World To The West
Developer: Rain Games
Publisher: Rain Games
Release Date: 18 January 2018
Price: $19.99 / £17.99
Reviewed by Antonio Guillen
World to the West is a top-down 3D action adventure game set in the same universe as Teslagrad. Returning fans will recognize the opening setting as the eponymous city from the first game. You begin playing as Lumina, a Teslamancer who, after wandering after her father one night, gets accidentally jolted to a far off land.
The game hits the ground running from there, bouncing from one chapter to the next introducing the rest of the cast: Knaus the orphan boy, Miss Teri the mercenary , and Lord Clonington the strongman.
The game does a great job of drip feeding you story bits and keeping you guessing as to how and why you’ve been brought here. Early on you meet a mysterious sage that alludes to a prophecy concerning the four heroes. She keeps you mostly in the dark and repeatedly pushes you out to your next objective in undiscovered areas.
The ambiguity works surprisingly well. Getting to know each character, uncovering their motivations and figuring out how their stories intertwine kept me eager to press on to the next destination with the hope that all would be revealed in time.
Look what i can do
Each adventurer has unique abilities, allowing you to approach combat and traversal differently. Naturally the Strongman starts out with a larger health pool and a number of bruising attacks, while the Teslamancer’s skill set is more apt to movement. The early pacing is excellent and switching between characters keeps things fresh. Better yet, you’ll discover new and unexpected skills at a steady clip.
The small orphan Survivor feels feeble at first but ends up powerfully equipped, while the Mercenary suddenly becomes a Mindbender with the ability to hypnotize and control enemies (not unlike a certain Super Mario Odyssey). This mechanic alone opens up a whole range of possibilities since each captive has their own moveset as well. Impressively, everyone was so fun to control, by the end I couldn’t pick a favorite among them.
What a wonderful world
Straight away I was enamored by the game’s extraordinarily gorgeous art style. It's cartoony but also subtly detailed. I love how the Teslamancer leaves a scorch mark behind after using her teleport blink or the adorable huffing sound the Strongman makes as he hustles to move. The little touches are everywhere and come together to make a big impact. Additionally, World to the West has one of the most superb soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Every track is remarkable on its own and the music pairs beautifully with the vibrant world.
Gameplay involves a good mix of exploration, simple puzzle solving, and satisfying combat. Generally World to the West doesn’t hold your hand as you learn these systems. Tutorials are one note, and getting the hang of switching between characters and using the unique fast-travel system is especially important.
As you travel you’ll come across multi-purpose totem poles that save your progress each time you’re near, and also serve as a respawn point upon death. Once you activate one, you can also use it to warp to any previously found totem. Unfortunately each character must individually reach a totem to unlock it as a personal fast travel point, so there’s no sharing shortcuts between your team members.
Totems are also the only place where you can switch between currently playable characters. Once you switch, your previous character will stand idle until you take control again. It's an interesting approach that results in your party never really travelling together.
Characters often make their way through the same areas, but use their abilities to forge a different path through obstacles until they can meet up at a checkpoint on the other side. In the early game, you’ll switch between just two characters and it's pretty easy to see how the first person can use their skills to open up shortcuts and pathway for the other characters to follow.
The Circle Of Life
Enemy encounters aren’t super challenging at first but if you’re not attentive or overconfident you can get caught in a tight space with large teeth. The game features interesting enemy design and you’ll face a good variety of creatures from cute squirrel-like animals to bloated sea creatures. There’s just something inexpressibly fun about dying at the hands of an exploding chipmunk.
If you run out of health you’ll restart at the last totem you reached before falling so it's smart to touch each checkpoint often and create as many fast-travel short cuts as you can. Finding hidden shrines can increase a characters maximum health, but you’re able to replenish it from mob drops and life-restoring plants so these upgrades don’t seem all that necessary.
You Are Here
One of the only tools you have to direct you as you travel are markers placed on your map. Frustratingly, you can only check your map at checkpoints and, on top of that, only previously discovered areas are revealed.
It’s important scour each area for any opportunity to use your abilities. If not, you may find yourself stuck because you missed a small tunnel pathway in a dark cave or didn’t realize you should have smashed a boulder three areas ago.
Backtracking in World to the West is especially painful due to frequent loading screens. Switching characters, fast-traveling, and entering new areas all require significant wait times. Since you’re constantly doing all three you can image how much this can kill any hope for immersion. As a result I felt as if I was moving across a grid instead of traveling across a cohesive world.
All four adventurers finally come together more than halfway through the game, and this is when the training wheels come off. Going forward enemies are plentiful and traversal requires a bit more effort.
Strangely, when you’re given more freedom the game actually gets bogged down. When things open up, the lack of direction and the sub-par map make it even easier to get lost.
The fast travel limitations become even more burdensome since you’ll now have to travel through each area four times. Moving through an area twice is fresh but moving the whole team around unfortunately gets stale.
Do not pass go
I was surprised to learn that a good number of the well hidden batteries scattered around the world were in fact required to finish the adventure. A vendor is willing to trade the currency you find after uncovering hidden chests and defeating enemies for battery locations. Aside from these map markers, your only other option seems to be to search aimlessly in every nook and cranny.
Adding a collectathon so late in the game without warning turned me off, suffering through loading screens while visiting familiar locales is frustrating. Worst still, each battery actually rewards you with a snippet of lore, it’s a shame that some of the backstory of the world wasn’t more easily accessible.
Sadly, the story loses steam and the illusion of a grand weaving tale falls apart. Character backstories aren’t explored to their full potential and motivations that seemed so interesting at first simply stop getting attention. The main villain remains vanilla throughout and you’re treated to mostly underwhelming boss battles. This all amounts to a disappointingly anti-climatic ending to an otherwise peppy ride.
It’s clear that World to the West is a lovingly created passion project. It’s a gorgeous game featuring a masterful soundtrack. Endearing characters and fun gameplay kept me invested. Unfortunately, what starts as a promising story falls flat, while forced backtracking and frequent loading screens hurt the experience.
Pros & Cons
+ Plenty of fun abilities
+ Masterful soundtrack
+ Awesome style with impressive details
- Frequent loading hurts the experience
- Frustrating fast travel system
- Collectathon required