With half a million units sold, Hard Westreleased in 2015, had found its audience despite its imperfections. It is therefore not surprising that Good Shepherd has devoted a sequel to it, taking up the original concept of supernatural westernjust like Weird West did. Developed this time by the Polish independent studio Ice Code Games, instead of Creative Forge Games for the first opus, Hard West 2 is however not a real sequel. If it is still a turn-based tactical game for the fights, it offers indeed a brand new adventure centered around new characters. During our preview, we had noted both good ideas but also some clumsiness, let’s see what it is about this final version released on August 4, 2022 on PC via Steam and GOG.
The Indian winter
In order to tackle a so-called ghost train Traveling through New Mexico, former military outlaw Gin Carter surrounds himself with three companions in order to to get hold of the gold he is supposed to transportGin’s best friend, Clive “Kestrel” Colt, is the sharpest gunman in the West, Flynn is a master of the occult, and Laughing Deer is an Indian wanted by everyone and everywhere. Everything goes on more or less normally until evil spirits come to try to thwart their plan. After having confronted them, they end up meeting the master of the place, a certain Mammon, notorious demon who bets on a game of cards his ghost engine against their souls. Inveterate gambler, Gin does not resist the temptation, but one does not play with the Devil. And, after losing the game, he wakes up alone at Flynn’s side, whilea snowstorm hits in the middle of June. With the help of Old Bill, a revenant they meet on their way, and then of Laughing Deer once he is rescued, they will then seek to find and take revenge on Mammon. On the other hand, no trace of Clive, certainly dead. An Indian hunter and a priest will also join them later.
Each character has a preferred type of combat.
The confrontations against the various opponents, human and supernaturalare made through turn-based fights, in groups of 4 fighters. When you have more fighters in your group, you’ll have to choose which ones to lead to the front. Also, you can adjust their stuff before you get into the action. Each can be equipped with two weapons between which to switch at will, from two consumables (heal, explosive, boost) anda trinketobtained as a quest reward or unearthed by exploring the map, to improve statistics. Each character also has his own talents to unlock (we’ll come back to this) and has a type of combat You can choose to fight in any type of combat, such as Laughing Stag in close combat or Old Bill with a pistol, but it’s up to you to do what you want. Similarly, some enemies prefer melee attacks while others prefer to stay at a distance. Not all enemies have the same resistance or power, and some have special abilities like the duelist’s retaliation or the ability to inflict negative statuses, like the handicap that prevents you from moving, the toxic vomit that can contaminate several people at once, or the terrible hemorrhage that causes you to lose 2 life points with each action. While remaining very classicalthe title thus offers a good variety of situations.
it is possible to link kills in a jubilant way.
Each of your outlaws enjoys three action points at the beginning of each turn. Thanks to this, he can move, attack (shooting or hand-to-hand depending on the weapon), use a consumable, get down, or use his unique ability, which we will come back to later. Depending on the weapon, the distance and the character, this will cost him more or less action points. Nothing revolutionary, but it works pretty well. A new feature has also been introduced in Hard West 2: the bravado. Each time an enemy is killed, all the action points of the group member concerned are recoveredwith an animation that shoots flames out of his body. There is no limit to this and it is therefore possible to chain kills in a jubilant way, which is not a bad thing considering the number of opponents to face. But you still need to prepare the ground efficiently to make this possible, making use of everyone’s abilities. Be careful not to get too exposed if your strategy fails. It is therefore necessary to coordinate everyone’s actions well and to position yourself well. The game offers many cover pointssome of which can be created by knocking down objects, which must be exploited before the enemy’s turn begins. In addition, get down on the ground further reduces the chance of being hit, but only if you have a last action point to do so.
The fights are very tactical with many possible strategies. And it doesn’t always work the first time, at least in the difficult mode, where you have to count 25 to 30 hours to get to the end of the adventure, which is pretty good for a game of this genre. It’s up to you to review your team and their equipment and eventually set up a different approach when you try your luck again. In nightmare mode, things will be even more complicated, especially since some missions must be completed in one maximum number of turns to be successful. The same goes for the achievements to unlock. For the less adventurous, there is however an easy mode, but, curiously, no trace of an intermediate mode. Note that if the heroes are varied (cowboys, Indians, revenants, witches, priests), the enemies are just as varied: more or less experienced shooters, resistant brutes, bomb throwers inflicting haemorrhage, hand-to-hand specialists with disabilities… And some are quite devious, like the very resistant witches summoning revenants, the big and vicious windigos with their thirst for blood, or the black hearts that you absolutely have to finish off once they are wounded to prevent them from exploiting their ability to transfuse HP and statuses. And it will be even worse at the end of the game when all these people are put on steroids and will thus increase their capacities tenfold.
Luck increases when you are hit or miss a shot.
Concerning the shooting, it is necessary to have your target in line of sight and at a distance compatible with the weapon that you want to use. Depending on all this and whether it is in cover or not, a percentage is displayed to indicate the probability of hitting it. The chance you have, which increases when you are hit or miss a shot, can increase this number. You also have the option of making a bull’s-eye shot and thus double the damage. But even when an opponent is hidden, you can reach him without going around him by using the vicious shot allowed by some weapons (so now independent of the character) and rather welcome to benefit from a ricochet. Objects that allow this are highlighted in red, but some may break. Note that if the art direction is good and the characters stylishthe graphics, apart from the maps and other illustrations, although improved compared to the first opus, are not not very high level. But one will regret especially not to not always have a good readability of the landn, as we had already noted in our preview, because of the many awkward walls and the presence of several floors making it difficult to know where someone is, or where exactly you are clicking. Moreover, the handling of the camera with the keyboard (English by default) prevents an accurate positioning. Let us specify that as a pure PC game, the joystick support is not offered.
The area of effect of explosives can also hurt your companions, like the shotgun.
To return to the fights themselves, in addition to the classic pistols and other melee weaponsyou can choose to more powerful rifles with a greater range but consuming all the 3 AP available (except a very expensive special edition), or shotguns to hit several close targets. Additional effects (stat improvements, status application) can also be granted by some models to find or buy. Throwing explosives is another solutionBut beware of their area of effect which can also hurt your companions, just like shotguns. But these are mostly the unique abilities and talents of the characterswhich we mentioned earlier, will make the difference. Swapping your position with an opponent or partner can change everything. Shooting through walls and obstacles can be very handy, as can inflicting damage on all enemies in sight, or increasing your damage in close combat by rushing at your target. Summoning a spirit, as well as exchanging its health and status points, are also useful abilities. All this opens up many possible attack options and becomes more effective at higher levels. But, to improve these abilities, such as stats, as well as unlocking talents, you need to rely on the loyalty of the group members to Gin and on the character’s hand composed from the cards from the Game of the Damned.
The loyalty of a member to Gin improves by following the advice given by him in the side quests. However, it is curious thatto go against the point of view of another character has no consequence on his loyalty. Depending on the level reached by each (accomplice, acolyte, ally, partner, friend), choices of dialogue or action will be possible or not, in order to obtain additional advantages or at lower cost. The title also plays, in an efficient way, the card of role-playing gameEach level of loyalty allows you to learn a little more about the past of each of your comrades when you set up a camp on the map. As for the constitution of the Game of the Damnedit is first of all a question of completing this one by finding maps during your explorations or as a quest reward. You are then free to compose the hand of each member of the group (5 cards maximum) from the ones you have. A nice substitute for the classic XP gain. Each card actually improves stats (HP, luck, speed, bullseye) and unlocks abilities based on the value of the hand, following the rules of poker. A certain strategy can thus be set up according to your style of play, by redistributing the cards before each combat, to stick as well as possible to the composition of your team, the enemies to be faced and the challenge to be taken up.
The narrative JDR accent is there.
Note that at the end of the mission, you don’t get back the lost life pointsexcept for fallen heroes who leave with only one life point. It is therefore necessary to think of them heal them before the next confrontation by resting in an encampment (if you have provisions) or by visiting a surgeon in a town, or even a healer in an Indian village. In addition to the fighting, the second part of Hard West 2 lies in the exploration on horseback of the campaign map in isometric 3D with its fog of war and points of interest where you can make encounters, get extra loot and trigger side quests. However, sometimes you’ll need the right item to access them, or wait for the scenario to unlock them, or even for a character to reach a certain level of loyalty. The adventure is still quite linear. In any case, one thing is sure, the narrative JDR accent is there with stories told in written form, in vignettes drawn on a playing card background, and very good dubbing for some dialogues (with French subtitles), with Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series), Darien Sills-Evans (Days Gone, League of Legends) and Adam Gifford (The Colony, Batman: Hush). Too bad they don’t poppin’. only once in a while and that they then give way to silences before resuming, or not.
It is essential to follow the slow movement of your riders.
You will sometimes simply have to discussothers at fightor to track down You can track someone by following their tracks. You can also participate in horseback chases, shooting. In this last case, a simplified combat gameplay is implemented with the need to change the race lane in time to avoid obstacles. An interesting idea that varies a little, but unfortunately does not turn out to be not the most successful because the tactical possibilities are reduced to a minimum. Finally, following the quests leads you to go from one point to another on the map, sometimes with a few round trips that make you regret that there are no quick trips and that it is unavoidable to follow the slow movement of your riders. In return, the atmosphere is very present and delectablesupported by a soundtrack by Jason Graves (Dead Space, Tomb Raider) and a script by Matt Forbeck (Deadlands) that hits the nail on the head. And the alternation of fights and exploration as well as the RPG side works very well.