West of Dead is an upcoming isometric roguelite shooter by Upstream Arcade. The game has a demo up on Steam ahead of its full release, so I thought I’d give it a try. Here are my impressions after an hour of play.
In West of Dead, you play as a gunslinger trapped in Purgatory. After a mysterious preacher shows up, the dead have been unable to find peace in the afterlife. As a member of the newly departed yourself, your goal is to travel through the abyss, find this preacher, and earn your eternal rest.
Your character is voiced by Ron Perlman, who provides some pretty solid narration on your journey through Purgatory. He’ll make comments after a particularly brutal fight, whenever you find a new item, or between levels. The writing is pretty good, and Perlman does a nice job acting out the role of an exhausted gunslinger with a dark past that just wishes to find peace.
As with most modern roguelites, West of Dead involves navigating procedurally generated levels of interconnected rooms as you gradually upgrade your character with new weapons, items, and abilities.
In terms of combat, West of Dead is essentially a cover shooter with auto-targeting. You can aim your shots in the general direction of an enemy and your character with automatically target them, so there isn’t much in the way of aiming. That isn’t to say that you can’t miss in the game, just that the game de-emphasizes precision aiming.
Instead of being about pinpoint accuracy, the game’s mechanics revolve around ammo management and dodging from cover to cover. While you have unlimited ammo, most of the game’s guns have low ammo capacity and lengthy reload times. Shooting from cover increases your reload speed, and each class of weapons have their own little quirks to learn.
For example, the longer you aim with a rifle, the stronger the shot will become. Meanwhile, you can choose to fire the barrels of a double barrel shotgun individually, or both at once. You can carry two guns at once, and instead of having to swap between them, you can fire one or the other with the right and left mouse button.
While the game emphasizes cover, that doesn’t mean you can just sit back behind a chest-high wall popping off shots forever. Cover gradually degrades as it takes damage, until it is destroyed altogether.
There is also a light mechanic in the game that requires you to move around. Each combat room normally has a few unlit lamps. Enemies in the darkness can’t be shot, so you’ll need to run out and light lanterns to damage them. Not only that, but lighting a lantern will momentarily stun all nearby enemies.
Besides guns, you’ll also find various consumables and cooldown-based abilities. These include items like health potions, sticks of dynamite, skills that temporarily increase reload speed, and so on. You can acquire new items and weapons in a variety of ways. Sometimes you’ll find guns just laying around, while other times you’ll stumble upon chests. You can also buy new items.
Enemies drop Iron, the game’s currency. Whenever you find a merchant, you can spend your Iron on new weapons or items. Sin is another currency in the game that is acquired as you kill enemies, and it serves as your standard roguelite metaprogression system.
Between levels you’ll find a witch that lets you exchange Sin for new unlocks. These include weapons, passives, items, and so on. Once unlocked, these items will have a chance to drop in future runs.
My biggest overall issue with West of Dead based on the demo are its controls. The game recommends using a controller, which is a polite way of saying that the game feels quite clunky on a keyboard and mouse.
This even extends to the menus. The witch’s menu interface has to be navigated with the arrow keys. You can’t select items to view them in this menu with the mouse, because that automatically spends your Sin. You can’t scroll with the mouse either.
There really isn’t any reason why this game is so clunky on keyboard and mouse other than the developers just couldn’t be bothered trying to make the controls work. The movement and combat is tolerable, but the menu navigation not properly supporting mouse controls is just lazy. Obviously you can just play the game with a controller, but my point is that this shouldn’t be an issue to begin with.
Other than the keyboard controls being pretty rough, West of Dead is a fairly promising addition to the roguelite genre. It has some really nice and stylized visuals, pretty fun combat mechanics, and a good amount of item variety and progression.