Having recently replayed Pillars of Eternity on Switch and patiently waiting for Deadfire to be released, I’ve refound my love of deep, complex RPGs. One thing both of those games have in common is that they’re developed by Obsidian, as is The Outer Worlds. There’s no developer working today that understands the RPG as well as Obsidian does.
Not only does Obsidian understand RPGs at a fundamental, pen and paper, level, it understands how to take that experience and move it into the digital. Founded in 2003 when Black Isle closed, by various members who had created and worked on Fallout, Obsidian has an enormous amount of talent and history.
Lots of gamers would best know Obsidian from Fallout: New Vegas and South Park: The Stick of Truth. Both games are great examples of Obsidian’s grasp on RPGs, humour and ability to craft fun games.
With The Outer Worlds, Obsidian is doing what it does best. Crafting a breathtakingly complex world filled with an enormous number of mechanics and systems and setting the player free within it.
The Outer Worlds Preview
My hands-on preview session with The Outer Worlds began right at the start of the game. However, Private Division and Obsidian want players to experience that for themselves so have sworn me to secrecy about the introduction.
Once I’d played for a while and gotten a handle on the gameplay, I was moved forward to a save file a few hours in. Now on Monarch, I was questless and able to go anywhere. Figuring that going straight ahead was far too vanilla, I did a 180 and went in the opposite direction.
I was struck immediately by how smooth movement is and how incredible the visuals are. Games of this ilk — the first-person action RPG — are usually janky and a bit ugly. Think of Fallout: New Vegas and even Fallout 4. But The Outer Worlds isn’t like that at all.
Moving around Monarch is fast and fluid and feels great. The way The Outer Worlds plays, it could just as easily be a first-person shooter without any of the RPG elements. Which is surprising because, in addition to being ugly and janky, these kinds of games tend to have awful shooting.
Not so in The Outer Worlds.
Aiming, firing, ADS; it all feels exactly the way you expect a shooter to feel. There’s none of that awkward gameplay that comes from an RPG developer attempting to create a satisfying shooting experience. The Outer Worlds IS a satisfying shooter experience.
It also happens to be an incredibly complex and deep RPG.
Using Tactical Time Dilation (VATS) you can slow down the game to focus on specific enemies and cause status effects. You can Blind, Stagger, Maim and Cripple (amongst others) as well as Burn, Electrify and more. First-person RPGs don’t usually go into this level of detail when it comes to combat and it’s refreshing that The Outer Worlds does.
What’s better still is just how well it works. Learning to use both the standard shooting mechanics and TTD together happened quite rapidly and when I had the hang of using both in concert, I was having an incredible time. By aiming at specific enemies and causing them status changes, I could buy myself time, or remove them from the fight for a time so I could focus on a larger threat.
I was also able to do damage over time, to ensure that when I did eventually turn my attention back to that creature, it was closer to death. These are very turn-based, structured combat ideas and the fact that Obsidian has managed to incorporate them into a realtime FPS is an amazing achievement.
That being said, you don’t even need to touch the RPG elements of combat if you don’t want to. The standard shooting is so polished and so good that you could play The Outer Worlds as a straight shooter. You’d be missing out on lots of good stuff, but Obsidian has given players the choice.
And choice is what The Outer Worlds is all about. You choose how to build your character and what sort of person they’ll be. You choose whether to be good or bad or straight-up evil. While playing, it was interesting to see the different dialogue options I had and how varied they were. They certainly fit within the broad sphere of my character’s personality, but they weren’t just shades of the same grey.
So often in games like this, players will be given dialogue options that may as well be labelled, “Good,” “Bad,” “EVIL” and “Neutral.” They’re frequently bland and painfully badly written. Again, this is not something I saw in The Outer Worlds.
Conversations had a flow and a feel that I’ve not seen before. They were so good that I didn’t even skip through them, instead opting to watch and listen to them in their entirety.
Some of that comes from the wonderful job Obsidian has done at world-building. These colonies and people have a history, a shared history that’s based on an alternate version of our world. They have relationships and references that make sense in context. There’s a richness to the lore in The Outer Worlds that you just don’t see in games.
Uncovering new information and understanding more about the world you’re in is hugely enjoyable in The Outer Worlds and it makes complete sense. Your character has been in stasis for decades and so, has almost no knowledge of the current state of affairs.
This is what makes exploring so compelling. Trying to understand this strange, alien world and trying to decide how you’ll fit into it.
It helps that Obsidian is masterful when it comes to walking the fine line between comedy and parody. The Outer Worlds is a genuinely hilarious game but not because there are poops and farts and dick jokes. It’s subtle and clever in its comedy. More than once I cracked a smile just because of a note I’d found or some text on a sign.
The Outer Worlds isn’t flashing lights and blaring klaxons. It’s not smacking you over the head with a lame joke then asking if you “geddit?”. It puts the pieces in front of you and lets you work them out for yourself. In fact, that’s the way I felt when I played overall. Obsidian, in The Outer Worlds, hands the player some tools and a vague idea of what to do and lets them go about their merry way.
The fun is in working out how you’re going to play it for yourself.
It’s impossible not to compare The Outer Worlds and Fallout because they’re similar in many ways. They share commonalities and mechanics, ideas and gameplay and even creators/developers. However, from what I’ve seen and played so far, The Outer Worlds is far more interesting and far less broken than any modern Fallout.
Part of its visual style has an echo of Fallout too but there’s also a lot of BioShock as well. The retro-futuristic style of both franchises is definitely evident in The Outer Worlds but it forges ahead with a distinct identity of its own.
It’s pretty, colourful and downright jaw-dropping at times; just look up at the stars and planets above you to see what I mean. And it feels truly alien. For my money, science fiction is always a winner and The Outer Worlds proves that.
I barely scratched the surface of The Outer Worlds and already I’m utterly enamoured. The wait until October 25 is going to be both long and well worth it.