24th Jul2020

‘The Outer Worlds’ Review (PC)

by Chris Thomas

I was late to the party with The Outer Worlds because I was waiting for the release on Switch. Then I saw how it ran on Switch and politely cancelled my order and got the PC version instead!

The Outer Worlds is an awfully familiar feeling first person RPG from Obsidian Entertainment where the player pumps points into different skills to craft their starting character and is then let lose on a solar system of colonized planets. Early on we then get a ship and a crew, and we are off! I shucked all my points into being brilliant at conversation (how ironic). I then put the remaining points into being able to pick locks, hack computers, intimidate or convince characters plus shoot stuff when I needed to. It turned out to be a powerful combination, and before too long me and my two crewmates were wandering from town to town laying down our lawful good decision making with a winning combination of talking, threatening, and spraying acid on things.

There was probably a gap for “Skyrim or Fallout In Space” and for better and for worse this game fills that niche with unerring precision. Much like in Fallout, there was a point in history where the timeline of The Outer Worlds branches off from our own. Sinister, yet cheery mega corporations have taken over, everything from products to the colonisation of planets. This means that low quality, but cheerily marketed products make up this dystopian nightmare where people are consumer slaves. With the quality of the food and water people eat being horribly compromised by the quest to maximise profits. Accidentally creating a toothpaste that acts as a hunger suppressant is a great example of how the mega corporations can turn any situation into a marketing success.
The game kicks off with the player character being freed from the floating prison of their cryosleep on a drifting and abandoned colony ship on the edge of the Halcyon solar system. Our rescuer is not dissimilar to a certain Rick Sanchez, and like many characters in this solar system, he provides some wacky fun (albeit it feels awfully familiar).

The Outer Worlds both looks and sounds beautiful. My PC could run the game with all the settings turned up to 11 and it really is a treat to behold. The graphical effects of the colourful gunfights are impressive and occasionally I found myself distracted by quite how cool the laser burns looked when I really needed to keep shooting.

Combat in the game is usually quick and violent, there is a similar, but less useful copy of the Fallout aiming system, but while my character was 100% shooty I found combat to be very satisfying. The RPG elements are streamlined but well done. As well as the normal levelling up, the game develops there is also occasionally the opportunity for you to take on “weaknesses” (e.g. due to being burned with acid one too many times my character takes 25% extra damage from corrosive attack). But, in return, we can unlock potentially powerful perks. This is entirely optional and a fun little RPG mechanic.

The Outer Worlds could be considered to have a “semi” open world. We use our spaceship (“the unreliable”) to travel between planets, and then each planet generally contains a more constrained semi-open world format to your classic Fallout or Skyrim “go anywhere”. I found this kept a slightly tighter narrative and there were less weird bugs (though naturally there are some).

Much like in Borderlands 3 I found a lot of the maps to be quite confusing. Pathways snake around hills into dead ends or the wrong way, and I found myself getting frustrated following the green way pointer in being delayed on my many, many “go from point A to point B, kill stuff, bring back item”. Having said that, the worlds are not massive and some of the quests proved interesting and entertaining. I enjoy single player games, I enjoy having to make (sometimes) interesting moral decisions and I enjoy finding a nice house in the wastelands of Monarch full of a very cheerful family, then having to explore the house to find out what dark secrets are held within.

On the negative side. Surely games designers have found a better mechanic than players having to painstakingly search each room and pick up every tiny item? There are perks the player can later spend points on to unlock, but hiding a busy work-saving mechanic that makes the tedious parts of the game slightly faster is surely not a good move. The need to loot everything and everyone also leads to some weird decision making. Gunfights are often interrupted as I try to loot corpses mid battle as it can be quite easy to lose track of all the remains once the dust has settled. It is also frustrating that the “steal item” and “talk” buttons are the same. There were a few situations where I wanted to talk to someone but accidentally stole an item of junk, causing a possible fight with the people I liked.

The writing is mostly good, though not as good at Mass Effect at its best, but The Outer Worlds has significantly better combat. Letting rip with my assault rifle is a treat. Despite the fantastical worlds however, we are usually fighting the same combination of marauders and monsters that would be familiar to players of Fallout, Borderlands, or any number of other games.

The Outer Worlds appears in many ways a cynical attempt to do what other game companies do (Skyrim), and put it into a popular setting that has been surprisingly untapped for this genre (since the seeing demise of Mass Effect, for a triple A title at least). It also mixes in a huge amount of humour and theme from other pop culture sources (e.g. Firefly). It is feels like a very cynical way to cherry pick things that I like very much and sell them to me. The game is exactly as good and exactly as bad as the sources it is ripping off, it makes little effort to modify or change based on its source material. Importantly, however it is ripping off things I really like, and it is giving me an adventure I enjoy, niggles and all. I just wish it had a David Bowie soundtrack.

The Outer Worlds is available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC now.


Comments are closed.