Obsidian Entertainment knows the western-RPG genre inside and out and their games can scratch that itch many of us have. Obsidian is a studio comprised of talented narrative writers, artists capable of creating stunning worlds, and developers who have a knack for delivering stellar gameplay time and time again. As many AAA developers have attempted to launch similar games to Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds this generation, very few have been able to capture the magic this studio possesses.
Upon the initial announcement, The Outer Worlds drew many obvious comparisons to their previous game, Fallout: New Vegas. For good reason too. Fallout: New Vegas was a benchmark for the studio and while the former Black Isle Studios leads and co. went on to work on many other RPG games in between, The Outer Worlds was a chance for Obsidian Entertainment to go back to their bread and butter with a new IP.
A New Hope
Obsidian Entertainment played it safe when developing The Outer Worlds, but stuck to their guns even if it meant the game would show elements that ran parallel to a Fallout title. The Outer Worlds opens in a very familiar way. Set in the alternative future of 2355 in the Halcyon system, you are abruptly awakened from suspended animation aboard the colony ship Hope. During the 70 years spent in cryofreeze, Halcyon has gone to hell. Phineas Welles, an eccentric Doc Brown-Esque character quickly plucks you and drops you into a string of missions focused on taking down the Board, a large corporate conglomerate that oversees the entire Halcyon system. You start by creating your character. You’re given the option to choose gender, facial features, eye colour, and allocate skill points into perks and traits for your character. I decided to heavily invest my points into dialogue and ranged––a silver-tongued Han Solo-type. Welles then gives you your first mission: meet with a freelancer on the nearby planet Terra 2 for assistance.
A large segment of the story in The Outer Worlds centers around exploring an entire cross-planetary ecosystem that is trying to survive with the thumb of corporate greed always looming, ready to slam down and suppress the locals. Be prepared to hear about evil corporations many times as the bulk of the dialogue centers around this very topic. It begins to become a bit heavy-handed and as many NPC will mutter their distaste of The Board during your encounters. There’s moral ambiguity thrown into the mix as Obsidian does give weighing options and last effects of your actions and dialogue choices. Many of your decisions can fall into the grey, making you question whether or not you’ve made the correct decision. Not everything you do will be white or black. An early example of this is drawn when you are met with the choice to cut the power to an entire city to help a small band of outcasts. On paper, this may seem like a no-brainer, but as you read into the situation and take in the brilliant storytelling, the answer may not seem as clear.
Although The Outer Worlds explores the themes of capitalism, it has a lot of fun while doing so. As you reach Terra 2, your space pod just so happens to crash land on your intended contact. This more graphic take on the Wicked Witch of the East death clicked and I began to see what sort of ride I was about to be taken on. The writing throughout the narrative and character interactions is spot on. For many RPGs, I’ve fallen into a rhythm of reading through the text quicker than the voice actors, leading me to hit skip over and over. Here, I can’t help but let the scenes play out. The voice acting is quite solid and the facial animations of all the characters are fairly polished, which invites you to stick around and hear what every character has to say.
All Aboard The Unreliable
The Outer Worlds uncuffs you fairly quickly and you then begin to scavenge for materials, new weapons, and level up your character the way you see fit. The combat starts by feeling a bit rigid. Fallout leverages that with the V.A.T.S. system. Here, you’re able to tap into a mechanic that slows time, the Tactical Time Dilation––a side effect from your stasis. This did wonders for the gunplay during the first few hours as enemies come fast and they hit hard. You also have the option to invest skill points into melee or take a stealth approach. Stealth is incredibly useful if you are taking a more passive approach to the gameplay. Many combat-heavy areas can be completed by hiding behind objects and skulking through the areas. However, the gunplay can be quite satisfying if you choose to go in loud. The shooting mechanics aren’t perfect, but aiming down the sights and making use of your TTD will help if you’re playing with ranged weapons.
The planets and inhabitants of Halcyon are full of personality and style. Every planet has its look to them, differentiating each from the rest in the system. Most have an almost vibrant, yet threatening quality to them. Their appearance is inviting, but walk down the wrong canyon, you’ll find yourself facing a small clan of mercenaries or violent beasts. Many faction towns and cities belonging to the downtrodden and are run down, whereas the city belonging to the 1% is pristine and bright. They have a steampunk edge to them with drips and drabs of Bioshock aesthetic thrown into the mix. It’s the 1950s meets high-future.
The cast of characters you’ll encounter have many quirks to them and even the most insignificant side-characters draw you in. You’ll find that there is an equal mix of those that support the Board and others that are in direct conflict with them. The leader of the first city you come across is a shifty worm, who is in support of the Board, begging for a good right hook to the face. Some interactions can be downright surprising as they offer a nice counter-argument and may sway your allegiances. The writing and character direction is another stark example of how Obsidian’s craft in writing is some of the best out there. I’ve often found myself torn while playing a paragon due to the persuasions of a few choice characters.
You’ll also find many endearing characters introduced, some of which you can recruit to your party. Above the rest, the six available characters you’re able to bring along on your interplanetary journey are the most interesting. You’re able to forge relationships and take them through personal quests. Vicar Max, a religious zealot, was uninteresting upon the first few interactions. Though, once I began completing his questline, I began to uncover a different, much more fascinating side to him. Pavarti, a meek engineer seeks to find encouragement from your character. She’s an incredible standout and her questline, while not epic in scale, was one of the best to see through to completion.
Obsidian Entertainment shows a lot of restraint when developing The Outer Worlds. Rather than give players a huge, sprawling solar system to explore, every location is focused and compact in the best way possible. Each planet has a few hub-world locations with objectives being placed no more than a few minutes away from each other. This causes some of the scale to be turned down, but never detracts from the experience. For an “open-world” RPG to take this direction is quite a nice change of pace. The Outer Worlds is a game that rewards the efforts you put in. You can spearhead the main objectives and get a 15-hour experience, or look in every building and interact with every character for a much more drawn out experience.
The Outer Worlds makes it very easy to do so. The worlds are stunning and the game handles very well for the most part. Playing on the Xbox One X, there are moments where you want to look up into the sky and take in all that’s around you. There are a few minor hiccups though. Loading screens can be on the longer side. They aren’t long enough to drop your controller and pick up your phone, but they could be shorter to keep you engaged when fast traveling or venturing larger destinations. There’s also a consistent issue where the map will take quite a long time to load in from your menu bar. Only one minor late-game bug stalled my progression throughout my experience. Unfortunately, it affected the more passive playthrough I was taking and forced me to break out of my ID cartridge––a cloaking device that disguises you when infiltrating certain factions.
The Outer Worlds is the game I was hoping it would be. It’s a familiar game wrapped in a fresh new setting that pulls you in with top-notch writing and dialogue. The throughline of the narrative could have been broken up by smaller story interjections, but it is engaging enough to make you want to keep playing and see it through to the end. The Outer Worlds is comfort food for fans of the western-RPG genre. The game will toss a few curveballs at you, which may make you think twice about your next action. The world of Halcyon has much to uncover but is never demanding of your time. This approach earned a lot of my respect and made me feel like my time was being respected. Although a few technical errors exist, I am excited about seeing how and if the studio returns to this universe and what will come next––especially now as Obsidian Entertainment is in the Xbox Game Studio family.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]