Developed by Ice Codes Games, Hard West 2 is a turn-based strategy game set in a mysterious place only known as “The West”. The game starts with a routine train robbery by a ragtag group of would-be thieves led by Gin Carter. Gunslinger, outlaw, and first-rate gambler. He is joined by Flynn, Laughing Deer, and Kestrel Colt in a quick smash and grab. But things don’t go according to plan as a fateful encounter with the demon Mammon changed everything for the group.
An open-world Dark Western with turn-based combat encounters is probably the way I can describe Dark West 2. The preview for the game explained all the mechanics nicely and it left a positive impression with me looking forward to the game’s full release.
The gameplay in Hard West 2 is split between tactical turn-based battles and semi-open world activities. In the preview version of the game, we only got to explore one map and participated in only a handful of battles. It was enough to get a sense of what to expect when the game fully releases though. Map encounters usually have branching choices to them. As far as I could tell, the choices you make don’t change any outcomes. I could chalk that up to it being a preview. But I hope that isn’t the case when the game releases.
During combat encounters, the game shifts to an XCOM style with supernatural powers. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s talk about general combat first. If you have played the Assault Class in XCOM: Enemy Unknown then this is going to be very familiar to you. If not, here’s the gist of it. All of your characters have this thing called Bravado. Essentially, if you kill enemies, you refill all your action points. It’s not an additional action like in XCOM, you can potentially repeat this cycle of ‘kill enemy and slightly reposition’ for as long as you get a kill. And this isn’t locked to just one character. It applies to all members of your party.
This is probably one of the better uses of the tactical mechanics of XCOM. And it’s on theme too especially if you’ve seen those old spaghetti Westerns where the cowboy just keeps dropping enemies one by one and making it look easy.
Hard West’s attack skills are tied to specific weapons. The shotgun shoots in a cone, hitting multiple enemies. The long rifle does a lot of damage but requires more action points to use. The revolvers in this game, however, are flat-out the best part of playing the preview. They allow the player to perform trick shots by ricocheting bullets and hitting enemies behind cover, within reason, of course. Bullets don’t generally do a full 180, no matter how good of a shooter you are.
But what happens when you do miss a shot though? Well, the game addresses this by introducing something called Luck. You see, each shot generates luck. And if you fill the luck meter, you can cash in reserves and unleash one guaranteed critical on a single target. The only problem is, in this preview, fights don’t extend for more than 3 turns, so I haven’t made full use of luck yet.
I suppose it’s going to matter most in late-game situations when you want to kill high-priority targets.
Let’s talk about the characters next. First, we have Gin Carter. He’s the “leader” of the group. And then there’s Flynn, a practitioner of the dark arts. There’s also Laughing Deer, he is wanted for killing for a serious crime. We don’t get to know much of Kestrel Colt other than he’s Carter’s best friend who mysteriously disappears 10 minutes after the game starts. But, we do get Old Man Bill. An undead cowboy who has a score to settle with Mammon.
And that’s our little posse throughout the preview.
In combat, each posse member has a unique skill. Gin can shoot bullets that pass through cover and walls. Flynn can switch places with anyone on the map, friend or foe, at the cost of a small bit of health from both targets. Laughing Deer runs toward an enemy and deals bonus damage the further away they are. We don’t exactly know how the others (besides Flynn) got their powers.
There are only a handful of encounters in the game. In almost every single one of them, I would choose Flynn to open up with her supernatural ability. Then I’d picked on an enemy on the high ground, swap with him, and instantly dictate the flow for the rest of the encounter. The same can also be said about Gin’s Shadow Barrage ability and Laughing Deer’s relentless attack. Combinations using supernatural powers are really fun.
We can’t finish talking about Hard West 2 without talking about playing cards. Individually, the cards add a slight buff to your stats. But if you form poker hands with them, you can unlock traits. Some traits require reaching a certain bond level before unlocking. It’s a bit of a hassle but I understand where they’re coming from. Can’t have the best skills in the game just making a good hand.
And where do you get these playing cards, you might ask? Well, you get them by doing world events. Of course. World events such as the blood trees allow you to get playing cards. At least one of these events required a certain bond level in the preview build. But it didn’t stop me from looking for more cards.
the one side-mission present in the preview required me to track down someone using clues given to me. I actually had to pay attention in order to progress. And trust me, if you do one thing out of sequence, you won’t find your target, even if you’re next to them.
I’ve played 3 hours of the preview build. Overall, I’d say it’s a pretty decent start. Hard West 2 is the tactical turn-based Western I never knew I wanted. Honestly, aside from the few minor technical issues involving video and audio skipping, I’d say this game is nearly complete. I am really looking forward to the release so I can continue the journey with the posse. Which I hope is very soon.
For more info about the game, check out the reveal trailer from Good Shepard Entertainment.