'The Outer Worlds' Is Like Fallout Without The Rough Edges
Outer Worlds will be immediately familiar to anyone who's played a Bethesda Fallout game. It's a first-person RPG set in an open world lined with quests, dark jokes, and goons that need killing. It's no surprise, really, as it's the latest game from Obsidian, the developer brought in to make Fallout: New Vegas - which is often talked about as being the best of the recent Fallout games.
You play a colonist woken up after decades in hypersleep, though not to the world you were expecting. In transit to the planet you were due to colonise, your ship had mechanical trouble and arrived later than planned. With colonisation efforts already under way, thanks to another ship of workers, it was more cost effective for the company hauling you across the galaxy to leave you and the rest of the crew suspended. This is life in Outer Worlds, the corporations own the colonies, the trading rights, and the transit systems. Their focus is on growth and everyone below the executive level is expendable in the name of shareholder profits.
Corporate interests touched on most of the quests I played in Outer Worlds. There was the town mayor trying to blackmail a corporation to start funding his town, the company goons who were smuggling resources off world, and one seriously unlucky grave digger who has spent his entire life being promoted through low level grave digging roles - landing on 'junior inhumer'.
Outer Worlds is a game that encourages you to define your character and then inhabit that role. As you level up you can place points into different character stats, like Persuade, Lie, and Engineering, each opening up new options to interact with the world - often in unexpected ways. For instance, while engineering in other games would simply be used for crafting and upgrading your gear, in Outer Worlds it can also open up dialogue options. In one quest I found a colonist who had locked themselves in a room while escaping from aliens and now couldn't get out. They wanted to send me off to find a key to free them but, because my engineering skill was high enough, I was able to tell them to pull the handle up instead of down. They were free, I got experience for using my engineering skill, and I cut out what could have been a simple fetch quest.
The section of Outer Worlds I played took place on a planet called Monarch. A gloomy backwater world that's seen better days - though, not much better. The corporations abandoned the planet ten years before after dangers on the planet triggered a hazard clause in their contracts. They left behind half-finished colonies to fend for themselves. Because they don't have the support of the major companies, the colonists can't even sell their resources to the galaxy, so the people are stuck hunting alien creatures for food, and just trying to get by.
The first town I visited in Monarch's large open playspace was Stellar Bay. An industrial settlement that, according to one of my companions, smells like a truck load of fish. While exploring the town I run into a mother whose son has gone missing, find a crime scene I can investigate, and meet a mayor who's looking to blackmail the corporations for support. These quests direct me all over Stellar Bay and into the wilds surrounding the town, which lead me to more quests, and more adventures. I only have a little over an hour to explore Monarch so there is a huge amount I don't get to do, it feels like I could spend hours moving between the towns helping everyone in need.
Many of Outer Worlds' quests involve combat, and I realise while playing I had gone into the demo prepared to forgive the shooting. The game's a giant open world RPG, where the focus is on a world that reflects the choices you have made for your character. I'd expected most the developer's resources would have gone on things like dialogue option in conversations that are unique to smart characters, dumb characters, tough characters, and charming characters, and naturally other parts of the game would be less fleshed out. However, that didn't feel like the case at all. There was a wide spread of weapons to play with, and each was satisfying to shoot. The pistols have a nice little kick, the rifles give the sense of punching back into your character's shoulder, and when the minigun spools up it's a joy to simply mow down oncoming aliens. First-person melee is often awkward and brawls in Outer Worlds are confusing, but the weapons on offer go some way to alleviating that frustration. At one point I find a weapon called an Inferno Scythe. This fiery-bladed weapon just tore through my enemies.
You can fight solo in Outer Worlds, even picking skills that buff you when you play alone, but you can also select two companions to venture into the world with you. They make for a much livelier adventure as the two will talk about the environment, offer you quests, and join you in combat. In my demo, my adventurer is accompanied by Nyoka, a hunter who managed to survive in the wilds of Monarch after the corporations left. She has a special ability I can activate in combat that has her boost her heavy machine gun damage and target the biggest enemy in the area. It's a really useful skill, and gives the sense I have some control over what my companions do. Although, the mini cutscene that plays whenever you activate the ability becomes repetitive quickly.
From what I played, Outer Worlds seems to be a very good RPG. One that does everything you would expect of it well. The quests are entertaining, the writing is engaging, the combat is satisfying. What I couldn't tell from the time I spent playing was if it does anything more than what you would expect of it. While Bethesda's RPGs can be criticised for not changing enough over the years, simply sending you to a new location full of new characters, each game has brought with it a new system. Companions in Skyrim, settlement building in Fallout 4, multiplayer in Fallout 76, for instance. Outer Worlds is in some ways a step back to Fallout: New Vegas in terms of systems, but it is very competently made.
I don't want that to come off too negatively, I really did enjoy what I played of Outer Worlds and there will be lots of the game I didn't see, and it may be there that I find examples of the team pushing first-person RPGs forwards. I'm certainly looking forward to playing more when Outer Worlds releases for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on October 25 (and later on Switch).
Featured Image Credit: Private Division