West of Loathing preview: the RPG adventure is a six-shooter loaded with comedy bullets

Not only did I receive a precious family heirloom—my grandmother's briefcase full of snakes—and not only can I open that briefcase to extract either snake venom or snake-based medicine, but I can use a snake from that briefcase to whip an enemy during combat. In fact, I've done it. Against another snake. I whipped a giant snake with my briefcase snake.

Welcome to the Old West.

West of Loathing is a singleplayer RPG adventure with turn-based combat from Asymmetric, developer of browser-based multiplayer RPG Kingdom of Loathing. You may remember that one: it came out back in 2003. I've been playing a review build of West of Loathing, which is due out August 10, and I've just completed the prologue which consists of a handful of locations, quests, puzzles, and combat. So far, I'm enjoying the absolute hell out of it.

It's precisely the game I need right now, because not only is it fun but it's genuinely funny, and Loathing's humor is everywhere you look: dialogue, quest text, item descriptions, and hell, even in the settings menu. At one point I wanted to stick my hand into a saliva-filled spittoon, and there was a little tussle as the game repeatedly suggested it wasn't a great idea by becoming more and more descriptive about how disgusting the contents of the spittoon were. I kept insisting that yes, I really wanted to go through with it, and the game finally acquiesced. West of Loathing is drenched in amusements, just like my character's hand is now drenched in revolting spittoon slime.

I've only finished the prologue and it was great fun, start to finish. It begins as you prepare to leave the homestead and head west, where you can putter around your house a bit, talk to your family, and gain XP by doing things like combing your hair and solving a Rubik's Cube. Choose your character class: one uses a combination of magic and cooking, another is a good brawler, or, like me, you can use snakes as weapons and to create potions. Then head to Boring Springs, a small town filled with oddball characters who have appropriately oddball quests for you to complete.

The art, obviously, is spare, yet the stick-figures are still cute and enjoyably animated, and just about everything in a scene has a purpose, even if they don't appear to at first. I noticed that while walking through the starter town I'd occasionally step in a pile of manure or brush up painfully against a cactus. These aren't just little art details—both the poop and the cacti can become elements of of gameplay under certain circumstances. This, along with the fact that the reward for nosing around everything you see rewards you with more funny tidbits of text, makes the stick-figure world worth exploring fully.

The choices you make can change your character, as well as your future choices. Early on in my first stroll through the prologue, I made what I considered to be a moral choice when faced with a particular situation, and that unlocked a new attribute that gave me options to continue to be a reasonable and merciful cowpoke further down the line. When I went through the prologue again with a new character, I made a cold-blooded choice instead, which gave me the option of being a real bastard a bit later. (Sorry to be so vague, but I really don't want to spoil anything for anyone.)

Combat is turn-based, and I'm not entirely sold on it as much as the adventuring (though I've never been much of a fan of turn-based combat anyway). Still, it's early in the game and I don't have a lot of combat options at the moment. Die, and you're auto-loaded to the area before the fight, so you can either try again, prepare by using some items (like eating something that gives you a boost to your stats), or mosey away to do something else or get better equipped. One fight, against two gunslingers, proved challenging due to my low HP, but a few tries later (thanks to using snake poison on them and snake healing on myself) I won.

Most of my time in West of Loathing has been spent attempting to fully explore and find every last shred of text in every single location. It's weird, because I bounced off Prey recently, mostly because I quickly got tired of all the time required to peek into every single desk, drawer, bin, and cabinet. Scrounging and peering and inspecting every square inch of game space just hasn't felt appealing to me lately.

In Loathing, though, I'm walking my stick-figure body into every square inch of the world because I simply don't want to miss anything: not a line of dialogue or an item description or an amusing little secret nestled away in a corner of the screen. What I've played so far has simply been too enjoyable to leave a single shred of text unread.

West of Loathing is set to release on August 10 on Steam—though there's no price confirmed yet.