Available On: PC (Epic Games Store), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
I put about 40 hours into Fallout 4 when it launched in 2015 before I fell off, leaving much of the massive world and story unexplored. I’ve kept it installed on my hard drive ever since, deluding myself that I would jump back in to finish it some day.
After playing The Outer Worlds, I promptly uninstalled Fallout 4. The Outer Worlds’ tight pacing, excellent writing, and fun gameplay have completely satiated my first-person RPG desires – and it does it all in under 40 hours.
Those Halcyon Days
The Outer Worlds is heavily inspired by Fallout 3 and 4, and Obsidian’s own Fallout: New Vegas. But instead of the drab browns and grays of the post-apocalyptic wasteland, we get to explore the lush alien worlds, blue asteroids, and neon sign-soaked colony ships of the Halcyon system.
Character creation is almost exactly like Fallout’s. I can customize my look, modify my stats, and point points into skills such as Persuade, Sneak, Lockpick, and Science. Instead of having to make long-reaching decisions too early, similar skills are clustered into groups. For example, I can raise my Ranged skill, which increases Handguns, Long Guns, and Heavy Weapons all at the same time, up to skill level 50, at which point I need to start specializing in individual skills. It’s a very organic, user-friendly evolution to skills and skill points, which The Outer Worlds absolutely excels at.
The beginning is remarkably similar to Fallout 4 (minus the whole atomic bomb thing). I’m woken up from cryogenic sleep by an eccentric freedom-fighter who may or may not be a terrorist. The Halcyon system has been in the grip of a bunch of overbearing mega-corporations, colorfully known as The Board, and it’s my job to stir things up. Or I could be a corporate lackey and turn on my rescuer. The Outer Worlds allows me the freedom to make these decisions – including murdering random townsfolk in the small colonies if I so choose.
Games like Grand Theft Auto revel in unbridled chaos, but The Outer Worlds’ excellent writing and world-building motivate me to talk to every person (and occasionally lie to them), complete every quest (sometimes screwing somebody else over), and explore every abandoned Rapt-infested laboratory, cleverly manipulating a standoff between corporate security and marauders, while making off with all the loot. It’s what heroes do.
The constant comparison to Bethesda’s Fallout series remains apt throughout my adventures of looting plasma weapons, reading computer logs, exploring factory and cave-dungeons, and killing lots of marauders and alien beasts. Combat even includes its own version of Fallout’s VATs slow-mo targeting, and it’s just as fun here to slow the action down to pop off some headshots.
What I didn’t expect is how much the world, story, and characters reminded me of the Mass Effect series, in all the right ways. The companions in particular are given full quest lines that explore their backstories and motivations in fun and interesting ways. They also have their own limited perk trees, skill sets, and combat abilities, though their single repeated combat animations do grow a bit stale.
Parvati, the asexual, socially awkward but endlessly endearing engineer from the literal backwater town of Edgewater, remains a standout favorite companion, and someone I rarely let behind on the ship. I’ll never forget the time she spoke up in defense of her crumbling town when I was forced to make a big decision on whether to steal their primary power source, or divert energy from the nearby ex-colonist squatters.
I ultimately sided with Parvati, which lead to an even more satisfying quest conclusion as I convinced the town mayor to step down and bring in the superior leader of the squatters to unify the two groups.
Occasionally the cracks bleed through and remind me that I’m playing a much smaller and more limited game (and budget) than a Fallout, Skyrim, or Mass Effect. All the human models look similar. There are no children or teens. And each zone is small enough that I never experienced that feeling of climbing a mountain in the distance and seeing all the places I can go. But on the flip side, The Outer Worlds provides a much tighter experience with what it has to offer, and I found myself vastly appreciating the quality over quantity approach to RPG game design.
The Outer Worlds is rated M for Mature, with Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Strong Language. Despite those content descriptors I wouldn’t describe it as a hyper-violent game, though the language is most definitely R-rated material.
The Outer Worlds won’t win a lot of points for innovation or originality. If you’ve played any major third or first-person RPG in the last decade, you already have a solid foundation for how The Outer Worlds plays. Its success lies in its brilliant execution of all those beloved systems, and the compelling world and excellent characters that make it as good as, if not superior to many of the RPGs it lovingly draws from.