I’m going to go out on a limb and say that everyone has a favorite game franchise they wish would’ve never ended. For some, it may be the Legacy of Kain / Soul Reaver games, Silent Hill, or NCAA Football. For me, I felt that franchise was Mass Effect. Then they made Mass Effect Andromeda, and I quickly changed my mind. What’s neat though, is that in some cases, game franchises don’t completely die, because they can live on as spiritual successors. For the Fallout franchise, this has happened multiple times, with the original folks who developed the original franchise having their hands in not only spin-offs like Fallout: New Vegas, but also games like Wasteland 2. Sure, Wasteland 2 is a sequel to a game that inspired the Fallout series in the first place, but you get my point.
There’s a short list of games that I will play over and over again, and New Vegas is near the top of that list. Now, despite the developer (Obsidian Entertainment) never being asked to work on further Bethesda games, they have been actively developing games for some time now.
Their latest game is The Outer Worlds, and it’s a delight.
Forget The Wasteland… Welcome To Halcyon
Instead of taking place in the radioactive shell of North America, The Outer Worlds takes place on the frontier of humanity’s reach into space. However, it isn’t governments or coalitions that have ventured out into the abyss; corporations put their money on the line. Life is difficult in Halcyon, which is the system colony comprised of a network of settlements. When workers aren’t being torn to shreds by raptidons or mantisaurs, they’re the target of raids by ruthless marauders, all while being worked to death by the companies they signed up with.
Of course, the main character has no knowledge of this, because they (along with thousands of others) have been stuck in suspended animation for decades on the Hope, a colony ship that has long faded into legend. A legend that colonists are basically forbidden to speak of. Not everyone has forgotten the Hope however, as a scientist by the name of Phineas Welles resurrects the main character from suspended animation using a special concoction he devised, but he needs the main character’s help with finding more resources to bring back the others.
Quite alarmingly, Halcyon is probably the most pro-corporate system that could ever be conceived, outdone only by Rapture from the Bioshock series. The deck is stacked so heavily in favor of the companies operating in the system that the workers are trapped in endless toil, though many of them seem perfectly content with their existence. Some sound like they’ve been brainwashed, while the rest have just accepted their fate, or tow the company line out of sheer dread of the consequences. Halcyon is by all means a corporatocracy.
The few who choose to rebel live outside the “protection” of The Board, which functions as the governing body of the colony. The Board itself is a collection of controlling members of the various companies in the system, which almost unilaterally operates in favor of, you guessed it, the various companies’ best interests.
More Than Just Pretty
For what it’s worth, Halcyon’s various inhabited worlds are visually spectacular, as is the rest of the game. The environments and character models of The Outer Worlds are a sight to behold. The worlds are awash with color, the creatures are as unique as they are deadly, and the character models themselves look lively. Even the settlements themselves, which are clearly designed to look functional, look like they belong. It’d be easy to criticize the buildings as being cookie-cutter in design, but it fits with the narrative at least, as almost the entire colony has been pieced together with prefabricated buildings.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful simplicity of the game as well, because instead of bogging the player down with countless systems to keep track of, you’re just given a weapon and you use it, or don’t (though you’ll definitely need to use a weapon quite a lot). That last bit is worth calling out on its own too, because I’ll applaud any game that makes non-violent options a feasible option. A sizeable portion of the player skills can be allocated to various non-violent solutions, such as hacking, lockpicking, persuasion, intimidation, and even lying.
Yeah, you can knowingly lie, and sometimes even for no reason!
Similarly, the various stats of your character can come into play in some circumstances, such allowing you to make a jab at a snobby bitch who is lamenting over miscreants “frolicking” where they don’t belong, just by having a high dexterity stat. The same goes for high or low intelligence, or even skill values themselves. Those stat checks can be both minor or major gamechangers, ranging from intimidating a quest giver into forking over more cash, to persuading an entire group of enemies to let you walk past without an issue. Hell, your non-combat skills can even have an impact on combat itself indirectly, as each skill tree has 5 passive perks that can be activated in combat to intimidate foes.
Obsidian chose to really stack on some interesting systems to the game too, because it’s easy to play through the game without feeling penalized for choosing one path over the other. I find the addition of unlockable flaws to be pretty damn cool as well. On one hand, you can reward yourself for making things a little more difficult, but the game doles these out as you “earn” the option to take them.
I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to me to play a game that doesn’t unnecessarily waste my time with minigames as well. As novel as it is to manually operate a lockpick to open a door, I’ve become quite appreciative of games like Deus Ex, and now The Outer Worlds, for just skipping the process altogether. If you have the right amount of bypass shunts, and a high enough hacking skill, you just hack the computer. No BS “hacking” mechanic on a timer that you can fail. That doesn’t mean you can hack or pick whatever you want though, because stealing is still frowned upon, but if you get caught, you can always just lie and tell them that you weren’t doing anything.
AND THEY BELIEVE YOU!
Combat itself is simple as well (and some may say too simple), as you really only have one special skill to complement your weapons, along with a melee attack I didn’t know I could use until over 20 hours into my playthrough; you can slow time. Given that The Outer Worlds is rather easy, I regularly forget to use both the Time Dilation skill and my companions’ skills. I’m definitely going to jack up the difficulty next time I play the game.
That reminds me… The stealth mechanics. Eventually, you unlock the ability to use a holographic projector to sneak around in restricted areas, allowing you to infiltrate locations without stirring up enemies. I had initially chalked this up in my mind to the developers having trouble with stealth mechanics in general, but the system in place is actually pretty cool, and rather intuitive as well. Instead of just crouching and sneaking through restricted sections, you can steal ID cards which then allow you to pose as a member of the faction you’re trying to sneak by. The way it works is you have a limited amount of movement available to you before the holographic image starts to falter, after which any enemies who notice will stop to talk to you. It changes infiltration sections from a penalizing mechanic for non-stealth characters, to a puzzle of sorts. It forces you to examine how far you can get before your cover is blown, kinda like the Hitman games. It’s a breath of fresh air, if you ask me.
Which I guess you kinda are, because you’re reading my opinions about the game. So there’s that.
Speaking of fresh air, the characters and story in the game itself follow suit. Each of your companions are likable (which I suppose some may disagree with me on this), yet have a deeper background and goals to them that I actually wanted to explore. Except maybe one of them, but that’s because it’s a robot. I’m not sure what else there is to a robot. I won’t delve into details about each of the companions’ backstories or character development, but suffice it to say, completing their quests is actually fun without being overly burdensome.
Then there’s the setting, which is ripe with lore that is rapidly inspiring me to write another “What The Hell Happened In..” post. I love learning more of the world, which originally felt akin to the Borderlands setting, but slowly started to reveal itself as something far more intricate (the signs are there, if you look for them). To write The Outer Worlds off as a game just about being a corporate lackey or a rage-against-the-machine character is a gross oversimplification, but I have an entire rant in the works for that subject, so I won’t divulge it here. Thankfully, the meat of the lore isn’t buried in text, but spread throughout the storyline, and complemented by the various side quests, with little tidbits of flavor spread around to be revealed by inquisitive players. Unfortunately, I felt that the latter half of the game felt a tad bit rushed, especially considering the amount of time you spend in the first three areas. Everything gets wrapped up so quickly that I was rather surprised when the end sequence started playing, giving me a breakdown of the consequences of my actions.
I suppose that’s the gist of The Outer Worlds. It’s a fun experience that doesn’t burden you with a mountain of busywork to keep you playing, even if you wish there was just a little bit more. The areas to explore are large enough to not feel claustrophobic, while not being so massive that they feel empty or filled with meaningless fluff. The quests are fun and engaging, but you aren’t bogged down with the usual litany of “go here and kill this” quests. Fast travel isn’t limited in arbitrary ways, allowing you to skip the trek across the map from inside a settlement or structure right back to your ship. The combat is simple, yet you’re given so many unique toys that it isn’t boring, and the enemies thankfully aren’t all bullet-sponges.
All that said, if I had to record a complaint at least, it’s that the game, while performing extremely well across the board on both my Xbox One and PC, it’s definitely not what I’d consider to be 100% stable. I hit a stint where the game would regularly crash to the desktop on my computer for no discernible reason. I don’t have an answer as to why, but I do run an overclock to 4.9 GHz on my CPU, and I noticed that the game would cause my CPU temperatures to spike momentarily. It’s possible that instability comes from the game throwing too much at the computer at once. Combine that with the fact that aiming with the mouse isn’t nearly as precise as I’d like it to be, which is only exacerbated by increasing the sensitivity it seems, making sniping a chore without using my mouse’s built-in precision button. This issue seems like it could be easily fixed with a mouse smoothing option in the menu (instead of being required to edit the game’s files manually).
Still, for a brand new AAA game that looks as amazing as it does, I’m thoroughly impressed by the performance on the PC, as it runs at 60+ fps on Very High settings on my RTX 2060, and at a nearly solid 60 fps on Ultra.
The Outer Worlds is one of those rare games that does almost everything right. It sure as hell isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a simple experience, and while it doesn’t sport the intricate mechanics of other RPGs, it doesn’t dump you into a bloatbox the developers patched together so the player could “create their own fun”. Instead, Obsidian chose to go the route of giving their players well structured quests and plot, coupled with a fantastic sense of humor, social commentary, and serviceable gameplay. It may not be a game-changer in the sense that others will be copying this formula, as The Outer Worlds definitely possesses the DNA of those who came before, such as Fallout and Bioshock (I really don’t see the Mass Effect connection), with a lot of influence from the sadly cancelled show Firefly.
Speaking of influence, I’d liken The Outer Worlds more to Irrational’s Bioshock series than Bethesda’s Fallout games. It’s a sandbox rather than a true open world, features a focused story in lieu of a sprawling web of side quests and activities, and is far more stable than any Bethesda game I’ve ever played. I don’t mean that as a knock on Bethesda, deserved or not, but this is not a competitor to Fallout, meaning if you go into The Outer Worlds expecting something similar to Fallout 4, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Given that I absolutely loved the original Bioshock, and last entry, Bioshock Infinite, I’m sure you can see why I have praised The Outer Worlds so much.
Quite honestly, I love this new game. I certainly don’t need this to be a whole franchise of sequels, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this universe. Considering that this is something that can be picked up and played through the Xbox Game Pass, and the PC Game Pass programs, there’s very little excuse to not try it out. Personally however, I’m going to probably buy it on PC (possibly Xbox One as well), because this is the type of game I’d love to show my support for.
I want to see more of what Obsidian is capable of, regardless if it’s sequel or not, because they’ve knocked this one out of the park. It makes me super excited to see what sort of things Obsidian has in the works for first-party Xbox games from here on out.