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Ghosts, demons, werewolves, cowboys, and outlaws. They’re all positive things. The Weird Western genre is created when you combine them, so that must be even better, right? As a tactical strange western that understands this genre must look, feel, and sound fantastic first and foremost — even if that sometimes means it doesn’t play as smoothly as you’d want — Hard West 2 makes a strong argument for it.

 

Hard West 2 is less of a literal sequel than it is a metaphorical one to the film from 2015. Even completionists shouldn’t worry about playing the first game before this one because it presents a new, unrelated story throughout its 20–30 hour campaign and offers three options for increased cruelty.

Beyond the surface, the world’s design is actually what captures your attention. You command a group of fearsome cowboys in the Hard West who are on the verge of something supernatural. You are down a few souls after a poor bargain with a bad devil goes wrong, and you would like them back. In actuality, the goal is to return them to a gun’s barrel. (The devil’s name is Mammon, and he has an extremely cool ghost train with giant metal centipede legs.)

The majority of the gameplay is split between turn-based combat missions and dialogue-driven tasks in the overworld. The writing is inconsistent both inside and outside of missions. Despite having a few odd languages or cliched lines here and there, it does the job well enough that I didn’t skip the cutscenes or text-only descriptions.

The tactical combat in Hard West 2 is its focal point. They’re decent, but there’s something I despise about them for every positive aspect. On the more challenging levels, this makes the combat feel more like a puzzle than a tactical exercise, despite the war being solid and having little annoying unpredictability. That difference also matters: I had to redo several missions, some as many as five times, on average Hard difficult to solve the problem and succeed.

Contrast that with the adaptable character abilities and cool weaponry that are offered. When combined, they create a variety of abilities that work in concert with thoughtfully created surroundings to support tricks, combinations, and chained kills. The rules often favor defensive fighting because you only get three actions per turn, with shooting typically consuming two or three of those.

Your attacks deal constant damage depending on the weapon you employ; the only variable is your likelihood of hitting an opponent based on range, elevation, and cover. When you combine that defensive emphasis with the fact that you are likely to be shot at before you are shot at by new groups of adversaries, you have a significant obstacle to overcome.

 

Fortunately, you have four tools at your disposal. The first is trick shooting, in which some weapons are capable of bouncing bullets off of metallic targets to avoid an enemy’s cover. The second is luck, which entails that failed shots among other things contribute to a pool that can be used to boost attacks in subsequent turns.

The third is your character traits, special skills that each person possesses: Like Flynn, who can magically switch places with anyone she can see, comrade or enemy, at the cost of a little health, or Old Man Bill, who is full of bullets and likes to fire them back at the enemy in an explosive burst.

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