Released: October 2019
Rated: M (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language)
If you, like me, were (and still are) a fan of the short-lived TV series Firefly, then The Outer Worlds is a game you’d enjoy. Similarly, if you enjoyed Fall Out: New Vegas (2010), then this release from Obsidian Entertainment will seem familiar yet oddly new in its own way. Now, I won’t lie to you, dear reader, and act like this game came out recently and that my writing about it wasn’t delayed. It’s just that only now, during quarantine, I’ve had ample time to play and appreciate nearly everything about it.
Immediately introduced upon the game’s start is a crazed-looking scientist by the name of Phineas Welles. He chooses one person to thaw out of cryostasis to assist in getting the large stalled-out colony ship he’s aboard back up and running — and who should he choose but me: Spooki, a level zero scientist’s assistant who’s “cleaned out enough test tubes to develop a keen instinct for what goes in them and why”. The character creation process is intense — you choose your attributes, skills, aptitude, and physical appearance and while you’re making these decisions, Phineas (a wanted man, by the way) comments on nearly all things you click on: “We all start somewhere, I suppose,” he says while you’re determining which novice level career path you’d prefer (choices include: ‘Sub Sous Chef’ or ‘Farmer, Dirt’).
During the first mission, it’s made obvious that corporations are the bad guys; entire planets are owned by companies that couldn’t care less about their amusingly disposable inhabitants. Corporate and oppressive capitalism affects everything in The Outer Worlds, so much so that you constantly meet sympathetic characters that have given their lives to businesses as indentured servants. Of course, you also meet optimists, radicals, white-collar outlaws, regular outlaws, executives and middle-managers, and most everything on the spectrum – all of which have their own thoughts on how to best serve their colony, world, or selfish needs.
One of the first characters you meet, and probably won’t like, is Reed Tobson — a snickering, uppity factory manager who wants you to re-route power from an offsite greenhouse community back to his own industry town. Now, playing through a game with the foundational themes of corporate feudalism and satirical humor allows for a lot more free will than you’d think. On a whim, I decided to shoot Reed Tobson after he unconvincingly told me I was his only hope. Truthfully, I didn’t think I would be able to do so, I thought there would be a mechanic that would prevent me from shooting a character that has a quest attached to their storyline. I was wrong, and I learned the consequences of my random action were almost immediate — Spooki the lab assistant with excellent aim could no longer roam the town without being shot at by the members of the community; all of these people that could’ve given me quests and materials were no longer possible acquaintances. Oh well, onto the next planet.
The expanse of The Outer Worlds is truly impressive for a non-open world game. The many places you visit encourage in-depth exploration. You can decide to make friends with everyone you meet, keeping the shooting to a minimum, forging strong emotional bonds with your companions that you pick up along the way — or you can follow in Spooki’s footsteps and lie directly to a shop owner as you remove wads of money from their cash register while stating, “I’m not doing anything, what are you doing?”
The option for companions is reminiscent of Bioware’s Mass Effect series. I say it’s an option because you most definitely can reply ‘hard no’ to all those who wish to join your team and choose to rough it as a lone wolf instead. Should you decide to make some friends, there are intricate backstories and moral compasses to each; in some extreme scenarios, companions can choose to leave your team if they disagree with your actions. Just a heads up for those planning to play: yes, Felix is a dimwit the entire time, you cannot change his nature.
While fighting isn’t the only way of dealing with your problems (why not try a little stealth, hacking, or persuasion?) the combat itself isn’t too shabby; it can get a bit punchy and sometimes you might find it much easier to just duck and cover until an enemy gets bored trying to find you, but overall I found very little wrong with it. Particularly exciting for nerds are the ‘science weapons’ which can shrink enemies or turn them against one another. Very entertaining and very worth the time and effort put into creating those items for the player — thank you, Obsidian!
The major tool at your disposal, no matter how handy with guns your character is, is called Tactical Time Dilation (TTD). Essentially, TTD bends time to slow the player’s actions to a crawl so you may plan and execute precise attacks. It’s also extremely useful for enemy analysis. You’ll be able to see your enemy’s classification, armor level, hit points, and even their associated Faction, if applicable. The only downside to TTD is having to wait until later in the game to upgrade the ability, but even at its most basic level, it’s still very fun to use.
If you don’t get too bored or busy with fetch quests and you don’t die via explosive cell death, you can immerse yourself deeper in this multi-layered and morally grey retro-futuristic space-western by switching the difficulty level to ‘Supernova.’ In this difficulty, thirst and hunger are introduced making the simple task of exploring much more challenging.
By the end of a playthrough, I found myself considering all the alternative ways I could have achieved something perhaps by journeying along a different route, finding out more information about a character before agreeing to have them on my team, or just killing everyone in a town and then looting it for all its worth. Interestingly enough, the game will run through an epilogue upon completion which describes how you resolved (or made worse) situations and what those actions led to. The Outer Worlds is not a quick game, it encourages you to explore more than you already have, talk to more quest-givers, even upgrade and mod more weapons. The game is compelling, exciting, and hilarious making you want to dive right back in after you’re done. What I’m trying to say is it’s FUN, and fun is more than welcome, especially right now.
Final Verdict: 8/10
Words by Mary Helen Josephine
This article was originally published as part of The Indiependent’s May 2020 charity magazine, which raised money for the British Lung Foundation. Find out more here.