The Outer Worlds (PC, 2019)

After two playthroughs, I am ready to pass final judgment on The Outer Worlds – and move on.

The Outer Worlds is the latest RPG from Obsidian Entertainment. Of the entire Fallout series, their turn with Fallout: New Vegas is likely my favorite. The Outer Worlds stands on its own, but it shares similar gameplay and sensibilities.

In The Outer Worlds, you play a recently unfrozen member of the colony ship Hope. You are taken out of cryosleep by a science named Phineas Wells. Wells is wanted for crimes against the colony and its leaders, a Board made-up of the colony’s corporation heads.

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At first, I was quite taken with The Outer Worlds. New Vegas (and much of Fallout’s brand of retrofuturism, in general) worked best when it managed to combine the darker edges of science fiction with absurd characters, situations, and anecdotes. These games like to take seemingly reasonable ideas from politics, science, and philosophy and take them to their (mostly) logical extreme.

Likewise, The Outer Worlds is all about corporations and capitalism run totally amok. In breaking off from our real world timeline prior to Teddy Roosevelt’s trust busting ever happening, corporations have taken complete control of society and replaced government and economic with bureaucratic nightmares. People live and die as indentured servants, and are so indoctrinated at such an early age, that they recite corporate mottos, jingles, and advertisements with the ease of a minister reciting a psalm.

From the start, I loved the setting. Early on, there is a quest involving a suicide. The coworker that found him was forced to pay for his required burial expenses because she discovered. Second, the colony had to cover it up, because a suicide is technically vandalism of company property (that property being human) and if it were known, then the whole town would be forced to pay for it – something it cannot afford.

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Its stories like these that set The Outer Worlds apart, but after a strong initial outing, I found the game dwindled in its impact. The setting remained unique and there were interesting characters, but it all felt neutered somehow, not unlike Fallout 3 and Fallout 4. Obsidian still has plenty of talent – or else I wouldn’t of finished this game twice – but Chris Avellone was sorely missed. All of the social commentary was there from the beginning, but the overall story, including Phineas Wells and the Board, really ended up missing the mark for me.

Gameplay-wise, the game was passable. The perk fill-in is filled with lame rewards, and the game never feels very challenging. I did try it on a harder difficulty, but like most games, all that did was make everything a bullet sponge rather than add any need for tactics or strategy.

In my second playthrough, I created a melee brute who was comfortable murdering people to get quests done quickly. By holding the sprint key and ignoring most enemies (save for the few innocent people I had to murder), I managed to finish the game again in four hours. There’s plenty of content to mess around with, and likely many things I missed, but the game felt smaller than any I played like it. It didn’t help that melee combat was about as good as Morrowind’s (which was okay back in 2002).

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After both playthroughs, there were still some locations on the map I could not visit. It turns out these places are unavailable. There’s also not a very deep series of quests for each companion (though the few I did were worth the trouble), and the game lacks an equivalent to the faction-specific quest lines of the Elder Scrolls series.

Though there are a lot of pieces of The Outer World I enjoyed, they never really came together to finish the puzzle I was hoping to solve. The game is inferior to New Vegas in every way, and despite being more a more topical commentary on today’s economic and political climates, that could all probably be best experienced by watching someone else play the game instead.

4 thoughts on “The Outer Worlds (PC, 2019)

  1. I think the major advantage FNV had was that the engine and mechanics were all pre-built and Obisidian could focus entirely on world-building/storyline. The reward for that was a much more complicated and intertwined story. The issue with that was that it came with an absurd number of Bethesda engine bugs.

    OW didn’t have any of that foundational material, so the scope here is maybe half of NV, maybe even less. Instead of having competing factions, multiple layers of skill checks, and an interesting character development path, it tells a more straightforward story with a few choices along the way. It’s interesting to see how those decision play out in the final montage, but they rarely have any practical impact on gameplay (or other stories). The meat-packing plant subquest…I think that one sort of highlights the lack of wiggle room consdinering the moral implications of the choices to close that quest.

    But. OW has a new (and good looking) engine, with the system foundations to build upon. I dind’t encounter a single bug. If they can use that as a baseline and develop another story, then I would hope we get something more like FNV.

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  2. Even though I’m not finished with it yet, I have the same general feeling – the game is technically good, but the story is lacking. It’s kind of like they put too much work into crafting witty dialogue and forgot that all the lines were supposed to be part of a larger story. Also, I’m not a big fan of the blandly-delivered “frontier-speak” use by some of the characters. (I reckon I’m looking yonder at you, Parvati.) I get the sentiment, but it just sounds off.

    I do like the groundwork Obsidian’s set, however. So it’d be cool to see this game world expand into future titles.

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