Dying of dysentery is the least of your worries in Hard West 2. Ice Code Game’s sequel brings the weird west back to the turn-based tactics genre with a mix of zombies, witches, and the occult. It has its share of issues, but with some fun combat mechanics and an interesting world, Hard West 2 is more than just “another XCOM.”
Thankfully, you don’t have to play the original to keep up with what’s going on in Hard West 2. You join Gin Carter and his posse mid train robbery of the legendary Ghost Train. The ragtag outlaws discover the train is true to its name when they find the devil aboard. In a wager gone wrong, the posse loses their souls in a rigged game of poker. They soon set out to take them back the only way they know how, one bloody shootout at a time. Hats off to the beautifully animated cutscenes that play between major points in the game, which add to the dark moody atmosphere of the world.
Hard West 2’s combat can leave you feeling like a badass outlaw. Each character is given three action points to spend per turn, with attacks usually taking two points, and moving or using items taking one point. The real butter on this biscuit is the Bravado mechanic. Characters that kill an enemy, get their action points reset, effectively giving them an additional turn. This is super useful, considering you are almost always outnumbered by the enemy. Chaining together numerous Bravados can change the tide of battle and turn the odds in your favor.
Later encounters do bring spongier enemies, which in turn can lessen the likelihood of Bravado combos. These gun fights can turn defensive, with both sides digging in their heels and waiting out the enemy. The overwatch mechanic you’ve grown to expect in the genre is absent, which makes sense with the presence of Bravado, but this does make defensive games drag out a bit. Later encounters in the game are hard, but never unforgiving. You may reload an encounter here or there, but it never becomes a major reoccurrence.
Each of your characters also brings a unique ability to help break up the cycle of shoot, move, and repeat. One standout belongs to Lynn, with her ability to change spots with any enemy or ally in her range. This opens you up for so many combos. Charging forward with Lynn and then switching places with melee specialist, Laughing Deer, can result in multiple beatdowns in quick succession. Lynn’s ability can also plant Old Man Bill directly in an enemy nest to set off his bullet barrage ability with its large AoE.
Two other standout mechanics are the trick-shot and luck. Trick-shot allows you to bounce your bullets off elements around the map in an effort to hit enemies in cover. Luck increases hit chance following misses in previous turns. Trick-shot adds some variety to the combat and makes you rethink situations as you enter new areas. Luck you really don’t notice until you need more of it.
Like any turn-based tactics game you’re going to find yourself cursing at misses that “should have” hit. You’re also going to be hit by things that “shouldn’t have” hit. There were a few instances where I found myself getting creamed in what I thought was an excellent piece of cover. The maps are huge and there is plenty of cover. Sadly, there is no cosmetic damage to the environment. Areas hit with TNT, look like they just got swept clean moments later.
Another downside to the map size is that you find yourself having to walk into fights, which can put you out of position for a fight. For example, in one mission I teleported Lynn into a sniper position, which revealed enemies across the street, out of range of the current fight. These enemies were then able to move into position while I still worked to clear out the current building. This only happened a few times, but when it did, it was an annoyance that lengthened out some fights.
Outside of combat, Hard West 2’s story is driven through an overworld map. Here you’ll find points of interest, shops, and set up campfires. This is where the RPG elements of the game shine. You’ll build relationships with members of your posse, revealing more of their backstory. All this plays out in text exchange, with some voice acting thrown in here and there. The voice acting is okay when it’s there, but it’s not saying much that you haven’t heard in other westerns.
Playing cards can be found around the map and used to buff your characters by building a poker hand. Just like actual poker, the best results come from the better poker hands. You can also find weapons for sale as well as other accessories. Finding the perfect mix of weapons, accessories, and playing cards, can make all the difference in combat. My personal favorite is a speedy Laughing Deer, equipped with TNT, just in case things get messy.
For those looking for a turn-based tactics fix, Hard West 2 offers up a great challenge. It’s carried by its weird western themes and its Bravado mechanic, and at 20+ hours to complete the main story, it’d be hard to turn your nose up to the $30 asking price. For a game featuring characters missing their souls, there’s a lot of soul to be had in Hard West 2.