Back in my college days, I had a job in the computer lab. Since I was very rarely actually needed for work, and because this was sort of the right time for such things to be popular, I found myself playing a lot of web games. These included the long-running Kingdom of Loathing, an online fantasy RPG with stick figures and a unique sense of humor. It’s still going, but it’s harder for me to get into online games these days. Thankfully, developer Asymmetric has a solution for us in the form of the single-player RPGs West of Loathing and, today’s topic, Shadow Over Loathing. This was the first thing I’ve played from this franchise in over a decade, but did its combination of humor and mechanics hold up?
Shadow Over Loathing, much like its predecessor, mixes up the theme from the medieval fantasy vibe of Kingdom. Instead, we have a sort of horror theme here, though some of it is more adventure or noir than horror. It is the first Loathing game to take place in the 20th century too, which mixes things up enough that I would definitely recommend this game to fans of the series. The mechanics will be familiar, of course, but it’s still different enough to be worth a try.
For newcomers, there’s a very unique style to the game and its humor that isn’t for everyone. The stick figure art is unique and has a style, to be clear; these are not lazy visuals. But even so, it can be hard to look at black and white stick figure drawings for the length of an RPG, even with animation. The humor is similarly not for everyone. It’s sometimes surreal, rarely cliche, and it’s part and parcel of nearly every detail. But for me, I found that most of the jokes didn’t land. I applaud Asymmetric for avoiding the edgy or “in your face” comedy you see in games like High on Life, not because it’s bad, but because Loathing’s take is more original and works for any audience. Still, the quirkiness that had me laughing in college no longer has the same effect on me. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for you, but I do recommend trying the free Kingdom of Loathing first if you’re not sure.
That will also give you an introduction to the mechanics, and they seem to share a common inspiration with the humor. That is, Shadow Over Loathing is designed to be playable by gamers of any skill level. In typical turn-based RPG fashion, it’s pretty much just menus and text. It plays well, and though the classes and stats are not explained as well as I would have liked, it’s mostly welcoming. Unlike Kingdom of Loathing, you do directly control your character walking around the environment, which is welcome. If there’s anything that might turn you off from the game, it isn’t the mechanics. It might be the lack of anything all that new and original, though. While it’s dressed up with humor, this is about as basic an RPG as you can get.
Without anything to really pull me in, Shadows Over Loathing failed to charm me. I can see what the developers are going for, and it’s the kind of thing that I want to enjoy, but the humor lacked any bite, and the gameplay just didn’t feel all that fun. Existing fans of the Loathing franchise will certainly get what they’re looking for here, but for anyone else, I reiterate my recommendation to try the free online game first. If you like one, you’ll probably like the other. The same recommendation applies if you’re a lapsed fan, like me, too.
Not quite loathing
‘+ Unique humor
+ True to the series
– Depends heavily on whether you like the humor