Outer Worlds: Review

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Outer Worlds: This is the RPG you’ve been looking for.

It’s no Jedi mind trick. You will want to pick this one up. The on-ramp to accessibility is fairly simple too. The Outer Worlds is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and now the Nintendo Switch.  Previously due for release on March 6th, the game’s port was delayed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.  

Nintendo Switch Gameplay

The game plays quite well on the Switch.  That is not all that surprising considering that Skyrim and other large open-world RPG’s have also been ported to the system.  Please know that some visual fidelity will not be realized on the Switch.  The game runs at 720P when played on-the-go but at a crisper 1080P when docked.  The game runs at a steady 30FPS but I think that is to be expected. I do not feel disadvantaged in combat playing on the Switch. Some of the scenery, billboards, and character models will look blurry in the distance but will clear up as they are approached.  This game is truly beautiful on PC and the Xbox One X but the Switch offers portability that has not been realized with game streaming.

Price, Quality, and Game Length. 

The game at retail costs anywhere from about $40.00 to $59.99.  The best value for the game is the Xbox GamePass. Obsidian, the game’s developer was acquired by Microsoft during the development of the game. Microsoft chose to honor the agreements in place and distribute the game to all of the aforementioned platforms, despite competition.  GamePass can be purchased at a first time value of $1. Estimates have a single playthrough at around 30-40 hours.  There are several alternate endings for the game which lead to replayability. I have seen estimates of four to five various endings.  Back in June, Obsidian’s Megan Starks, Creative Designer, described to IGN at E3 2019 that the game would have “many different endings”.  If you are a completionist gamer, like me, and you need to finish all the side quests then you will see your game time increase significantly.  My first playthrough is still ongoing at upwards of 38 hours but you should know that I stop and read logs and try to explore every nook and cranny that I can.  

The Hype And The Fall Out 

This game was highly anticipated since its debut at E3 2019.  Obsidian has built a sterling reputation with titles like Knights of the Old Republic II and Fall Out: New Vegas.  Essentially, the company is widely known for getting its start in the development of sequels in a successful franchise, such as Knights of the Old Republic. Obsidian stands out because of their superior execution at doing this.  New Vegas is heralded by many as the best Fall Out game in the franchise. 

However, we live in the days where hype and even a franchise’s track record does not necessarily correlate to a high-quality product. In the last few year’s time we’ve seen enough examples of highly anticipated games being released, only to flop. Games such as Fall Out 76, Anthem, and Crackdown 3 were highly desired by their respective fan bases but they did not live up to the hype.   

Let’s make no mistake.  The Outer Worlds was HIGHLY anticipated.  Obsidian’s strong portfolio and the fact that the game is the RPG that is a spiritual successor to Fall Out.  In fact, Obsidian tasked Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky with the creation of Outer Worlds, both Co-Directors, and the creators of the Fall Out series. The duo sought to create a game that would utilize the best parts of the RPG elements that Obsidian is known for in New Vegas and KOTOR II.  The game’s spirit is very comical when it becomes very satirical at the expense of the capitalist system and corporate business. However, the creators stress that Outer Worlds is not a political game. It threads the needle very well in that it is not divisive or tonally political. 

The Story Of Halcyon And The Hope

In the Outer Worlds, the player assumes the role of an intergalactic colonist who has been in cryo-freeze aboard the ship “Hope” and lost in space aboard a colony ship.  A mad scientist named Phineas Welles, who is wanted by the corporations who control the Halcyon system for undermining their control, uses the last of the materials needed to bring one sole survivor out of hibernation. As in most RPGs, there is a short cut-scene introducing us to Phineas Welles.  

Phineas notifies us that the Halcyon system is run by a board of corporations who seek to further their gains by pillaging the system’s resources despite the effect that this has on the colonists and settlers. These corporations banded together to buy this colony and set out for it many years ago.  During the journey, the Hope starship was lost and thought to be destroyed. Now that it has been found, you are needed to assist this eccentric scientist to procure more of the necessary meds to thaw out more of your fellow colonists that are trapped in the Hope. These survivors will then assist you in further quests in Halcyon.

Phineas is, as they say, a “character”.  He’s not necessarily good or bad, in short, an antihero.  You will have several chances on your journey to side against him but usually, the various characters asking you to do so are just as corrupt as he is.  So I chose to stick with Phineas in my first playthrough.

Obsidian Excels At World Building

The corrupt corporations utilize all sorts of marketing that are evident in the world in their propaganda that leads to some entertaining billboards and notices. The game possesses bright and colorful aesthetics, which stand in stark contrast to Fallout’s color schemes. The flora and fauna are also quite bright and artistic. The creators do not fall prey to building a world that is a copy & paste of Fall Out’s bland post-apocalyptic palette. The aesthetics are really quite bright and eye-catching.  The load screens lean into their concept art, which I absolutely love when a game features art that inspired the game. 

During character creation, I noticed that Phineas actually comments on your build with witty remarks. For instance, my character build uses very low strength.  When I selected this Phineas remarked that “a sneeze might blow you over.” This has never been said about my lanky build in real life; so I quickly dismissed it. Phineas will make all sorts of comments depending upon your selections. I suggest playing around in this area just so to discover all of Phineas’ snarky comments.  

In general, the character creation in the game is more forgiving than it seems at first.  Outer Wilds encourages the player to choose how one wants to play the game, from the beginning. I built a character that I wanted to be able to sneak around or talk his way out of most situations by choosing below average strength, high dexterity, good intelligence, below average perception, very high charm, and high temperament. Despite the many technical choices that are made to build a character; the game is quite forgiving in how the game can be played.  For the sake of brevity, I will not go into all the status effects that are tied to each attribute. For the most part, these mostly align with the other RPGs that you have likely played. See below for an image of my character build. 

For example,  my character was built to talk his way out of a fight.  I am sure that dynamic will be a bore to some of my “when in doubt, blow it up” readers.  On the contrary, some of these dialogue skills actually have combat perks tied to them.  For example, my Very High Charm attribute affects the skills of Persuade, Lie, Intimidate, Hack, Science, and Inspiration.  The Persuade skill at Novice causes humans to have a 20% chance to cower in fear for 10s after the first time they are hit.  A competent, the skill increases the cower duration of +7 seconds.  Then at the adept level, the skill affects the cowered target’s armor -50%.  The remaining dialogue skills, Lie and Intimidate, each affect Auto-Mechanicals and Creatures respectively.

However, the skills behave independently.  For example, the Lie Skill has a 15% chance on Automechanicals to become scrambled.  This status causes them to attack each other.  The Competent level of Lie increases the duration of Scramble +7s, similar to the previous example.  However Adept ups the attacking speed of the scrambled mechanical to their normal attacking speed.  Expert increases the Scramble chance to 25%.  Master gives Scrambled Automechanicals Weakspot Damage +30%.

However, the Outer Worlds stands out in the way that leveling and skills work.  Each time the character levels up 10 skill points are earned and every other level earns a perk point. Skill points can be spent on the Melee, Ranged, Defense, Dialog, Stealth, Tech, or Leadership categories.  Once a skill reaches level 50, then it can be targeted individually for point distributions. Perks can be used in three different tiers. Also, perk points can be gained by choosing to accept a flaw or vulnerability to certain damage types or enemies.  For example, I now have robophobia from taking too much damage from robots, thus I take extra damage from them now. I chose to accept this flaw in exchange for a perk point. I did this also to make the game more challenging.  

The game, like most, features various difficulties to control the level of challenge that a player wants to play. Because I am low in strength, I can’t carry much weight and I have more meds than I can use. This has tended to make me overburdened at times. Therefore, in order to make the game more challenging and to force myself to use up some of these consumables; I upped the game’s difficulty to the second most difficult.  The game still tends to be rather forgiving in this setting as well. I suppose I could have sold the consumables to a vendor for Bits, but where is the fun in that?  

One of the bright spots in the Outer Worlds is the complexity and depth of the dialogue trees.  This can either make or break an RPG. These dialogue trees are usually quite witty and there are many instances where one can use their skills to influence the conversation.  For example, if one is high in the science skill you may be able to use your techie brain to talk your way out of a predicament. This also works with other skills such as intimidate or persuade.  

The voice acting in the game is superb! In fact, they may be the best feature of the game.  The character animations are done quite well but they are not groundbreaking.  The animations did not overly wow me but they did not distract me from the quality of the interactions with the NPC’s.  In short, I believe that the game’s biggest strength lies in the interactions with the NPC’s because of the character choices that are made in the dialogue trees and the witty dialogue that is encountered there.

One of the critiques that I have for the game is the map and navigation.  The map can take quite a while to load.  This is rather surprising since the map is not all that dynamic and the game’s graphics are not over the top.  The map serves its purpose but there is very little depth or detail to it.  However, my criticism comes due to the fact that there is not navigation wheel, map, compass except for the one that is present in the menu.  There is no hud that shows where items, or more specifically, where the quest givers are.  So I found myself over forty hours into the game stumbling across faction quests and companion quests that I could have easily missed.  Actually, let’s face it.  I had missed the quest and happened to come back across it before I reached a point of no return.  I literally found a new companion on the groundbreaker by happenstance that I probably should have come across twenty or thirty hours ago.

It’s not necessarily a binge-worthy title.

I do not have many friends playing this game.  So I cannot really judge where I stand on this, but it is my personal view that this game is great in short increments.  It tends to become somewhat mundane in the long stretches.  The dialogue trees are very detailed and lengthy but they can also be plodding when you really just want to shoot aliens.  While there have been RPGs such as Skyrim that I have become lost in and played for the majority of a day.  I typically play Outer Worlds around one to three hours at a time.  This may sound like a death knell for some but I would argue that the game would be best suited on the Nintendo Switch.  I rarely binge games on this platform when I am on the go.  Plus the battery life on the device would keep the playtimes appropriately balanced between “I want to play more,” and “this is becoming a bore”.

Fortunately, the level designers did not create huge worlds.  Because there are no vehicles or mounts that you can ride from point A to point B.  Once you discover a location, you can fast travel to it.  There seem to be plenty of these locations so traveling around near the end of the game is quite easy.

Weapons and Combat

The melee weapons are mostly what you would expect from this genre.  The hack and slash term comes to mind.  I have dabbled with this combat style but my character is not really built for it.  I think it would be more enjoyable if there were more animations, such as executions or finishing moves.  Remember how much this improved Skyrim’s combat when this was added?

Most of my combat has been with rifles.  All weapons can be tinkered to level them and improve their damage output.  However, this will cost you bits (currency).  So you may want to just use a higher level weapon.  You can also mod the weapons to create new status effects on them.    Many of these effects are typical such as adding an elemental effect, increasing critical hit chances, or reducing recoil.

The most interesting weapons in the game are science weapons.  These come in the form of a quest that you can pick up on the Groundbreaker called “Weapons from the Void”.  They are very fun to use.  My personal favorite is the Shrink Ray.  It literally does what you think and does DPS based on the level you tinker it to.  There is also the Gloop Gun, Mandibular Rearranger, Mind Control Ray, and the Prismatic Hammer.  Outside of the science weapons, most of the weapons are quite mundane.  The combat is generally thought of as one of the low points of the game.  I really hope to see this improve with the sequel.

The Verdict

Overall, I have enjoyed this game tremendously.  If you are one for RPG’s and single-player adventures then I highly recommend it.  To be honest, my network of gaming friends is larger than most and this tends to pull me into multiplayer games that compete for my time in some of these great single-player games.  However, I must say the start of the game is rather slow.  I have had several people comment on this.  I think this could really have been sped up if there had been a mount or vehicle to use.  Until you find landmarks to fast travel to, then you can expect some trekking from point to point.

The game really shines in the character interactions, especially with the companions.  The voice acting is great and the companion quests are some of the best in the game.  I really enjoyed Parvarti’s romance arc.  She is so quirky that it’s hilarious.  She is also one of your first companions and that really makes the first part of the game worth playing.

There are also moments in the game where the satire is spot-on, especially when corporate corruption is being scrutinized. I especially enjoy the reactions to some of the Board members when they realize that you are working to destroy the corporations.  How could you do this? They cannot think of life without sal-tuna or cysty-pigs! How have these people not revolted eating these things?

One drawback to the game is that I do not particularly feel connected to most of the other NPC outside of the companions.  They are usually so corrupt or broken that they are hard to connect to.  They are quite fun to watch and influence but ultimately, I do not find myself that invested in what is going to happen to most of the characters so long as the corporation is undermined.  I think that it would make the choices more difficult if there were some interactions that are more serious and make you care about the outcomes.

Lastly, I am looking forward to the sequel.  I want to see how the storylines are further developed.  I also want to see improvements in the combat system and I hope to see the game’s progress move a tab bit quicker.  Sometimes the game just tends to plod along slowly and that makes it hard to become lost in the worlds and the storytelling.  With some very minor improvements, this will be another great franchise.  This game has been well received and it does deserve a look.

Pros:

  • Excellent Companion Quests
  • Perfect for playing in short sessions
  • Top-Notch World Building
  • Science Weapons are fun!
  • Voice acting is great.
  • Conversation trees are rich and deep.
  • Humor/Satire is spot on, and not too political or complex.
  • Respec station is available on the Unreliable
  • Character building is surprisingly forgiving and easy.
  • A perfectly portable game on the Switch.

Cons:

  • Combat System is lackluster.
  • The game can plod along in the beginning.
  • Navigation can be a chore and quest givers can be easily overlooked.
  • No mounts or vehicles.
  • NPC’s can be so quirky and odd that they are hard to relate to or care for.
  • While the title music is great there can be long stretches with little music to move along the pace during travel.
  • The drops in visual fidelity on the Nintendo Switch – 30 FPS 720P / 1080P docked.

Score: 8

Josh is a husband and a father to a family that loves to game together. He first experienced video games on the SNES. He is a strong believer that video games are best enjoyed with good company and a strong brew of coffee.

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