STAFF REVIEW of Outer Worlds, The (Xbox One)

Thursday, October 31, 2019.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Outer Worlds, The Box art By now it’s become pretty obvious that Fallout 76 wasn’t the best direction for its series. While online play and social gaming continues to rise, the launch of that one has been plagued by many issues, including an unwise and rather costly subscription plan that was just recently announced out of the blue. If you ask me, and perhaps also many others, the follow-up to Fallout 4 should have remained a single player dystopian RPG, as opposed to going social. Let’s just hope that we’ll get another in the not too distant future.

Thankfully, Obsidian has stepped up and delivered something that will appeal to all fans of Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas and also Fallout 4, although it doesn’t contain any of that awful base building crap. We’re talking about The Outer Worlds, which is now available on different platforms, including Xbox One (and Xbox Game Pass, to boot). It’s a more traditional, single player only RPG, which is well worth your time and money.

The Outer Worlds (which is easy to confuse with The Outer Wilds, which was also released this year), tells the story of a fictional colonization attempt, wherein humans have sent some of their best and brightest into the galaxy. Things seemed so positive at first, but they didn’t exactly end up that way. While some colonies seem to be flourishing, many live under a cloud of lifetime employment, which tosses them away like garbage whenever they get sick. The worst of it all, though? The Hope – a massive colonial ship carrying many cryogenically frozen human beings – is adrift, and it’s unknown if any of its inhabitants will ever wake again.

At the start of the game, a wanted criminal and scientific mastermind sneaks aboard the ship and picks one colonist to awaken using his own technology. This occurs after a seventy-year period in which the Hope laid dormant. This is the character we get to play as. One who is fully customizable, though looks don’t matter too much in a game such as this, where first–person views rule the day and the player almost never sees his or her own avatar. The decent character creator has a Fallout spin to it, too, thanks to a traits system that is reminiscent of that series’ S.P.E.C.I.A.L. characteristics. You’re tasked with molding your personality, skills and intelligence by increasing different categories and leaving others. I, for one, went with a smart character who ended up being great at persuasion and other conversational techniques, as well as lock-picking and hacking. She was also very good with a melee weapon, and not too shabby when it came to guns either.

Following all of the above, one is tasked with hopping into a drop pod and plummeting to an earthlike colony called Edgewater. Things don’t go as planned, though, and the contact you’re asked to meet ends up dying in a somewhat comical way. This endows the player with their own ship, which is humorously named The Unreliable. Said vessel is controlled by a female AI, which is both helpful and funny, and can tell a pretty cheesy knock-knock joke. What follows is a twenty to thirty hour-long game, which is addicting, immersive and quite well made.

As with Fallout, The Outer Worlds’ main gameplay loop consists of undertaking quests and heading out into the world to complete them. This includes story quests, side quests and tasks, which are the lowest tier of this job system. Hell, there are also six companion quests; one for each of the game’s six allies. One can employ two at a time, allowing for some combat assistance (and some decently badass special moves). There’s a good amount of player choice to be found here, too, with a lot of it being morality based. However, instead of offering just good and bad choices, The Outer Worlds likes to sometimes operate in the gray areas. As such, some of its choices are tougher than others.

Through the way you play the campaign, you’ll befriend and alienate yourself from different factions. This is portrayed through green and red bars in the menu system, and can have major effects on how things play out. For instance, the Board (who control much of the colonization attempt’s business ventures) ended up hating me after something I did during one of the later story missions. This led to every one of their soldiers shooting at me upon first view, and my inability to turn a completed task into an NPC who wouldn’t talk to me anymore. I don’t recommend pissing everyone off though, because that’s not normally the way I play, and having everyone attack you isn’t exactly the best strategy. Of course, it also changes and limits the quests you can undertake.

There was another instance where I was given a secondary objective from a faction I was trying to prove myself to. This involved helping two of their related soldiers deal with bad guys. It wasn’t the main objective, but it ended up being really important to one of the moral choices. Reason being is that, after one of those soldiers was hit by accidental crossfire, they started attacking me and ended up dead. One of the faction leaders was pissed off that I wasn’t able to help them, and then took it out on me when I tried to forge a truce between her people and those in a town. Everything was looking good, in terms of that truce, until I got her records and then asked her if she would lead their half of the agreement.

The Outer Worlds’ storyline is all about traveling to different planets and ships, some of which are more hospitable than others. You do this through a navigation terminal upon the Unreliable, which shows a simple but effective graphic of a small ship flying from one end of the galaxy to another whenever you do so. The loading is quite fast and doesn’t take long to move from one place to another, which is nice because you’ll be doing it a lot. As you venture throughout, and explore the galaxy, you’ll get to either help or hinder the different factions’ ventures. Perhaps you’ll side with the rebels over the company men, and aid them with extra power. Or, maybe the rebels’ ideals don’t sit well with you and you decide to force their hand. Those types of choices come up more than once within this game.

While the campaign is immersive and addicting, its storyline is not perfect. The frozen colonists premise isn’t new, and the whole storyline could’ve benefited from more depth and originality. That said, I don’t mean to infer that the narrative is bad or hinders the game. It’s just not as great as it could’ve been, and lacks a bit of oomph as a result. The dialogue, on the other hand, is pretty great. The Outer Worlds’ writers did a really good job of making their game funny without crossing the line between serious RPG and funny B-movie. The result is a humorous experience, which offers some pretty funny dialogue options and one-liners. Players can choose the sarcastic and humorous approach, or they can portray the serious hero they’d rather be. Humour isn’t a part of every conversation, but when it pops up it offers a good chuckle.

Combat is another common thing, much like the aforementioned dialogue trees, which are full of opportunities to persuade, lie, impersonate (using costumes) and be forceful in a way that makes others cower. That is, if you’re proficient enough in those skills, thanks to the original character creator or through leveling up. You’ll spend a lot of time fighting beasts, people, machines and bosses, and will do so with some help from your friends. The player can equip four weapons and two pieces of armor at one time, and will constantly find more options through natural progression, exploration and hacking. Everything breaks down, though, so be aware of this. If something needs repairing you’ll see an indicator at the bottom of the screen, and will also obviously see such things in the menu itself. Make sure to stay on top of things, because you don’t want anything to break in the middle of combat. I somehow got lucky and never had anything break on me, although I’m sure I came close.

There are quite a few different weapons on offer, and they all fall into ranged and melee categories. Tossball sticks can be used to whack enemies, or upgraded to allow for a static shock upon impact. Guns are also there in spades, with pistols, shotguns and assault rifles being most prominent. One can also find and equip a flamethrower, a mini-gun, laser blasters and electrically charged ranged weapons. The melee and gunplay are both faster and more accessible than what we got in Fallout 3 or any of its sequels, but not by a whole lot. This is, after all, still an RPG first and foremost. Generally speaking, though, everything works well here, and the combat is both fun and exciting. Things got a bit too easy on normal after a while, though. At least that was the case until I got to the final mission and found that the last boss packed quite a punch.

Those who find it beneficial can slow time down by pressing the right shoulder button. Doing so provides extra time to aim, and a way to get the jump on enemies. I didn’t use this option much, but based on friends’ stats, they seem to be using it more than I did. Then again, I used a lot of melee attacks and found that slowing down time didn’t aid those much. It’s there, though, for those who wish to take advantage of it, and I’m sure it’ll be more helpful on tougher difficulties. Sneak attacks, especially.

Speaking of difficulties, it’s important to note that The Outer Worlds has several. There are the more traditional ones, like easy, normal and hard, and then there’s Supernova. That particular setting will only be for a select group of people though, because it enforces the need to eat, sleep and look after oneself, and also features companion permadeath. That, alone, is enough for me to steer clear. My companions died enough on normal for me to know that they probably wouldn’t last long on Supernova, and that it isn’t for me.

The companions are one of the best things about this game, because they have depth and will chime in whenever they see fit. Oftentimes, these bits of dialogue are helpful or informative. Hell, they can even help sway things in your favour if you have the right companion selected. Each player will prefer the company of different ones, though, meaning that each play through will be different in this regard. While I tried to use them all, some were definitely better and more favourable than others. For instance, I didn’t particularly like the Vicar character, and left him on the ship most of the time. He’d get into arguments with the others there, but I never dismissed him, or anyone else for that matter. Then again, the Vicar (who asks for your help to find and decipher a special book) was an anomaly, who stood out in a group of soldiers, a medic and even a cleaning robot. Most of the companion quests were also quite impressive, not to mention deep. Some ended up being standout missions, and turned out to be up there with the game’s best. Parvati’s especially.

Before we go on, I should also talk about how health is replenished here. You see, in The Outer Worlds the main character carries a special sort of inhaler that allows him or her to ingest health replenishing gas. This thing is quick and easy to use, and is tied to the left shoulder button. Sometimes it’s not fast enough, though, meaning that you’ll quite possibly end up dying at least once or twice while in the process of healing. It happens. Although I didn’t use food, drinks or anything like them much, it is seemingly possible to mix different items with this inhaler to create added buffs. You’ll pick up a ton of different food and drink items along the way, too. Lots of junk as well, but that can be sold. Extra weapons and armor can be sold or broken down for crafting items, which can then be used to repair other such items. Mods can also be added, to give them boosts.

Based on how you play, you’ll develop flaws. These will appear maybe three or four times during the campaign (it honestly all depends), and will offer perks in return for flaws. By that, I mean 25% extra physical damage, added fear while dealing with specific enemies, and that type of thing. I accepted three of four, and got perk points for doing so. The perks, themselves, are pretty basic though. They don’t really compare to Fallout’s, and that’s disappointing, but not a huge issue. Generally speaking, they offer what you’d expect: the ability to carry more, the ability to fast travel while encumbered, bonuses to damage or defense, and improvements in other areas. There aren’t the animations or comical names found in the Fallout games’ perks menus, but that’s to be expected. The Outer Worlds is very similar to Fallout, but stealing those would’ve been going a bit too far. It also doesn’t seem to have had as much of a budget as Bethesda’s flagship sci-fi RPGs, but that doesn’t mean it feels like a low budget game.

This brings us to presentation, where The Outer Worlds succeeds by presenting a colourful and interesting world. The visuals aren’t top notch, but they’re also far from bad, and work really well with this type of game. Sure, some of the animations are a bit stilted, but most are just fine. This is, after all, an RPG, as opposed to something that is expected to be more fluid. It’s a pretty polished one, too, because I didn’t see much in the way of glitches or visual flaws during my maybe thirty hours with it.

The soundtrack doesn’t stand out, but the sound effects are solid and add to the game’s addictive immersion. What stands out most in the audio department, though – apart from the over the top sound that plays out when you level up between 1 and 30 – is the voice acting. For the most part, it’s all quite solid and above average, which also helps things feel as believable as possible. The actors did a good job with the humour, too, which was nice to hear.

In all honesty, The Outer Worlds had been one of my most anticipated games in some time. As someone who was disappointed with Fallout 76’s reveal, it sounded like the replacement that I had been hoping for. Thankfully, it lived up to my high expectations, and proved that its developers were worth hitching my excitement to.

Of course, whether you’ll like this game depends on whether or not you liked Fallout 3, New Vegas and/or 4. If you did, then The Outer Worlds should be right up your alley. However, if you didn’t, then it may be best to look at something different. As great as it is, it won’t be for everyone. Then again, that’s true of pretty much anything. What's nice about The Outer Worlds though, is that it can be downloaded and tried for next to nothing, through Game Pass.

I just wish that it had been longer.

**This review is based on the Xbox One X version of the game, which we were provided with by the publisher.**

Here's hoping for a sequel that is longer and has a deeper story.

Overall: 9.1 / 10
Gameplay: 9.1 / 10
Visuals: 8.1 / 10
Sound: 7.8 / 10


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