I have somewhat ambivalent feelings about Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds. On the one hand, I’ve enjoyed it overall: it has some good writing and beautiful bright-colored aesthetic. On the other hand, there was a constant feeling of déjà vu throughout my play-through. Rarely it was a warm nostalgic breeze: most of the time, it was a suffocating swelter of banality. In the first half-hour of the game, The Outer Worlds had reminded me of Bioshock with its retro-stylistic propaganda posters, of Borderlands with its crazy space colony frontier atmosphere, of Douglas Adams’ books with its over the top satire, and expectedly Fallout: New Vegas with its… well, everything else. New Vegas’ spirit is omnipresent in The Outer Worlds, and it is not a good thing, as it seems to be. The reason is that Fallout: New Vegas is, in fact, a much better game.
The Outer Worlds’ story unravels in a distant Halcyon Solar System in the frontier of the colonized space. The system is run by mega-corporations, so its society presents a perfect example of the lengths, to which uncontrolled and unrestricted capitalism can go. Workers are the property of the employer and have no rights; products of labor are redistributed unfairly; only the rich benefit from social services. Cynical corporate bureaucracy poisons every aspect of life and death when people have to rent even their graves if they wish to be buried upon their demise. In short, Halcyon colonies are a pure representation of Marx’s and Althusser’s nightmare, being simultaneously Bezos’ and Musk’s paradise. A pretty shitty place to live.
Moreover, the colony has lost Hope. That’s the name of a huge colonial vessel, where thousands of brightest specialists and thinkers lie in their cryogenic slumber. Hope was considered to be lost in space, but one dissident scientist Phineas Welles had found it. The Outer World’s protagonist is one of Hope’s passengers, the first who survived Welles’ attempt to awake someone from cryo-sleep. Her or his goal now is to help Welles to bring Hope home and save the colony, for only Hope’s passengers can solve all the world’s problems. Or there is an option to betray Welles and help the corporations to accumulate even more power and wealth. That classic RPG choice.
Mechanically The Outer Worlds is a first-person action-RPG. It means that shooting here is quite important, for that is what you do for a significant portion of the time. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t feel right. Enemies simply absorb damage until killed, without a noticeable hit and miss feedback, and the game’s weapon arsenal lacks variation. AI shows utter stupidity on any level of difficulty, sending stacks of enemies through a narrow passage to make slaughtering them much easier, and instilling suicidal tendencies in your companions, so most of the time, they die pretty early into the battle.
There are several ways the game tries to spice up its combat, but with minimal success. Raising the game difficulty doesn’t make enemies smarter, but instead turns them into bullet sponges. There is Supernova difficulty, that reminds the survival mode in New Vegas: you may starve, and companions die permanently. It is better to travel alone in this case, considering their tactical skills, though.
Since the beginning of the game, your character has the skill to slow time down. On activation, TTD (Tactical Time Dilation) meter in the UI begins to drain out, and it does so faster if you move or shoot. TTD serves here as a substitute for VATS from New Vegas, for only when it is active hitting certain parts of the enemy’s body make an additional effect to the normal damage: blinding an enemy with a shot to a head, slowing him down by shooting a leg, etc. Unlike VATS, though, using TTD isn’t as much beneficial and far not as spectacular.
TTD is not the only mechanic, brought from New Vegas. Actually, most of the game’s roleplay elements resemble those of Obsidian’s decade-old masterpiece. There are fixed character attributes that are generated during character creation: strength, dexterity, etc. Very similar to the SPECIAL system of Fallout, but without an option to change them later in the game. Each of those attributes affects the number of skill points you receive each level-up to a specific group of skills. Every 2 levels, your character earns a perk. There are three tiers of them: earning 5 perks in a tier unlocks the next one with more beneficial options. Your companions in The Outer Worlds, unlike New Vegas, also level-up, and even earn perks.
Workbenches, used for repair and modification of your guns and armor, scattered not just through the post-apocalyptic Mojave Desert, but also through Halcyon system. Conveniently, they work mostly the same way.
So-called science weapons introduced as an attempt to bring variety into the game’s arsenal. Those are unique weapons, each with its own story, special effect, and side quest. Mandibular Rearranger, for example, is a club, which not just staggers the enemy, but also tweaks and grotesquely distorts the baddie’s face; Shrink Ray gun weakens the enemy and, as expected, shrinks him into a half of his normal size. Unfortunately, there are just five science weapons in the game, and their practical benefit is minimal. Reading the stories of those guns is what actually made completing those side quests worth for me, for they are far more interesting than weapons themselves.
Same may be told about the game as a whole. Its story content is significantly superior to the mechanical side. Writing in the game is top-notch, with fun and rich dialogs, lore, and quests, filled with tasty storytelling. How The Outer Worlds satirizes cynical capitalism may seem to be exaggerated or over the top. But if you think about it, considering last insides from inner kitchens of real corporations like Amazon or Tesla, The Outer Worlds’ corporate horrors seem not so far-fetched.
Even the most unimportant side-quest has a story rich with exciting and fun ideas. From dealing with the horrible and tragic aftermath of diet toothpaste experiment gone wrong, to helping a scientist in saving his beloved pets, each with its own nickname, inspired by the scientist’s favorite TV-series. Those small but detailed stories are what give The Outer Worlds such needed uniqueness, which the game mechanics fail to deliver.
Aside from the richly detailed world, The Outer Worlds presents a diverse cast of interesting characters. Each of your companions has a story to tell and a quest to accomplish. Their personalities are fleshed out and very well written; they actively participate in dialogs, bringing their unique point of view in almost every situation in the game.
Oh, and there is no romance option in The Outer Worlds. At least, not for you. Some of your companions will live through a love story, which may have a good ending with your help, but your main character is going to remain single. Not every space hero is Commander Shepard, and kudos to Obsidian for making such a bold and brave decision. When you’re not focused on romancing a certain character, you happen to widen your attention to the rest of your crew stories. Eventually, the decision to not include romancing options for a protagonist doesn’t limit the player but leads to the opposite result.
The Outer Worlds is a 100% Obsidian game from the aspect of the narrative choice. Most of the game quests have several options of solving, some put you in moral dilemmas of various difficulty. Most of your decisions’ consequences are going to be summed up in a Fallout-like slide-show after you beat the game.
I do have ambivalent feelings about The Outer Worlds. Mechanically it fails to achieve the level of its spiritual predecessor, a masterpiece that this year will celebrate its tenth anniversary. But precisely as in the case of Fallout: New Vegas, The Outer Worlds’ main strength is in its vivid, detailed, and highly entertaining story. Or stories, to be precise. Stories that inhale life into the mechanically dull game—stories that make all the difference.