A Fallout spinoff in all but name, The Outer Worlds is an RPG for those that wish Fallout games weren't bug-filled, bloated messes
As the makers of the popular Fallout: New Vegas back in 2010, Obsidian Entertainment is no stranger to the Fallout games nor beloved RPG titles - they also created the highly revered Star Wars: Knight's of the Old Republic II after all.
Known more for developing well-liked sequels to other developer's work, when Obsidian announced they were working on a new project of their own design with more than a glancing similarity to Fallout, gamers were excited to say the least.
Personally, I've never been a big fan of the Fallout franchise. While the bleak setting and dark humour interested me, the clunky gameplay, tedious inventory management, overabundant fetch quests, and litany of bugs and glitches present in virtually all of the titles did more than enough to turn me off of the series.
Admittedly, I've never been much of an RPG fan in general, though I do like the implementation of RPG-style upgrade systems and dialogue choices in other genres, such as the new Assassin's Creed games.
Ironically, despite not being much of an RPG gamer, the Mass Effect series is one of my favourite franchises ever (particularly ME2 and ME3), but it's because of the great core gameplay loop that it features - without solid gameplay to coincide with its story, the RPG genre completely loses my interest. The Witcher 3 is my pick for the most overrated title in gaming history, after all.
The Outer Worlds managed to intrigue me thanks to its space setting and unique aesthetic, its dry and dark humour, and the fact that it's available on Xbox Game Pass. There was no reason for me not to try it, and I'm glad I gave it a chance.
The Outer Worlds is at its core a Fallout game set in space. Much of the Fallout series' staples are present here, from the vast dialogue options of your mute protagonist (you pick what they say in conversations, but don't actually see that acted out), the plethora of consumables and items to scavenge for, the first-person melee and ranged combat, the ability to bring along companions in your quests, and the vast amount of attributes and perks to put points toward.
Unlike the Fallout titles however, Obsidian opted to forego the massive open worlds that series is known for in order to create smaller, more streamlined open-world areas on different planets a la Mass Effect. It also is a very polished and complete experience without the notorious bugs and glitches which hamper the Fallout franchise time and time again.
For gamers who felt slighted by Bethesda's terrible Fallout 76 last year, The Outer Worlds is the perfect remedy.
The Outer Worlds is set in an alternate future which sees the human race controlled by megacorporations that have colonized and terraformed various alien planets.
Awakened from cryosleep, you are a colonist aboard a ship named the Hope that was destined for the outer reaches of the galaxy but after a malfunction, was instead found adrift in the distant Halcyon system some sixty years later than expected.
The Halcyon system in that time was colonized by other means and by the time the Hope is discovered, it's too late for the colonists to be safely brought back from cyrosleep and thus the Halcyon Holdings Corporate Board opted to cover up its existence entirely. The Halcyon system has enough problems of its own after all, as the entire system is slowly collapsing thanks to a food crisis and the Board's mismanagement.
Fortunately for you, a mad scientist happened to create a way to revive the colonists from their extended slumber, some 35-years after the Hope had been discovered. Thanks to a lack of material required for the process, you are the only one the scientist is able to revive, and thus begins your quest to gather the supplies needed to wake up your fellow colonists and save the star system from impending doom.
It is the hope of the mad scientist that the scientists and engineers in suspended animation on board the Hope could provide a solution to Halcyon's problems and become the system's salvation from the tyrannical Board.
The dark and witty humour on display throughout the game is immediately apparent, from the megacorporations comical propaganda and slogans ("it's not the best choice, it's Spacer's Choice") to the very first mission which sees the contact you're supposed to meet get splattered by your ship's landing gear.
A graphical powerhouse by no means, The Outer Worlds' unique art style and vibrant colour palette more than make up for its budget constraints, blending Fallout's look with the cel-shaded style of Borderlands. The diverse planets you'll explore are all quite beautiful to look at and are brought to life thanks to the colourful characters and odd situations you'll come across on your travels.
As for the game's combat, The Outer Worlds is a bit stiff in the shooting department but is nonetheless a solid-feeling first-person shooter with a wide array of weaponry available. Weapons can have one of five damage types that each have a different effect on enemies, and a ton of upgrades and modifications available keep your favourites usable even late in the game and provide plenty of variety.
The game's five science weapons, which are unique and hard-to-find items with odd effects, are the highlight of the game's diverse arsenal; the gloop gun is a blast to use, a shrink ray turns giant enemies into much more managable midgets, a mind-control beam turns enemies into allies, the Mandibular Re-arranger slows and staggers enemies with every strike, and a powerful hammer alternates the type of damage dealt with each strike landed.
Tactical Time Dilation, or TTL, serves as Obsidian's version of VATS, which instead of stopping time merely slows it down and shows you the effects shooting different parts of an enemy will have (and is explained by the lore as a side-effect of the cryosleep revival process). You also have an inhaler which can be used to quickly recover chunks of health in combat, or be used to consume a variety of items which have different effects including combat enhancers and stimulants which improve different skills for a short period of time.
The melee combat is a bit clunky, which is the case for most first-person games with melee components, but overall the combat is akin to Fallout 4 albeit more polished and slightly improved. If you go in expecting the gunplay of Modern Warfare or Borderlands you'll find yourself disappointed, but it's more than adequate for the type of game that it is.
Inventory management can become a chore at times, but its quick and simple menus help you along the way. Workbenches can also be used to attach mods to your gear and improve and repair weaponry.
I personally found the consumables to be a bit annoying as there are so many different ones and many don't feel very worthwhile, but luckily you can simply sell those items and ignore them completely if you'd prefer.
The menus do have oddly tiny text though - if you are on a smaller screen or playing at a lower resolution I'd imagine it to be a major problem, but luckily shortly after launch a "big text" option was added in the menu to remedy the issue. Oddly, terminals in the game still have tiny text, but it's now a very minor gripe since the patch fixed it everywhere else.
You'll be able to bring up to two companions with you wherever you go, with six different companions to be found along your journey.
Each is unique and has their own multi-stage companion storyline which you can complete, very similar to Mass Effect 2's companion system. They add plenty of character to the game and provide fun banter along the way, in addition to helping you out in combat and enhancing your skills.
They're also easy to control, with the D-pad functioning to get them to go or stay in a certain position as well as activating their special attacks to help you in combat. I also didn't experience any issues where a companion would get stuck on anything or was repeatedly dying, so their presense never hindered progression or felt like a nuisance, instead adding to the experience throughout (though of course you can choose to not bring any companions with you if you'd prefer).
There are plenty of different enemies to take on in your travels, from different alien animals and beasts to human members of different factions and persuasions. The AI is rather dumb as is typical in most RPG titles, and it makes skirmishes kind of sloppy - it's also a bit too easy, so most gamers will probably want to ramp up the difficulty to avoid feeling like they're sleepwalking through the game's combat.
As there should be for a game in this genre, there are plenty of ways to play The Outer Worlds.
Players who prefer stealth can sneak their way past enemies or pick them off one-by-one; those looking to avoid fights entirely can often talk their way out of many altercations and conflicts; tech-types can hack into consoles and disable defenses or use them against their foes; and of course you can always go in guns blazing and just kill everything you see.
You can also experiment with different styles or blend together your own unique style - the possibilities are endless. The attributes system is simplified in The Outer Worlds while still allowing for plenty of customization.
After creating your character and molding their backstory, you can allot your beginning allocation of skill points as you see fit, putting them into different categories such as combat (melee and ranged weapons), stealth (sneaking, hacking, lockpicking), defense (blocking, dodging), and dialogue (persuasion, intimidation, perception) amongst others.
You'll gain 10 additional skill points every time you level up (the levels cap out at 30) which you can put into each category - every 20 points assigned to a certain skill also unlocks an additional ability or perk as well. You put points into categories up until point 50 - once a category has 50 points, you then have to spend points for each individual skill. For instance, if you level up your defense category to level 50, you could spend a point to make dodging 51 and blocking would remain at 50.
It's a smart system that lets you quickly level up your categories to a certain point to create a well-rounded base, and then specialize your character after that.
Every second level you reach also unlocks a perk point, which you can use to purchase different perks, such as increased health, additional carrying capacity, faster TTL regeneration, and more. Companions also gain perk points which can be used to make them more capable or enhance your own abilities when you have them in your squad.
The unique addition to upgrades and perks in The Outer Worlds is the flaw system - if the game sees you taking a lot of a certain type of damage, or struggling against certain foes, it will offer you the chance to accept a flaw. Flaws are, as you'd expect, the opposite of a perk - they have minor detrimental effects to your character, such as a susceptibility to a certain damage type, increased fall damage, or lowered damage against a specific kind of enemy.
In exchange for accepting a flaw, you'll gain an additional perk point - its a cool concept but they are rarely handed out and often have such a minor impact it makes it a no-brainer to accept them most of the time.
Like most RPGs there are plenty of factions which you can either endear yourself to or turn into your mortal enemies, and there's plenty to like for any style of play. Completing quests for a faction can turn them into your ally and give you additional benefits, especially late in the game and for the final mission - killing members of that faction or directly going against them with your decisions can of course do the opposite, and if your relationship with a faction sours they will even shoot you on sight.
The one issue with this system comes later on in an area called Byzantium. If your reputation with the Board is low, you'll essentially be locked out of a lot of side missions as the entire district is controlled by the Board and you can't interact with NPCs when hostiles are nearby.
This isn't really conveyed to the player and can cause a lot of frustration - personally I only discovered the issue late in the game when I had to turn in one quest and found that I was unable to. Luckily I was able to improve my reputation thanks to a story quest and thus was able to finish all of the side missions, but when I had looked up the problem there were plenty of players who had completed all of the side quests up until that point and were unable to play a lot of the Byzantium missions due to their reputation with the Board, and were thus unable to play quite a bit of content.
There are a few visual bugs as well, usually involving dead bodies clipping their environment, but overall the game is very polished and surprisingly few issues are present.
The writing remains a highlight throughout your 20-35 hour journey (depending on how much of the side content you want to explore) and the unique world and characters around Halcyon make your stay memorable.
Just like in Fallout, there are plenty of different possible endings and a series of images with a voiceover narrator tells you what the future you helped build looks like after the conclusion of the story.
There's plenty of replay value as a result - playing as a pacifist then going through and killing everything in your sight is always a fun way to try the two extremes in an RPG, or of course you can simply go back to see how different decisions affect the characters and the final outcome.
It may not reinvent the wheel or usher in a new era of gaming, but The Outer Worlds delivers an excellent action RPG with an engaging storyline, memorable characters, and a unique aesthetic and does it all without forcing you to put up with crippling bugs or an avalanche of fetch quests.
+Polished and solid first-person RPG catering to a variety of play styles
+Excellent visual aesthetic and unique planets to explore
+Superb writing, dark and witty humour, and plenty of memorable characters and storylines
+Deep upgrade system that's simple to use and rewarding
+Plenty of stuff to do and lots of replay value
-Some clunky melee combat and weak AI
-Faction reputation can cause problems later in the game that aren't conveyed well to players
The Final Score: 8.5 / 10