Obsidian Entertainment have been around for about 15 years and in that time have built an impressive resume of games. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II, Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity and South Park: The Stick of Truth are but a few of the games developed by the studio, all of which receiving much critical acclaim. So, with the bar set so high, when The Outer Worlds was announced at The Game Awards in 2018, I was ecstatic, expectations have been set and even then, I felt it would be one of my favourite games of the year. Fast forward approximately 10 months later, does it meet the hype or fall short of its Outer World-ly expectations? (You’re damn right I just did that.)
You are a revived survivor, a revivor if you will, from The Hope which is a colony ship that was tasked with colonizing the Halcyon star system. Phineas Welles is the scientist responsible for bringing you back from stasis with the intent to have you help him save the rest of the populace who were deemed to have spent too much time in stasis that reviving them would ultimately result in their death. The only reason for you to survive is that Welles only had enough resources to bring back one person and you were the person he chose, your task is to then gather more resources to free everyone else.
Like most stories, there is of course a lot of coincidental events that need to happen to serve the plot, it just so happens only you could be revived out the thousands, etc. But without that there would be no game, I mean are you meant to play someone trapped in stasis for 20 plus hours waiting for salvation? From the get-go, the immediate hook was put right there in the open and I chomped down on that thing for dear life, from presentation, to visual design, to the very first character interacted with, I’m all in.
As the ‘stranger’ you’re a malleable husk which you can customise aesthetically and then build in terms of skills and perks. It lends itself to this personal journey experience, becoming the character as opposed to playing one that’s already been established. The task of saving The Hope’s passengers is presented immediately and can then be taken in different directions throughout, through free-will, being able to choose what your character’s motivation will be and how to go about accomplishing the mission and sometimes changing the objective at hand. Freedom is not only at the centre of the story but the core element for gameplay as well.
Characters in Obsidian games have always been one of the best aspects, but god damn if we all don’t band together to protect Parvati, we are doing a dis-service to all of mankind. I guess what I’m trying to say is that throughout my twenty hour plus stint in Halcyon, I met some truly intriguing and memorable characters. Parvati is a lovable engineer with a heart of gold, Felix is the slick and yet slightly dull gunner and SAM is a complete machine, you know if you know. I could go on, but you need something to find out for yourselves, right?
Aside from the main story, there is a ton of side quests, companion quests and tasks to dig into. All of which add more depth to the world and give you a glimpse into the challenges a lot of these unique people face in Halcyon. Because of the writing, I found myself wanting to experience each and every side quest I could come across, but in a natural way as opposed to using guides or just scouring every nook and cranny. I would go off the beaten-track in a way to further my adventure whilst keeping an eye out for people in need.
I feel that whilst the characters and story were ultimately strong, without the action elements of the gameplay this could have turned into a bit of a chore to play. Thankfully this is an action RPG and helped in breaking up those long stints of cutscenes, interactions and dialogue by being able to take control of the fight in a fluid and responsive way. You also don’t even have to fight, so it allows those who want to have a bit of a battle do that, but for those wanting to talk their way out of every confrontation or even stealth their way through, those options are also available and can be just as fun if not even more so. I had a guard come up to me ready to sound the alarms, asking for my ID, I persuaded him that he shouldn’t be talking during his shift, and he left me alone, meanwhile I was crying with laughter.
What I enjoy about jumping into battle is the overall feel of it, weapons have different feels dependent on what ammo they use or what aesthetic they have been designed with. Futuristic energy weapons are floaty and come across as cool pieces of space tech. In comparison, the typical physical bullet weapons are mechanical, rugged and thanks to vibration feedback they feel heavier. It is of utmost importance for the gameplay to be solid. There is plenty of space for error in the way it controls, leaning heavily towards light and loose, to the point that missing your target by a pixel or two was constant and bumping into objects or surroundings was frequent, which almost feels deliberate in the sense that you are in space so different gravity may be playing a part in things. I appreciate that may not be the best description but nonetheless, it never dampened the enjoyment I got from my ventures and in some way bolstered the immersion.
How you fight or what your limited to in battle is heavily influenced by your skills and perks. The skills have been split into seven disciplines with each housing more specific skills. The disciplines focus on different aspects of how to go about your mission. Melee consists of 1-Handed and 2-Handed, Ranged features Handguns, Long Guns and Heavy Weapons, then in Dialog you find Persuade, Lie and Intimidate. On top of that you have Stealth, Tech, Defense and Leadership and whichever route you take in terms of which areas to spend your points will determine what type of character you are going to set out to play. I went mostly for Dialog, being able to talk myself out of or sometimes into any situation I saw fit, for those that love combat, that path would be the least rewarding and satisfying whereas for me, its been the most, because of how well written and emotive the dialogue trees are. I could get into heated confrontations without ever coming to blows physically or just laugh my behind off thanks to humour.
Perks are just another way to buff yourself and can range from increasing walking speed to increasing carrying capacity and even allowing you to deal extra damage with certain weapon types. You are rewarded no matter how you play by being able to spend your perk points in perks not just related to battle but for everything outside of it too, ensuring that the system doesn’t become redundant if you’ve opted for the combat-less approach.
Whilst I went the heavy dialog route I spent a considerable amount of points in ranged, allowing me to take full advantage of the weaponry I acquired throughout. Workbenches can be used to upgrade your gear which is fantastic because it allows you to be somewhat fight competent without having points used in those areas. Spending currency to improve damage or armour ratings and using mods to provide a buff you can keep your equipment relevant and be ready for the encounters that you need to partake in.
The world of Halcyon is absolutely brimming with gorgeous visuals, spanning numerous towns, open fields and even planets. I cannot overstate just how much I love the look of not just the locations but the characters too. It all comes together and delivers this overall futuristic and yet run-down look that makes it come across as, yes you are in the future, but it’s not quite the future you would want. If I had to describe it in as few words as possible, it’s a dated, worn-out, lived in, future. Everything from level design to the colour palette to the effects all come together to deliver this look and it’s a fantastic looking game for it.
Voice acting has proven to be pivotal in ensuring the characters come alive and feel relatable. The range of emotions they can go through did wonders in drawing me in and taking me on their unique journeys. I felt invested because I could hear the urgency, sadness or joy in their voices that made things almost real. Joining the performances is the sound track that is present throughout but not always apparent, with plenty of times it’s just a subtle tune that is making me feel emotions without me realising that’s what is happening. The atmosphere built has been thanks to a mixture of everything, visuals, music, the characters and it just feels so damn good.
OVERALL: 9/10 – EXCELLENCE
The Outer Worlds delivers a fascinating world that comes packed with captivating characters and thought-provoking stories. It’s gameplay is intelligently designed and expertly executed, balancing that fine line between the combat, stealth and dialogue routes. There’s charm and humour coming out of its rear end that makes the whole adventure memorable. This makes me very optimistic about what is to come from Obsidian now they are under the Xbox Game Studios banner.
Written by Rhys Baldwin.