With a new developer at the helm in the shape of Ice Code Games, publisher Good Shepherd is resurrecting the Hard West franchise with a brand new sequel, almost seven years after the first game launched. It’s out now exclusively for PC, and can be purchased through Steam or GOG.
We’ve seen the X-COM formula plenty of times since that series was rebooted with great success about ten years ago, but Hard West was one of the first ones to really catch our eye when it was announced back in 2015. The “wild west” genre is a great one for turn-based tactics, and the Desperados franchise has shown us it works wonders for real-time tactics as well. We weren’t expecting a sequel to Hard West this long after the fact, but how much we loved Desperados 3 certainly helped us get excited.
And while Hard West 2 features plenty of “wild west” stereotypes, it successfully mixes that backdrop with surreal aspects as well. The story stars Gin Carter and his gang, who are off to perform a daring train robbery. They soon learn that this is no ordinary train though, as it’s a ghost run that’s being run by the demon Mammon. Before you know it, your crew is broken up, and it’s up to you to get the guys back together and defeat Mammon.
Where most strategy games focus almost exclusively on gameplay mechanics, Hard West 2 excels through an interesting and well told story, which blends fantasy and supernatural elements with real world history. In a genre filled with throwaway plots, this is an example of a game that stands out due to quality worldbuilding and writing – something that also shines through the conversations you’ll have with others as you explore the game’s open world map. This even allows for some light role-playing and story branching, which is a great touch.
This quality extends to the game’s characters, which are often well developed and unique in terms of their personalities and back stories – again mixing the familiar with the supernatural. It adds personality to the game as a whole, which in terms of gameplay largely relies on familiar turn-based mechanics. An interesting twist is that you can keep your turns going for a long time because action points are replenished upon a kill, but other than that you’re in familiar territory here.
While character positioning and line of sight are still important here, another novelty that Hard West 2 has over games like X-COM is the ability to perform trick shots with your most skilled characters – hitting enemies who are in cover by bouncing bullets off of other surfaces. In a way it feels like an unfair mechanic to use, but the game ties abilities like this into the game’s narrative and unique characters quite well.
We enjoyed that Hard West 2 favors traditional turn-based mechanics over the more role-based gameplay we saw in Desperados 2. You’re much more likely to resolve a conflict through gunplay here than by using stealth or demolitions – it sets the game apart from the likes of Desperados 3 even more, even though it’s still satisfying to toss a stick of dynamite towards an unsuspecting enemy.
Hard West 2 delivers a more than solid take on the formula, even though it doesn’t reinvent what others (or even Hard West 1) have done in the genre. It’s a well made game though, so anyone interested in a new turn-based tactics title should take an interest.