Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PS4
Genre: Space Action RPG Imagined By A 50s Pulp Writer Influenced By Futurama
The Outer Worlds is about choice. It also comes attached with consequences and repercussions from your decisions, because in the game’s not-so-black-and-white 50s-inspired turn-of-the-century sci-fi setting, you’re not going to make everyone happy.
Unless somehow you have the right stats and modifiers for the situation. See, without that Persuasion buff I got from my armour and from my current companion, I wouldn’t be successfully arranging a parlay between two rival factions with bad blood within them.
At the same time, I had to get my hands dirty just getting to this point; I murdered one of the faction’s leaders after the person stated that ideals are worth dying for. So I obliged.
Coupled with a bug or two that may crash your game, and you’ve now witnessed an Obsidian RPG tailor-made for 2019. And it’s a long time coming, considering that their last first-person 3D RPG with open-ended choices and endings was 2010’s Fallout: New Vegas.
The fact that this whole project is led by OG Obsidian Entertainment folks & Troika/Black Isle/Interplay alumni Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky gives this the Western RPG pedigree. But does it really earn it?
To Infinity And Beyond
The premise is as such: you are a colonist freed from cryogenic sleep by one Phineas Welles in a last-ditch attempt to free everyone in the ship you’re in: the Hope. See, a few hundred years ago, the ship contained cryogenically-frozen scientists and bright minds who have yet to be released due to a corporate-level eff-up.
Years have passed and you’re now in a semi-dystopian galaxy called the Halcyon where corporations governed countries. Colonists in different planets are treated as assets, and food is being rationed, while the promoted higher-ups and governing bodies are living the high life in other pristine sectors.
What you do after you’re free is entirely up to you. You could help the total stranger in liberating the colonists. Or you could turn him in as soon as you’re given the option. Or you could just help out the town of Edgewater out of its woes and let it be taken over by a glorified anarchist hippie. Or explore the galaxy of Halcyon and do what missions you see fit that ties into the main plot of salvaging the corporate mess you’re thrust upon.
And that’s the beauty of The Outer Worlds: you get to create the character you want and adhere to the playstyle you’re comfortable with. However, you need to commit to it from start to finish.
If you want to be the smooth-talking diplomat who’s crap with guns and fisticuffs, you have to play this all the way because you’re only given a good chunk of skill points to buff up the skills you’re focused at. You’re not punished for trying out new ways to solve problems and obstacles, but you will fall behind if you choose to change up your playstyle drastically in the mid-game.
Conversely, you also have to commit to being a brawler if you put more emphasis on defense and close-quarter combat while forsaking engineering and science. If you’re familiar with a Fallout game from Obsidian, you know the drill: no backsies. This does encourage multiple playthroughs once you’re done with your first run through Halcyon.
Challenge-wise, the game will throw a lot at you, from tough enemies and mobs for the combat-savvy to high skill checks for non-combat situations. Faced with marauders when on the open road? Better recruit a companion or two so that you have a fighting chance. Want to lie and sneak your way through a factory to steal special documents? You need to bust out that Holographic Disguise and not waste time lest your device’s energy runs out, and make sure your speech checks are high enough to warrant a recharge.
This twist in sneaking mechanics is pretty welcome and is a breath of fresh air; though there are times when you need to bust out the big guns in case your lies and intimidation doesn’t pull through.
Speaking of fighting your way out of a bad situation, the game’s Tactical Time Dilation system (TTD) is the replacement to the Fallout New Vegas V.A.T.S. system but for the more action-savvy audience in this day and age. Frankly, it totally helps!
Never have I felt such invigorating power just going up to a group of Raptidons, firing parts of my magazine at their general direction, and then activating TTD to shoot them in the eyes (to blind them) and legs (to cripple them). Followed up with a coup de grace from my companion’s special attacks I can activate with either the left or right d-pad input.
Sure, the initial moments of combat feel stiff when you have jack all to work with. But once you get your appropriate skills, companions, and weaponry that you will mod the heck out of, you’ll be clocking in killing time and making use of TTD in style during the later bits of the game.
Protip: just get your ranged or melee skills past 40 and you’ll do fine for the most parts. Spread the rest of your points for hacking and speech skills; but hey, you do you.
At World’s End
While not as huge as The Witcher 3, The Outer Worlds makes up for it by being focused and wrapping up its story in a good 20-hours or so (my personal time) thread filled with intrigue.
The sidequests that waylaid my playtime are also distracting in a good way. I actually want to find out what happened to the missing foreman worker from a colony in Monarch. I want to go out of my way to put on a fashion show for some high-class tailor in Byzantine. And I want to find out more about Nyoka’s former ties with a group called CHARON; she’s my tracker-slash-companion who drinks like a fish and breaks out her minigun like a champ. More on her and my crew later.
The point is, every bit of dialogue and written log is entertaining and fleshes out this bleak-yet-colourful corporate-run “hellhole”. This is fully backed up with the game’s stellar aesthetics.
In comparison to New Vegas, I’d say that The Outer Worlds’ map is on par location-wise but more direct. Instead of a sprawling map filled with random nonsense like the Mojave Desert, you visit different parts of 6 or more major planets, with their own quirks and “hooks”.
Go to Scylla and you’ll see a dark blue sky and a bunch of terraformers all across the landscape, with Primal aliens sleeping within the hills. Monarch is an “alienified” Amazon and badlands mixed into one hotbed of danger. Edgewater and Byzantine are as close as you can get when it comes to normal-looking Earth settings; one’s a small town while the other is a bustling metropolis.
Even with its plethora of saturated colours, the Halcyon is anything but paradise. The aforementioned Edgewater is run in a corporate-like manner, with people deserting its 24/7 factory worker lifestyle for a bohemian life. The planet Monarch is a rabid sci-fi wasteland; full of fauna trying to kill you and a couple of outposts that have seen better days.
Did I also mention that they’re in the midst of killing each other?
There’s a lot of detail and care put in each town and area, to the point where half the time, you can get immersed with the area’s politics and philosophy of life under corporation rule. From your corporate-shilling townsfolk and bartenders to even the mannerisms of NPCs giving you missions and even backstabbing you at times, everything here is a melting pot of charm and bleak nihilism.
As far as memorable gaming landscapes go, the Halcyon system is up there with your Britannias, Midgars, Skyrims, and Northern Kingdoms. You’ll be immersed and engrossed in no time flat.
My God, It’s Full Of Stars
Being a brand new IP, The Outer Worlds is great at accommodating new RPG players into its world, yet at the same time caters to the old-school Fallout and Baldur’s Gate fans. You eventually get your own ship with a crew to explore Halcyon and its many messed-up planets, either helping people out or just burning things to the ground. Your companions will either follow you to the letter or ditch you, depending on what you do and whether you pay attention to them to help out with their personal quest.
So far, I’ve played the safe route and spent more time with my companions and their little missions. Apart from the aforementioned Nyoka, I also helped out mechanic Parvati in hooking up with a Groundbreaker engineer captain in a relationship of sorts. It’s a long chain of quests but it’s cute to see Parvati all nervous-like underneath her can-do attitude and seeing the results, success or failure, reflect upon the game’s closing bits
Besides, I could use the XP boost and skill points. The emotional tangents you have with your crewmates also help too. And it’s also cool to have them chime in their two cents in the current gravitas of the plethora of situations I’m in. Ellie the doctor does bring in her brand of “every person for him/herself” doctrine to whatever’s happening while your cleaning robot SAM just spouts sanitation-slash-casual-murder euphemisms. I adore that bit of self-preservation; it keeps my conscience and rationality in mind.
Even with its new approach to a non-linear RPG experience, hardcore fans aren’t left out in the airlock. Inventory and companion management is streamlined and made better. No longer do I have to individually manage everyone’s backpack and storage; it’s all lumped up in one screen. All companion bonuses are made clear and added to your base stats, so it pays to buff up your lying by bringing Nyoka along should the need arises.
The companion screen lets you manage their gear, their behaviour, and their perks. All commands are relegated to either attack, defend, or be passive, and you can determine their combat range behaviour.
They even come equipped with special moves that deal a ton of damage and debuffs to enemies, with the only drawback being their cooldown timers which can be mitigated if you have the right perks. Speaking of which, the flaws system also pops up now and then to spice up your gameplay a tad; once in a while you get a pop-up choice of getting debuffs (called phobias) when fighting certain enemies for an extra perk point. Since the game dishes these out only when you level up a certain number of times, it’s a good trade-off if you can find some clever way around your new phobia.
Of course, if you feel that the regular difficulties aren’t cutting it for you, masochists can play Supernova mode. You have to sleep, eat, and rest, while other modifiers come into play like non-revivable party members, limited save options, and limited fast travelling. Perfect for old-school players looking for a challenge or streaming fodder. So basically, there’s something for everyone who loves RPGs with a pretty in-depth plot.
The Outer Worlds is a triumph, if we’re talking about stellar RPG experiences in 2019.
Even with Obsidian’s penchant for bugs in their system – your experience may vary depending on the platform- they do little in stifling the creativity and insightful narrative they’ve crafted and spun.
It’s no surprise that this sci-fi tale of corporation culture gone horribly wrong and overblown to planet-sized proportions (figuratively AND literally) would end up being relevant in this day and age thanks to the team’s witticisms in their script-writing and world-building.
But to be told in an engrossing manner with so many charming players and a fun RPG setting, while also showing other Western RPG companies how it’s really done? That’s just as rare as a supernova going off.
Thank goodness Obsidian took to the challenge and delivered us a masterpiece that rivals their past works.
- Charming cast of characters, companions, & NPCs.
- Fun yet bleak game world, ripe for exploration.
- Oodles of sidequests.
- Engrossing 20+ hour main story with moral twists and turns.
- Annoying game bugs, especially at the late game.
FINAL SCORE: 90/100