The western genre has had a commendable resurgence in recent years which, while not significant in the number of releases, more than made up for in quality that was strong enough to stay relevant in people’s mind for the past decade or so. This can be attributed to the staggered yet steady releases from Tarantino’s Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight on the movies front, to Red Dead Redemption 1 and 2 and the short but excellent Call of Juarez Gunslinger in videogames.
These excellent offerings have created an environment that when a new western is released it comes with a set of expectations to begin with. It is in this atmosphere that Desperados III enters the scene. An isometric RTS game set in the Wild West that is more than meets the eye. This is the review of Desperados III.
Right of the bat one can feel the passion that creators mimimi games have for the genre. The wild and hostile western setting and intricacies of a well laid out maps are on full display here. A short prologue, and a mission set in a typical wild west setting of a train robbery, show you the ropes on how to make the most of the combined skills of the five playable characters you would get acquainted to further into the game. The action pretty much never gets stale from here on and the game throws one mission after the other that tests your strategic skills at various levels based on the difficulty chosen.
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The game’s story, unfortunately, is about as barebones as they come and acts merely to set up each mission. It follows the antics of one John Cooper and a colorful cast of characters who join him in his quest for revenge. Each supporting character has their own traits and set of skills which is given context through some story beats in cutscenes and the banter between characters during gameplay.
Gameplay wise there is plenty to like here. The game does an excellent job of making veteran real time tactics players feel at home, while easing new players into the genre at the same time. The difference between Desperados III and other real time tactics games however is how far away it moves from genre conventions. With stealth at its core, each level plays out as a slow burn western movie, rather than a fast-paced action strategy game.
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The game pushes you to use the skillsets of every character at your disposal to complete the task at hand and provides tools to automate actions to a certain degree when needed. Each mission varies from one another, with playable characters constantly shifting in availability, and the environment and AI placements are always set in a way that you are encouraged to think before the next move and not just progress by using the same skills over and over. This approach to gameplay works very well when it does, but also falls short due to some design choices baked within the game.
Said choice is the game’s over-reliance on quick save. Desperados III preps you beforehand for a trial-and-error experience, which is not inherently a bad thing. The game also explains that quick save and quick load feature will come in handy, which is also great. What does not work in favor of the game, however, is the constant reminder to quick save to the point of it becoming an annoyance, at least in my case.
Worse still, the game lets you save as many times as you want in its default setting, but only the last three are available to reload. For a modern game where saves can be handled in so many ways, it is baffling to see a developer chose this route. Personally, I would have liked to have had a choice between auto, manual and quick save, or a combination of everything.
Thankfully the mishandled save system was about as bad as the game gets, because the rest of the experience is rather impressive. The visuals and voice acting are up to the mark and sell the Wild West setting with ease. Background score is top notch and shines during cutscenes and loading screens. But it especially elevates the quieter moments of the game, of which there are plenty, when you hide your characters in the environment while scoping out the map and plan the next move. These moments feel like experiencing a western through and through.
With all the above said, I do have to point out that Desperados III is pretty much a reskin of the studio’s previous game, Shadow Tactics. From its stealth focused core gameplay to juggling skillsets of multiple characters, right down to the Showdown mode that lets you plan future actions of characters, all elements have been borrowed from the previous game set in Edo period Japan and executed with a bit more polish in this wild west setting. I do not mean this as a criticism though as Shadow Tactics in itself is a great game and I would not mind more of it, but a few more notable changes and innovations to set one title apart from the other would be great. Something I hope this newly independent studio considers while working on their next game.
Overall, Desperados III is a great game that blends methodical stealth and isometric real time tactics cooking up its own flavor in the genre. Its western setting has been put to good use bringing multiple playable levels to life. The playable characters are unique and present various ways to tackle each mission. This game is definitely for the more patient gamer and all that patience and planning pays off satisfyingly when a set strategy goes according to plan, making you feel like one of the wily members of John Coopers crew. Desperados III certainly ain’t no Red Dead Redemption, but If you are in for slow methodical gameplay and stomach the save system, you will be in for a good time. Go play Desperados III.
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