Over the last few years, the tactical strategy genre has become increasingly crowded. From instant classics like XCOM to excellent surprises like Desperados 3, fans of careful planning and percentage-based odds have been feasting. Hard West 2 is yet another in the genre, but like its predecessor, it does a few things differently to help it stand out. While most of these moves work for the wild west-themed game, Hard West 2 is let down by the frequency with which minor issues pop up.
Lovecraftian powers for everyone
Hard West 2 puts you in the shoes of a Wild West outlaw named Gin Carter, who is looking for his next big score. Along the way, they follow the legend of the “Ghost Train” and meet up with a demon named Mammon. He steals your soul, shadow, and former right-hand man, leaving you for dead in the snow. As you work your way through the Hard West, you’ll add new friends to your posse, meet some odd NPCs, and use magical abilities to turn the tide of battle in your favor. So, far from your typical spaghetti western.
Those magical abilities are one of the significant selling points of Hard West 2. Whether that’s Flynn’s ability to swap places with any character she can see, or the literal dead man walking Bill shooting every bullet he’s been hit with out of his corpse for massive damage, every single ability gives you game-changing power.
Keeping with the theme of giving players more ways to deal damage, you can also ricochet bullets off of signs and jugs to hit enemies behind cover and use all kinds of grenades and trinkets to give you the upper hand. Speaking of hands, Hard West 2 returns the system of improving your character by building poker hands from cards you earn while questing. This all adds up to combat scenarios that are right up there with anything else in the genre, and when your enemies start to get some of the same abilities, business really starts to pick up.
Like most tactical strategy games, Hard West 2 is challenging. Even on easy mode, you’ll need to consider each action carefully or risk being overwhelmed. For the most part, I enjoyed how tough each combat encounter was, though I would be remiss to not mention a crushing difficulty spike two-thirds of the way in that felt out of place — especially considering how easy the final mission was in comparison.
Outside of these combat missions, you have a world map to explore where you’ll engage in several different side quests and decisions. There’s not much to write home about this aspect of Hard West 2. At best, it’s an adequate sideshow with a lot of potential if the developers fully fleshed it out. At worst, it’s a slog that doesn’t really end up mattering too much unless you’re trying to min-max your build. I will say that the story that’s told mainly through these moments and end-of-missions cutscenes kept me much more interested than most other games of its ilk.
This feeling of Hard West 2 being up and down extends throughout the game. While the substance that’s here is largely good (even great, in some places), technical issues popped up across my playthrough that bogged everything down and kept me from loving this game.
The Devil’s in the Details
I’m not one to get too annoyed by technical problems when they aren’t game-breaking. For example, I loved Deadly Premonition 2 despite its chugging framerate in outdoor areas. Sadly, Hard West 2’s issues aren’t the fun kind of bugs that you can quickly get around.
Hopefully these will be fixed by post-launch updates, but at this point, it’s hard to recommend Hard West 2 even though I fell head over heels for the game almost immediately due to the fun combat and weird story.
It started with gameplay slowdown that would often leave me waiting for the enemy to take their turn for several minutes. As I progressed, I ran into a corrupted save file (thankfully, the game autosave frequently) and even a hard lock that required a complete restart. Perhaps the most damning of all the issues I ran into was the long load times.
When you’re playing a tactical game, most players will probably want to jump back to a save file the second things go south. As far as I can tell, Hard West 2 lacks even a quick save/quick load function, and when you are reloading into a save, prepare to wait up to several minutes before you can jump back in.
If you’re moving through a fight efficiently, that’s not a big deal, and you probably won’t notice it. The second you have any trouble with any scenario, you’ll quickly realize how annoying this can be. It’s particularly frustrating because this is something most other tactical games have figured out.
It’s a shame because much of what the developers are presenting is legitimately good. If the uninspiring overworld were the only problem I could point to, this score would be much higher. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and I’d recommend looking for yee-haws elsewhere — at least until the developers can iron out the kinks.
Hard West 2 takes the familiar tactical strategy genre and gives it just enough twists to keep things interesting. It also boasts some great artwork and a better story than many of its genre compatriots. Unfortunately, several technical issues take off the shine of what could be a phenomenal game.
6.5 / 10
|+||Tough tactical combat with a side of magical powers|
|+||Diverse characters that force you to truly consider who you’re taking into battle|
|+||Awesome art that makes the cutscenes pop|
|–||Technical problems throughout, including freezes and corrupted saves|
|–||A late-game massive difficulty spike that felt out of place|