West of Loathing (2017) Review

As someone who enjoys a Western as much, if not more than, the next guy, I was looking for a game to tide me over until the release of Red Dead Redemption 2. Who would have thought the game to tide me over would be a hearty helping of wholesome Spaghetti Western 2-D goodness? If you guessed I was writing about West of Loathing, you were right.

West of Loathing is a refreshing indie take from developer Asymmetric Publications, which was responsible for the browser-based RPG Kingdom of Loathing. KoL was released in 2003 and received funding exclusively through donations and the purchase of merchandise, as opposed to having members pay for an active subscription, or resorting to advertising. West of Loathing was initially floated on Steam’s Greenlight service (which was closed June 2017) and received almost immediate, amorous support from fans of the the Asymmetric team. As a spiritual one-off successor to their previous title, Asymmetric Publications released West of Loathing in early August of last year.

The game begins with the “Protagonizer” selecting the gender, name and class of character they will be playing as for the next few hours. I don’t say this jokingly, as the game immediately envelopes players with its sardonic humor and rewards for exploration and interaction.

For example, within moments of starting the game I ambled my stick-figure cowboy to a nearby bookshelf. Interacting with it cycled through a series of titles belonging to the books on display, as well as a bit of flavor text accompanying each one. After clicking through the selection, I was informed that I had learned a new skill, “dumb walking,” which causes the walking animation of the Protagonizer to take on several different and ridiculous forms. Whether it be slithering along the ground like a rattlesnake, or riding an old-timey lantern around like a hobbyhorse, I was immediately amused. There is, of course, an option to turn this feature off in the options menu, but who would want to do that? Certainly not this Protagonizer!

Every minute that passed in the game became more and more ridiculous. The comedic writing of the dialogue and flavor text caused me to legitimately laugh out loud more than I reckoned was appropriate for such a basic-looking game.

The combat is surprisingly smooth, but felt at times to be lacking in overall difficulty. A Hard Mode does exist, but it takes a little bit of legwork to access. I opted against donning the spooky Stetson that enables this type of gameplay, but I will probably indulge my curiosity on a second playthrough.

Four uninterrupted hours into the game, I decided to write this little review. In part because I needed to take myself out of the game for a second before I found myself muttering the word “tarnation” to myself repeatedly in a corner of my room. However, more than that I wanted to share how enjoyable I have found this simple game to be. I hope you guys might enjoy it too. Asymmetric’s team really outdid themselves with this offering while staying true to their roots of a simple browser-based game.

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Gratitude

Here’s the funny thing about gratitude:
no one really gives a shit.

That sounds very much like a

glass-half-empty sort of argument.

Regardless of the inherent pessimism,

I promise to do nothing but to be truthful.

There is such a thing as feeling,

feeling too much for things that don’t exist.

It’s not a seance if the one with whom

you are trying to commune

is just 14 paces to your left adjacent;

she breathes the same air

you do.

You’re not bringing back the dead

with your mindless and hurried chatter.

You’re simply adding soil to the top

of the grave of what could have been.

Because the more she gets to know you,

the more repulsed she becomes.

Her slippers would never move in time

to the beat of the a capella songs you write

for those too pained to sing.

Sure, she might have been a dancer.

This gave her the gift of holding

herself like a flute of fine wine

in the hands of a debonair debutant.

Don’t confuse beauty with longing.

Because the sunset doesn’t wish you

to tuck it in at night.

The Auroras that flicker to the north

have no wish to feel your lips pressed

against her lightening waves.

That scarlet cross that weighs heavy

on each of your cheeks flushed

with longing and confusion

is as sanguine as you could ever hope

her lips to one day be.

Chapped by being swallowed by another.

-d.f.b.

Happy Mother’s Day

Hey Mom,
A few things have happened since I last wrote you. I wrote a book, it’s mostly about you, and a little about another woman who doesn’t really matter too much in comparison. It’s what you would have wanted me to do. You always had so much faith in me as a writer, even when I didn’t believe it to be true myself — in fact, especially then.
So, besides writing the book, I’ve been writing another one. It’s about the background radiation of bullshit (excuse my language) that I deal with from day to day. However, it’s also written in a happier voice than the one that said goodbye to your body for the last time. 
Apart from that, my Article 15 expired the day I decided to write this. That means I can reenlist and PCS without restriction. It’s the end of the long road I’ve walked since I made my last horrible mistake. I remember you not yelling at me when I told you, and I remember all the times I called you to council me when I was so scared that the world was falling around me. You told me I was strong enough to get through it, and you were right. So, today, when I learned that my punishment was finally over; the first person I wanted to call was you.
That used to happen a lot more often, and this is the first time it has in a while. It still hurt me as bad as when I first found out you were gone. But, this isn’t a sad story. This is a story of recovery and transformation. Even though it will never stop being hard, the hard gets outweighed by the good more and more every day. Soon the days I wake up happy will outnumber the days I wanted to join you on that long lost shore that lies behind the endless horizon of living. I know you’re proud of who I am now, because who I am now is who I was before I made the mistake of forgetting what you taught me. 
I can’t visit you on Sunday, but I want you to know that from the bottom of my heart I appreciate everything you did, and everything you gave up for us. Because I can’t visit you Sunday, I want to wish you a happy Mother’s Day: I’ll never forget to call you again.
Best wishes, love your head,

-Dylan

Burning Bridges

What I want most is for these old songs to remind me of someone else.

For the scars on my hands to bring back memories of when I wasn’t fighting for your attention.

I wish the blood that burns in my face would be still when you’re around.

That my knees would buckle less when you catch my eye before casting it aside.

I want to break free from the cord that tightens round my chest every time you walk away.

I wish I could dream a little less and live a little more.

I want these old songs to stop dredging memories of you from the river’s depths.

That’s why I burned the bridge.

Because I’m worth more than the compounding list of could-have-beens dissolving into never-weres.

They fall like ashen snowflakes all around as the bridge is violently consumed.

I just wish these old songs would stop reminding me of you.

Two Months

Dear Mom,

It’ll be a whole two months since you died tomorrow. I’m still really waiting for it to hit me. I don’t think it ever will. I don’t think this is the type of thing that hits you in one big wave, the kind of blow that sends all the air whistling out of your lungs. It’s like having a rotting tooth, a dull omnipresent ache. It never goes away.

I haven’t been thinking about you much lately, but I’ve been thinking about you all the time. I still feel like there are things you could have taught me, and things I could’ve taken the time to learn. Unfortunately, neither of us have any choice in that anymore. I remember the last time we really talked, it was fantastic. I don’t quite know 100 per cent why that night I decided to open up the floodgates and lower all my defenses. I remember when you told me you were going to be fine.

That didn’t quite happen, but neither did a lot of things. That’s why I’m trying to live every day to be a bit better than I was the day before. I know you said you’d always be watching over me, and I still want to believe that — even if I don’t believe in God anymore. I still feel like you’re here sometimes, when I’m lonely and sad and I look at the moon, like you used to tell me to when I was lonely and sad. I like to think you’re still looking at the same thing whenever I do. I like to think a lot of things.

You were right about everything mom, and now I’ve got to spend the next however many hours I have left learning to accept that. I need to push myself further in the little things, and not let the little things push me around. Let it roll off my back, “walk it off, snack fairy,” and so on. There are times when I need to let go, and let what’s going to happen happen.

It still doesn’t seem all that fair. I know plenty of wretched people who are still breathing, but you didn’t get that same opportunity. You deserve to be here more than they do, and I’m still angry whenever I think about that.

Mom, I wish you were still around to help me with these things. I wish you could have seen what I’ve learned in these last two months about myself, about the people around me, about love and loss and anger and grief and hate and confusion and crying, so much crying.

Maybe I’ll tell that to the moon tonight, and maybe you’ll smile.

Best wishes, I love your head.

-Dylan

Solemn Starlight

You’ll never forget the girl with Starlight eyes,

How she breathlessly beckoned with taut lips,

Maybe she’d have been the one.

 

But there will be others.

 

Remember and find solace in the fact,

That the stars you wish upon died,

Long ago while you slept in angry protest,

Defying the natural order of the heavens.

 

You pray that the light,

The brilliance you basked in,

That its cold warmth might shine on you,

Maybe tomorrow.

 

But, son, keep this in mind,

While an ounce of wine may absolve all your sins,

The bottle itself will never bring you comfort.

 

The dream of campfires high above you,

Will never warm your beguiled heart.

The Closed Door

Hi, my name is Thomas, and I have a problem.

*Hi, Thomas*

So, I don’t know when to begin this tale,
Maybe it was when my father turned tail and
Ran from all the problems he’d ignored for so long.

The boy sat in the stale air outside of a door
Closed, sealing both in solitude.
He just wanted to be normal, throw a ball.
He wanted to be alone with his thoughts and his Maps, guiding him to imagined bliss.

The door was old and crooked and too loud to
Crack without breaking the man’s concentration.
Too scared to knock, too scared to be an Inconvenience, a bother, a son.

The boy, now a man, is sat in the cool fall
Air, it felt like daggers in his lungs as old
Pain came forth from the back of his mind

Was he good enough?

He scrolled through the messages, the binary
Request for affirmation, for affection for the
Love he’d never felt returned from a closed door.

The apartment door behind him opened and he felt
Excitement quicken his pulse. He turned to see a Stranger, her friend, not her, of course.

She smiled weakly, uttering another’s halfhearted
Apology, depositing the cross and medal into his
Hands, shaking with anger and sorrow.

This boy felt more than he should, so much it was
Unhealthy — that’s what his friends say to make him
Calmer, when his dizzy mind finds a new object of
Misplaced affection.

He develops these feelings for those who give him
Hope, the ones who make it seem like the door might
Crack, and no retribution will come of it.

He falls for those who bring him a brief moment of
Comfort, those who lift the weight of that heavy
Cross that cuts too deeply into his shoulders.

Who makes him feel good enough
Who might want to play catch
Who might want to play house.

He replaces one addiction with another saying he’s
Cured, but he can never fill this void, this
Empty space where the love should have been.

He’ll never feel good enough.

Hi, my name is Thomas, and I have a problem.

*Hi, Thomas*