The Outer Worlds review: Tell ’em I ain’t coming back

by Lars
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The Outer Worlds was originally released in October last year – you know, before the world went to hell. Playing Obsidian Entertainment’s tale of a future gone horribly wrong actually seems somewhat more appealing now, given the context of 2020. Over a year later, the mischievious spacefaring RPG is now available on Steam, along with first DLC Peril on Gorgon. Having smashed through The Outer Worlds via Xbox Game Pass on a laptop with struggling hardware, I was very keen to give it another run on desktop.

You are a rare new arrival in the troubled Halcyon colony, a distant collection of planets run entirely by corporations – imagine Fallout: New Vegas briefly passing Borderlands in a narrow hallway, doing that awkward step to the side, and you have a half decent idea of the game’s tone. It’s not as dry as Fallout, not as completely insane as Borderlands, occupying a witty, sarcastic niche somewhere inbetween.

The Outer Worlds
That’s definitely some sort of outer world up there. Yep.

Fans of Fallout – from 3 onwards, that is – will instantly feel at home. The RPG mechanics are much the same, and you can specialise your character in the use of certain weapons and abilities to live out your wildest space captain roleplay dreams. The first time I stepped into Halcyon, I was a degenerate brute who used intimidation and beat everything to death with melee weapons – he was in it for the money, but would make the ‘right’ moral choice if the stakes were high enough.

This time I’m going for a lazy mercenary who prefers to take a non-violent option when possible, and will take whatever route he needs to do the least work. However you choose to play, it’s accommodated nicely, with multiple routes possible depending on playstyle. The dialogue/story options The Outer Worlds presents you with as you explore and progress aren’t as evidently good or bad as other games in the genre – there’s a lot of grey areas, a lot of people who are kinda shitty no matter how you look at it. Except Parvati. Parvati is wonderful.

Parvati is The Unreliable’s resident sweetheart, a character that brings serious Kaylee Frye vibes to the ship. I’m always a bit nicer to people when she’s around.

The game’s wit is consistently sharp, leaning into the corporate overlord shtick with aplomb. It’ll draw quick parallels between the obviously dystopian, struggling Halcyon colony and the world we live in today. Banter between characters is a real strong point, and it helps you as an otherwise voiceless player avatar feel like an integral part of the story. It can be disjointed sometimes. Parvati, for example, is a bit of a goody two-shoes, and at one point witnessed me lose my temper and make some bad decisions. She questioned my actions, sounding genuinely disappointed, and yet five minutes later on the ship was harping on about how glad she was to finally found a good family.

Parvati’s potential Stockholm syndrome aside, the crew is made up of a typically roguish bunch of misfits. A vicar, suspiciously good with a shotgun, an alcoholic hunter with an itchy trigger finger, an, umespecially keen cleaning robot. Running and gunning your way through will probably see you miss a lot of these characters, as the story only really drops Parvati in the way, but it’s easy enough to go back for them. Bringing companions along provides useful stat boosts and skills alongside the witty reparteé (which is definitely the only reason I brought anyone along, to be completely honest).

Most of The Outer Worlds’ environments aren’t this… clean. So much of the game is spent in poverty stricken backwaters or wandering through colourful alien vegetation that arriving in an actual city is bizarre.

While the cast of characters are diverse and unique enough to stand out, your relationships with them don’t go too deep. Parvati has the longest running personal quest chain, and that basically ends up with the captain helping her get laid. The personal quests offer nice little insights into their backstories, and you’ll see them hanging out with each other on the ship. It can feel kinda rushed, not long after you bring them aboard they’ll be spilling their guts and asking you to help them deal with their deepest darkest personal secrets, and it would have been nice to spend a little more time getting to that point.

That sentiment extends to the pacing of the story overall, unfortunately. As you chase the ghostly remnants of a galactic conspiracy from planet to planet, unwinding strands of evil corporate schemes (wait, the massive corporations are evil?! I’m shocked), the opportunities to stray from the beaten path and soak up some of The Outer Worlds’ boozy, bioluminescent atmosphere fall away. You’re bottlenecked towards the exciting conclusion, which is… surprisingly definitive for a game with as much potential for expansion as this. I adored my time with The Outer Worlds, and appreciated it all the more playing on a desktop PC that did the brilliantly crafted worlds justice.

Walk softly – and carry a massive electrified stick.

Roaming the stars, picking up jobs for shady characters, engaging in varying degrees of corporate espionage and a healthy amount of mindless bandits to mow down without guilt. It really ticks all the boxes. Combat is nothing unique or groundbreaking, but it works, allowing you to overcome the odds with skills, buffs and good-looking guns. A hastily explained and swept under the rug bullet time power becomes available as some sort of stand in for V.A.T.S – “Tactical Time Dilation”, which gives you time to plan your next move or line up critical hits.

The brevity of its conclusion and the “Nice to meet you, Captain. Now help me deal with this shameful, sordid secret from my past” vibe from the companions just make you feel a little bit cheated, like there was more to be had from them, and it’s lying on the metaphorical cutting room floor somewhere. Romance is not an option, which was something of a surprise – not a great loss or anything, supposedly an intentional omission as developers felt it could reduce player choice, but to me it just seems like the opportunity to build deeper bonds was cut out for time and budgetary reasons.

The Outer Worlds overall thoughts

The Outer Worlds is a treasure that outclasses the titans of its genre in terms of charm, visual appeal and wit. For every corner it cuts, there’s another delightfully intriguing, bleak comedy-laced story just waiting on the horizon. Obsidian have proved that freedom and player choice don’t have to go hand-in-hand with old, clunky mechanics and hordes of bugs. It’s Fallout’s wittier, better-looking younger brother with a crass sense of humour. My only real complaint is that I couldn’t spend more time with my crew before it all came to a very conclusive and shockingly tidy ending. Ironically enough, this space-faring shooter is a real breath of fresh air.

The Outer Worlds was developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by Private Division. It originally launched in October last year but is now available on Steam! Stay tuned for our review of the first DLC: Peril on Gorgon.

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