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Rise and Shiny: The West


I've been on a browser-based kick, more so than normal. Thanks to my Chromebook series, I have been rediscovering the joys of all-in-one gaming. I'm so tired of messing with bloated, heavy machines that do nothing but suck up my money. The future of gaming is light, thin, and still capable of playing MMOs. I've had just as much fun now as I ever have on larger machines.

One of the unique games I've rediscovered is The West, a browser-based sandbox set in the wild West days of the United States. Gameplay is simple yet effective, and I love how the game uses basic graphics alongside deep gameplay. Innogames, the game's publisher, has been offering a unique batch of games for a while, all available within the browser or mobile. Let me tell you what I found while crawling through the great vistas of The West.

The West screenshot
The game is surprisingly easy to play, but it does take a while to understand. I was a bit confused the first time I jumped in, which probably led to my skipping it for a while. This recent Chromebook project led me to it again, and I have to say that it's a shame I didn't stick with it before. I rolled a character and enjoyed making an avatar in the relatively robust character creation screen. It reminded me of the earlier EVE Online avatar creators, back before we were given the current resource-heavy version. It appears that at any time you can go back and change your avatar picture again. Because the accounts are bound by a name, changing the picture doesn't seem to make it easier to spy or hide out.

Your character has an equipment screen just as many MMO avatars have. You can find, buy, or craft equipment to wear and can adjust your stats with stat points as you level. How do you level? Well, the most common way is to do different jobs or perform different activities to gain those precious skill points. The job system is easily my favorite part of the game; it's an innovative and easy-to-learn system that sends a player's avatar across the map in (sort of) real-time travel.

Let's say I need to gather some tobacco for an NPC. There are several ways to find the "picking tobacco" job; I can just look around the massive map until I find the particular job, I can open the mini-map and type the job's title in the search bar and follow the dots on the map, or I can click the compass link in the quest description and it will automatically open the mini-map and show me where I can go. Once I see the job location, I can click on its sign or link and pick the job I want to do.

Once I've accepted a job, my character will travel to that point and get to work. I learned to be careful about travel times after I sent my character so far into the distance that he traveled for literally over an hour, but it becomes easier and easier to judge distance as you play more. Jobs are great because you can set the goal and go do something else in real life if you need to, but you have to be careful about your character passing out or someone finding him, robbing him, and taking a chunk of his cash. It's not as harsh a penalty as I've seen in other games, but it's nice to see that playing the game in almost AFK-mode can hurt you.

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I soon joined a very friendly town, an organization that is basically a guild or alliance. Together, the members have built up an actual town that allows members to rest in a hotel, duel each other, and purchase much-needed goods, among other activities. The towns work really well and illustrate perfectly how simple images can be just as fun to interact with as complex, three-dimensional graphics. In fact much of my time in The West is spent imagining what's going on, since the action is usually barely animated or is represented by text or artwork. Don't let that fool you; there is some real, sandbox-ish fun to be had in The West, and it can be experienced on a tighter schedule.

This game is part of my month-long Chromebook All-In-One experiment, but the game runs on any device in my house from my Nexus 7 tablet to my gaming desktop. Performance can occasionally slow down, but it has never crashed on me. Innogames tries to offer games that will run across several devices.

"Dueling is fun and animated -- sort of -- and equipment can easily make a difference. The combat goes pretty deep, offering the ability to tweak where your character concentrates fire or how she attacks."

The best part about The West is its open character creation. As you level, you also become much more skilled, and crafting opens up at level 20. Supposedly, creating items for sale can net players a lot of money, but I've yet to experience it. Dueling is fun and animated -- sort of -- and equipment can easily make a difference. The combat goes pretty deep, offering the ability to tweak where your character concentrates fire or how she attacks. There are also player-controlled forts that are occasionally attackable. I was invited to more than one fort attack but somehow managed to mess up the trip to the fort and miss out on the fun. Despite its very simple exterior, The West offers a ton of tweaking, exploring, combat, and open character creation. Color me surprised!

On the other hand, the browser-based gameplay will turn off many people. I've met these people, and there's no convincing them to even try a game unless it has state-of-the-art graphics. Also, the setting is not science fiction or fantasy, so many players will think they cannot enjoy it. As I mention in the video, however, the Wild West of the old United States was sort of a fantasy world. People weren't clear on scientific matters, the blade still had its place in battle, and the world was filled with dangerous creatures and events. Horses and livestock were of paramount importance. Disease was everywhere. Really, if you think about it, the Old West was a lot like a fantasy novel. So, fantasy fans, you might enjoy The West as much as I did.

Next week, I am diving back into Star Sonata. I tried it out a few weeks ago, but between the livestream messing up and real-life scheduling issues, I was not able to give the game a fair shake. I'll be trying again and streaming my first day back in the game on Monday, the 21st of January, at 5:00 p.m. EST. Watch it on our livestream channel!

Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!

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