I found hippies that are growing dandelions, The Daveyard, home to many dead Daves. I wandered Fort Cowardice, The Silver Plater, who plated some of my equipment with Silver, provided I had the meat for it. If you’re looking for an entertaining experience, love a good [or especially bad] pun, and want to explore the Wild West in a simple, enjoyable way? Pick up West of Loathing. It has the cheezy twangy Western music, and I sincerely think anyone who loves wry comedy and RPGs of any sort can have fun here. It’s Piers Anthony meets Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Easily one of the best RPGs I’ve played all year, and that’s no hyperbole.