Review – The Outer Worlds

The best games come from developers that are working on something they are passionate about. There’s a feeling to them, something that sets them apart. Something beyond mechanics and graphics, something that gives it a sense of identity and purpose. The recent Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is a perfect example of a game that completely lacks any passion, and feels just as sterile as the checklist of features it was built from. The Outer Worlds is the exact opposite, despite seeming at a glance just as derivative of other games mechanically. It may unashamedly be Fallout, but instead of just being a safety net, the formula was used as a springboard to establish itself as its own thing.

Skyboxes

The skyboxes make full use of its space setting, real physics and science be damned.

Even as far as just being Fallout in space, The Outer Worlds stands strong. Due to the outdated Creation engine Bethesda continues to cling to, 3D Fallout games have been clunky, ugly, and filled to the brim with glitches and bugs. Conversely, The Outer Worlds features smooth gameplay, a colorful art style with high quality textures, and during my entire run I didn’t encounter a single bug or crash. The latter is particularly surprising, given Obsidian’s reputation for releasing great games in much to be desired states. Overall The Outer Worlds is a heavily polished game and honestly feels more AAA than a lot of full budget AAA titles.

Murder

There are no marked NPCs, everyone is killable. That doesn’t mean you necessarily should, but it’s always a viable option.

This feeling of polish extends into the gameplay. Movement feels especially fluid, especially for a first person game. There’s a variety of light platforming for stealth approaches and secret finding, and I didn’t once have to fight the controls. Your character is light on their feet and moves smoothly, which is a welcome change from the majority of first person RPGs. Combat is similarly impressive, with melee weapons especially having satisfying weight to them. The Outer Worlds‘ variation of Fallout‘s VATS system, called Tactical Time Dilation, is an assistant during combat instead of being the only way to efficiently play. It only slows down time too, just giving you time to plan your next moves versus totally stopping the action. The game is perfectly enjoyable and playable even if you ignore TTD, which could not be honestly said for VATS.

Skills

It’s one of those rare systems where every point spent gives you something. Nothing feels wasted.

Character customization fares just as well. Attributes, Skills, and Perks are very similar to their Fallout equivalents, with some balance adjustments and a dedicated progression tree for each skill. Instead of just getting a bigger number, each skill unlocks new capabilities once you reach certain thresholds. For example, increasing your Melee skill doesn’t just increase damage, but unlocks special attacks, the ability to wound specific enemy areas in TTD, and special stat adjustments. This makes progression much more exciting, with you working towards a specific goal beyond simply making numbers bigger.

Nothing to See Here

Nothing to see here clearly.

Another neat addition are combat uses for each of the three dialog skills. While still used predominantly for skill checks, Intimidate, Persuade, and Lie also have a chance of triggering a debuff against a specific enemy type. For example Intimidate can cause wild creatures to run away terrified after you kill one of them. Persuade can cause human type enemies to cower in fear, while Lie can make robots go on friendly fire rampages. Each skill also comes with a skill tree that increases the effectiveness and capability of it’s debuff, no longer making a talky character completely useless in a fight.

Flaws

Rather then being chosen, flaws are instead earned through gameplay based on your behavior. You can ignore them, but then what kind of roleplayer are you?

Perks and itemization are where the game kind of stumbles, for the same reasons, though ultimately not in any meaningful way. Perks are simply uninteresting, with a lot of boring choices that rarely change the way you play in any meaningful way. Itemization is much the same, with only a handful of equipment choices and where “pick the biggest number” is almost always the right choice. You do have a legitimate choice between melee and ranged specialization, with a decent variety of weapons for each type. Once you pick a specific weapon though, you’re mostly done with physical upgrades few and far between. Most equipment progression is through upgrading items through the workbench, which just makes numbers bigger. Armor is worse off, with no real explanation given for the difference between armor classes, meaning just going for the best is good enough regardless of type. With how detailed and interesting the skill system is, not doing more with Perks and Items feels like a real wasted opportunity. However by the same note, the skill system is more than flexible and interesting enough to cover for them. It could be better, but it’s good enough.

Star Map

Easily one of the coolest looking fast travel maps I’ve ever seen.

The real meat of the game is the story and characters, with your interactions with both driving you forward. It takes place in the Halcyon system, a corporate-owned sector of space where capitalism is the only law of the land worth following. You are the only awake member of the colony ship Hope, which was destined for the Halcyon System before it was derailed and ended up floating dead through space. A man named Phineas Welles, who is wanted by the Halcyon corporation for various seditionary crimes, rescues you and tasks you with helping him wake up the rest of your shipmates in order to save the system from Halcyon’s reckless exploitation. With a very literal crash, you are thrown into bloodthirsty corporate intrigue, struggling frontier towns, and strange deadly alien wilds.

Range of Choices

An answer for every kind of player.

Where The Outer Worlds truly shines as its own game is here. Obsidian effortlessly juggles a very relevant critique of corporate culture, tongue-in-cheek writing where nothing is sacred, and a well-rounded view of the issues on display allowing you freedom to choose your own answer. Essentially, it does for corporatism what Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire did for colonialism. There’s two sides to every story and The Outer Worlds tries to give them both their time in the light. Most problems have no easy solutions, no way to make everyone happy, no way to keep your hands clean. Sometimes being the “hero” will mean letting good people suffer, while playing the part of the “villain” saves more lives than you would otherwise. Looking out for yourself above all else is another viable strategy, but the world has a way of drawing you in making neutrality hard to maintain. Your companions especially draw you in, featuring a band of some of the most interesting misfits I’ve seen in an RPG in some time. Each has their own views on the world and help influence your decisions within it. There may not be any romance options, but simply earning their approval can be it’s own reward. I dare anyone to be rude to Parvati and not feel like a complete monster.

Snarky AI

What’s a sci-fi RPG without a temperamental AI?

The Outer Worlds is a game that knew exactly what it wanted to be. Instead of worrying about reinventing the wheel, changing what works simply to be different, it shamelessly embraced the familiar. However, it improved and refined what came before, feeling like a genuine advancement instead of a facsimile. When combined with its highly entertaining writing and mature approach to its complicated subject matter, you get something more than what it appears to be. The Outer Worlds isn’t a game to play just because the Fallout and Mass Effect franchises have fallen on hard times, it’s a game to play because it’s fantastic example of it’s genre. Plus it’s the closest to a Firefly RPG we’re ever likely to get, and who doesn’t want that?

Graphics: 9.0

The Outer Worlds is filled with color, features a striking art style, and boasts some eye-catching effects.

Gameplay: 9.0

Gunplay is fast and fluid with solid and expansive, if occasionally unexciting, character customization.

Sound: 10

The voice acting is fantastic and the soundtrack just sucks you into the setting.

Fun Factor: 10

The Outer Worlds is a game that knows what it wants to be, and exactly how to do it.

Final Verdict: 9.5

The Outer Worlds is available now on PC, Xbox One, and PS4.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of The Outer Worlds was provided by the publisher.

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