Shadows Over Loathing is a surprise sequel to West Of Loathing

Shadows Over Loathing is a surprise sequel to West Of Loathing
Written by boustamohamed31

Shadows Over Loathing

Shadows Over Loathing
Screenshot: Asymmetrical

Every Friday AV Club staff are starting our weekly open thread to discuss game plans and recent gaming glory, but of course the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What are you playing this weekend?

When I think of jokes that make me laugh in games, a topic I explored with a bit of desperation in article about the generally dire state of comedy in media in 2020– there are a few notable moments that immediately come to mind. Most of both Portal games. The meanest are joking Sam and Max hit the road. The Stanley Parable. And, of course, Asymmetric’s The Spittoon Gag West Of Loathingone of the funniest pieces of long-form comedic writing ever put to gaming, a gleefully crude ode to the fact that if you put a container—any container, even one that is, at minimumfilled to the brim with the tobacco-soaked spit of other human beings—in a video game, some dumb curious player will stick their hand in it to see what they get.

Ever since the surprisingly deep role-playing game with figurines West Of Loathing (and its extremely good DLC, Reckonin’ At Gun Manor) came out a few years ago, fans were wondering what Asymmetric would do next. (In addition to supporting their also very fun web game, Kingdom of Hateof course.) Those fans found out this morning when the indie studio announced the existence — and promptly exemption-on Shadows Over Loathinga secret, full-fledged sequel to West Of Loathingwhich is already on Steam today.

I was playing Shadows Over Loathing over the past few weeks, under conditions that highlight just how seriously the game’s developers are taking this whole “surprise drop” thing. (Shoutout to all my Steam friends wondering why the hell I’ve been putting so many hours into “Generic Game Name” lately.) And I’m happy to report that Asymmetric has made a worthy successor to one of the funniest games of ever, a deeper and more complex sequel that doesn’t sacrifice the first game’s dedication to rampant silliness.

Image for article titled West Of Loathing, one of the funniest games ever made, just got a surprise sequel

Screenshot: Asymmetric

As the name implies, Shadows ditches the Old West setting of the first game in favor of a 1920s-inspired world drenched in more overt references to Lovecraft and other horror authors. (An early, and very typical, gag reveals that the West isn’t even “West” anymore; progress-minded compass manufacturers have recently rolled out “New West,” which is actually just North.) Instead of demonic cows and evil rodeo clowns, players will now fend off vampiric flappers, confused fishmen, and a whole host of shadow creatures that tie into the game’s more rigorously structured plot, which tasks the player character with traveling to various locales to find and recover cursed objects.

Shadows benefits strongly from the discipline this plot structure imposes on it: While you can still explore in a more free-form manner, having larger quests at the center of each major location adds welcome focus to a game that could otherwise meander at times. It also adds genuinely exciting climax points to each chapter—either the conflicts to acquire the relics, or, more often than not, the metaphysical sequences that follow them when you try to break the curse. Besides being some of the most interesting puzzle designs in the game, the curse sequences also emphasize how Asymmetric has dialed into the horror elements that lurked in the background of West Of Loathing, creating genuinely unsettling moments out of little more than text (and surprisingly detailed stick figure art).

That puzzle design, along with the comedy, was a major part of what made West Of Loathing so compelling, allowing almost any situation to be approached from multiple angles. (Something emphasized here by the introduction of a “pacifist” mode that allows you to opt out of the game’s engaging, but not super-deep, combat entirely, in favor of finding sometimes very convoluted ways to get out of fights.) Shadows Over Loathing shares that devotion to respecting player choice—including the choice to just wade in and smack some gatormen in the face with cheese-based magicks, regardless of whether that’s the “right” thing to do.

If you liked West Of Loathing, Shadows Over Loathing is a slam dunk, ably matching, and often even besting, the things that made that game great. If you skipped it—but if the idea of a silly-scary role-playing game that emphasizes thinking your way around problems and encountering some of the best writing in modern games appeals—then this is a perfect point to jump into what I’m very happy to discover is now a genuine gaming franchise.

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