The Hard West is a cruel and unforgiving place. Death is a common occurrence and people know it. But they persist still despite all the hardships. I wonder if that is the reason why Mammon (the devil, demon, whatever) decided to make it his home base here on Earth. Regardless, just cause you’ve seen it all in the Hard West, one does not simply cheat a demon in a game of Poker. A hard lesson Gin Carter and his posse will soon learn during the opening sequence of Hard West 2.
Hard West 2 is an isometric tactical RPG that leans more heavily on its gimmicks compared to other games in the same genre. The story follows career criminal Gin Carter as he sets his sights on “One Last Job”. But something goes horribly wrong and he and his crew are left with no choice but to pursue the demon that wronged them and finally put the scales of life and death back into balance.
The game entirely revolves around its two central mechanics, namely the Bravado and luck system. In essence, whenever a party member kills an enemy, they get all their AP (Action Points) back, at the cost of all their Luck. The Luck stat determines the likelihood of connecting an attack. It is factored in after accounting for positioning and enemy cover. The bottom line is, even if the enemy is behind near-perfect cover and the chance of hitting is near 0 percent, with enough Luck, you are guaranteed 100% success. It’s a thrilling way to encourage aggressive play… but what it really is is a double edge sword where the highs are really high and lows are abysmally low.
The two supporting mechanics that equally come into play to support this playstyle are the Ricochet system and the characters’ own Supernatural powers. Using the Ricochet system, a character can bypass cover altogether by bouncing bullets off of objects in the environment and hitting enemies from unpredictable angles.
A little “gift” from their encounter with Mammon, supernatural powers are the true game changer, allowing the party to dictate the pace of an encounter. I particularly like Flynn’s “Shadow Swap” skill. With it, I can trade places with enemies in the far back, giving Flynn the perfect angle to shoot frontline enemies in the back.
But this is the Hard West we’re talking about here, as soon as you think you’ve got everything figured out, the game throws in enemies such as the Undead, Witches who bring back dead allies, and tanky Wendigo. These creatures of darkness are the true test of your strategic prowess.
Human enemies don’t cut you much slack as in later encounters as the hardened mercenaries of the Wild West are more than capable of returning fire if challenge them to a straight-up duel. This forces you to rely more on ricochets and shotguns to make quick work of them.
The RPG part of the game comes from the side missions and bounties you get from tracking down Wanted individuals. And you’ll probably want to do these jobs as money is pretty scarce in the Hard West and you’ll need every advantage at hand to overcome the forces of darkness.
The side missions are a great way to improve relationships with your posse. At various points, your party will argue with one another as to how to deal with a situation. Being leader, you have the final say, and the person you side with will see you in a more positive light. Additionally, maxing out loyalty will unlock a couple of unique skills as well as loyalty actions that come in handy when doing side missions.
From time to time, the party will come across peculiar playing cards. This set of cards ranging from 9’s to Aces contain some supernatural power and the holder feels more powerful just holding them. Forming poker hands unlock’s a character’s true potential. The better the ranking of the hand, the more skills are unlocked. More than just for show, each set of cards affects luck, speed, health, and Bullseye chance respectively. Which sounds cool and all until you find out that making some of the best hands in the game means you’ll have to specialize your role in order to survive encounters.
One of the glaring criticisms I have about the game is that it still follows many of the same trappings that infuriate players in games like X-Com, namely the reliance on RNG and allowing something as atrocious as less than 100% when your character has a clean line of sight on an enemy.
This would have been fine in any other game but Hard West 2 does not allow much in terms of recovering from a mistake and the margin for error is so thin, that one stray bullet could mean the difference between victory or death. I’ve had to do a lot of save scumming in order to get more favorable outcomes. And I’m not ashamed to admit that. If the game was rigged from the start, I’m doing what I can to actually progress in the game. Because no amount of preparation can help you get back the hour or so it takes to clear the long and drawn-out encounters later on in the game.
And that’s actually my second gripe, the ridiculous difficulty spike that happens in the second chapter. The middle part of the second chapter onwards somehow became a series of endurance rounds that come in one after another. It’s like the game dropped the idea of introductions altogether and dropped the kitchen sink on top of our heads. I know it’s forcing us to sharpen our tactics but at least give us a chance to catch our breath and some more side missions to do.
Now, despite everything I’ve said previously the game is still pretty fun, especially when everything clicks together the way you want them to. I also really like the cowboy backdrop and its visuals and Western music. It reminded me much of Red Dead Redemption 1 back in the day.
The same goes for the hardened cast of characters that have decided to see things through with you till the end. Flynn and Laughing Deer have Gin’s back, for better and for worse. Old Man Bill is obsessed with setting things right with the Demon. And new additions, Cla’Lish and the preacher Lazarus have their reason for being there. Far more noble ambitions than what Gin has in mind but they offer a more virtuous outlook on the adventure.
Overall, Hard West 2 has some interesting ideas but is ultimately held back in part because of a reliance on RNG mechanics that frustrates more than anything else. But a memorable cast of characters does save the game from being too one-dimensional… if you are willing to take the time to get to know your crewmates a little bit more. It’ll depend on your mileage but Hard West 2 does delivery where it counts, even if it has some additional luggage.
Hard West 2 – Review
We tell you, it’s a good game! It’s not average! It might have some problems here and there, but you have to admit it is a “Good” game.
The Bravado System and Ricochet system are quite interesing
A memorable cast of characters should you take time to listen to their stories
Feels best when everything works out in your favor