It’s difficult to play Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds without the shadow of the original Fallout games looming over you.
As a self-proclaimed “spiritual successor” to the pre-Bethesda Fallout universe, and more specifically Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas in 2010, The Outer Worlds has been fraught with comparisons to previous Fallout installments. This has invited even more comparisons between The Outer Worlds and games from entirely unrelated studios. I struggle to read player’s comments, or even industry reviews, without seeing phrases like: “It’s the love child of X, Y, and Z!”. And I’d be lying if I said these comments weren’t deserved, because The Outer Worlds just looks and feels so similar to New Vegas, that sometimes it’s hard to believe I’m not playing a DLC following Mr House’s ending. This is not to mention all of the reported references to Joss Whedon’s Firefly series, and the visual and thematic ties to the Mass Effect series.
Regardless, in this age, it’s difficult to come up with an RPG which has a completely unique concept, even more so when it’s narrowed down to a space setting. So, comparisons to other IPs aside, how does The Outer Worlds hold up as a game in its own right?
The game begins with your character being awoken from cryostasis by Dr Phineas Welles, a seemingly mad scientist with a strong distaste for capitalism. He enlists your help to revive the other frozen colonists, and subsequently take down the Board – the conglomerate who rule over the crumbling colony of Halcyon. Unfortunately, the guide Phineas has hired to show you around the colony is killed in a tragic accident involving direct impact with your escape pod. Since the reclusive Phineas won’t leave his hidden lab, this leaves you with your deceased guide’s spaceship, and Phineas’ remote orders on how to enact his plan. The rest – you decide.
The game gives you a great amount of freedom. The main storyline is there to pick up whenever you want it, but there are also plenty of side quests to distract yourself with. Your character is a blank slate, with the only predetermined backstory being that you are a colonist from Earth who was entered into cryostasis 70 years ago. This allows you to be creative with your character, choosing stats and perks which you feel would best befit the personality you have created for them.
The environment is quasi-open world, meaning you can choose to enter different areas which are open world to an extent, but the areas are not seamlessly connected. Each world has a variety of fleshed-out characters, with a rich narrative of how it fits into the colony. There’s the company-owned town of Edgewater with its overworked and ailing citizens, the space station Groundbreaker, fiercely struggling to stay independent from the Board, and the bourgeoisie city of Byzantium, where the Board has its base.
Scenery throughout the game is kept interesting, due to the different biomes available throughout the solar system. The colour palette is varied, with the sheer amount of colour in the first area striking me immediately. The character models and graphics themselves leave a lot to be desired. Physical character customisation is lacking, with only 15 facial presets to choose from, and no way to choose your preferred body type. Also, oddly, no character in the game has hair longer than shoulder-length, which is something that sticks out after meeting hundreds of characters with practically the same hairstyle.
The game’s combat is sufficient. It’s possible to choose between melee weapons and a variety of guns. For the most part, I stuck to science weapons, which use energy ammo to produce different effects, such as plasma, shock, and N-rays. Combat includes the gimmick of Tactical Time Dilation, which allows you to slow down time for a short period, and at later levels lets you target enemies’ weak spots. You can have up to two companions tag along with you, and each one can be instructed to perform a special attack, alongside having their combat patterns modified in the settings. Armour provides stat buffs and other effects, and both weapons and armour can be modded and repaired at workbenches.
The world-building and well-written characters are definitely The Outer Worlds’ biggest allure, and it’s these aspects which kept me hooked on the game. I maxed out my character’s Hack skill purely to read logs and personal messages on terminals throughout the colony. The amount of lore that can be discovered through reading logs and speaking to NPCs is phenomenal.
You can talk your way out of every hostile situation – bar random marauder and animal attacks – using different dialogue skills. There were certain quests with no clear “right” answer, including the main quest itself, and I would often feel as though both sides in arguments had merit. It’s clear that Obsidian knows their writing is their strongest asset. Your character’s range of choices is alluded to in the trailer, with your companion letting you know that you don’t need to simply kill people in order to advance.
Finally, speaking of companions: the companions are super fun to have along. I loved hearing banter between my companions while journeying through the colony, and hearing their opinions on different moral quandaries and situations was always welcome. Hearing Parvati’s opinion on one of the first side quests actually made me change my course of action, which is not something I can say about many other game companions I’ve had.
Ultimately, though many aspects of The Outer Worlds were mediocre, its excellent writing and world-building manage to gloss over any complaints I might have. It’s a robust RPG where your choices honestly do matter, with a strong replayability factor.