Review: World to the West
World to the West is an open-world adventure game that plays from a top down perspective and focuses on puzzles and exploration. The game is developed by the Norwegian Studio Rain Games and has been released for PC, PS4, Xbox One and the Nintendo WiiU.
About the game
World to the West plays in the same universe as the studio’s previous game Teslagrad, but takes place in a different location and quite a bit of time in the future. The game’s main feature is the four different characters you get to play with. Each one has different abilities and characteristics at their disposal, which change the way they traverse the terrain greatly.
There is Lumina the Teslamancer, who is the daughter of Teslagrad’s protagonist. As a Teslamancer, Lumina has quite a few electrically themed abilities. She is able to blink a short distance ahead of herself along with firing off electric bolts from her staff.
Then there is Teri the Mindbender, a young woman able to control creatures around herself and using their abilities to help her advance through the world. Following up is the Scrappy Survivor Knaus, a young boy able to easily fit through small spaces and to blow up stuff with dynamite. Finally there is the Strongman Aristocrat Lord Clonington, who is, as the name implies, very strong and able to punch himself out of every problem. His immense strength allows him to pull himself up to elevated platforms with ease but is unable to traverse any gaps due to his rather large weight.
Each character comes with strengths and limitations and combining all of those together is the key to traversing the entire world, finding all the collectibles and overall completing the game.
The story follows a traditional Beginning, Middle and End Structure. The game starts off introducing all the characters, their abilities, their backgrounds and their motivations seperately. This part of the game is done very well. You are always given enough time to learn about the mechanics and circumstances, yet you will always get something fresh and new at the right time.
During the middle, the characters are introduced to one another and you are able to enjoy some of the dialogue between them. There is fairly little of it though, since all the characters seem to go on their own adventure, which sometimes coincide to get past an obstacle. The game even implies that this happens concurrently storywise at some points, but in terms of gameplay you only control one character at a time while the others are patiently waiting at a checkpoint.
The middle of the game is also where the main goal is presented to you. We want to give away as little as possible here, but from this point on, the story is fairly straightforward. It is still very enjoyable, makes sense of the situation and overall accomplishes what it set out to do.
The atmosphere is one of the strongest feats of the game. The cell-shaded artstyle is beautiful, the world map is hand-drawn and overall the models and animations fit together very well. Another point that has blown us away is the music created for this game. Its presentation is always top-notch and there are some soundtracks that truly stand out, which even compete with the level of quality from Triple A games.
There are a few more details that make the atmosphere something quite special. Vegetation moves when you walk through it and sometimes bugs crawl out of it making the environment feel alive. The world is split up between an overworld and an underworld. The underworld is basically just a sequence of tunnels all connected with each other and the surface. The overworld is where most of the game takes place and has you going through mountains, forests, temples and deserts, which all contribute to a fantastic variety in the environment.
Another important part of the atmosphere is the way the characters interact with the world and the charm that comes with it. The dialogue always feels smooth and natural. The personality of the four main characters themselves is also shown in the dialogue. The humour keeps itself somewhat light and can be considered a cherry on top.
Puzzles and Exploration
The main focus of the game is the exploration and the puzzles you have to solve while doing so. As mentioned earlier, the game plays as if the four characters went on their own separate journey. Each one of them has to hit the checkpoints, which are represented by totems, individually to enable them as fast travel points. This could on first glance seem quite annoying. Why should you have to go to a checkpoint up to four times to unlock it with each character?
This system actually works surprisingly well, since the traversal of each character is so different. What looks like the same path actually ends up being a unique puzzle for each character. It was enjoyable repeating the same area but with a completely different challenge each time. This was the case for most paths, but a few of them were simply straighforward walks from one point to the next. Repeating this four times was unnecessary and in these cases a universal checkpoint, which unlocks for all characters after you hit it with just one, would be a good solution. Another thing to be mentioned is that it was a bit unclear at first, where you need to go in the game. It took us some time to figure out that the pin of the map indicated the place you were supposed to go to.
To encourage exploration, the game requires you to collect a certain amount of scrolls to progress at some points. Scrolls can be found at slightly hidden locations and require you to overcome a challenge to obtain them. The gating off can be seen as a downside if you simply want to rush through the game from beginning to the end. However as the exploration and the puzzles form the core of the game, it needs to be judged accordingly. This is a limitation designed to make the player really experience what the game has to offer. If someone is concerned about having to aimlessly wander about the world looking for the collectibles, there is something to make you help to find them, which we have hidden in the spoilerbox below.
There is something to critize about the world though. Due to its topdown-ish viewpoint, it can become a challenge to differentiate between the different three dimensional layers of the world. This is something the developers should try and do better by for example putting in some extra shadows to differentiate them. In some few cases it has resulted in falling down a hole, which therefore stresses the necessity of a better implementation. We attempt to demonstrate this in the images below. The left/first image barely shows that you have seperate elevation levels here and only becomes evident when jumping down.
Since we’ve covered the exploration now, let’s talk about the puzzles themselves. All puzzles exist in the form of gating you off of progressing to the next area or getting a collectible. They are generally well placed and give you subtle clues on what you need to do in order to progress.
For example, a big door wrapped by chains indicates that you need physical force to open it. The character Lord Clonington, who is able to knock down this door, is unable to reach its location, so you need to figure out something else. After you progress through this area, you will see some bigger animals that charge at you in a similar fashion as Lord Clonington does. This is the cue to solving the puzzle. You take control of the hog using your mind control powers and instruct it to smash through the door, which will then allow you to get the key to progress further.
This is good puzzle design since it allows you to figure out thingsusing knowledge acquired previously in the game all the while making you think a little to accomplish it. The puzzles were of the observation kind however, so if you like hard and complex logic puzzles, you will be better suited by other games. Throughout the 9 hours we played the game, every puzzle had unique elements to it, which kept us engaged and wanting to see more of the game.
Movement and Combat
Every single character has nice walking animations and their unique traversal abilities add to the variety of the game. This makes the movement itself become fun and enables the game to be more about the journey rather than the destination and therefore increases the enjoyment throughout the entirety of the playtime.
The movement is fun but unfortunately the combat could be a lot better. It can feel very sluggish and even unresponsive, which is due to abilities being very slow. A perfect example would be Knaus’ dynamite. It takes around a second for him to take it out and put in on the ground. Bomberman would be a lot more frustrating if there was a one second delay between pressing the button and placing a bomb on the floor.
Another example would be using your attack buttons. While the animations start immediately, it takes a little time for it to hit and you also have a sort of cooldown after you used your attacks. Turning while attacking is also made difficult and you are somewhat committed to the direction of the attack after you initiate it. This makes quick reacting to changes impossible, especially when fighting against multiple enemies, and the game therefore forces you to play very cautiosly to beat its combat challenges.
All in all this results in a very slow and sluggish combat system. This is something that has been done very well in the recently released Mr. Shifty, where the attacks are instant and turning is made easy allowing you to react to things immediately resulting in a very decent flow of combat.
This also translates to the bosses, where some abilities can come quite quickly at you. Due to this some bosses, which rely more on the reaction of the player can feel very dissatisfying. On the positive side there were other bosses in the game, which required you to think strategically and placing a single attack at the right moment. These were really fun and it is unfortunate that there was quite a big contrast in quality in the bosses.
Overall, if the combat is considered as a puzzle itself, it could be passable and some enemies even encourage this line of thinking. However it still feels quite unsatisfying despite the nice sound effectes when hitting enemies. All in all the combat of the game is what can be most improved upon and the game could easily get a good bump in the score if that were the case.
Moving onto the nitpicks, which are worth mentioning but have only slightly affected the enjoyment of the game if at all. A few bosses lacked a health bar, so we were unaware if what we did was the correct thing to do since it was unclear if the boss lost any health on the hit. Staying with the boss fights, if you die you respawn right before them but you have to go through the dialogue with them again. You can go through it quickly by mashing the right face button on your controller, but an option to skip it entirely would have been appreciated.
Next is a problem that has been solved even in the earliest Pokémon games. Holding up to enter a cave to the north can sometimes immediately return you right back to the starting position, since you also exit the cave by going north. This is usually avoided by inverting the direction of entry and exit to each other. The two images below are shown as an example for this issue, as they represent a connected exit and entrance.
When exploring, you can sometimes feel like you hit a dead end and having to walk back to the latest checkpoint seems quite unnecessary. An implementation of an emergency recall, possibly on a cooldown for each character could have alliviated this somewhat. This could have also helped with the last nitpick, which is a single puzzle that you have to do right after you are able to access all four characters at the same time. The game requires you to use all characters one after the other. Each time you want to swap them out you have to return to the checkpoint, which ended up being quite lengthy. While you are still experimenting with the puzzle, this can take some serious going back and forth and is therefore a flaw in the design. This only occurred one time through the entire game though and we therefore consider it a nitpick.
The game boasts a strong technical performance, runs well and allows easy alt-tabbing during play. However it did have quite a few minor bugs. There was a position where we were able to walk through trees. One time we saw the same character on the screen twice for a short moment and one more time where Knaus became invisible until using the fast-travel option.
With the good also comes something one needs the point out, which is concerning the graphics department rather than the atmosphere though. There is a weird oval color banding effect eminating from the center of the screen. This is quite difficult to show, especially with compression, many screens being unaffected by it and generally being a fairly minor issue. If you take a closer look at the image below, you might see a sudden change in color along the marked lines. It looks like there is a faint light eminating from the center of the screen, which causes very subtle changes in colors and therefore this effect. It can be a bit distracting, especially in motion. Some areas are more affected by it than others and overall you will get used to it. We hope that a way to fix it could be implemented soon for those affected by it. The images below attempt to demonstrate this. Click on them to get a larger view.
Two game-breaking bugs occurred for us though. Lord Clonington got stuck once forcing us to reload the last checkpoint. Checkpoints are usually given very frequently so this issue was also quite minor. A big thing that happened to us was that the game reverted to an older save file after closing it. This was very strange and could be an issue with Steam Cloud Saving. From the information we’ve gathered, we seem to be the only ones who have experienced it, so if it happens to you, please make sure to let us and the developers know.
EDIT: The developers have stated that the latest patch has fixed the save file issue.
Let’s analyze the value of the game now by comparing it to Snake Pass, which we valued at $17 Dollars. Both got us around 9 hours on a standard playthrough. Due to the use of Unreal Engine 4 in Snake Pass, it has a higher graphical fidelity than the Unity-made World to the West. However, we believe that the music and atmosphere are equivalent in both games. In terms of replayability and further content, World to the West takes the edge here with its huge open world to explore and the puzzles to solve. This can add some good hours of gameplay and makes World to the West step ahead of Snake Pass in terms of its value, which we determine to be $20. The value proposition is therefore fulfilled by the game’s PC version, but we recommend you to wait a little if you care about a few minor bugs.
World to the West is a fun game with great music and art design that results in a nice atmosphere. Overall we give this game a rating of 80 since its quality and charm was very good for the most part, but lacks the necessary kick to get it any higher. The clunky combat results in our biggest critique point of the game but if you are someone who enjoys exploration and observational puzzles, you will find something very interesting in this game.
(out of 100)
World to the West lets you explore a cell-shaded world that feels alive. It is filled with great observational puzzles and features a great atmosphere with a nice ambient soundtrack.The combat could have been better implemented, but if you like a relaxed and laid back experience, this game may just peak your interest.
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