WEST OF LOATHING Review
I never played Asymmetric’s KINGDOM OF LOATHING, but the free-to-play, quasi-medieval, sorta-massively-multiplayer RPG’s reputation preceded itself. It wasn’t the browser juggernaut that was RUNESCAPE, nor did it wield the zeitgeist of WORLD OF WARCRAFT. Instead, KINGDOM OF LOATHING solidified its cult status with rare charm and old-school design typically associated with single player point-and-click adventures. It’s like what STARSHIP TROOPERS is to sci-fi buffs, or what Vespas are to people who like to travel long distances. WEST OF LOATHING trades the dark ages for the gold rush, but this is still very much a world of fantasy and magic. Skeletal desperados, demonic bovines, and goblins plague the land, and only your six-shooter and silver tongue stand between civilization and unregulated buffoonery.
Based on KoL’s unique appeal, it’s not too surprising that Asymmetric opted for their long-awaited follow up to be a bona fide singleplayer RPG. That being said, it’s surprising how little changes when the player count is reduced to one. After picking your class and companions, the game thrusts you into the open with no other goal than to “go West.” This lack of a grander purpose is alien to most modern RPGs, but is all too common in the MMORPGs and pen and paper games of yore. It’s these games that WEST OF LOATHING most commonly references and most strongly resembles.
Assuming your D&D group had a bean-summoning sorcerer, that is
While technically correct, labelling WEST OF LOATHING an RPG is somewhat misleading. There’s stats, experience points, gear, and most importantly, roleplaying, but there is a quantum leap between this game and the modern tentpoles of the genre, the likes of Mass Effect and Fallout. Combat can be avoided more often than not, provided the player chooses the correct responses or passes the requisite skill checks. Even if it does come to violence, characters have access to so many buffs, whether they be through potions, subweapons, or perks, that even an underpowered cowpoke can dispatch the most ornery of villains. WEST OF LOATHING is not a terribly demanding adventure, and I can count the number of times I died during my 12-hour journey on one hand.
The abundance of “cheats” and lack of difficulty would undermine most RPGs, but that isn’t a problem in WoL. You don’t play WoL to find the biggest gun or the most arcane tome of spells. You play WoL for the whimsical art style, the wealth of content, and the clever sense of humor. As I mentioned in my hands-on with the game last year, WoL is the funniest game I’ve played in a long while, maybe ever. Most titles that opt for the overtly comedic (*cough* Borderlands *cough*) fail to balance player agency with their own overbearing voice, but WoL doesn’t have this problem. This is a game without player progression, or at least an emphasis on it, as that would inhibit exploration, discovery, and yes, comedy. The tedium of grinding and busywork are absent in WoL, except if they are being directly lampooned. Rather, each encounter leads directly into the next, with almost nothing in the way of barriers that would require the player to backtrack in order to proceed further.
My go-to excuse from now on
Perhaps the best aspect of WoL is that it understands exactly what makes the medium tick. Asymmetric clearly knows the difference between what is fun to play and what is fun to watch, and they ensure that a scene is always constructed around its most ideal format. WoL is at its brightest when it plays off the abstractions of gaming, be they through minute-to-minute gameplay or more general mechanics. Skill checks are often abused by using the most figurative interpretations of their defining attributes. The narrator will be confounded by the illogical or socially-unacceptable behavior players typically perform without a second thought in a virtual space. NPCs are fully aware that they only exist for limited utility within the game world. These are all great gags on their own, but more importantly, they’re built around the gameplay, rather than the other way around.
There’s really not a whole lot more to say for WEST OF LOATHING other than it is one heck of a good time. This isn’t a terribly complicated game, trending more towards a point-and-click with RPG elements than an RPG with point-and-click elements. I can’t compare it to a contemporary title because frankly, RPGs that prioritize adventure over mechanics simply aren’t made anymore. WEST OF LOATHING is often nostalgic and always fun, the best flash game you never played. It costs as much as a medium combo at McDonalds, can run on a calculator, and boasts the broadest universal appeal of anything released this year. There is no reason not to play it.
Reviewed on PC