Hard West 2 Game Review

The old American Southwest has proven to be a compelling setting for many games in recent years. It is a time period that lends itself to stories about venturing into the unknown in eerily quiet, dusty lands. Naturally, tales about the supernatural filled with things that go bump in the night become good fits for such a setting, and many games are starting to take notice. Hard West 2, developed by Ice Code Games, is the latest game to embrace the budding “Weird West” genre and is the follow-up to one of the first games to embrace worlds filled with cowboys and ghouls.

Hard West 2 takes the XCOM-style turn-based combat of Hard West 1 and doubles down on the action, taking a more “gunslinger” approach to gameplay that rewards high-risk plays with high rewards. Ice Code Games also ramped up the production value for this title, prettying up Hard West’s Oregon Trail-like presentation, creating a unique and visually stimulating package. It isn’t the most mechanically complex strategy game out there, nor does it have the most compelling storyline, but it does just enough to be a worthwhile experience.

Hard West 2 tells the story of a gang of outlaws chasing a ghost train across the American Southwest. At center stage is the straight-faced and stern Gin Carter, leader of a diverse posse of gunslingers with a roster including witches, a pastor, and an undead cowboy. The gang is specifically hunting a demon-possessed man named Mammon, who has taken the soul of Kastral Colt, the posse’s best gunslinger. Every genre trope and cliché is present in Hard West 2, with enough bank robberies and train heists to satisfy any player looking for a pulpy weird western story lifted from a comic book page. Although, the story generally leans more heavily into the western aspects than the supernatural and doesn’t take too many turns from the main plot at the start.

Hard West 2 Story Box

Presentation is where Hard West 2 really sells its narrative. Ice Code Games clearly admires its comic book inspirations, and it’s reflected in the beautifully drawn artwork throughout much of the campaign. Oftentimes, the single-frame cutscenes throughout crucial moments in the storyline steal the show with their exceptional color work and detailed characters. Those elements also nicely transfer to the in-game dialogue boxes, meaning Hard West 2 never lacks something nice to look at regardless of what is happening.

Additionally, some prominent voices drive the dialogue of Hard West 2, including work from Kevin Conroy, known for voicing Batman, and Darien Sills-Evans, who voiced Weaver in Days Gone. Hard West 2 delivers its story in text panels in a choice-based text adventure style where it splices in those excellent voice-overs on top of descriptions of the game’s environments and character expressions. In lacking big-budget animation, Hard West 2 wonderfully leaves a lot to the player’s mind’s eye and headcanon as they grow to know these characters and take control of them in combat. It may not be to everyone’s liking, but its old-school text-based approach to storytelling can certainly feel refreshing for those who enjoy this style of game.

As the story unfolds, players will get to make important decisions for each posse member across multiple side missions, giving the narrative a slight role-playing element. These decisions will grant Loyalty Points to the designated member of the crew, unlocking more dialogue choices and more combat skills as players build their relationships. However, most of these side quests are straightforward and amount to nothing more than clicking the correct dialogue choice and choosing which posse member will receive the Loyalty Points. Decisions lack weight and consequence, amounting to a shallow sense of player agency. On the whole, combat is what will keep players hooked on Hard West 2.

Hard West 2 Combat

The original Hard West had a habit of being compared to the popular XCOM series of strategy games. It can be difficult not to notice their similarities, even in the sequel. Right off the bat, Hard West 2 has no reservations about where it gets its UI and visual language inspirations. The game also sticks close to the tried and true strict rectangular level design of XCOM compared to the more loose design of Gears Tactics. Mechanically, Hard West 2 has most of the genre staples, including the use of action points, a cover system, and percentage-based attacking mechanics.

Success relies upon knowing how to best use these mechanics in any combat scenario while mastering positioning and finding the best lines of sight for the best chances to hit. It all plays out like a big puzzle where the player has to decipher what the next best move is constantly. Hard West 2 executes these strategy concepts well and understands how to make the process of learning, adapting, and enacting quite rewarding. However, the game has a couple of tricks that make it stand out from other strategy games.

RELATED: Civilization and XCOM Devs Form New Studio Bit Reactor

Hard West 2 differentiates itself as a more action-focused strategy game, leaning its gameplay systems toward short-term, high-risk plays rather than long-term strategy and pre-planning. It accomplishes this by reworking the previous game’s Luck mechanic and introducing the Bravado mechanic. In Hard West 2, whenever a player misses a shot on an enemy or takes damage, the player accrues Luck points. When the player accumulates enough Luck, they can cash it out to get a guaranteed hit on an enemy. Additionally, the Bravado mechanic ensures that every time a player defeats an enemy on the battlefield, they get all their action points back and effectively get another turn for free. As long as players keep killing, they keep getting turns.

Hard West 2 Bravado

Bravado opens up the game in new ways, challenging players to think outside the confines of traditional strategy, making a more freeform combat system in the process. Oftentimes, the best approach in a combat scenario might be to stand in the middle of the battlefield, cash out some stored Luck and take down everyone on the field after the posse has whittled down the attackers enough. It’s about as close to high octane gunslinging as a strategy game can get. When everything lines up for the player and the opportunity to demolish a whole gang of enemies at once appears, it is a remarkably satisfying experience. However, the combination of Luck and Bravado can also feel like a crutch at times.

While Luck and Bravado give the strategy gameplay of Hard West 2 a unique twist, it often feels like it comes at the cost of the game’s other systems. Many players might find themselves simply trying to farm Luck throughout their shootouts only to eventually cash it all out at once to finish a scenario. Ironically, the combination of Luck and Bravado can be so powerful that it often becomes the safest option in any given turn, wasting fewer resources and guaranteeing that a turn is successful. When paired with a shallow set of overall strategy mechanics, the gameplay loop could wind up feeling a bit stale after a while

RELATED: Tactics Ogre: Reborn Release Date and More Leak Online

The only combat options that players have in Hard West 2 are to move, shoot, use an item, or take cover. Unique abilities also exist but are often very situational, and few characters have powers that can significantly turn the tide of a battle. The game lacks overwatch states, reload mechanics, and proper class specializations for characters. All of which are standard for the genre and could have significantly expanded the tactical skill set of this game. As it stands, combat is contingent on finding the best lines of sight and using Luck and Bravado. Additionally, the pool of enemies in Hard West 2 is relatively small, mostly relegated to humans or humanoid demons without introducing any new enemy types past the first chapter. Disappointingly, the only mythological creature players will fight is the occasional Wendigo. It feels like a real missed opportunity to fight some interesting ghouls and fiends in a setting with as much potential as the weird west.

Hard West 2 Map

Outside of combat, players can expect to find a much more fleshed-out world than Hard West 1. The game takes place across three different settings, each with a new climate and a new set of landmarks containing side missions, bounties, and weapons. These areas are visually sparse and function more like an interactive map rather than any robust and engaging open-world experience. Still, it is a huge step up from the rudimentary map of the first game and makes Hard West 2 much more compelling to play.

Hard West 2 is a solid experience despite some shortcomings and missed opportunities. Ice Code Games crafted a unique and action-packed combat system while retaining much of what makes this type of strategy game so engaging. It may not have the production values or depth of either XCOM or Gears Tactics, but Hard West 2 still manages to be an addicting and satisfactory turn-based strategy experience.

Hard West 2 is available now for PC. Today Technology was provided a PC code for this review.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.