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there are ghosts in the hills of Thar

“It’s probably not a real ghost train,” Hard West 2 protagonist Gin Carter tells his group as they set off to rob a Federal locomotive dubbed The Ghost Train. It’s the kind of foreshadowing that tells you the train will, in fact, be haunted and probably by something more terrible than your average ghost. The premonition pays off, as the gang comes face to face with a hellish adversary and unleashes chaos upon the world, with Carter losing his own soul in the process.

I spent a few hours with the preview build of Hard West 2, and while developer Ice Code isn’t reinventing the steam engine with the sequel’s clever turn-based tactics, Hard West 2 is, so far , proof that innovation is not always necessary.

Carter’s Journey opens with a tutorial that lets you board the ghost train and learn the basics. Like its predecessor, Hard West 2 is essentially “what if XCOM, but the Wild West occults”. Each party member has a pool of action points that you can spend moving or using skills, and the Bravado system replenishes your points if you manage to defeat an enemy with a skill.

It’s easy to underestimate just how influential Bravado is, but with good planning and a bit of luck – more on that in a moment – ​​you can take calculated risks and still pull out for cover, which could turn the tide of the battle. Or you could doom your party if you do the wrong moves, which I never did at all (except in every mission). On the bright side, death is temporary for your party. You may have to restart a mission, but you won’t permanently lose a key gang member.

It’s a testament to the level design quality of Hard West 2 that using Bravado never feels like playing the game. Other team-based strategy games invite you to break them with overpowered builds or exploiting the environment for cover, but Hard West 2 has incorporated Bravado into its challenges.

Enemy placement, reinforcements, and your party’s fragile mortality mean you’re always one step away from defeat, even when using every tool available. I could see this potentially becoming a frustration further down the line if the later stages require fine-tuned solutions versus a free strategy, but for now I appreciate the balanced difficulty.

Hard West 2’s luck mechanic adds another clever layer to your tactical considerations. You will gain luck for certain actions, which you can spend on your next turn to improve your combat abilities. Most common use in the early stages increases the likelihood of certain skills doing extra damage or scoring critical hits, but I can’t wait to see how Ice Code uses it once your party grows further.

Once the tutorial is complete and Gin loses his soul to the devil, you are free to explore a semi-open world and recruit other party members from a motley variety of human and dead outlaws- living. It still seems a bit early to tell if these random recruits can hold their own against the four main characters, however, recruiting a zombie squad is fun just for the heck of it.

If you’re thinking, “Yeah, this all sounds like Hard West,” it’s true, which is a slight problem. So far, Hard West 2 doesn’t do much different from the first game. Your base team spans the usual melee, ranged, and power classes, and the environment is a crucial tool providing both cover and a way to bounce bullets off your enemies. Gin’s journey to find his soul means the sequel has greater storytelling potential than the original game, but again, it’s still far too early to tell.

The prospect of meaningful stories for the rest of the party, however, is less certain. Kestral Colt looks like your stereotypical game, womanizing cowboy, and Flynn, a young woman despised by the church, has a sort of supernatural affinity that could make for an intriguing subplot.

Then there’s Laughing Deer, a nasty surprise in the form of your usual two-dimensional portrayal of Native Americans in media. He’s a fighter, maybe a sadist, who lives for the fight and comments on being a true warrior. And it’s just… it doesn’t have to be like that.

Hopefully the rest of Hard West 2 justifies Laughing Deer’s existence and builds on its opening hours’ greatest strengths. It may sound familiar, but innovation isn’t everything. There’s just as much value and fun in a well-executed solid game.

[Note: Ice Code provided the copy of Hard West 2 used for this preview.]

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