West of Loathing

West of Loathing is a comedic RPG western from the makers of Kingdom of Loathing. If you have never played KoL, you probably should. It is free and it is one of those pieces of online gaming literature that everyone should know.

West of Loathing is good. It takes several of the better aspects of Kingdom of Loathing, distills them, and places the in a coherent package. Kingdom of Loathing is many great things, but it is designed to be played over a long time span, and it was built by gradual accumulation. If you had the chance to start it over from scratch as a single project, you might get West of Loathing.

West of Loathing is your quest from the humble beginnings of Boring Springs, west into adventure and prosperity! Along the way you will find dysfunctional towns, evil cows, agreeable goblins, and all manner of comical characters. There is a main quest line and a long list of side quests, all of which are optional and lines of which will follow you across the game. While the main goal is to get the train west, you might decide to track down what is happening with robots, killer clowns, or necromancy, or maybe just find band members for the first town’s saloon.

The game has a variety of puzzles. The robots have machinery you can configure. There are variations on classic word and logic puzzles. There is a wargaming minigame. At one point, you can to combine ciphers, morse code, braille, and acrostics to piece together puzzles and a metapuzzle. Or you can ignore almost all of it and rampage across the map with fist and pistol.

The combat is very straightforward and not terribly difficult. Unless you turn on hard mode, in which case wandering encounters will beat you up. Losing gives you a buff, in an interesting game mechanic. If you lose a fight, you get Angry. Each stack of Angry buffs your stats. You can even insult yourself to increase your anger intentionally. But if you get too Angry, you pass out and wake up the next day with a clean slate. That also resets other buffs you accumulate throughout the day (food, booze, potions). That can be a useful thing, as you might have used some early foods and now want to upgrade to the ghost pickles that you found in the midgame.

I enjoyed West of Loathing, and I will keep poking at it a while longer to explore side quests and see what unlocks achievements. There are many little bits you can fiddle with for a long time, if you are so inclined. You can also blitz through; I am told that you can speed run hard mode in 20 minutes, so the game experience is as long as you want it to be. I advise lingering. The core story is nothing special. The joy is seeing the little touches in the game, the atmospheric humor.

: Zubon