Hard West 2 review: What if demons plagued the Oregon Trail?

Hard West 2 review: What if demons plagued the Oregon Trail?
Juliet Childers

Juliet Childers

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If ghosts and demons found themselves in a Spaghetti Western, it would be Hard West 2. The game brings together XCOM: Enemy Unkown style turn-based combat with RPG elements similar to Dragon Age: Origins. But it all takes place in a western-style, locomotive-powered world in Oregon.

Quick shooting outlaws, Native American tribes, and settlers all fall victim to a Ghost Train led by a demon named Mammon. It’s up to Gin Carter and his gang of spiritual-ability wielders and bullet slingers to set things right.

Hard West 2 background

The original studio behind Hard West is CreativeForge Games out of Poland. Another development studio called Ice Code Games (also Polish) produced this sequel title. As such, players familiar with the original game should expect changes in tone, style, writing, and combat mechanics.

New players should be able to drop into this hand-painted world of ghouls and flying bullets fairly easily. The three game modes (easy, hard, and nightmare) allow you to tailor your turn-based gameplay experience.

Setting & tone

While lots of supernatural things occur in Hard West 2, the game never feels very eldritch or spooky even. The atmosphere is ghostly, at times, but overall, the game feels more Western than Ghost Story (if you want a genre).

Hard West 2 story

The original game had a less straightforward story than its sequel. Fans of the unique narrative devices and non-linear story in Hard West may find Hard West 2’s pivot into linear story-telling a bit jarring. However, others may find the straightforward objective-based narrative easier to grasp.

It all revolves around Gin Carter — a generic feeling, gambling outlaw with big ambitions. He gathers his haphazard “posse” or group to fight Mammon and potentially help others in the world.

How long to beat Hard West 2

This title is an RPG, so your decisions can affect your gameplay to some degree. However, the base campaign is fairly straightforward and can be completed quickly even at a leisurely pace.

  • Main campaign: ~19 – 23 hours
  • Main campaign with side quests: ~22 – 25 hours

Hard West 2 performance

The game runs very smoothly even on older hardware. The overworld can tend to lag if you try to move the camera while also moving units. But overall, the game does not stutter or lag.

Combat can get a bit overwhelming from a visual perspective, but this is not reflected in gameplay performance.

Hard West 2 gameplay & functions

This title includes a very simple UI with Inventory, Cards, and not much else. The Overworld and combat UI have a running Quest list for reference in the top left. Each character icon can be found in the bottom left with the action hub in the bottom center of the screen.

This simplicity helps the world feel more engaging and makes it easier for players to disappear into the game.

Though there is not much in the way of character customization, trinkets and cards help flesh out this aspect of the game.

Cards & trinkets

RPG veterans will instantly know how trinkets work as they are like accessories in other titles. These items grant characters additional stat boosts such as increased hit points, speed, or luck capacity. The cards, however, play a more integral role in a character’s combat prowess.

For instance, in the above image, you can see that Laughing Deer requires a Pair for his “Wild Run” ability. But a Flush will empower “Wild Run” even more. Each character gets unique abilities based on which cards you equip on top of the basic boosts such as additional hit points, luck, speed, etc.

Key mechanics

  • Companion Loyalty Points: the character screen will show a person’s abilities and stats, but also what their closeness level is with Gin. Having better relationships with people can give them new abilities or buffs.
  • Ability Points: players familiar with turn-based titles will know that ability points are how you do things in fights. Typically, each character has just 3 ability points and things like attacking, moving, or using items take between 1 and 3 points each.
  • Bravado: the Bravado system lets players chain kills by refreshing all ability points spent upon slicing down an enemy. It’s crucial to accomplishing certain side or main objectives.
  • Luck: this system featured heavily in Hard West 2, but feels like an afterthought now. If characters miss shots, they gain Luck that can be used later on to increase hit or crit chance on enemies.
  • Combat vs. Charisma: since this is an RPG, players sometimes have the option of simply talking their way into or out of a situation instead of fighting. Though the occurrences are fewer or depend on companion loyalty points, it’s a nice option to have when you do.
  • Sidequests & Bounties: as with other RPGs, Hard West 2 features many optional sidequests. This includes hunting down other outlaws — usually for money or loot.

World, sound, & character design

World design: Familiar without feeling stale

Fans of the Western genre will appreciate all of the references and easter eggs found throughout the game. But the developers also did a wonderful job making the world feel desolate while still possible to survive. The characters surviving off the land are hardened, but not crass. They work hard and they’re rough around the edges.

Each shack you discover or town you encounter feels original. In fact, these supplementary characters can often feel more real than the playable characters.

Sound design: Inoffensive music with great effects

All games with weapons should feature satisfying noises such as bullet drops, shots firing, etc. Hard West 2 makes Bravado streaks feel ultra worth it with great sound effects. The combat music hums in the background with all of the focus on character action.

However, everything else in the game feels like an afterthought. There is not much in the way of music or Overworld sound effects such as whistling, wind, or even a cheeky hawk call.

Character design: Out of touch with reality but in touch with the game’s world

The playable characters in Hard West 2 fit the setting and tone very well. Quest-giving NPCs are usually just talking heads with painterly-style avatars. Enemy types do become very familiar over time, but combat doesn’t become boring as a result. The biggest issue with characterization is with Lazarus, Laughing Deer, Cha’lish, Flynn, and the combatants known as the Shadow Dancers.

Flynn’s voice lines vacillate from peculiar and unfitting to dark and edgy for seemingly no reason. She will say “Smart!” when you move her somewhere. Gin’s characterization is also a bit by-the-book. He’s like Dutch from Red Dead Redemption 2 with less personality.

In the same vein, Cha’lish, Laughing Deer, and the Native American enemies have stereotypical writing with lackluster voicework. Though the character backstories are interesting, this can distract players and sap them out of the Hard West 2 world.

Some players may also find that Lazarus falls under the “Magical Minority” trope where a person of color (usually a Black or African American person) is connected to the supernatural or acts as a magical guide for the main character.

Verdict: Hard West 2 is fun if you can look past some…quirks

For the full price of $29.99 USD, Hard West 2 feels like a solid value if you want a turn-based RPG. The setting of the weird, ghostly West is quaint, but never feels truly lived in. Despite this, the combat will keep you coming back for more.

The attention to detail in the Overworld, unique weapon designs, and other elements like Flynn’s hypermobility or Cha’Lish’s spirit distraction ability invigorate the experience.


  • Fans of games like XCOM 2 will appreciate the addictive turn-based combat and unique character abilities.
  • The RPG elements, while simplistic, feel rewarding all the same.
  • Discovering things across the Overworld injects a fun variety into the text-based character interactions.
  • The inventory system is refreshingly simple and there are many opportunities to find stores balanced with scavenging money and resources.


  • The representations of women and Native Americans are not as nuanced as they should be. Lazarus may also fall under the trope of the “magical minority” for some.
  • Fans of the original game may not appreciate how diminished the Luck system has become in favor of the Bravado system.
  • Missions can feel very feast or famine in that, if you do not set up the dominos to fall all at once, you can snowball quickly into failure.
  • The battle UI is not always clear between moving and attacking. Much of this confusion comes down to awkward camera angles.

Developer: Ice Code games

Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment (formerly Gambitious Digital Entertainment)

Game Modes: Single-player

Game Engine: Unity

Juliet Childers

Juliet Childers

Juliet Childers is an avid reader, writer, editor, and gamer based in Texas. She attended the University of Houston where she majored in Creative Writing with a business minor. She works mainly as a freelance writer, editor, SEO specialist, and proofreader. Her beat: video games, tech, and pop culture.

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