West of Loathing is a surreal role-playing game with an unapologetically silly sense of humor that would make Mel Brooks proud. It’s the latest title from Asymmetric Publications, whose web-based RPG Kingdom of Loathing is still going strong since its 2003 launch.
Kingdom of Loathing is what you’d get if you fed a rowdy bunch of dads a steady diet of memes and Monty Python movies and then made them play Dungeons & Dragons. West of Loathing features much of the same comedy, this time in the flavor of spaghetti Western.
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What you’ll like
A cowboy, a goblin, and a floating demon cow head walk into a bar …
Your hero leaves Kansas in search of bigger and better things, but it just hasn’t been the same ever since The Cows Came Home. As you roam the countryside, you’ll encounter demon cattle, killer clowns, and occultists who are versed in the art of Southwestern necromancy (aka Nex-Mex).
The cast of characters is large and colorful. You can select a sidekick, like Doc Alice, a whiskey-loving medic; or Susie Cochran, a sharpshooter whose family died because of murderous cows. It’s quite a chatty game, but talking to characters is for the most part free-wheeling fun. There are a lot of little side quests, like helping Doug set up his innovative Hot Doug stand.
Every little detail is infused with cheeky humor, even when it comes to your stats and class. Your class options are Cowpuncher (a melee character armed with Grandma’s prized brass knuckles), Beanslinger (a sorcerer with a can of infinite beans), and Snake Oiler (a potions-based character with a briefcase full of snakes). For stats, you’ll have to balance the numbers for things like Moxie with Grit and Gumption.
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo
West of Loathing knows how to have fun with words, whether it’s finding needles whenever you search a haystack or its myriad spellings of sarsaparilla or its giant pile of buffaloed buffalos (a play on the old linguistic fun fact).
Loathing is a home for puns, like when you pry open a wooden crate and the flavor text refers to your “crate expectations,” and running gags. Every time I went to a saloon, you’re darn tootin’ I searched the spittoon for goodies and treasure. The game judged me pretty hard for that, which is another fun little thing that happens. It has fourth wall-breaking moments throughout in which it will actually refer to your actions and incorporate your answers into your character’s profile.
“Justice is my middle name,” you declare at one point. “Really?” the game asks. “Yes, really,” you say — and lo, if you check your profile, your character will now literally have “Justice” as their middle name.
Secrets secrets are so fun
Without spoiling anything, Loathing has a lot of side quests and little secrets that you can uncover. Whenever you’re on the overworld map, you have the option to simply wander around. You’ll get random events and discover different locations in the world, some of which are shrouded in mystery. There are some anachronistic moments and puzzles that you have to figure out that, while not crucial to the ending, offer a tantalizing glimpse at what could be a larger story.
What you won’t like
Most of the enemies behave exactly the same, whether it’s a spooky skeleton ghost, a cow literally from hell, a snake that you’re punching in the face. While most battles end quickly, it can be a little tedious when it’s you and your sidekick against six goblins that are doing a tiny amount of damage. You’re waiting for their turn to be over at the point so you can pick them off one-by-one.
A lot of different items that aren’t different enough
Loathing has a boatload of items, and while it’s fun to play around with them and read their descriptions, they don’t make that big a difference when it comes to gameplay. There are a lot of useful items, but they were useful in the same ways. I found myself just equipping the items that gave me the stat boosts I wanted, choosing between a hat that gave me +3 gumption and one that gave me +3 Moxie, and that was it.
I think it’s because there were just so many options and they were all more or less the same. Combat also wasn’t terribly difficult, so even though I could eat something to add a stat boost, I didn’t really need to. Collecting meat (that’s Loathing’s currency) is easy, and I rarely found myself needing to get more in order to buy something I wanted. My inventory stretched on, filled with items to equip, food to eat, booze to guzzle, and trinkets to sell, and I rarely if ever actually did anything with any of it.
West of Loathing is an RPG with a ton of personality and a lot of reading. Personally, I’m a big fan of the surreal, pun-filled humor, so I had a great time, but your mileage may vary. It could also at times be a little repetitive, relying on its personality instead of delivering a ton of variety in gameplay. It’s more about exploring than it is about making meaningful choices or solving complex puzzles.
If the thought of flinging fava beans instead of fireballs leaves you cold, then this isn’t the game for you. But if you’re smiling at the idea of a world where meateors crash into the earth and distribute bits of meat — then, hey, it’s time to go west.
West of Loathing comes out on Steam for PC and Mac on August 10. Asymmetric Publications sent us a code for this review.