CreativeForge Games released their turn-based tactical western adventure Hard West last month. Available on Steam, the game takes players on a supernatural journey through the wild west, following the storylines of several different characters as they shape their own destinies in a harsh environment. Welcome to the wild west.
Hard West is played in chapters, each with a different storyline and set of characters. Each chapter has essential characters, some of which will branch off giving the player an opportunity to explore each arc in more depth. I won’t give a summary of every chapter – there are a total of eight – but the first chapter begins with a young man named Warren, who decides to try his luck on the gold trade after a journey on the Oregon Trail is cut short. This story was not bad, but got much more interesting in the next two chapters.
The next chapter focuses on Solomon DeLear, who is tasked with curing a plague of madness affecting the land. His story delves deeper into supernatural elements of the game, as he receives aid from a benefactor who may turn out to be more than he seems. This chapter allows the player to follow the story from the perspective of DeLear, then from his nemesis, Grand Inquisitor Gabriel de Cervantes. This was an odd choice of storytelling, and after becoming invested in one character, it was somewhat disappointing to have to play as the opposition.
First off, any gamer who enjoys having control over the story and characters will love Hard West. This game gives players the element of choice on many different levels so they can have their own unique experience with each chapter. For example, do I kill everyone to ensure I kill my target? Or do I spend extra coin on information that will narrow down my search and spare innocent people? There are also seemingly small decisions that can turn out to have a rather significant impact. While playing as Cassandra, a few bad decisions ended up leaving me playing dice as my only option to raise $25,000.
Visually Hard West is dark and cloudy, which I suppose is fitting for a game that is narrated by the character Death. The main part of the mission selection is an overhead view of a map with a skull icon representing the playable character and company. After selecting a location the skull moves across the terrain representing the character traveling from one location to another.
Players are given opportunities to build up character skills, as well as gain special skills to assist in combat. These skills exist in the form of a card screen with special abilities that can be assigned to any character during each mission. Any playable character can be given special items and cards to increase their abilities. Attributes like luck can be used during combat to decrease the chances of the character getting shot, as well as landing a shot. There are also special skills such as jack of hearts, which gives the character a bonus of hitting enemies in shadow.
As for the combat style the game relies on turn-based strategy, allowing the player to select an action for each character before giving the enemy a turn. The actions include movement, shooting, subduing, reloading, and using a health potion or special skill. This forces the player to pay close attention to anticipating the movements of the enemy, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each character in order to make the best decisions during combat.
The supernatural presence in the story adds some interesting elements to the combat, as some demons health will increase if the enemy fails to land a shot. There is also the ability to use special abilities to intimidate enemies into fleeing or hiding in fear. So while the combat may seem to take a while since half the time spent watching enemy movements, there are a lot of aspects such as these that make it very engaging.
Overall Hard West is packed with remarkable storytelling and interesting characters. With the amount of freedom it allows players, I would say this is a game that could be played more than once. The turn-based combat style is a nice change from the typical hack and slash, as it forces the player to think more strategically and anticipate enemy tactics. While not perfect, it is highly enjoyable even for people who may not consider themselves a fan of the western genre.
Gameplay - 6/10
Plot - 9/10
Design - 7/10
Hard West offers a unique blend of tactical combat, strong storytelling and mystical elements that make it well worth playing.