A Well-Worn Blast From The Past
Amidst the ongoing PR fiasco of Fallout 76 and Bioware’s disastrous looter-shooter Anthem, The Outer Worlds could not have dropped at a more opportune time. Acting as the spiritual successor to Fallout: New Vegas, The Outer Worlds is a reasonably polished, refreshing roleplaying title that puts story and dialogue at its forefront in favour of robust gameplay and mechanics. It’s a timely reminder of how good these RPGs can be when you focus on creating a good game rather than a polished monetised model and the result is something that immediately feels familiar and enjoyable to anyone who’s played Obsidian’s previous games.
The Outer Worlds is essentially a blended, heady mix of Fallout, Mass Effect and Bioshock. The aesthetic meshes steampunk elements with sci-fi while the design of each world feels like the old Fallout games but with a splash of sci-fi paint. The companions are all fully fleshed out with their own branching stories and the overarching narrative is good enough to whet the appetite for more to come in the foreseeable future.
The story begins during an alternate future where humankind has branched out and started colonizing alien planets. En-route to a distant world, you find yourself awakening from cryo sleep in your ship, The Unreliable, greeted with a failed engine and in desperate need of a replacement part to get back on the move. Crash-landing at Emerald Vale, these early hours act as a tutorial to get you accustomed to the gameplay and story, before ending with a tough decision that shapes the story to come as you ascend back into space.
As you explore more of the solar system, the plot itself progresses along at a steady rate, resulting in several branching narratives as you’re thrust into the middle of warring conflicts between different groups across the planets. Most of these see you learn more about the colonies and their ideologies, while completing fetch quests and building your affinity up with that specific group. All of this builds toward a climactic ending which offers a few different conclusions to this tale. With no post-game content or the ability for New Game+, whether you return to The Outer Worlds for a second run-through once you’ve wrapped up the story remains to be seen.
There’s certainly some good systems at work here though that encourage multiple play-throughs, with skill-trees, perks and companion abilities all opening up a range of different options across the game. The Outer Worlds adds the option for Flaws too; specific debilitating attributes that make the game more challenging. If you choose to adopt these, the game rewards you with a bonus Perk for eacg that balances that risk/reward idea perfectly.
The different factions in the game have a sliding bar of affinity too, which increases and decreases solely on how you approach and interact with each colony. Completing side quests is usually the fastest way of maxing this out, although can also breed negative consequences with rival factions, depending on how you play.
Instead of one big, open sandbox, Obisidian cleverly breaks up the game into distinct, controlled environments across a few different planets. The result is one that ironically gives the solar system a much grander scale than a singular world would, allowing the controlled bursts of combat and different discovered locations to be explored without stuttering frame-rates or significant bugs.
For all the good work done here, The Outer Worlds is not without its problems. There’s still some pop-in and the strange physic glitches of enemies flying in the air or seizuring after being killed is still evident but it’s nowhere near as janky as Fallout: New Vegas was. The draw distance isn’t overly great either but the aesthetic and colour palette more than makes up for this. The Outer Worlds boasts some utterly gorgeous skyline views, typified by the opening few minutes of the game that does well to emulate that big “wow” moment in both Elder Scrolls and Fallout during the start of the game. It’s great to see Obsidian carry this tradition on and there’s several moments here that do well in capturing this awe-inspiring feeling.
The dialogue and quest-design builds on the good work done in New Vegas but expands that further with unique dialogue options for several different traits. Whether you play as a dumb brute or a genius scientist with a knack for sneaking around, The Outer Worlds tailors its quests for a number of different play-styles. Having seen footage of other players and their different builds online, I’m impressed with how deep this system actually is and feels much more robust than New Vegas, despite adopting much the same ideas that game had.
Unfortunately, these deep systems don’t translate well to the gunplay which is lacking in both polish and challenging enemy design. Combat is simplified to three different ammo types too – light, heavy and plasma – while most enemies gung-ho their way through fights by charging straight at you. Early on, this poses a particular challenge but once you start looting new weapons and begin tinkering and modding them, fighting is overly simplified. Playing through on Hard, I’ve only encountered problems during skirmishes with large waves of enemies, and that’s also with three combat-specific Flaws in place too.
Loot is a constant problem here and aside from Emerald Vale, ammo is plentiful and difficult to run out of. If you equip a heavy, light and plasma weapon to your chosen arsenal of four weapons, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever reach a point of switching across to melee, unless it’s an active choice. Adrenos (the game’s form of health kits) are found in plenty of boxes, dead bodies and enemy corpses too and 10 hours into the game, I only found myself running out of Adrenos once. Even then, I’d looted enough food and water to prevent this ever becoming problematic while I replenished my reserves through some rigorous looting.
The different worlds are uniquely designed though, with different aesthetics and dominating colours depending on what planet you land on. However, most NPCs stand idly by while uttering the same two or three lines of dialogue unless they’re an important character or side-quest giver. This does break some of the illusion though and aside from Stellar Bay, there’s no active reason why there’s so few NPCs walking around.
This also has a negative impact on stealth too, which is almost completely negated as you sneak into different rooms and loot large swathes of gear without encountering a single person wandering about. Even in the unlikely event you’re stopped, if your dialogue options are high enough, you can usually weasel your way out of most negative consequences.
With an epic musical score and a rewarding quest system boasting plenty of plot progression, The Outer World’s highs far outweigh its lows. This sci-fi soap opera shines brightly early on and my first few hours with the game were so wondrous and enjoyable, I was ready to give this a Game Of The Year accolade. It feels so good to sink into an RPG and actually have fun without worrying about monetisation or deviant Radiant Quests, but the longer you play through this, the more that early-game shine wears off and reveals its flaws.
While the flaws themselves are annoying, they’re ultimately issues that are easy to look past if you can take to the story and branching narrative. Obsidian have outdone themselves here and The Outer Worlds deserves praise for what it’s accomplished. It’s an epic, sprawling title that takes the best elements of different games and blends them together in the best possible way. It’s the perfect heady cocktail to wash away the hangover of big-name failures as of late and a must-play for anyone looking for a new RPG to sink their teeth into.
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