Advertisement

Void Bastards' space cowboy sequel has 13 different 'outlaws' you equip and swap like weapons, but if you play poorly they'll refuse to work together

 Wild Bastards crew in cockpit.
Wild Bastards crew in cockpit.

I think I began to get a handle on Wild Bastards' unique character swapping system just as I ran out of characters to swap. I was down to the last member of my three-cowpoke crew as I faced a tough random encounter, the last thing between me and a successful planetary extraction.

Any dreams I had of clinching a victory with my sniper-robot-cowboy "The Judge" were dashed by my own poor aim and the brutal attacks of a giant beefy guy who looked like a bacteriophage. I craved another go at the GDC floor demo, armed with my new knowledge, but there were other people waiting in line to play.

Wild Bastards represents a slight genre shift to its 2019 predecessor, Void Bastards⁠—instead of the Bio/System Shock reminiscent corridor crawling, light stealth, and resource scavenging, Wild Bastards features more open levels with a ton of verticality and a large number of enemies. It also introduces a cast of 13 "outlaws" you play as, in contrast to the randomly generated anonymous convicts of the first game.

This isn't a Borderlands or Destiny situation where you just stick with one character you like though⁠—each one has advantages and disadvantages in the face of Wild Bastards' unique enemy types. Blue Manchu audio director Ryan Roth likened it to a "rock paper scissors" system, and said that "Void Bastards did the same thing where it's like: Hey, these are the enemies on the ship. What's your loadout? What tools do you want to bring with you?"

From a galaxy map of the whole roguelike campaign, you choose a set number of characters (I had three in the demo) to send to the surface of a planet. The surface is presented as a game board/world map with the usual roguelike risk/reward nodes and enemy encounters. Each one of those nodes is an FPS arena where you can bring in two of your planetside characters.

Swapping between your chosen gunslingers is instantaneous, like switching your weapon in another FPS, but they also come with their own sound effects, voiceover, and special ability in addition to a mechanically distinct weapon. Crucially, each character has their own health bar as well, introducing new options for managing your limited resources in the healing-averse roguelike.

Everything about a character is put on pause when you swap away from them⁠—to my dismay, that means you can't cancel a reload and wait for it to finish in the background, seriously clashing with my Armored Core 6 instincts. Instead, the real power move is to juke nasty damage over time effects like poison by switching between your guys.

Image 1 of 6

Wild Bastards country homestead with ringed gas giant in background.
Wild Bastards country homestead with ringed gas giant in background.

Image 2 of 6

fire finger gun gameplay on desert world
fire finger gun gameplay on desert world

Image 3 of 6

gatling gun firing in first person on ice world
gatling gun firing in first person on ice world

Image 4 of 6

Wild bastards shooter gameplay in orange desert canyon
Wild bastards shooter gameplay in orange desert canyon

Image 5 of 6

character looking on at exploded building
character looking on at exploded building

Image 6 of 6

holographic wanted notice bulletin in desert environment
holographic wanted notice bulletin in desert environment

I had Paul Atreides prescient visions of a deliciously-high skill ceiling, where you're balancing your team of three to account for all possible threats, narrowing them down to two based on individual mission parameters, then deftly swapping your guys to maximize their damage and counter enemy attacks.

I was definitely having the most trouble wrangling Smoky, a perpetually burning cowboy who creates AoE fire damage surfaces with his finger guns⁠—he was my first character to fall on a slow death march through a purple poison planet. Dual revolver spider lady Spiderosa was more my speed, but her high damage, accuracy, and rate of fire were balanced by a deceptively short range that always got the better of me. I had the most luck retreating to my FPS comfort zone, clicking on heads with The Judge, whose rifle had the feel and pinpoint, unforgiving accuracy of a Quake railgun.

However, your best laid build crafting plans can be easily overturned by Wild Bastards' friend/feud system. If you play poorly, take a lot of damage, and just barely extract out of a planet, your surviving characters can develop feuds and refuse to be grouped together on future stops in a run, limiting your loadout options unless you patch things up via a consumable, one that might be better put to strengthening the relationships of your other characters for an assortment of buffs.

Wild Bastards already had my interest, but playing its GDC demo cinched it as one to check out day one for me. Wild Bastards is set to release some time this year, and you can currently wishlist it on Steam.