Review – Westward IV: All Aboard!
Being completely new to the Westward series, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one. So some weeks ago, I jumped into my boots, pulled out my cowgirl hat and set off to the wild frontier, and I am still playing strong.
Number of Players: 1
Publisher: Sandlot Games
Release Date: November 2009
As I see it, players assume the role of their chosen hero – a Turner sibling by the name of Anne or Henry and set off to rebuild a railroad their missing father started, while rebuilding and protecting his town (and a few others along the way). Included in this grand undertaking are quite a few adventures and missions, the rewards from which help tremendously in completing the big picture, as well as get the hero further along the path to finding their father. The strategy/simulation style of Westward IV is intriguing and can certainly keep players engaged for hours on end. It does start off a little slow as experience, cash, and wood have to build up, but once the town starts to flourish, the customization seems endless, with new types of characters, buildings, and tasks added constantly to keep players moving.
The sights and sounds of Westward IV, however basic, do well in connecting the player with the environment. The music is especially effective in that aspect, starting with the menu song that lingers in the mind for a bit after playing. The characters’ expressions, though entertaining the first couple of times, did get repetitive on occasion. But sound cues did become very recognizable and helped in streamlining play, getting the hero to the action before too much damage was done. The ability to zoom in and out of scenes saved with a few headaches when trying to reach characters or objects too close to something else, or to be able to see better the area as a whole.
Westward IV is mouse controlled, though the arrow keys will also work for zooming. It is slightly more complicated than point and click, but the tutorial does thoroughly explain the different ways to move a character or group, get them to work or build, and zoom in or out. Again, zooming works wonders here. I play the game mostly zoomed out all the way, which can make it difficult to get to the precise spot with my mouse, but (if I remember) zooming in a bit creates much more accessibility.
There are a number of aspects to love about this game, and I can see why Westward fans were on the edges of their seats waiting for it to come out. Westward IV is outside of traditional gender roles. Players can assume either a strong male or strong (and a little sassy) female hero to play, male or female sheriff(s), any job for male and female citizens, and the bandits are both male and female. While this may not have been the case in the wild west, it is very appropriate in the here and now, and allows a much broader audience to identify with the game, and invest further into play, getting the most out of the experience. Westward IV also takes us in to another time and place completely, making a great escape from the day to day. There are very rarely time limits, which affords players tons of freedom in making the game whatever they want it to be. Each stop along the way can be played quickly to the goal, or be developed into thriving towns of their own, while the home town can constantly grow and change in between (just save before making too much change at once, so you don’t lose too much if it crashes). As well as the game as a whole can be played relatively quickly to the bare minimum goals to get to the end, or time can be taken to build and populate the town to the ideal balance and aesthetic for the player, experimenting with different buildings and decor. There are plenty of spaces to save games as well, which allows players to spend as much or as little time they can or want each time, as well as offering some safety in risk taking, and a chance to start over without giving up the current progress.
The only thing about this game that didn’t sit well with me was the dealing with the fur trader. Though I would have normally ignored the request for me to go shoot some bunnies or deer, in the beginning when the game was ramping up and I needed some experience points, it was almost necessary to complete the first fur missions. It would have been nice to have the opportunity to say no to the fur trader and not have the incomplete missions hanging over my head. I would like to acknowledge the other environmental aspects that exist within Westward IV, which surprised me. There are some tasks that involve cleaning up toxic waste from careless corporations, and the consequences (tainted fish and sick citizens) of not doing so. Also, if the fisheries have full employees for too long, the supply becomes depleted, lumber camp’s trees need to be replanted every so often, and the balance of water and farms/ranches needs to be monitored, even through droughts, so as not to deplete the supplies or lose the animals. I love the sense of balancing the community that Westward teaches, giving citizens places to live, food, hospitals, protection, water, a job, variety, while still maintaining resources, or the town gets abandoned. There are some good lessons here, as well as a sense of responsibility that would be fantastic to carry over into our actual communities. Way to go, Sandlot.
My final thought on this game is just go get it. It is a game that will last a long time (= good value, especially now that it’s only $6.99), is fun and endearing, makes you think, gives a great escape, and has some good messages. If you already like the wild west, simulation, or adventure games, then that’s just a bonus!
Thanks for reading!
* Review copy provided by Sandlot Games and does not affect the outcome of this review.