West of Loathing Review – A Funny Game but That’s It

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West of Loathing takes the aesthetics of the Western genre – cowboys, beans, revolvers, bandits and spittoons – and mixes it with absurdist fantasy borrowed from Kingdom of Loathing. West of Loathing is an RPG, in as much an RPG is about making numbers go up, completing side quests, and collecting too many items. Unlike an RPG, the game isn’t a vehicle for a meaningful story or moral lesson, it’s just about jokes.

West of Loathing borrows KoL’s design. It’s all crude stick figures and in black and white and pretty silly. Paired with the twangy soundtrack, it is quite a charming package. And the jokes start coming at you even in the options menu. Here you can choose to turn colour blind mode on (it doesn’t do anything because the game is in black and white), you can change the font to Arial which makes the text look really ugly. Theres even a toggle for silly walks, which I recommend you keep on.

You start the game in the standard RPG way by choosing your class – fighter, wizard…wait, I mean cow puncher, bean slinger, or snake oiler. Then you say goodbye to your family and head west to find fame and fortune. On the way, you recruit just one friend (from a choice of 3) and help the transcontinental railroad manifest destiny its way to the west. Once the railroad connects to the coast, the game and the west are won.

If you are familiar with older RPGs, the game mechanics won’t be hard to grasp. Combat is turned based and your characters can choose one action from a few. Items, equipment, and consumables can be found, bought, and sold. The unfamiliar comes from the game’s setting and humour. You will visit a jelly bean museum, mine meat (the game’s currency) from meat mines, and go up against a necromancer. Beware of bovines, creatures from hell who raze entire ranches to the ground, and if you lose combat you don’t die, but get so angry that you pass out.

Just like other RPGs, your inventory will soon become unmanageable as you collect all manner of equipment and trinkets. A lot of them will seem pointless. What good is a bar of soap or a bean nugget? Sometimes, you will come across situations or characters that allow you to use these items with unexpected benefits. Sometimes you will switch your wardrobe around to raise certain stats to accomplish a goal. Throughout all of this, the jokes won’t stop coming.

West of Loathing is one of those rare, truly amusing games able to pull of its jokes.

It’s one of the few games I have played that wants to be funny and actually is (in most parts.) And for the most part, its actually funny humour that doesn’t solely rely on drugs, farts, or penises which comprise much of American comedy media. Also absent are jokes told at the expense of minorities, genders, and race. Instead, the humour plays with words and ideas that are funny because they are absurd and silly. Not all of them land, and I wouldn’t expect them to. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that it’s just a little much.

It was when I was about a third of the way into the game that I realized just how shallow this experience is. When the map opens up to reveal the second map (and there is a third!) instead of feeling excited, I groaned. After a few hours of fun and surprise, I didn’t want more.

At Polygon, Noah Caldwell-Gervais describes his affection for the game and the connection drawn between him and the developers over the shared experience of laughing and appreciating a joke.

There’s a pretty good turn-based adventure game there, under the hood, but West of Loathing’s many strengths are all personal: connections made between developer and player when you both laugh at the same time.

– Noah Caldwell-Gervais

For the time investment asked from the game (and it’s not long, clocking in around 8 hours for me) I needed a stronger connection to see it through the end, which I eventually did. I appreciate West of Loathing’s charm, and I really appreciate it as one of the few games which succeeds at being funny, but I did not find enough substance under the jokes. Moments after clicking the “exit game” button, and West of Loathing is already a fleeting memory, like a tumbleweed gently rocking away past the horizon.

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