“Westerns are an unexplored genre,” said producer Kevin Simmons of Asymmetric Publications, who was showing the West of Loathing demo at PAX East.
Here’s the story: You are leaving your home and family to go West. You’re seeking your fortune out there — a dangerous gambit, since The Cows have recently Come Home, destroying everything in their fiery, undead wake.
As in Kingdom of Loathing, you choose your gender and class at the start. You can be a Cow-Puncher (that’s the fighting class), Bean-Slinger (that’s the mage, since as the demo states, “fighting and cooking are inextricably linked”), or a Snake Oiler (I’m going to go with rogue for that one.) You then head out to your first town to learn how to survive.
West of Loathing is designed to be a single-player RPG with a beginning and an end, unlike Kingdom of Loathing, which is an almost infinite experience; it’s been running since 2003, and the developers write almost a novel of new material for it every year, according to Simmons.
The all-consuming nature of Kingdom of Loathing turned out to be a problem for some of the original gamers, who had to give it up as their lives got busier. The developers get that (“We’ve gotten older, too,” says Simmons.) The single-player West of Loathing is Asymmetric’s answer. Simmons says that gamers can play four hours of the game and feel satisfied with the game, or put in several more. (I’ve played the demo twice as different classes, and I will confirm that it felt like a complete experience to me.) Also, as a parent, I do love that West of Loathing will not consume my life.
The game also takes the Loathing universe mobile. Whereas the text-based Kingdom of Loathing was only really playable on a computer, West of Loathing is designed to be played on a mobile device or a PC. I’ve played on both. I played on an iPad at PAX, and the interface was crisp and responsive, although I am going to admit that I could not get my Cow-Puncher to go where I wanted her to go.
Probably the best addition is the animation and actual fighting. Text-based combat has always seemed cumbersome to me, no matter how witty the text (and Kingdom of Loathing’s text is pretty witty.) But West of Loathing’s combat is playable, complete with a little red life meter under each of the combatants, the only color in a black and white game.
The verdict? It’s everything you love about the Loathing universe — meats are still the currency of the land, drinking is very important, and the jokes still poke fun at the RPGs of your youth — it’s just animated now, with undead cattle and a high, lonesome theme song that you will be whistling for days.