Don’t Let the Stick Figures Fool You, “West of Loathing” Is One of the Best RPGs I’ve Ever Played

Do you know how much time I spend thinking about the next great RPG that doesn’t exist yet? How disappointed I am every year at E3 that a new Dragon Age or Elder Scrolls isn’t announced? All I ever want is a big map to wander around on, running errands for strangers and getting into fights with strangers and taking treasure from the dead bodies of strangers. Well I feel very dumb, because West of Loathing has been out for almost an entire year and I have been stumbling around the internet complaining that there are no good new RPGs for that entire time, and it turns out to be one of the best RPGs I have ever played.

The game randomly generated this name for me, for the record.

The thing that made me keep delaying picking this game up is the same as the thing that made it look interesting to me in the first place — the art style. It’s stick figures. It looked cool enough to catch my eye but too silly to be a Serious Video game. And it’s not a serious video game exactly, it’s a very silly video game, but the mechanics are serious and intuitive and the game works so smoothly that it honestly puts most serious games to shame.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What is the game about? That’s a good place to start. The plot is very simply to go west and explore. You’re a bored farm-person looking to broaden your horizons, so you set out on that dusty trail to make your name or your fortune or just get out of your parents’ house. And then you meet people and you talk to them and, in classic RPG fashion, they all need errands and favors done, so they send you to retrieve a bracelet from a mine or a rifle from a ranch overrun by demon cows or a bowl of jelly beans from a forgetful hippie. And along the way you run into more people, and more locations show up on your map, and you fight and loot and pick locks and crack safes and hornswaggle goblins. It’s a game of near-endless sidequests. But unlike most RPGs, the main quest (Clear a path for the westward railroad) is just an excuse you get you into the map. The sidequests are where the lore of the game is revealed, and they also serve to paint a world filled with likeable enough weirdos. Nothing feels generic in this game, despite the simple art design. All of the NPCs have big personalities. Every location has its own special something going on to set it apart from the rest. The world is just fun to explore. Flush every toilet, dig around in every spittoon. Adventure!

Cut. It. Out.

The writing is very silly. On purpose, I mean. I’m kind of a curmudgeon who usually doesn’t like things that are trying to be funny. I acknowledge that as a Me Problem. But I really liked the tone of this game. It’s jokey without being a joke, and it’s never mean. I unlocked a thing called “Stupid Walking” in the first scene and spent the whole game rolling and crawling and sliding around instead of walking, and never considering turning it off, because it was fun. On a macro level, the silliness is a send up of serious RPGs that are already pretty silly. People often complain about fetch quests in RPGs like “I’m the hero of the realm, why would I take the time to go find a bottle of wine you left in a cave ten years ago?” But in this game, you’re only really a hero (if you even are a hero) BECAUSE you do a lot of nice things for people. This guy needs glasses, this lady needs a bar of soap so she can take a bath before starting up her bakery business, these bandits died in a haunted pickle factory and need their souls put to rest by having all of their pickle-making work completed. I dig that. In real life I would find it very heroic if somebody would bring me an iced coffee and a breakfast sandwich when I really need one, for instance right now and also always, whereas I don’t really need anybody to sword fight for my honor or whatever. Maybe it’s my depression talking, but I think running errands is heroic.

Just gals being pickle pals.

Mechanically, the game just works really well. The fights are a simple old school turn based RPG format. I relied on the same attack for most of the game, plus my pardner Susie’s lasso skill to stun enemies. Most fights are pretty easy, but something you’ll run into something that needs a little more thinking and a few consumables (poison bullets and dynamite, for instance), and maybe you need to put on a different hat to counter the enemy’s strengths. Fights go quickly, so they never feel like a chore no matter how many you have to do. Moving across the map is also quick and easy. Random encounter pop up almost every time you try to go somewhere, but those are usually funny or unlock new map locations, and they only take a couple seconds, so they add to rather than subtract from exploration. Everything feels good. The movement and the clicking and the dialogue and the fighting. I started playing this game before dinner just meaning to get a feel for it, and wound up forgetting dinner entirely and almost finishing the game in one sitting because the play loop is so satisfying.

I never did find a cactus for her to marry. Love is a lie.

I finished my playthrough in about seven hours, but I think I left a decent amount of exploration on the table in the final map section (I did the final bit of the main quest without realizing it was the final bit.) But I definitely want to do another playthrough. I chose the Snake Oiler class, which is a shooty class, but I’d like to try out the melee and especially the magic class. I gave up on being a Necromancer because it hurt my shooting skill, but if I’m playing full mage why NOT raise the dead, right? I also didn’t finish a couple of the larger subquest arcs, and I want to see how those play out. There is a lot going on in this game world, and not all of it is silly! But I want to see all the rest of the silliness as well. It’s really good silliness.

All’s well that ends well.

West of Loathing is available on Windows and Mac, as well as on the Nintendo Switch. I played it on my Windows laptop and it ran perfectly just using keyboard and trackpad. It’s $10.99 on Steam, and absolutely worth the money. I could not stop playing it. It is one of the most purely enjoyable game experiences I have had in years and I really cannot recommend it enough.

Sarah lives in the Boston area and plays a lot of video games. Her interests are cats, bragging, and foods that can be eaten lying down. She has too many sneakers and not enough pants.

sarah has written 30 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. This game looks adorable. It reminded me of a more elaborately drawn Stick RPG. Normally, when the art isn’t necessarily something spectacular, the gameplay and story tend to be a lot better than most people would give it credit for (probably because they skip it since they’re not from the time of simplicity).

    The most recent game in the Yakuza game came out earlier this year and another is supposed to be coming out soon. It’s technically an RPG but since there’s more brawler type fighting, it probably doesn’t get regarded as such.

    Also, last week, Atlus FINALLY released Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation Dx2. The only issue is it tends to drain the phone battery pretty fast. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is supposed to be coming out soon but as usual, that date is anyone’s guess.

    Unfortunately, it seems that as usual, Japan gets most RPGs since they’re the ones who make it so we’re stuck importing.

  2. You’ve reminded me that I never actually finished this game! I got to the very end, decided I wanted to do a few more sidequests, and then promptly forgot that I hadn’t finished it and started playing Assassin’s Creed: Origins which has sucked up all my time for a very long time now.

    The best parts of it:

    -Humor. Very silly, but oh so clever. I reached into so many spittoons and cringe-laughed every time.
    -Puzzles. Not overly-puzzley, but any time a game makes me pull out a pencil and paper, I’m having a good time.
    -Equipment. Losing a fight or failing a stat check and then going back to my clothes and swapping everything around to get a better result was great. Especially because the clothes are directly tied into the humor.

    I played on the Switch and it wasn’t the most nimble format, especially in menus and navigating the map. It’s very clearly meant to be a mouse-clicky kind of game and not a thumbsticks kind of game. The Switch’s touchscreen kind of helps but also kind of doesn’t. In the end I was fine with it but I was also just looking for something to do on the couch while my wife used the TV for a workout program, so I didn’t mind some fiddly bits.

    Since you mention a dearth of RPGs… my wife is playing Octopath Traveler on the Switch and liking it a lot. And if you’re like me and enjoyed the story mode parts of Mario Tennis and Mario Golf on the Gameboy, Golf Story is a lot of fun. And at least this past E3 gave us confirmation of Elder Scrolls VI! Even if it’s just a 30-second teaser!

  3. Yes, I loved this game! I got it during the Steam summer sale and put about ~11 hours into it one week. I want to get back to it. Still so much to do

    I was annoyed when I realized this game came out almost a year ago. I feel like i’m always on the lookout for a good indie game I can play on my macbook air (some faves being undertale, stardew, and night in the woods, of course) and this one escaped my notice despite hanging out on r/lowendgaming a fair bit

  4. i’ve seen so many good things about this game, but despite working in the games industry i had somehow never gotten around to picking it up! i think i might’ve been subconsciously disregarding it as well. but this review has changed that! i’ll be picking it up asap, thank you!

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