After GamesCom 2015, Hard West was a game I was really looking forward to. It ticked all the right boxes for me: A little-explored setting in the wild west, turn-based strategy, squad management, high-risk high-reward action and a good opportunity to make my own impression on the world via a choice-driven story. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there are also demons involved.
Hard West’s story is composed of 8 “Scenarios”, each one a small self-sustained world map with different settlements and activities. Each scenario progresses towards completion in a combination of world events (Like gold mining in the first scenario) and the more familiar turn-based shooting sequences – there’s also a heavy emphasis on letting the player choose their own path inside a scenario, even in decisions that seem small and insignificant at first like deciding whether to shelter a runaway slave or let him fend for himself. Like in any good story, the outcomes of your choices may not be visible immediately, but they will eventually surface for better or for worse.
Control-wise, Hard West innovates little. The control scheme is fairly similar to XCOM or any other game in the genre: Each turn, every combatant gets 2 action points to be used for moving, attacking or activating special abilities. Cover mechanics are used extensively with a bigger emphasis on flanking than in other games – even if your luck holds and you somehow make that 30% chance shot against an enemy in full cover, they’ll usually only take a fraction of the damage (although obviously some weapons are better at penetrating cover than others).
Luck and chance play a significant role in Hard West, but not in the way you expect them to. For one, Luck is an actual in-game stat: It’s what keeps a character alive when bullets are flying all over. The idea is quite simple: Each shot that misses, takes a bit of luck based on how “lucky” that miss was. The opposite is also true: For each sustained hit, luck goes up. This is true both for yourself and your enemies and can present a tactical challenge all by itself, especially when considering a potentially match-winning but low-chance shot.
Chance gets a somewhat rougher treatment than luck does – something quite unique to the genre. Hard West is designed to reward planning and thought as opposed to the whimsy of a random numbers generator so your chance to hit is rounded at both extremes. An 80% or higher chance to hit gets bumped up to a full 100% for a guaranteed hit while anything below 25% is likewise bumped down to a flat “not a snowball’s chance in hell” 0%. Once I got used to the idea, I found my entire combat strategy changing and my view of the battlefield changing to form a puzzle that must be solved in the best way possible, while taking as little chances as possible with the lives of my party.
Another original concept is the way Hard West handles special abilities. There is no XP of any kind in Hard West – instead, you’ll find poker cards after every combat encounter as well as in some overworld events. Each poker card has a passive bonus of some kind and an ability granted by the card – that ability can be a passive skill or it can be an activated skill fueled by your character’s luck. Combine the cards together to form poker hands for additional bonuses and stack the deck in your favor. Unfortunately, since there’s but a single copy of each card, you can’t have more than one character with the same skill.
Hard West takes the “Hard” part just as seriously as the “West” and a single poorly-planned (or worse, mis-clicked) move can end your mission prematurely. Enemies use the same weapons you do, which means they inflict comparable damage. They also use the same tactics as you – taking cover, flanking or gaining high ground, Hard West’s hostiles are going to do their best to end you. With the lack of mid-mission saving options, the stakes are high and the tension is palpable. Of course, it’s that much more rewarding when you do figure things out and finally beat a scenario.
In my mind, the best way to sum up Hard West would be “If XCOM and Dark Souls had a love child”. There’s a lot of reason to recommend Hard West, especially if you like a challenge and a dark story to go with it. Or maybe you just like shooting demons in cowboy hats. Either way, Hard West is a delicious dish of seasoned gunslinger you’ll want to taste for yourself.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.