The Outer Worlds Review- Choices Across the Star System

Posted November 4, 2019 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment

Publisher: Private Division, Take-Two Interactive

Release date: October 25, 2019

Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One (reviewed)

Choices often matter in many large, open world action-RPGs. They can be small, subtle ones, like how you treat a certain NPC, to more major ones like which faction you align yourself with. Players have long made such choices in games such as those in the Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises, and since choices lead to multiple endings, these games have a certain amount of replayability built in. The newest such game, The Outer Worlds from Obsidian Entertainment (notably known for 2010’s Fallout: New Vegas), again uses this formula, though on a slightly smaller scale.

That smaller scale works to the game’s advantage. Taking place on several planets confined to the Halcyon star system, The Outer Worlds hints at a larger universe without giving you a mind boggling amount of things to accomplish. You have plenty of impactful choices to be made, however, with some completely altering how the game proceeds. One such choice comes early on when you hold the fate of two settlements in your hands. Later choices can depend on which factions come to your aid, or at the very least offer you a discount on their goods.

Capitalism is very much at the heart of The Outer Worlds, as it highlights companies running amok in their efforts to colonize the stars. It’s done in a very humorous fashion, and the game is often quite funny. The competing corporations make up the various factions you can choose to align yourself with. Angering one could have little consequences such as you paying more for their items at their vending machines, or could be more major like you being targeted as soon as you enter a company settlement. Everything plays out against the overarching villain of The Board and their desire to control the system’s colony from Earth.

You begin gameplay as a colonist aboard the starship Hope, which encountered an accident that left it stranded in space. A mad scientist of sorts named Phineas awakens you, and sends you off on your adventures. The character creator is a fairly robust one, though you’ll never see your character, as the game is in first person (no changing to third person like in the Fallout or Elder Scrolls games). You build your character through a list of Skills that include Melee Combat, Firearms, Dialog, Science, Tech, Defense, Stealth, and Leadership. Each skill has a smaller subset of two to three skills (Dialog, for example, has Persuasion, Lies, and Intimidation). Each skill uses experience points (you get ten points to apply each time you level up) to level the whole subset up to 50, and then after that you can apply points to specific skills within each subset. For example, if you want to be able to hack into anything, you can choose to put your points all into your hacking skill. You can build your character up however you wish.

The freedom to build your character as you wish is reflected in the gameplay, where you have multiple ways to approach your missions. While there will be a fair amount of combat involved (especially with the various dangerous fauna found throughout the system), many missions will have alternate ways through them. You can choose to talk your way through, use disguises, sneak about and engage in sabotage, or hack terminals. In this way you can choose to kill or not to kill, and that freedom is nice to have so you can mold the game to your own style of play.

You’ll also pick up companions along the way. Companions are NPCs who join you aboard your ship. They will have their own separate quest lines, and completing a line for a companion can increase their loyalty and what ultimately happens to them. There are six in all to find, though in my first playthrough I only unlocked four. Each one has their own set of skills, and you can choose their weapon and armor as well as level them up with perks. Talking to your companions and keeping them happy makes them function better as members of your crew. You’re not locked in to having them, either, as you can dismiss them from your service at any time, if you so choose to do so.

You can take up to two companions with you each time you leave the ship. Keep in mind certain missions require specific companions to be in your party. Unfortunately, you can only swap them out aboard your ship, which can mean travelling back if you made the wrong choice when you set out. Thankfully, a fast travel system does open up, allowing you to go back to areas you’ve previously discovered. Unfortunately, that means encountering the long loading screens that are prevalent whenever you fast travel, leave your ship, or transition to a new area.

While the load times are long enough, and numerous enough, to be noticeable, they’re not so bad as to completely take you out of the game. Also, you get to look at some nice artwork. Some screens will feature ads from the various corporations for different products. Others will be covers of periodicals (these will reflect the choices you make in certain situations). Others resemble the color plates in old fashioned biology textbooks, showing cross sections of the various creatures you will encounter on your journey. Each screen is well designed and nice to look at, so that at least makes the load times a bit more bearable.

The length of the game will vary depending on how much time you spend exploring and doing side missions and other missions outside of the main story line. Sticking to story alone (though doing so will have you miss a lot) can be accomplished in 10-15 hours, while dong everything may take you over 30 hours. There are three major endings to get, depending on your choices, so there is some replayability built in. This is not the 100+ hour RPG like Obsidian’s earlier Fallout: New Vegas, but that actually works in this game’s favor. Be waned though that once you start the final mission there is no going back after its conclusion to wrap up other quest lines. Anything you wish to take care of must be done prior (you will get the obligatory warning about this), or tackled in a New Game (there is no New Game+).

The game has four difficulty levels for players to choose from. Those wanting to just experience the game can choose Story Mode. The Normal and Hard Modes are self explanatory. The hardest mode, called Supernova, is a bit more daunting. In this mode, you must eat, drink, and sleep (you can ignore those in the other three modes). Enemies are naturally stronger and pack more damage. Your companions can permanently die (in other modes they are knocked out and revive at the end of combat). If your crippled, you can only heal with bed rest, and you can only sleep aboard your ship. Fast travel is also limited to returning to your ship, so you will be walking everywhere else (there are no vehicles to use in the game). You can only manually save your progress when you’re aboard your ship, and autosaves are limited. It’s a good mode for those who like their games to have a challenge. That’s not to say the other modes are cakewalks. They’re not. But for those who might enjoy a Dark Souls -like experience in space, this mode may be for them.

The game also lets you modify your weapon loadouts, and you can play with them at any workbench you find if you have the parts. Both weapons and armor can be modified, however, once you use a mod it can not be recovered, even if you break down the item. Weapons can be modified, tinkered with (you can increase the amount of damage they do here), repaired, or broken down for parts. Your main character can carry up to four weapons, with each being cycled through with a simple button press. Your companions can be outfitted with one firearm and one melee weapon. All can be outfitted with both body armor and headgear. Body armor can also be modified with certain perks, such as greater fire resistance or able to take increased damage. Healing items are found throughout, but only used by the main character. Most items provide only a very temporary boost (most lasting only a minute or less), so whether you use them or not is by choice and not really necessary. Outside of my main healing item, I never used any of the others in my play through. At least they can sold at vending machines for extra credits. They may not be needed (outside of Supernova difficulty), but it’s nice to have the options.

For the most part The Outer Worlds runs pretty smoothly, erasing the concerns of those who remember Obsidian’s launch of Fallout: New Vegas. The game never crashed on me, and outside of pop in when I got to new areas, there weren’t any real problems. I did hit some minor frame rate slow down, but it was negligible. The load times are its worst offender, but it makes up for it by having us look at pretty load screens. The graphics are nice and colorful, hitting a style somewhere between Borderlands and Fallout 4. The voice acting is nicely done, and the dialogue options often work well and are viable choices giving conversations a more natural flow. The flaws may hold the game back from perfection, but they’re not enough to meaningfully detract from the overall enjoyment of the game.

In all, The Outer Worlds is an excellent action RPG from Obsidian, and shows off its influences from games like Fallout: New Vegas, Borderlands, and even Bioshock. There’s a great sense of humor that runs throughout and provides a nice balance to the action. Choices matter, and the shorter run time can make this game a little less daunting for players who are more time challenged (not everyone has time for 100+ hour games). There’s a nice level of customization and you can play the game more how you choose to. A couple of minor flaws, like long load times and some technical issues, keep it from perfection, but there’s nothing to ruin your enjoyment. With three endings to achieve, there is some replayability built in, and one can hope we will see more of this title in future installments as the game hints towards a larger universe. For those looking for an open world type game with choice, The Outer Worlds is your ticket to head out among the stars.

9/10 stars

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus