For about a decade now, there’s been this under-the-radar browser MMO operating called Kingdom of Loathing. I’ve played and wrote about it several times, but basically it’s a multiplayer fantasy world filled with stick figures, hand-drawn items, and 80% of the world’s stockpile of puns. KoL developed a reputation as a really funny and often surprisingly clever RPG that walks on the surreal side and utilizes a “reincarnation” system to encourage players to start over numerous times.
This month, the small team behind Kingdom of Loathing finally rolled out a spin-off single-player RPG called West of Loathing, and I can say that from about a week of playing it, it might be the best entertainment you’ll consume all summer. The setting and premise is couched in western tropes — you’re an antsy adventurer who is looking to make his or her fame and fortune in the wild west. Except that this west is not so much historically accurate as it is bizarre, gonzo, and as goofy as it wants to be.
West of Loathing obviously exists in the same universe as KoL, with the same stats, currency (meat), art style, and so on. But there are differences, solo play notwithstanding. You move around in areas with WASD (versus KoL’s menu system) and the combat is more tactical and interesting. It’s also more of an open world RPG like what you’d find with Fallout or Skyrim, so exploring different locations and gradually opening up the landscape is a major part of your progress.
I referred to Kingdom of Loathing as “clever” and “funny,” and both of these attributes are in full effect in this spin-off. If I’m not laughing at some hideously bad pun, activating “stupid walking,” or rolling my eyes as I’m reading plaque after plaque in the “Shaggy Dog Cavern,” I’m finding myself stymied by various puzzles and secrets that are sprinkled everywhere. Trying to subdue one gang in a hat factory, I had to figure out how to spot each of the five members’ hiding tells without getting any wrong. I don’t know when the last time a game made me play hide and go seek, but there we are.
The game is not afraid to break the fourth wall repeatedly, especially to chide you or question your decisions. There’s a running gag about the spittoons in this game and how I (and most other players, I’d reckon) keep digging around in their muck like the trained RPG players we are without really considering how disgusting this is. Well, the game certainly goes to great lengths to call the player out on this. I loved it.
The combat took a little bit to get used to, but it’s actually pretty engaging. WoL uses a simple turn-based system between your team and enemies, but your characters can employ actions that don’t immediately end your turn (like downing a health flask) and ones that do. Getting the most out of every turn and downing enemies fast is key. My character is a Snake Oiler, so I toss out venomous snakes and drink the medicine I make from them while firing away with my toilet scum-encrusted six-shooter to give the enemies “stench” damage and poison them.
Once I got going in this game, it started to suck up the hours. It really is those “one more turn” (or “one more location”) types of experiences that end up making you blink at the clock and wonder if it really is 2:00 a.m. already. And I should probably give the soundtrack, a cheeky Western tribute, some praise as well for giving the game a great audio atmosphere.
For just $11, this was a purchase that was well worth it… and now it’s making me want to play Kingdom of Loathing all over again.