The Outer Worlds Review: A Fun Space Romp Where Originality is Overrated
A weird sense of "haven't I seen this before" washed over me as I played through The Outer Worlds, a beautiful single-player RPG that channels elements of Fallout, Borderlands, The Elder Scrolls, BioShock, and countless others. As I continued through the colony of Halcyon, I realized that yes, I had seen this all before.
But it was just a little bit different. Luckily, The Outer Worlds channels all of the games it pulls from pretty well.
This is a sci-fi RPG that's a heckuva' lot of fun, and it's a perfect example of a single-player RPG done right. Even though you've seen a lot of its tricks before, they're still a blast to play through all the same.
Almost immediately after dropping into The Outer Worlds, the tone is set for the adventure ahead. This is Mass Effect by way of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hardly a moment passes without some little visual gag or snarky comment accompanying it.
One of the most wanted men in the universe has to repeatedly press buttons to make them work. A dying man reluctantly accepts your medical assistance, even though it goes against his pyramid scheme sensibilities. Your escape pod lands on a dude. You get the idea.
Fortunately, most of it works. The plot of The Outer Worlds is absurd enough that believing everyone in the universe is a snarky cynic isn't too unreasonable.
Here's the idea. Space has been settled by the only entities that had the money to do so: corporations. With the invention of faster than light travel, nearly every rock that can support life has been snapped up by some gigantic company. Companies adjacent to Facebook, Microsoft, McDonald's, Coke — they all control different planets and have essentially become governments of their own. Workers are less people and more cogs in the machine. A shady "board" oversees the whole thing.
As this world's "hero," that's where you come in. You have the chance to bring it all crashing down.
You do this by moving between a variety of different settlements, following questlines, leveling up, and talking with the locals. There's plenty of pew pew action as well, but we'll get to combat in a bit.
The Outer Worlds doesn't feature a true "open-world" like many of the games it draws inspiration from. Instead, you jump between a variety of smaller areas; planets with a few settlements and dungeons to explore, a space station with a city built inside and a quarantined area full of homicidal robots, those kinds of things.
The game still has a massive amount of real estate to explore — it just isn't all connected. However, this actually helps The Outer Worlds better tell its story. There isn't nearly as much wasted space as you might find moving across the continent in a game like The Witcher.
In The Outer Worlds, everything feels a bit more concise, even as the game waggles its eyebrows at everything in sight. Each of the game's massive corporations has a slightly different branding, and breaking The Outer Worlds up into areas controlled by separate groups allows those personalities to shine through. The areas may be smaller, but developer Obsidian is able to cram all sorts of little details in to make those areas pop.
Speaking of popping, let's talk about the combat in The Outer Worlds.
There are plenty of non-combat stats to be had, but you're still going to shoot your way through a lot of areas. Luckily, combat is easy enough to grasp while still maintaining a level of danger that forces you to think about your tactics.
Combat plays very similar to Fallout. Enemies come in a few different varieties, but they generally seek out cover and look to flank you. However, you've got some tricks up your sleeve to tip the tables in your direction. As you progress through the game, you'll be able to buff certain stats, meaning you can figure out your favorite way to play and emphasize those areas.
Wear some massive armor and carry a giant hammer into battle. Pump up your long rifle abilities and your Time Dilation (The Outer Worlds' version of VATS) to headshot enemies before they even know you're there. Buff up all your conversation abilities and watch as your passive status effects overwhelm enemies, forcing them to malfunction, turn against one another, or cower in fear.
For a game that looks like a pretty standard FPS, The Outer Worlds gives you a lot of options for approaching combat. It doesn't give you the option of avoiding it entirely (although you can talk your way out of a lot of fights if you emphasize those stats), but it gives you a lot of ways to play. Some of those ways are silly, but The Outer Worlds is a game that embraces its own silliness.
Room For One More
Nowhere is that silliness more apparent than in the companions you can recruit. As you travel to different locations in The Outer Worlds, your ship will start to fill up with an assortment of oddballs collected throughout your journey. Characters like Parvati and Felix will help you in combat, boost your stats, and chime in as you talk to the residents of the different areas you visit. They are all messed up in their own special ways, and you will come to love them by the end of your journey.
Some of them are dumb, some are insecure, some are alcoholics. They're all a bit broken in their own special ways, and these imperfections make them much easier to identify with. You're sure to find at least one or two that you connect with and that help make your adventure more interesting.
Your companions also add flavor to the other quests you take them out on. They will continue to reference the decisions you made earlier in the game, relating it to your current predicament. It's a small little detail, but it does a massive amount for immersion.
There are a few small issues that hold The Outer Worlds back, and we've already mentioned the big ones.
For one thing, it would be nice if The Outer Worlds actually took on some of the issues it presents. The different areas you visit and the overarching crush of capitalism-run-rampant is prime meat for skewering and satirizing without mercy. Instead, The Outer Worlds kinda' chickens out. It essentially expects you to fill in the blanks, always falling back on its humor to get it out of big-picture ideas.
I'm not saying the game should transform into something it isn't, but it would be nice if it didn't always trust-fall onto a snarky comment whenever the going gets tough. The humor mostly lands, but there are times I found myself wishing it wouldn't tell a joke for once.
The other big issue is that The Outer Worlds really has trouble carving out its own identity. Nearly every piece in the game can be summed up as "like ______," where the blank is another AAA title. It assembles those pieces in a fun way, but there is very little in The Outer Worlds that screams, "You've never seen anything like this before!"
- Companions are great and have tons of personality
- Lots to do
- Combat is interesting and open-ended
- Has to constantly be funny
- Not very original
Originality is a bit overrated, especially in a game like this. A single-player RPG that tells a good story and allows you to put together all sorts of odd character builds and strange companions will always be welcome if it's done right.
Luckily for us, The Outer Worlds is done right. If you bounced off of other games in this style, it probably isn't going to win you over. If you've been craving another type of game like this, however, you've come to the right place.
[Note: A copy of The Outer Worlds was provided by Private Division for the purposes of this review.]