Obsidian Entertainment are masters of their trade, so when they announced a brand new RPG at the 2018 Game Awards, you better believe the world was paying attention. Games like Fallout have taken us to the post-apocalyptic wastelands and Skyrim has taken us to a medieval fantasy setting, but we haven’t quite had an experience like this set in space. Until now.
Personally I wasn’t as excited, while everybody kept raving about the aforementioned games, they never quite clicked with me and I always found it hard to pinpoint exactly why. In fact, to this day I have a hard time expressing just why I quit four hours into Skyrim, two hours into Fallout 3 and didn’t even make it past half an hour into Fallout: New Vegas before returning it to the store. But playing The Outer Worlds has given me some insights into the matter.
You start the game being awakened by Phineas Wells. You’re one of many bright minds who were put into hibernation and sent out into space to the Halcyon system. Only, you were never thawed out until a rogue scientist, Phineas Wells, breaks into the Hope spaceship with just enough time & materials to break out one single person. In true western RPG fashion, you then start customizing your characters visual traits as well as your perks. From here on out you explore various planets and spaceships, learning more about the colony as you go and picking sides in the opposing factions.
In this futuristic space-exploring age, companies have grown into seats of power and eventually started controlling everything. Halcyon is technically run by “The Board” but organisations like “Spacer’s Choice”, “Rizzo’s” and “Auntie Cleo’s” are all vying for power and resources in the new and hostile human settlements. While you can try and stay neutral through most of your adventure, you’ll eventually be forced into picking sides and some truly heartbreaking ultimatums. Let’s start with an example from the start of the game:
To get off the first planet, you’ll need to find a Power Regulator to install on the Unreliable, a ship you’ve “inherited” from its captain who picked the wrong coordinates to wait for your escape pod (translation: he got crushed on impact). To get one, you’ll have to basically screw over either Edgewater, a Spacer’s Choice-run town full of diseased people working their ass off in the tuna cannery, or some dissenters who have run off to start their own community around a garden growing on human remains.
By that point, you’ll have probably done some side-quests for both sides and hopefully you can make a well-informed choice. I personally went with what seemed the ideal solution to me: installing the leader of the green-fingered dissenters as the new leaders of Edgewater, thus getting both to work together for their mutual benefit. But even choices like this can lead to some genocide-level outcomes near the end of the game.
Rest assured that you’re in for a ride and some pretty wild space-cowboy adventures. I’ve had a blast going through all the side-quests and getting to know my crew better. The writing is downright funny and there are some witty dialogue options for you to explore (with some options locked depending on your skills)
As you progress through the story and branching paths, you’ll grow to respect what Obsidian has achieved here. Never before has it been so clear to me in an RPG of this nature what was expected and where I had to go next. The signposting is nothing short of perfect and perhaps the biggest reason why I prefer The Outer Worlds to its contemporaries. Now, it needs to be said that the main story can be beaten in a rather short period of time, but if you explore all of the available environments and side activities you can count on more than 30 hours of entertainment. It’s a long shot from the hundreds of hours it takes to complete a game like Skyrim, but I found the density to be of service to the overall quality and presentation.
Now, we’ve gotten this far into the review already and we haven’t even talked gameplay yet. The Outer Worlds, like the Fallout games, is an RPG/FPS mix with some pretty entertaining melee options and gunplay. It even has a VATS-like system to slow down time and target specific body parts (if you assign your skill-points correctly at least): because you’ve spent so much time in hibernation you can use Tactical Time Dilation to gain the edge over your opponents. Though personally, I stopped using it around the halfway point because I wanted to move more quickly from encounter to encounter.
Your experience with the game will vary a lot depending on your perks and equipment. You can go at it solo or bring up to two crew members, each with a powerful kill you can activate at the press of a button. You can go for a melee build, a revolver wielding space-cowboy or a heavily-armoured tank… It’s up to you. There are even some nifty science weapons for you to play with like a shrink ray or a goop-gun. (sadly nothing to turn your enemies into cystipigs or chickens, or the food crisis would have been solved…)
Though let’s be honest. The worlds and enemies in games like these can be as interesting as they can get, you’ll spend most of your actual game-time looking at dead bodies, loose object & containers, considering whether they are worth getting over-encumbered over.
Luckily for cleptomaniacs like myself (at least in videogames), TOW is rather generous with how much you can carry and even has quite a few perks & armour modifications that allow you to carry more. The type of items you can pick up has also been reduced, this isn’t like Skyrim where you can practically plunder an entire house of everything that isn’t nailed to the floor. Again: Obsidian has really managed to streamline the experience and you’d be hardpressed to find a more polished RPG of this nature.
Now the game isn’t entirely without fault, I did encounter some bugs in my 38-hour playthrough. Some enemies went passive as soon as I accidentally took them on an elevator ride, conversations that didn’t start or characters that didn’t turn around when talking to them. Most of them were minor annoyances, never anything game-breaking.
Both in the visual and audio department, TOW doesn’t disappoint. The voice acting was great (I loved Ashley Burch‘s delivery of Parvati the most), the soundtrack is pretty epic (I even added the main menu theme to my playlist) and it looked amazing. From the enemy designs to the varied locations, heck even the loading screens are something to look forward to. The only graphical downside was that the NPCs tend to look alike, especially the one with minor roles.
This western RPG is truly out of this world. It’s perhaps the single most enjoyable game of its kind and succeeded were similar games have failed: to keep me hooked until the very end. It looks great, sounds fantastic and the writing had me grinning from ear to ear. If this is a forebode of things to come for Obisidian Entertainment: they now have my attention.
Looking to check the game in action? I got you covered with the first half hour:
*Disclosure: A Review copy was provide by the publisher for Xbox One & Steam