When Weird West came out, I was very confused. While “Wild West But Spooky” isn’t a new genre, the game looked very similar to 2015’s Hard West. The biggest difference was that it didn’t care much for turn-based combat. I guess this stirred the fans of turn-based tactics, because I had a preview copy of Hard West 2 land in my lap not long after.
As far as I understand, Hard West 2 isn’t a continuation of the old one — it just exists in the same setting. A colorful gang of outlaws decide to attack a “ghost train” carrying cash at night. Things turn sour really fast as the “ghost” part becomes a lot more literal, and the gang is confronted by a devil. They lose, and the goal now is to get back at him and return what was taken.
Oregon Trail with infinite bullets
Just like the original of yore, Hard West 2 is split into campaign map and battle sections. The campaign map part is easy: you wander around, interacting with spots of interest. But the sequel doesn’t mark them out clearly like the original does, so some attention needs to be paid to the environment to hit up everything you can find in the way.
In non-combat encounters, you get to run through some dialogue or a short text quest. You and your companions can get harmed (which means starting a battle with less HP), but they can also find loot. Sometimes, your dialogue choices award you companion loyalty points, and some options are gated behind companionship status. Luckily in the demo, I only saw positive outcomes when it comes to friendship.
Before battle encounters, the option leading to the fight will be specially marked. On occasion, you’ll even get the choice of how to approach the combat. This is all fine and dandy, but a lot of it rides on the game giving you interesting options in the campaign map. In the battle map, I’ve seen no evidence of the first games’ sneaking mechanic.
Ricocheting bullets off everything save belt buckles
One thing is evident in the fight: Hard West 2 loves trick shooting. While that was a special card-borne ability in the first game, any character can do it by default now. As your dudes can’t move that far before shooting (most guns require 2 out of your 3 AP to fire), and cover is still a nuisance, you’ll be bouncing bullets off random metal objects like never before.
You’ll see more beefier enemies now, taking more than one shot to kill. This is likely due to the new bravado mechanic; you regenerate all of your AP on kills. So with enough one-shottable enemies in range, a single player character can go on an absolute rampage. Actually, two of the battles in the preview had a secondary objective of killing all present foes within a single turn, which required some puzzle solving-like thinking.
It is aided by the fact that your Hard West 2 characters have been gifted mysterious powers by the brush with a devil. Gin, our protagonist, can fire a barrage of bullets that harm anyone caught in the path — cover or no cover. There’s also the lady who teleports by switching places with friend or foe, which is a good trick for setting up low HP enemies where they can fuel a Bravado rampage.
Luck seems to play less of a role this time around. Before previewing the sequel, I recalled it being a major factor of your player not getting shot in Hard West 1. Having booted the original game up again, I noticed that it wasn’t as pronounced as I remembered. Still, both games involve spending Luck to power abilities, but Hard West 2 also allows using it to pump up to-hit chances.
Everyone goes to boot hill
Now, one of the great feats of the first game was character expendability. It was frankly shocking how many people you could just let die without incurring an automatic game over. In fact, one of the original campaigns even featured a scientist accompanied by entirely replaceable Pinkerton agents. But in Hard West 2, it feels like we’re getting more characterized protagonists, and keeping them alive will be more of a priority.
Each of them can be equipped with weapons, consumables and trinkets like before. However, the skill and card system are more intertwined. Some character skills are unlocked by having certain poker combinations in their hand, while previously cards themselves would grant active abilities. Cards are still found in the world, and not entirely diegetic to the lore.
Visuals are much improved over the 2015 game, but nowhere near spectacular. The still art in the cutscenes is better; more colorful and expressive. Also, this is the first time I remember a turn-based tactics having a mobile level — or at least one that starts with your characters acting in turns while their horses and the train they’re chasing move in real time.
Now, if we’re looking for downsides, it’s in all the whining and moaning that your characters do. The first game was mostly silent, with only Death as your narrator. In Hard West 2, the group is a lot more chatty and thus likely to complain about the cold on the snowed-up campaign map. This isn’t a great feature, especially since it doesn’t mean anything — it’s not a signal for you to set up camp and warm up to restore your stats or something. It is very grating.
So far, I don’t know what to think about Hard West 2. The original game certainly left its place in my memory as a tactics game that took many interesting decisions. Is the sequel equally as brave? I guess I’ll need to see the whole thing before I can pass judgment.