Kingdom of Loathing is a long-running web game developed and published by Asymmetric Publications. The game has managed to persist for nearly sixteen years thanks to the quality of writing that the team produces. Whilst the game is an MMO, the experience is largely single-player with a gameplay loop that sees players reincarnating as different classes to tackle the game repeatedly with optional challenges. Asymmetric have taken what they have learnt through developing KoL and turned it into a truly single-player game in the form of West of Loathing, a turn-based RPG released for Windows, macOS, and Linux in August 2017 and Nintendo Switch in May 2018. This review focuses on the Switch version.
There is not much setup to West of Loathing. The game begins on the family farm with the protagonist planning their journey West to find fame and fortune. The player has a choice of three different classes to pick from at the beginning of the game; cow puncher, snake oiler, or beanslinger. These each represent one of the three major stats in the game; muscle, moxie, and mysticality (strength, dexterity, and intelligence respectively). The game can automatically build the character as the player levels up, or they can chose where in which their points are placed for emphasis on their main stat or a specific skill.
After leaving home and leaving the first town (together which function as a kind of tutorial) the player finds themselves in Dirtwater, the town from which their adventure begins. Outside of the town is a large and empty map that will slowly become filled with locations as they are discovered either through dialogue with NPCs or randomly whilst traveling around the map. There is an option to wander aimlessly should the player attempt to discover a new location to adventure in. Any trek across the map will pop an event of some kind, usually combat, though there are a few that will give items to the player.
Locations in the game each have something unique about them or tasks which the player can complete (quest or otherwise), though many of these are no immediately apparent. There are a few skills and items in the game that are necessary to explore the caves and ruins in which the player may find themselves. These skills are not always present, so this lends itself to future replays of the game. Many of the skills are acquired through reading books that can be found or purchased in the world, though a good many of these are combat skills. Some skills give extra dialogue options and can sometimes remove the need for combat in some situations.
Combat is a weak point for West of Loathing. The difficulty is either easy enough that it is over within a couple of rounds, or so hard as to allow the player no chance to survive. Fights in which the player scrapes through by the skin of their teeth by carefully using strategy and items are almost never encountered. A reason for this is because health is restored after every fight, so player health pools are small enough to make healing during combat seem like a necessity, though in practice a single hit from an enemy is enough to tell them whether or not they are going to win a fight. As experience can be earned through doing many different actions within the game it is incredibly easy to become over-leveled whilst trying to explore and try everything the game has to offer.
The graphics in West of Loathing are stick-figures, though this is a style that Asymmetric have been working with for years. The characters, items, backgrounds, and menus all share the same black and white style, though there is enough detail in each of the images that it is immediately obvious what they are supposed to be. The line drawings are style choice rather than a lazy design decision. Animations are fluid and there are even dynamic shadows (or as best as can be replicated with 2D images) when exploring caves with a lantern.
If the writing of West of Loathing is where the game really shines. The team at asymmetric have put comedy and pop culture references into every nook and cranny of the game. AS this is based on Kingdom of Loathing there is sixteen years of content and lore to pull from as well. The game is set well before the events of KoL during a period ‘when the cows came home’. Well, these are demonic cows are their homecoming means that a great disaster has befallen the area. The game can be completed rather quickly, and much of the content can be skipped in a rush for the ending, though this is reflected in the epilogue of the game.
West of Loathing is a game that may turn some people off with its graphical style, but it is a game that is worth playing for the writing alone. It is short but has replayability thanks to the three different character classes and the choice of companions that can accompany the player early on in the game. There are many things to discover and a ‘perfect’ playthrough could take as long as most RPGs. In short, this is a game that will appeal to a wide variety of people, not only those that are already familiar with Asymmetric’s body of work.
Title: West of Loathing
Developer: Asymmetric Publications
Publisher: Asymmetric Publications
Platform Reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 10 August 2017 (Worldwide, PC)