Reviewed by Josh Brant
Developed By: CreativeForge Games
Published By: Forever Entertainment
Category: Adventure, Strategy
Release Date: March 7, 2019
I’m always interested when I hear of a turn-based strategy title coming to the Nintendo Switch and with some great ones already available, including Wasteland 2 and Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, there is no shortage of tactical combat goodness. However, I can’t help but feel the console is missing a marquee game like XCOM to truly deliver a grand experience in the genre. Developer CreativeForge Games is stepping up to the challenge with their title Hard West and it’s already ahead of the curve being set in the Wild West, one of my favorite settings in video games and movies.
The story centers around Warren, a young man whose family has set out on the Oregon Trail. Without giving much of the story away, things went horribly wrong and Warren finds himself on a vengeful path selling his soul to the Devil in exchange for retribution. It’s a captivating, well-thought-out narrative that will immerse you in the game world with ease.
While playing through the main campaign, it is told through eight scenarios with each maintaining their own subplot. In each scenario there are two main loops with the first being the tactical encounters. This is where the turn-based strategy element comes into play as combat will feel familiar to anyone who’s ever played an XCOM style of game before. Your characters can take a limited number of actions per turn, choosing when to move, and attack or perform a special action.
Hard West implements a simple cover system with your character either being fully exposed, half shielded, or fully shielded depending on the object you hide behind. Depending on your location, the enemies position, and the cover that your enemy has, there is a certain percent chance of hitting your target if you choose to shoot. There are even light stealth elements imbedded with some of the encounters, whereby you can subdue enemies. Unfortunately, this felt tacked on and only took away from the actual combat.
Each of your characters has a certain amount of luck, which acts as a type of currency in combat encounters. You start out with a base amount of luck depending on the character and the greater amount of luck you possess, the less of a chance your enemies will hit you. If they do manage to land a hit your character will gain more luck that can be used in battle. I felt that this system added a healthy dose of uncertainty to how combat ended up and made for more rewarding encounters.
One gripe I had with some of the combat encounters was that there was no saving during these tactical sections. This means that you can’t redo a turn if you mess up which does add to the gravitas of any situation, similar to XCOM. However, if you die to an enemy at the very end of a mission, you’ll have to start from the very beginning with a small amount of knowledge from the previous play session. This did become frustrating though, when enemy turns seem to drag on. Having to do a stage entirely over again does make some of the magic from first seeing a level lost.
The overlay map this the second main gameplay loop in Hard West and this is where you maintain an overheard view of the world as you manage your gold and resources. You can use this gold to barter for weapons, pray at churches, mine for even more gold, among other functions. This world map is a way of moving the story forward and although it’s not terribly boring, the fact that gold and weapons don’t carry over from scenario to scenario left me feeling like the choices didn’t have that much of an impact.
Before taking on a mission, you can equip weapons from the map and loading up each character with a particular gun before tactical encounters did personalize the experience. There is also an in-depth card system in place where before every encounter you can place cards that contain either active or passive bonuses to each character. For example, I gave Warren a cannibal card that enabled him to feed off the corpses of dead enemies to regain health. This was a very intuitive system to use and was a nice diversion for further customization of your party.
Difficulty-wise, I found Hard West to be somewhat challenging, even on the Medium difficulty setting, but nothing that a seasoned strategy enthusiast would be able to conquer. Since it was the story and setting that made Hard West stand out for me, I switched the difficulty to Easy in order to enjoy the narrative and not become overly frustrated.
The cell-shaded graphics give the gritty Wild West a grim atmospheric feel that matches the mood and narrative of the story. I appreciated how sincere the voice-acting was performed with an era appropriate soundtrack and the cutscenes, though limited, were great too in moving the story effectively along. I did however encounter moments of slowdown while playing in handheld mode and while of the non-crippling variety, was still noticeable nonetheless.
Overall, I loved the story and setting of Hard West, but felt like it was somewhat of a missed opportunity to stand more effectively on its own in the genre. If you are more of a casual fan of turn-based strategy titles, Hard West may be a great entry point as it features a ripe story, interesting characters, solid graphics and era appropriate music. The Wild West is territory that’s not often explored in video games, so I appreciate what the developers were trying to accomplish with capturing the grit and grime of the setting and hopefully see what they can accomplish in the future.