Obsidian Entertainment’s first person RPG The Outer Worlds puts the player in the centre of an interplanetary adventure in an incredibly vibrant world. While the game’s setting is very open, it’s not entirely open world. There are several areas to visit on each of the planets that are large enough to scratch that explorers itch but fall short in scope to truly be considered open world. This is certainly not a bad thing as it never becomes overwhelming in terms of traversal or backtracking. The inclusion of a fast travel system to any key location you have visited from the in-game map makes travel even easier. It’s a big world but it is tackled in small doses and should be commended for doing so.
Before things even get started, the player is able to create their character with a decent amount of facial customisation but this is entirely redundant as at no point does the player see themselves you see in the third person perspective, even in death. The only exception is the character/loadout screen in the menu. This false sense of identity is further questionable due to the player character being a silent protagonist. The frustration of having a character that can’t be seen that also has no voice is counterproductive when it comes to an RPG which is typically all about putting the player in control of a character and giving them the flexibility to customise to their hearts content.
Cosmetic customisation primarily revolves around what armour and helmet that is found or purchased and is largely driven by what provides the best defence stats. There is a decent range of weapons spread throughout typical classes such as Light Machine Guns, Shotguns and Assault Rifles and each can be found or equipped with various modifications including elemental damage (such as Burn or Shock), scopes, muzzles and more to further tailor the gunplay to a personalised style. Workbenches scattered throughout the world provide locations for modifications to be equipped and each workbench allows the player to undertake a feature called Tinkering. Tinkering allows the player to increase the stats on their weapon proportionate to the player’s current level, allowing upgrades to favourite lower level weapons to more capably control enemy encounters.
The enemy variety is decent, ranging from wildlife to bandits and military soldiers. The different weapons they wield are never problematic and all situations largely play out the same, simply gunning the opposition down without any real risk of the player being killed. I only died twice during my play through on Normal difficulty and both of those were backing off ledges in firefights or mistiming a jump to a bridge, highlighting the enemies light damage output.
Player progression is a must in all RPG’s and The Outer Worlds has main story missions, optional side quests and defeating enemies that rewards the player with XP on completion. This XP goes towards levelling up your character and each level brings 10 skill points with every second level up awarding a perk point. Skill points are used to improve attributes such as Tech, Persuade or Medic where Perk points are used to increase the likes of carrying capacity or max health. Each of the ranges provide plenty of flexibility in the build the player wants to create and is easily achieved by the fast rate of XP gain.
Player attributes aren’t all shaped by levelling up though. Taking too much of a particular type of damage or being defeated by certain enemy types will offer the player the choice of accepting or rejecting a Flaw. Accepting it will permanently add some sort of negative stat such as taking 10% more burn damage but in return the player will receive a perk point. The trade-off is worth it as the enemy damage output is so light that I never saw any immediate ramification for taking on the flaw. It’s an interesting mechanic that I think would be better implemented if the consequences were more noticeable.
There are several factions present that are represented throughout the main story and the optional side quests. Completing them will increase their relationship with the player but things like senseless killing of the citizens within their regions or making decisions that go against their agenda will result in a negative relationship, eventually turning into a “shoot on sight” order should you even enter their towns. There’s not too many side quests where the player has to make a choice to align with a faction but the ones that do have consequences and will open up or close addition mission opportunities based on these decisions and actions. There is no meaningful benefit to maintaining these relationships outside of unlocking a few Achievements which is disappointing, proving to be yet another layer of decision making that lacks any depth, purpose or consequence.
Allegiances aren’t just at play towards the factions, along the journey 6 companion characters can be met and recruited to the team, with 2 at a time being able to accompany the player out in the wild. This is one of the most fun additions to the gameplay mechanics as each have a unique combat ability that can be triggered by locking onto an enemy and hitting the left or right direction on the D-Pad. These awesome abilities can be accompanied by some humorous dialogue moments before they annihilate the targeted enemy. These are extremely useful in any combat situation and to make them even better, just like the players character, their armour and weapons can be changed at will and as the player levels up, so too do they. Each character earning perk points to increase various combat related attributes such as doing 30% more damage with their abilities or drawing X amount of attention of the enemies. The entire companion gameplay and characterisation offer more fun and depth than majority of the other ideas at play in The Outer Worlds, and unlike a lot of other games with AI team mates, these characters can do some work. They’re smart, they actively engage the enemy when you do and with the upgrade to draw enemy fire, they make for excellent bait.
The main story is brief, clocking in at around 6 hours without taking on any optional side quests. This could easily be a 30+ hour affair for the explorer or completionist play styles due to the large amount of optional content available across the dozen or so planets. The cast of characters providing these missions are varying levels of stale to mildly amusing with most failing to be memorable or worth caring for, becoming purely a source of the next mission. The voice acting has me confused as to whether the deadpan, emotionless delivery is outright bad or if it’s intentional, which would add a quirky layer to the world they inhabit. Regardless of its intent, it fails to captivate or command your attention and becomes yet another in the small but growing list of missed opportunities for the depth of this game world to be fully realised.
The world is so vibrant and colourful, truly unique and beautiful to explore. The enemy variety, while limited, are designed well, creating monsters that actually seem fearsome and bandits that don’t look too bandity for lack of a better word (which I’m certain there are many…). The general style is like a cross between Borderlands and something like Fallout, and while it does sometimes lean towards one or the other, it doesn’t manage to stand out.
As a parent, the inability to pause cut scenes was a little annoying when I needed to put my dad hat on, but they were the only instances pausing was unavailable. As the game has no co-op or multiplayer of any kind, it is otherwise easy to drop in and drop out.
The Outer Worlds is a great example of a big little game and by that I mean the scope of the self-contained areas doesn’t overwhelm the player and the overall amount of them means we get to explore several unique and well-constructed environments that rarely have dead space with no purpose other than to cut across to get to somewhere else. There’s a reason for a building being where it is as opposed to just filling in a gap. While the story may not be particularly interesting or memorable, it’s the perfect length to give players enough to do if they just want to power through and with the crazy amount of optional side quests, there is certainly something for every type of player. Its gameplay does not innovate but it works, and at the end of the day, embarking on a multi planet adventure with some excellent companions by your side, The Outer Worlds is a blast that is at least worth checking out. As the title launched on Xbox Game Pass, there is no reason for you to not give this game a go.
+ The large world broken into manageable sections
+ Plenty of optional side missions
– Silent protagonist and customised appearance that isn’t seen
– Safe and familiar gameplay