The Outer Worlds Review

November 13, 2019
Xbox One
Also on: PC, PS4
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In a way, The Outer Worlds, is a glimpse of what could’ve been. If you’re a proponent of the many-worlds interpretation then in one universe Obsidian Entertainment and Bethesda are still friends and the former continued making Fallout games after the success of Fallout: New Vegas. In our universe, however, after failing (by one point) to get royalties tied to its Metacritic score the two companies never worked together again and we’ve all seen how the Fallout franchise has fared recently with Fallout 76. If you’re a fan of that franchise and you pick up and play The Outer Worlds, prepare for some wistful melancholy as you play.

Set in a universe which diverged from our own in 1901 whereby US President William McKinley was never assassinated. This divergence allowed large corporations to dominate society and in its future, progressing, as megacorporations, on to terraforming planets. You play as a colonist whose ship goes astray whilst you’re in cryosleep. Awoken by a scientist by the name of Phineas Welles, you find yourself in strange surroundings with the promised life not quite being what it was meant to be. Phineas co-opts you into his plan to save the colonies and sends you off to the nearby settlement of Emerald Vale. From here on in the story and the ending of The Outer Worlds is yours to define. If it’s anything like ours it will be full of colourful characters, beautiful vistas and some colourful choices of language.

There is beauty in The Outer Worlds — you don’t have to look far.

If you’ve played any action role-playing games of recent times then the setup is familiar. You’ll likely spend an inordinate amount of time styling your character’s face and overall look if you’re anything like us. Though what we liked the most here is that if you want to be a woman with a very stylish moustache then, well, you can. It’s rather freeing and really allows you to create a character that’s yours and allows for great in-game representation. Once you’re done there you’ll set your initial skill points as well as your original career path be it a janitor or a beverage service technician. Each of these fifteen aptitudes, as they’re called, have different starting perks and cannot be changed once settled on. It doesn’t set in stone the type of builds you can make but if you have a thought on who you want to be, then it’s worth picking one that sets you on the right path.

As we made our way through the main storyline we were awarded more points to dish out and at certain levels extra perk points much as you would find in Fallout. In addition, should you decide to bring some companions on your travels, you can unlock perks for them too every so often. Those, though, will likely end up being assigned to perks that increase their special abilities’ damage and their overall health. That being said, we didn’t use their abilities that often and realistically you don’t need to use them if, like us, you forget that they’re even there. This isn’t because they’re not useful, they are, but more because you can handle enemies without them. We suspect this is to allow those who wander alone a decent chance of making it through, but it’s a shame encounters don’t seem to scale with party size. Speaking of abilities, it turns out that a long stint in hypersleep has an odd side-effect in that, at any given moment, you can trigger a bullet-time esque slowdown allowing you to target enemies limbs and so forth. It’s totally not like the V.A.T.S system in Fallout and any such talk is hearsay.

Preach! Seriously though, some of the conversations are fantastic.

What’s more, at certain points during your playthrough if, for example, you keep getting hit by a plasma blast you’ll be prompted with a choice. You see, we all have flaws and rarely do they come with upsides, but in The Outer Worlds you can choose whether to accept these flaws or not. If you do, then you may take more damage from plasma weapons but you’ll get a perk point. Others, such as acrophobia (by taking too much fall damage), reduces some of your skill points. It’s always a trade off with the reward being a perk point. On normal difficulty, taking the flaw and gaining the perk point isn’t too much of an issue if you’re relatively adept at dodging and planning your attacks. However, on higher difficulties, the negatives may just outweigh that tempting perk point for yourself. It’s not an overly varied system but its an interesting mechanic all the same. It would’ve been more interesting if some of them gave more than just a perk point for your troubles. For example, you could get cheaper upgrades for certain power types if you have the associated flaw or if you have an enemy related weakness, sneak attacks could do more damage. It’s a minor gripe but it would’ve made some of them far more tempting to take.

We also have a minor gripe with the weapons themselves. There’s really not that much of a variety in The Outer Worlds and later in the game all you’ll see are better versions of weapons you’ve already seen. Split into five damage types — physical, corrosive, electrical, n-rays or plasma — once you’ve sampled all the different weapons, which won’t take long, it’s mostly a case of settling on what type of damage it will deal. You’ll come across various mods which will allow you to change the weapons’ damage type. Certain missions will call for one over the others, especially if you’re dealing with mechanical enemies. Beyond that they’ll either use light, heavy or energy ammo which, for the most part can be found in abundance. If you’ve taken advantage of upgrades and the ability to tinker with weapons at workbenches which increases their stats, then you may find nothing you find will replace what you have. Similarly, modifications are rather miserly in their variations too and not all of them can be applied to any weapon. It’s great that the ability to tinker and customise weapons is there but it feels too limited when compared to Fallout 4. Say what you will about that game’s story and so forth but weapon variation was kinda fun.

My fellow gamers take note…

If there’s one thing that sort of misses the mark is the story. The Outer Worlds tries through its satire to make a point about corporate greed. Most of the people you come across are owned by one of the various companies, even having to pay for your grave spot to be maintained whether you’re dead or alive. As you explore the world outside the Emerald Vale you’ll hear incidental discussions about working conditions, hairstyles not being corporation approved and some of the things you discover about how things are run border on the ridiculous. It goes that little bit beyond that, so when it comes to making a decision that has consequences, you might not be caring as much as Obsidian might want you to be. That being said, we do urge you to listen in and talk to as many residents as you can, both quest givers and not alike. The voice acting is wonderful and is ably assisted by some wonderful scripting at times. This is no clearer than when, once you have your own ship, you start to create your own crew.

We managed to recruit all but one of the available six companions. Once they’re all aboard and you’re scooting around the various planets, moons and spaceships you can dock with you may like us get another waft of nostalgia, though not for Fallout but for Firefly. We couldn’t help but shake the similarities. On our crew we had Parvati, the engineer with a sunny disposition. Vicar Max, a man of the cloth but with a somewhat shady and mysterious past alongside Nyoka, the no-nonse mercenary. There’s also Ellie, the medic but we missed our opportunity to recruit her. The only real outliers are Felix, the street-wise orphan and SAM, a cleaning bot turned combat robot. Ignore those two though and the similarities are eerie yet, at the same time, very familiar. It made the time spent on our ship, the Unreliable, almost cosy, and we really cared about our crew and their own side missions. Even if it did mean planet-hopping for the perfect dress. 

I just love some of the conversation choices.

The Outer Worlds is comfortable and familiar, like that soft toy you might still have from when you were younger. It makes no sense to still have it but it makes you feel safe and warm when you’re with it. This is precisely how we felt playing through The Outer Worlds. Nothing was too radical, nothing was too different and we felt instantly at home whilst we played it. The world conjured up by Obsidian is an interesting one full of people trying to make a life in the harshest of realities. Whilst the story isn’t quite as one would hope it’s a well constructed one full of interesting characters, some of whom you might give a damn about the more you learn about the backstories and motivations. However, if you breeze through the story via the quickest possible route, in around twelve hours or so, then you’re likely to miss all of that which is what makes The Outer Worlds so good.

Microsoft made a smart move when they purchased Obsidian Entertainment last year. Not only did it allow them to launch The Outer Worlds on the GamePass service for both Xbox and PC but they’ve acquired a studio who know how to craft well rounded and interesting games. With a lack of first-party titles being a major criticism of the Xbox platform this console generation, we get the feeling that things are shaping up to be much better for Project Scarlett. The Outer Worlds lays down a confidence-boosting start for their relationship with Microsoft and although it isn’t a perfect game it does show its collaborators of old just what could have been.

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The Outer Worlds is a competent and well-acted action-RPG with some interesting ideas but one that mostly plays safe. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Fallout: New Vegas, it certainly cements Obsidian Entertainment as an RPG force.
Pete Taylor

A long time gamer since the days of the mighty ZX Spectrum +2. The bug really bit when I got a Sega Mega Drive 2 and it hasn’t let up since. Huge racing fan but I also enjoy losing myself in a well-told RPG and management sims. It doesn’t have to be good-looking to win my heart, it’s what’s deep down inside that matters.