Art by Redline XIII.
Nothing tickles my fancy like a good science fiction story, so I was elated when The Outer Worlds was announced last year. And my excitement grew when Microsoft revealed it would be included in the Xbox Game Pass for PC (which is really great) at E3.
Obsidian Entertainment has a proven track record of crafting fantastic worlds full of three-dimensional characters. After all, on the heels of Fallout 3 Obsidian released Fallout: New Vegas, a title that expanded on its predecessor and provided a superior experience in almost every way. So, it made sense to assume The Outer Worlds would offer a fresh alternative to Fallout 76, nearly a year after Bethesda’s mostly-botched attempt at live service, and only days after the disastrous release of Fallout 1st.
But expectations and contention aside, is The Outer Worlds everything I hoped it would be? Well…Yes. And no…
(Caution…potential spoilers ahead)
The heart of the matter
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I loaded up The Outer Worlds for the first time, but the level of polish Obsidian has managed with every facet of the game sets a new bar. There’s care in every detail of the game world—it’s alien enough to almost jar the senses, but beautiful nonetheless. The writing develops three-dimensional characters, and the companions are some of the best I’ve encountered. The last time I felt so endeared, Veronica was following me around in Fallout: New Vegas. Character creation is robust, with a system designed for replayability. And the combat feels solid and refined.
The ribbon on top is the near absence of bugs. During my playthrough, I encountered a door close to the end that xcaused a crash every time I tried to walk through it. The workaround was landing a few jumps to circumvent the obstacle, so my progression wasn’t broken (though I did start to sweat for a few minutes). Otherwise, it was smooth sailing from beginning to end.
All that’s great. The Outer Worlds is the RPG we expected it to be. Without a doubt, it measures up to The Elder Scrolls or Fallout or The Witcher Series. But…it’s not all rainbows and sunshine.
Your shoes are untied…
The Outer Worlds stumbles as much as it soars. Moreso, in my opinion. And the shiny surface isn’t enough to offset a dearth of missteps.
Combat, while solid, rarely lasts for more than a few seconds. Paired with what feels like a stunted array of weapons with limited customization options, I spent most of the game underwhelmed with my character’s offensive performance. Armor was a bit better, but just as disappointing. The tinkering mechanic allows for the upgrading of weapons, but by late-game, I felt like it was more of a way to keep mid-tier weapons relevant when other, superior options were available. By the end of the game, combat was an exercise in rote repetition rather than an enjoyable part of the whole.
The game world proved frustrating as well. While each area was beautiful, and original, and wholly alien, there just wasn’t that much to the varied locations in the Halcyon system. Most of the maps felt small. Cramped. Even when the game world opened up, there wasn’t that much to be found off of the beaten path. Once or twice, I stumbled upon interesting treasures hidden out of the way, but usually I ran into closed doors or dead ends that would eventually be the “x-marks-the-spot” where a quest I hadn’t yet accepted would lead. Because, apparently, every location on every map is associated with one quest or another. Once I figured that out, the joy of exploration became just another impending task.
Finally, and most disheartening, was the main storyline. I’ll stand by my assertion that the writing in The Outer Worlds is among Obsidian’s best, but the main storyline falls into the same type of trap fans of Bethesda titles are familiar with; The front end of the story is loaded with fetch quests and “travel-to-here” objectives with little other information given to fill in the blanks. By the time the story actually gets rolling, the game is well past the halfway point. And the climax feels like it’s a jumping-off point for what’s next rather than a satisfying end.
Even now, I’m still digesting The Outer Worlds. I enjoyed it, but can’t help feeling somewhat disappointed. Some of the magic that made Fallout: New Vegas so enjoyable is baked in—because it’s ingrained in Obsidian Entertainment’s creative DNA—but there’s just as much fluff. On more than one occasion I hoped the game would surprise me with more, but the surprise never came as it rolled to an abrupt, however satisfying, end.
In one of his recent videos, Jim Sterling suggested that The Outer Worlds renders Bethesda obsolete, but I’m not so sure. While Obsidian is definitely better at writing, and their game is remarkably bug-free (with the exception of that one door), they haven’t managed to nail the same, satisfying gameplay loop that Bethesda has mastered. If anything, it feels like more of a solid first try than a true contender. With that said, I really do think Obsidian’s upcoming games could pose a real threat to Starfield and The Elder Scrolls 6 if they’re afforded the same level of leeway that led to The Outer Worlds.
Overall, the game was enjoyable, though a little short (I beat it in about 20 hours or so). Try as I might, however, it’s hard to justify spending $59.99 (US) when it’s available on the Xbox Game Pass for as little as $1 (since, apparently, the first month E3 promotion for the PC is still valid). Either way, it’s worth a playthrough, if only to see what we have to look forward to from Obsidian in the future.