With all the possible settings for a squad-based tactical strategy game, the one least explored is no doubt the wild west. Men were men, women were women and everyone was armed to the teeth and ready to shoot a fella within a moment’s notice. Hard West portrays the settings beautifully – and then adds demons. The world of Hard West is home to an inquisition, hunting down witches and heretics. In fact, our presentation began with our party of heroes rescuing one such witch mere moments before her execution by hanging.

As far as story goes, we weren’t told much more beyond general outlines. The world is filled with evil forces that manifest as demons whenever something “bad” happens, there’s some sort of a shadow organization and we can’t tell you right now what our characters are doing and how they got there. What I can tell you in great detail is that Hard West has some very creative combat mechanics as well as some interesting ways to improve the skills of your characters.

Once you enter a combat zone, assuming you weren’t detected coming in, a “Setup” stage begins. During setup, your enemies do not get any turns – they go about their business, doing whatever it is they’re meant to do. Your team, however, can move about freely and prepare for the upcoming carnage. When an enemy gets suspicious of you, a countdown timer begins before everyone is alerted – a timer which can be stopped for a while by threatening whoever it is that spotted you. The setup mechanic allows for some very creative balancing and management of resources as you juggle sneaking, intimidating and trying to get the best vantage points or just close enough to your objectives before all hell breaks loose – sometimes literally.

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When combat begins, all bets are off: turns are taken in the standard fashion, alternating between your team and the enemy. Each character has action points used for moving and shooting, hardly anything new here – almost. Hard West rewards good setup and a good plan by pushing your numbers to both extremes. Should you attempt to shoot an enemy who has every possible advantage, instead of some minor chance to hit, you’ll see a flat 0% chance. Likewise, a solid plan and the right weapon are rewarded with a 100% change to make the shot. While it might sound minor to some, it’s important to anyone who ever missed a 95% shot due to the whimsy of a random numbers generator. There is no luck in Hard West – you either plan and execute well, or you die quickly and painfully.

During the presentation we only had one chance to see demons and their arrival was a sight to behold. The entire level darkened from a sunny afternoon to a dark and stormy night. Bloody spikes burst¬†from the earth, severed limbs and blood covered the ground,¬†and only then did a trio of shadowy figures appeared out of thin air – in case you’re wondering, they were armed with shotguns.

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Hard West also takes a creative approach to skills. Instead of gaining experience and rising in levels, you gain cards. Each card grants some new ability or a passive improvement of some kind. Those skills are meant to be combined and stacked together for maximum results. For example, one of the cards grants the “Ricochet” ability, allowing the shooter to bounce bullets around corners off of any metal surface. Another grants additional action points whenever an enemy is killed. A third card lowers the maximum health of every single human on the map to a single point… I’m sure you can see where this is going. There are also other combinations available which are unlocked by completing poker sets – a full house or a flush, for example. Making those combos provides a bonus to the ability in some form, usually by boosting the efficiency of the other cards.

From what we’ve seen so far, Hard West has great potential to become a great game for hardcore strategy fans. Unfortunately, the release date is currently slated for this fall, making it several long months of waiting. Rest assured that we will be following the game’s development process closely.


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