A solid Sci-Fi RPG from a fantastic studio, but don’t expect much depth
The Outer Worlds
Release Date: 2019
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Platform(s): PC, XB1, PS4, Switch (2020)
Review By: Brandon Wright
Played: On XB1, At Release
Review Date: December 11th, 2019
Obsidian (and their ‘predecessor’, Black Isle Studios) has a long history of making deep, critically acclaimed Western RPGs. Just take a look at this incredible list:
- Fallout and Fallout 2
- Icewind Dale series
- Planescape: Torment
- Neverwinter Nights series (first with Bioware)
- Baldur’s Gate series (w/Bioware)
- Knights of the Old Republic 2
- Fallout: New Vegas
- Pillars of Eternity
The most direct comparison made to their latest RPG, The Outer Worlds, is their 2010 entry to the Fallout series, New Vegas. Both are dystopian RPGs from a first-person perspective, with a variety of interesting characters and a focus on choice and writing.
The sci-fi setting of TOW takes place in the human colony of Halcyon. The core theme revolves around the control of large mega-corporations over the population of Halcyon. More on that later. To start the story, you find yourself being awoken from cryogenic sleep by a rogue scientist on a colony ship that had been thought lost by the general population. He is intent on awakening the rest of the colony ship you arrived on, and sets you off on a quest across the star system to that end.
Throughout the quest you’ll have morally gray choices to make that have somewhat significant impacts on the story. One of the better parts of this is that, Fallout style, at the end of the game a slideshow plays that shows the results of many of your choices. Charming.
The overall story and world-building of TOW is pretty unique. Powerful corporations have authoritarian control over the various settlements of Halcyon, and control their workers as indentured servants. The atmosphere and narrative demonstrate the ruthlessness of the corporations and make many parallels to corporate culture. They’re often funny, if dark.
Interpretations of Obsidian’s anti-corporate theme range from support for the seemingly anti-capitalist message, to claims that TOW’s theme is a more balanced one, citing the flaws of both the corporatists and of the anarchist rebels. My personal take, without getting into spoilers, is that the corporations as depicted in Halcyon have elements of modern corporate culture, but are exaggerated caricatures. The power they have over the system is much closer to authoritarian, fascist or communist governments rather than even the largest corporations found in America today. Any attempt to take TOW’s message too seriously as some sort of anti-capitalist anthem is a fool’s errand. And that’s ok with me, as the lore is still nevertheless interesting.
Better than the overall decent story are the unique characters you’ll meet throughout the world. The vast majority of characters you’ll meet have great voice-acting and interesting narrative hooks. You might find leaders of a rebel faction who have serious philosophical differences, that you get in the middle of. Or the leader of a blue-collar town who may have his own baggage, but is trying to do what’s right for the townspeople. Interacting with the various characters and solving (or not) their issues is one of the best parts of the game. This especially includes the handful of companions you acquire throughout your adventure.
The RPG aspect of the game comes mainly into play with creating and updating your player’s attributes. There’s a variety of skills to pick from at the beginning, including some interesting ones like ‘science’ and ‘engineering’. You can make your character melee-focused, ranged-focused, knowledge-focus, stealth-focused, defense-focused, and any combination. The initial character creation is enjoyable, and it’s a great feeling being able to bypass an encounter or get into a restricted area because you knew some important scientific fact or are great at intimidation. There are flaws with this system (your character ends up feeling like they can do almost anything due to an abundance of skill points) but it’s nice seeing this system in a modern FPS-RPG.
Before moving onto combat, I want to comment on the visual presentation and design of The Outer Worlds. I played the game on the Xbox One, which doesn’t look nearly as good as the PC version, but the unique color palate and artistic design of TOW still looks great. It’s a sci-fi visual take that is more reminiscent of 1950’s-era futurism instead of Halo-style sci-fi. It’s pretty unique.
Now, combat. Overall I enjoyed combat. The gunplay in my opinion is basically as good as Fallout 4, which is pretty good, even for a non-RPG. It’s fun customizing weapons and blasting enemies down with your overpowered creations. Obsidian included a time-slowing mechanic called ‘Tactical Time Dilation’ (TTD) that allows you to aim and move bullet-time/matrix style. However, I didn’t need to use it much throughout the game.
This highlights the main downside of the combat, and perhaps even the game in general. At the recommended difficulty (normal), the game gets very easy before you’re even halfway through the game. Combat generally is a breeze, and if you are taking too much damage, the vast amount of consumables you’ll collect will top you off quickly. Nevertheless, I still found the combat enjoyable and the difficulty not a huge issue as I was more focused on the narrative aspect.
My last note is on the world design. The Outer Worlds is not a open-world game per say. It features several large maps as different worlds, and some of the maps offer general freedom of movement. However, many of the maps offer or suggest linear movement through them, and quests push you from one location to another, without too much exploration or hanging around.
However, I think there’s a place for linearity in some RPGs, and The Outer Worlds is a nice counterpoint to the huge, sometimes empty worlds that takes dozens of hours to roam in some other games. TOW took me about 24 hours doing most of the side quests, which felt about right to me. The Outer Worlds isn’t a huge game and doesn’t have the deepest of narratives or most complex RPG mechanics. But with good writing and characters, and an interesting setting, the game becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It makes for a solid first-person RPG and it’s definitely worth playing for any fans of the Fallout series. Just don’t expect Skyrim.
- Solid writing
- Good voice acting
- Interesting lore
- Enjoyable mix of gunplay and RPG mechanics
- Game is on the easy side
- Lacking in legitimate RPG depth
- Doesn’t do anything very unique
- Some bugs (including one that completely prevented me from recruiting one of the few potential companions)
- Not a true open-world
- Shorter game length for the genre (20-25 hours)
Thanks for reading!