In this article about Hard West 2 the hosts, demons, werewolves, cowboys, and outlaws. They’re all positive things. The Weird Western genre is created when you combine them, so that must be even better, right? As a tactical strange western that understands this genre must look, feel, and sound fantastic first and foremost even if that sometimes means it doesn’t actually play as smoothly as you’d want Hard West 2 makes a strong argument for it.
Hard West 2
Hard West 2 is less of a literal sequel than it is a metaphorical one to the film from 2015. Even completionists shouldn’t worry about playing the first game before this one because it presents a new, unrelated story over the course of its 20–30 hour campaign and offers three options for increased cruelty. Beyond the surface, the world’s design is actually what captures your attention. You command a group of fearsome cowboys in the Hard West who are on the verge of something supernatural.
You are down a few souls after a poor bargain with a bad devil goes horribly wrong, and you would really like them back. In actuality, the goal is to return them to a gun’s barrel. The devil, whose name is Mammon, has a really fantastic ghost train with enormous metal centipede legs.
The majority of the gameplay is split between turn-based combat missions and dialogue-driven tasks in the overworld. The writing is inconsistent both inside and outside of missions. Despite having a few odd language or cliched lines here and there, it does the job well enough that I didn’t skip the cutscenes or text-only descriptions.
Fire ’em Up
The tactical combat in Hard West 2 are its focal point. They’re decent, but there’s something I despise about them for every positive aspect. On the harder levels, this makes the combat feel more like a puzzle than a tactical exercise, despite the combat being solid and having little annoying unpredictability. That difference also matters: I had to redo several missions, some as many as five times, on the average Hard difficulty in order to solve the problem and succeed.
Contrast that with the adaptable character abilities and cool weaponry that are offered. When combined, they create a variety of abilities that work in concert with thoughtfully created surroundings to support tricks, combinations, and chained kills.
The rules often favor defensive fighting because you only get three actions per turn, with shooting typically consuming two or three of those. Your attacks deal constant damage depending on the weapon you employ; the only variable is your likelihood of hitting an opponent based on range, elevation, and cover. When you combine that defensive emphasis with the fact that you are likely to be shot at before you are shot at by new groups of adversaries, you have a significant obstacle to overcome.
Some missions can feel like puzzles when there is little randomness.
Fortunately, you have four tools at your disposal. The first is trick shooting, in which some weapons are capable of bouncing bullets off of metallic targets in order to avoid an enemy’s cover. The second is luck, which entails that failed shots among other things contribute to a pool that can be used to boost attacks in subsequent turns.
The third are your character traits, special skills that each person possesses: Like Flynn, who can magically switch places with anyone she can see, comrade or enemy, at the cost of a little health, or Old Man Bill, who is full of bullets and likes to fire them back at the enemy in an explosive burst.
Bravado, the main system that enables you to neutralize adversary advantage, is the fourth tool. When one of your characters kills another, all of their action points are immediately replenished. The best aspect of Hard West 2 is setting up someone to obtain four, five, or six kills in one turn.
They can do it as many times each turn as you can get kills. On top of the puzzle-like challenge, there is additional tension: There is always the impression that you could improve on how your weapons’ fixed damage values compare to the health of the opposition. The higher difficulties need you to balance ideal kill numbers against defensive mobility in order to succeed. You perform that arithmetic every turn, continuously, for more and more kills.
Beyond that unique mechanic, though, the combat doesn’t offer anything that’s fresh or outstanding and even misses a few features I’d expect, including the ability to vault most tiny objects and the fact that much of the cover is impervious to explosives. Additionally, such area of effect attacks only work in two dimensions, which creates strange circumstances like being unable to use your shotgun to blast someone who is standing on a balcony below you. Nevertheless, the positive aspects of those fighting systems outweigh the negative ones, and a variety of unique foes and challenging tasks help to keep the game entertaining throughout.
Every mission is filled with strange western accoutrements and characters that not only look cool but also provide you with opportunities to engage and have fun. I hope you get the picture: rickety wooden frontier alleys lined with hanging signs and massive marble banks at the end; rundown farmhouses filled with abandoned farm machinery; sprawling occult-plus-steampunk mining operations. Missions’ items and visuals are quite attractive, even excessively so when compared to the design and writing, and the voice acting and sound editing are generally flawless. The soundtrack is excellent as well, thanks to Dead Space and Tomb Raider composer Jason Graves.
Not only is there a lot going on in the atmosphere. You battle strange and interesting foes including mindless revenant gunmen, demonic cultist covens, wendigos, and common bandits and lawmen. One of the native opposition groups is a mustache-twirling, evil mirror reflection of the actual Ghost Dance Movement, so there is even a little historical inspiration. (Despite the fact that many of its depictions are more fantasy than actuality, Hard West 2 luckily avoids the terrible pitfall of painting the various native peoples of the west with one brush.)
The people at your party are exercises in creating memorable characters.
Your party members are exercises in distinctive character creation, but Gin Carter, the roguish gambler and leader who has since lost his soul, is a fairly basic RPG leader for you to occupy. Old Man Bill, played by Kevin Conroy, is a long-dead character who is very grumpy about returning; Lazarus is a preacher who preaches fire, brimstone, and bullets; and Cla’lish, played by Mela Lee, is a no-nonsense Pacific Northwest native tracker and sharpshooter who can also commune with and summon the dead.
However, two really jump out: First, Brandi Hollsten as Flynn, the lady who was abandoned at infancy and was blessed or cursed with strong witchcraft skills. Despite being relatively fresh, the actress is one to keep an eye on. Then there’s Laughing Deer, a fighter who is utterly clinically mad and a sociopath, a figure I initially detested but gradually came to admire. He doesn’t hide the fact that he enjoys taking and hurting others. Although that might occasionally result in a one-note, uninteresting character, voice actor Adam Gifford gives LD a crazy, scenery-chewing depth that I adore. voice coaches: Adam Gifford should be cast to play more outrageous characters, please.
It doesn’t hurt that Laughing Deer is also very, very fun to use in tactical combat. He’s the reigning king of Bravado-fueled killstreaks: After all, you’re never at the wrong angle for a killshot when you’re in melee range.
Hard West 2 offers some character-building options and equipment customization, but it is undeniably a tactics game. Those characters all have predetermined characteristics. Since there are no character levels and almost all character buffs can be transferred from one party member to another during missions, the RPG features are mostly limited to dialogue options. All characters are allowed a maximum of five cards, which are the primary form these bonuses take. You can increase a character’s active ability and unlock more of their passive skills by combining those cards into poker hands. I thought it was a great, thematic approach to get ready.
I didn’t enjoy how stiff that felt. Each character is predisposed to excel at one or two certain skills, hence there is little to no purpose to equip them for those skills alone. Additionally, some mechanically poor designs exist, such as Lazarus. Even while I adored his character, his abilities are dependent on when a party member is killed. in a game where losing just one character causes all of the primary story missions to fail immediately… however most other missions allow you to lose as many as you like and there is no permadeath.
Why would I spend my meagre few permanent improvements on Lazarus if I couldn’t use them in the most difficult missions? Making friends with your posse members occurs in trail decisions and leads to the permanent enhancements. Better friends receive enhanced powers, and occasionally more chat options during the text-based world map quests enable various rewards and alternate routes. Although it’s a good place to find character moments, it hurts to choose dialogue that will make you less effective in battle.
Even though there are a few minor flaws in Hard West 2’s game design or narrative that I could pick out all day, those flaws are hidden by the game’s stunning surroundings, setting, and cast of characters. For every shotgun blast I was unable to withstand or tactically difficult task I had to redo, there was at least one instance in which I cackled uncontrollably as Cla’lish connected with successive headshots or the Laughing Deer whooped uncontrollably as it pounded in head after head after head.
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- September 7, 2022