Review | The Outer Worlds
Choice is a powerful thing in video games. Plenty of games give players choices to do what they want in any given situation. This is the case for all the games from Obsidian Entertainment, whether it be Alpha Protocol or even South Park: The Stick of Truth. That trend continues with their newest action RPG IP, The Outer Worlds. Combining many elements from Mass Effect and Fallout, does The Outer Worlds have what it takes to stand out? We certainly think so.
First off, I have to mention that I often don’t get along with this genre of games. I’ve made that pretty clear previously. While The Outer Worlds is definitely guilty of having the same overwhelming elements of WRPGs before it, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my time with the game. The game gives players plenty of options, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s up to the player on how they wish to act upon them.
The story of The Outer Worlds is surprisingly to the point and simple. Dr. Phineas Welles, a Doc Brown-like scientist, wakes up a single colonist from cryosleep on the vessel known as HOPE. The remaining colonists are still stuck in hibernation, but Welles helps the player created character on their path to helping them. This launches players into an interplanetary adventure in the Halcyon solar system, where their choices determine the overall outcome of the plot. They’ll go up against mega corporations in an alternate future where said corporations control the lives of everyone. How the player decides to play things out is up to them, and there are plenty of moments where choice is key.
Fans of the Fallout series post Fallout 3 will be familiar with this formula. It doesn’t stray too far from Fallout: New Vegas, another title developed by Obsidian. The gameplay is going to feel incredibly similar, taking place in a first-person perspective with tons of objects to interact with. The game is very dialogue heavy, wielding tons of fully voiced NPCs to talk to and make choices with. Since the game takes place in space, unlike Fallout, the player will travel to various planets with large open-world playgrounds to explore. They’ll also have plenty of unique weapons to utilize against the various enemies they’ll come across. This includes melee weapons, guns, and even special science weapons with unique effects.
Enemies are all over the place too, be it the native wildlife of each planet or the various factions with their own beliefs. Where Fallout has V.A.T.S., The Outer Worlds has TTD, or Tactical Time Dilation. Due to waking up from cryosleep, the player has a sort of space sickness that makes time process differently. This allows the player to slow down time and make more accurate decisions, allowing the targeting of weak spots. While it’s not quite the same as V.A.T.S., they both exist for essentially the same purpose. It’s a nice alternative when making a game like Fallout without actually being Fallout. It also becomes vital when getting to the more challenging fights later in the game.
One major gameplay difference from the Fallout series is the way The Outer Worlds handles companions. While the Fallout series has companions, usually you’ll only have one at a time. The Outer Worlds tackles this feature more like Mass Effect, giving up to two companions at a time. They’ll all come with their own unique abilities too, which the player can activate with the d-pad. It gives a bit more attachment to the companions, and they even all come with their own quest line to further enhance that. Unlike the Mass Effect series, however, there is no romance option between the player and companions. Not a big deal, but something players may want to be aware of.
The companions in general are a great ragtag bunch of unlikely allies. There are six companions total, and the player has the choice to find them all or go the game solo. They can even kick a companion off the team if they so choose, which is an interesting option in itself. Each character has a unique personality that adds a lot of life to the game itself. Parvati was a personal favorite, the shy mechanic that wants to see the galaxy. Then there’s Vicar Max, a man of religion with skeletons in his closet. Those are just the first two you’ll meet, and the others are just as unique. Whether you grow attached to one or all of them is ultimately how you perceive their personality. For myself, I made a female character and decided to have a badass crew of space ranger women.
Speaking of my custom character, I went with a simple aesthetic. The cosmetic options for the player don’t go as deep as some games in the genre, but it still has plenty of options. As for my specs, I didn’t care what my character specialized in as long as I had the “Dumb” option. Having lower intelligence unlocks a dumb option in many conversations, and the results can be pretty hilarious. In fact, the writing in general for The Outer Worlds is fantastic. Every character feels like they have a history, and that shows with how they present their stories. It also helps that the voice acting is all very well done too. For a game with as many voices as this one, that isn’t easy, but the game tackles it with ease. The overall audio to the game is well done, including the great compositions of music.
Since the writing is excellent, the story excels most with the plethora of smaller stories in the game. Practically every NPC I spoke to in the game offers a sidequest. While I barely scratched the surface on the sidequests in the game, I definitely took on the ones that felt convenient for me. It can be a little overwhelming with how many are given to you so quickly, but it just gives players tons to do. The overall depth and variety of these quests just shows how well thought out the game truly is. Even better is that players will earn reputation with various factions for doing these good deeds. This gives benefits both during social interactions as well as during the main plot.
The sheer amount of options at a players disposal grows even more when they finish a quest. Many times, this leads to a tough decision where there isn’t a morally right answer. Good or bad, the player will always deal with consequences. Even then, if they choose to, they can just attack everything with a face and go that route. They can also often use words to solve a problem. It definitely helps when the player adds to their skills for dialogue, adding more to the depth of character customization. Companions can help with this too, granting bonus effects to the overall stats of the player.
One thing to mention about The Outer Worlds is the visuals. The art style helps to make something truly beautiful for this brand new IP. On one hand the various planetary vistas can offer some truly breathtaking moments. On the other hand, the game does feel like it could’ve been released on a previous generation of platforms. This is perhaps the biggest reason the game is coming to the Nintendo Switch, as it doesn’t push the hardware. That doesn’t mean the game looks bad, but there are some areas where it could probably look a bit better.
Another area where The Outer Worlds can be improved is recovering loot from enemies. After many battles, I would often scour the area for all the enemies I defeated. The way they were highlighted, already looted or not, was a bit inconsistent. Just finding the bodies was difficult sometimes too, as some attacks would blast them somewhere unexpected. In some cases, the body would simply just disappear too. It’s not unusual for a game like this to have bugs, and luckily, this was the only bug I really came across. There is a skill that expands the distance for interactive items to be highlighted, but it doesn’t help that much more.
Since choice is so important to the game, obviously, that means there will be multiple endings. Coming across a couple myself, the results can be vastly different. There’s even a fun little abrupt ending that players can run into if they don’t follow simple instructions. At the end, a narrator describes all your deeds and what happens to everyone after the journey. It’s a great way to chronicle the adventure, and it really helps to sell the world of Halcyon. Whatever ending the player comes across, it’s their journey that came as a result of their decisions. Even though there were some tough situations in my game, I was ultimately happy with my space western adventure.
As far as new IPs go, The Outer Worlds does an amazing job with it’s first impression. It offers dozens of replayable hours of gameplay with a great presentation, set in a vast space western world. There’s a ton of options available to players and plenty to explore for fans of the genre. The combat works well too, offering strategy and challenge, giving players plenty of ways to tackle it. Even if the game looks a little dated, the art style still offers gorgeous scenery to make this game shine. If you’re a fan of games like Fallout or The Elder Scrolls, then The Outer Worlds is definitely for you. Even if not, the Halcyon system is always welcoming new recruits to start their space cowboy journey.
Final Score: 9 out of 10