Not every game should steal these ideas. I don’t want to get to the last level of a Mario game and find a pop-up telling me that I’m about to finish the game. That wouldn’t really give me any useful information. The title should read “The Design Decisions of West of Loathing That Every Narrative-based, Open-world RPG Should Steal.” That is a long title, but despite testing the attention span of certain readers, it is true. Borrowing some choices the folks at Asymmetric made with West of Loathing would make most games in that genre better.
There is No Mechanic to Restore Decisions That Have Been Made
When playing West of Loathing, your decisions are permanent. There is no going back. Unhappy with how something turned out? Tough luck. That’s the way life goes sometimes. You aren’t allowed back into this circus ever again.
This is probably the most divisive decision that Asymmetric made. I find this mechanic incredibly refreshing though. Many games that allow you to reload a save after big decisions (Skyrim or 2017’s Prey) or have a rewind mechanic (Life is Strange) have me playing what is basically two concurrent runs of the same game.
“Oh. That’s how this mission turns out . . . What does the other option give me?”
“That’s not the ending I wanted to this interaction!”
I will reload or rewind over and over again until all the risk is removed from in-game decision making. West of Loathing features regret. There are choices that you will wish you didn’t make, and that makes the experience better. Choices in West of Loathing have a weight to them that is present in few other games.
Every Non-optional Interaction has a Non-violent Solution
To be fair, West of Loathing isn’t the only game that does this. Undertale is famous for including a true pacifist option. Other than that, it’s hard to form a list of games that feature forced encounters where the player isn’t required to harm someone. Deus-Ex: Human Revolution was patched to feature a non-lethal option for every boss fight, but it still requires violence. I’m pretty sure Fallout: New Vegas lets you speech check your way through the main story. However, I’m not sure if failing a speech check forces you into combat.
West of Loathing gives players a way to pass forced encounters without reducing all of your options to “harm this person or die.” Other role-playing games give people the freedom to be who they want to be as long as that person is ready to fight at a moment’s notice. West of Loathing gives people the freedom to choose if they are even a person who fights at all.
A deeper and more complex puzzle system comes along with the player’s choices. Having more than one solution to a puzzle requires the developers and the player to think outside of the box. Problems in West of Loathing can be solved with dance-offs, pickle factory operation, or some plain old outfoxin’. Getting beat up or losing currency are also viable options. No one promised there would only be positive options for being a pacifist bean wizard.
The Game Tells You if Side Quests are Affected by the Story Ending
There is a point in Prey where a story mission turns Talos I, the space station on which Prey takes place, into a nightmare hellscape that forces the player to run from marker to marker to finish the game. This mission also removes the player’s ability to complete any remaining side quests. One second, you’re having a blast exploring an awesome space station. The next, your only option is to finish the game. Nier: Automata also does this, though only temporarily. Completing a specific story section wipes all side quests from the map. The game somewhat fixes itself in Route B but doesn’t fully allow you the chance to go back and finish things until after completing Route C. This leads to unsatisfying segments of gameplay, and could have been prevented through a little note saying that this quest prevents you from completing side missions.
In West of Loathing, before going into the theater that plays the final credits, there is a pop-up that reassures players that watching them won’t lock any content that hasn’t been finished. This is handy information to have in a game that requires players to worry about consequences. Instead of letting you roll the dice on being able to come back to unfinished quests, Asymmetric takes five seconds to say that you’re good to go. They reassure the player just in case there was any worry about their save. If the pop-up said that all side missions couldn’t be finished after, that would also be fine. Players could just hold off on watching them until after finishing everything they want to do.
Not all of the decisions made by Asymmetric are great for players. Not having a method to remake a decision isn’t exactly player friendly. In contrast, letting the player know where they stand at the end of the game is very player friendly. Offering non-violent options for encounters is kind of a neutral, depending on how much the player enjoys having options. Being for the player or not, each of these three decisions makes the game more enjoyable as a whole. Only one of those decisions being featured in West of Loathing would elevate the game, but all three make for something special in the world of RPGs. A game that lets the player be who they are, faults and all, yet still takes the time to show them that it cares.
West of Loathing is available on the Nintendo eShop for $11.
Check out our review of Knights of Pen and Paper or Earthlock if you’re looking for RPGs with depth. Share your thoughts on the game by joining our Discord. You can also support our ad free site and buy us a coffee.
Just a person trying to do their best. On Nindie Nexus specifically, just a person trying to do their best writing about Nindies.
Favorite Genres – Roguelike, First/Third Person Shooters, Action RPGs
Favorite Nindies – Has-Been Heroes, Night in the Woods, Cave Story, Hollow Knight
Favorite Switch Game – Splatoon 2