Words About Video Games

41 Games: West of Loathing

One of my favorite things about making games is working with artists, and seeing a few lines of descriptive text in the art brief come to life with color and texture and motion.

The joke here is that West of Loathing's art is entirely stick figures and line art. But the very serious point underlying that joke is that it suits the game perfectly.

These limitations make the game richer, funnier, and more surprising than all but 7 other games I played this year. There's only one game that came out in 2017 that ranks higher on this list.

Take a very early example. Search your room at the beginning of the game and you'll find a book about silly walks. This opens up an option in the menu to activate silly walk mode. What does this do? It causes your main character to cycle through a half-dozen silly walking animations as they explore the world.

That's the kind of delight, attention to detail, and commitment to its gags WoL makes, and is able to make largely because its style is simple and clear. The puzzles and mysteries of the world run deep; the number of items you can find, and the uses for them are there for you to discover, whether you're trying to get to the bottom of the age-old war between Hellcows and Rodeo Clowns, or decoding an alien language.

Open worlds are getting bigger and more beautiful, overwhelmingly so. But they are also getting emptier and more repetitive as they do so.

WoL is the antithesis of this trend. Nothing here is "content" (in the cynical sense of the word) for the sake of creating busy-work for the player. This game is weird, yet weirdly coherent, and nothing plays out quite how you'd expect. And far from fighting against its art style, it embraces it and makes it part of the setting and the gag.