Obsidian does with Bethesdon’t. All kidding aside, when The Outer Worlds was revealed in 2017, fans of the classic roleplaying experience Bethesda used to deliver let out a collective sigh of relief. It’s space cowboys with a twist, infused with many of the elements and mechanics that are beloved in Fallout: New Vegas. I finished the game a few nights ago completely, having explored the different endings and moral choices, and immediately walked away to allow myself time to decompress and ponder just how I was feeling on this experience. The short answer is, I loved my time in The Outer Worlds. A narrative that kept me wanting to push forward in a world that was begging to be explored. But there’s something missing, something that has continuously plagued my thoughts since the first initial hours in the Halcyon region.
Title: The Outer Worlds
Publisher: Private Division
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 Pro
Release Date: October 25, 2019
Game Provided By Private Division for the Purpose of This Review
The Outer Worlds is an action roleplaying game done in the style of a Western RPG. By that, I mean it isn’t a Japanese RPG.. though as mentioned before, there are these feelings of space cowboys throughout. Players will be introduced to Phineas Welles, a rebel scientist and also the most wanted criminal in the entire solar system. He wakes you up on board the Hope, which is a massive ship carrying some of Earth’s best and most skillful people on board to help the Halcyon region as it struggles and is slowly collapsing in on itself due to power struggles, greed, corruption, and warfare. Hope is fittingly humanity’s last hope to continue expanding in the universe and to try and rectify the damages done here on the many planets we’ll get to explore.
Upon being awoken by Dr. Welles, you have the ability to loosely customize your character. I was a tad disappointed in the lack of options and different ways to make individual characters stand out from one another, especially coming from games like Code Vein which features one of the strongest character creation systems I’ve ever seen in a game. Everything I was able to come up with in The Outer Worlds all felt very familiar and the same, with each character looking in some way like a replica of the character I had just tried to create before. Eventually I settled on a look and crafted a backstory for my character (in my head, mind you.. not a feature of the game sadly) that had him being one of the most cunning scientists from Japan that could use his silver tongue and good looks to charm almost anyone and talk his way out of any situation. While combat was not his strong suit and he preferred to sneak by as many enemies as possible, he could use melee weapons with the best of them and always had a trusty pistol at his side if things got dicey.
Combat is so similar to the Fallout franchise that anyone with experience there will transition easily into The Outer Worlds with zero difficulty. The Tactical Time Dilation (TTD) mechanic is also just a slight variance on Fallout’s VATS. What really felt rewarding was the ability to build a character how you see fit and know that it was going to perform in almost every type of circumstance. Whether you wanted to go full melee, handguns, long guns, science weapons.. it didn’t matter. We’ll touch more on the difficulty in a minute, but from the casual perspective, anything and everything works. The return to form with a first person perspective was also very much appreciated, as the entire experience from beginning to end was a love letter to this style of game that Bethesda has been quickly moving away from, at least in the purist sense.
Just because everything works doesn’t mean that it’s a perfect system. The accessibility of everything in The Outer Worlds was quite disappointing. I never felt restricted or locked out of anything due to my own personal build and stats that I choose to focus on throughout the journey. Jumping in with a scientific background for my character and a heavy emphasis on dialogue, there wasn’t a single thing I found throughout the 27 hours it took me to finish the main campaign and a majority of the side missions that I was unable to select. My persuasion was always high enough, my lockpicking and hacking was always the appropriate level, and my natural charm thanks to the build was enough to allow me to bypass many characters and talk my way out of any situation. Each time you level up, you’re given ten points to spend on a particular category of your choice. Upon reaching 50 points in a category, you can then begin to allocate the points to individual stats within the categories, all the way up to 100. So long as you maintain an even balance between your chosen build, chances are you’re going to breeze right through The Outer Worlds. It’s way too easy, even on harder difficulties, and feeling like a God in the Halcyon system isn’t as fun as feeling like the underdog. Every even level you earn, you also get to choose a perk, and some of these make the game even more simple, like increasing your carrying weight, and generating auto-heals through attacks.
Companions play a major part in the narrative, and it’s easy to tell that a lot of the way things are handled was inspired by Mass Effect. Six companions exist for players to recruit and party up with, including Ellie, Felix, Parvati, Vicar Max, SAM, and Nyoka. Each companion has a mission associated with them, sort of like the loyalty missions from Mass Effect, and you can pal around with two of the six companions at the same time. Once you have the ability to bring two companions with you into the world after a few hours, most battles are an absolute joke, especially when you get the more powerful companions like Nyoka and Felix. Parvati is particular is one of the strongest characters to exist in a game in 2019, and it’s a damn shame that Obsidian didn’t dive more into the relationship aspect and companionship with these characters. There is no romance found in The Outer Worlds, and because you can’t explore options like that, there is a severe lack of emotional attachment with these characters. Even with some strong dialogue and writing, and though I did care about the companions and appreciated every single one of them, there just wasn’t enough there for me to be totally invested like I have been in previous western roleplaying games.
At first glance, the Halcyon region seems very expansive with many planets, moons, asteroids, and regions to explore. After reaching the final mission and realizing just how many planets we don’t actually get to visit, I was very disappointed. I’m not sure if these are being saved for future content updates and DLC, but there’s at least 5 planets players do not get to explore at the current time within The Outer Worlds. The game seemed so much bigger when the idea that we’d get to explore everything on the star map still existed.
Graphically, The Outer Worlds certainly looks better than some of the most recent Fallout and Elder Scrolls games from Bethesda, but it still isn’t as state-of-the-art looking as games like The Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2. Each region we get to visit during the story is beautiful in its own way, colorful and very detailed. Also, the soundtrack took me by surprise a bit, with its peaceful and serene ambient tracks differing based on locale and time of day. Space-friendly music that will whisk players away to a far away galaxy really puts you into the moment and makes you feel like wandering around this strange star system.
All of this being said, The Outer Worlds did a great job reminding us of a gameplay loop and style that we have many fond memories with. Obsidian Entertainment excels when it comes to this genre and style of game, and with them joining the ranks of Microsoft, I can only hope Phil Spencer and the minds at Xbox will allow them to flourish making the kind of games they do best. If this was anything to go by, the future is looking bright for Obsidian.