One of the biggest debates in any form of media is that between quantity and quality. As a consumer, the price tags of video games can be high, even at the indie level, and often we need to decide, what’s worth the purchase? For some, they’d rather put their money towards a life-changing experience, even if it only takes a handful of hours. Others want to pay for games that will take up days, weeks even, making that game sustain them for a long period of time. In the case of World to the West, the developer’s choice on this subject held them back.
World to the West takes place in an unknown land, and stars four playable characters tasked with saving it. The plot is basic good vs. evil, with destiny added in for flavor. In truth, the story is rather bland. The plot points are cookie-cutter and trope-filled, and overall, the tale is not very memorable. The bad guy doesn’t fully reveal himself until later, and other antagonists never get fleshed out to their potential. The point of the quest takes a while to build up to as well, but gets resolved fairly quickly in context to the rest of the game.
However, the game’s writing shines in another area: the characters. The choice to have four different characters was gutsy and easily could have tanked the game. Rather than making four similar but slightly different characters, each has a charm to them, and their skills are vastly varied. Their backstories are mostly built up well, and their place in the world done in a segmented but successful way.
The four heroes are Lumina, the Teslamancer; Knaus, the orphan miner; Teri, the adventurer for hire; and Lord Clonington, the aristocratic muscle man. Each has a distinct personality and history that sets them apart from each other. Half the cast are visitors to the region, and the two seemingly familiar to the area come from different walks of life and influence.
The first half of the game starts with the characters acting individually, focusing on a single character with them encountering and partnering up with one another to complete certain segments before going their own ways. Despite this set-up, World to the West keeps their tales and placements tight, and they’re able to do time skips and concurrent story lines in a fulfilling way.
The only real flaw with the characters’ stories is how their individual goals fall to the side. While in-game characterization and growth is natural and rewarding, their plot points set up by backstory are forgotten or aren’t emphasized enough. It’s a smaller gripe and in the scheme of things not detrimental, but it is enough of an issue that I noticed it.
When it comes to the world, the map is as key to the game as the characters. While the game lists itself as an action adventure, and I believe it to be so, it has a strong focus on puzzles. The relationship between the game and puzzles in World to the West is integral to where it succeeds, and where it fails.
During the first half of the game, while the characters are working alone, there is a strong emphasis on linear progression. The land is technically an open world, but barriers are put up to keep you on a straight path. This is where the game hooks you, as the paths are full of puzzles and obstacles to get through. The narrow-minded approach makes the focus on overcoming the landscape and it feels rewarding to do so.
To navigate, the game gives each character a set of abilities that grow throughout this first half. Each character is given vastly different skill-sets to get to the objective areas. For example, Lord Clonington is able to smash through certain barriers and climb up ledges. Lumina, on the other hand, is able to teleport across gaps and later gets the powers to move further distances at different angles. This works well with the individual lens on a character or two, as it allows the design to cater to them and create challenges that require skill but don’t wall off progress.
Once the game hits the halfway point it runs into what I consider the biggest flaw. Suddenly the game opens up and the land becomes truly open, with all four characters now officially working together at their peak performance skill-wise. The sudden shift means that where the designs were built with a character or two in mind, now the land is suddenly having to open four different pathways to ensure every character can get to the points of interest, turning what was a tightly designed area into a mixed bag of confusion. What’s more, the game adds in mandatory collectible hunting, forcing you to find special battery items to progress in the story. While there is an option to buy their locations, their placements are designed to be like optional collectables, and it kills the pace of the game. The map feels repetitive and the areas lose the charm they once held.
While the late game slog-fest is going on, the build of the world, visually and audibly, is still a work of art. The entire design of the game, from the characters to the landscape, has a cartoony charm that hits the sweet spot between whimsy and reality. The colors of the world also pop, making each area look distinct. While the multiple biomes aren’t given a proper reason for existing how they are, they’re still designed well and the charm moves throughout. To accompany them is a soundtrack that is truly on point, giving each area the touch of flavor needed to transform them into a living location. Even with the chaos the game has, the aesthetics never lose their luster.
Overall, World to the West is a game that is a few steps away from being a true masterpiece. The biggest mistake the game makes is trying to pad the experience with costly choices. The decisions to open the world up and introduce an item hunt-a-thon slows the pace, which to those points was done so well. The story and plot points that don’t go anywhere or have major impacts feel like more stuffing, and they dilute the great work the game did breathing life into the characters. Even with the self-inflicting wounds, I highly recommend World to the West. While the flaws hold it back, there’s a sense of wonder and humor that makes it a game worth playing.
Disclaimer: Rain Games provided a download code for this review.