We all have itches. Some itches are just the general type we get from wearing scratchy clothing. Other itches are more specific, ones that we can’t reach or can’t permanently erase. In those cases, we need a tool, like a backscratcher or a dab of ointment. Likewise, gamers can get itches to play a specific type of game. One notable itch has been RPG’s with customizable characters, which Bethesda titles like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls excel at. That itch has a new ointment, and it’s called The Outer Worlds.
The Outer Worlds, from Obsidian Entertainment and publisher Private Division, released last week onto Xbox GamePass, PS4, and the Epic Store. It blends role-playing game elements with excellent writing. During your adventure, you’ll recruit companions, loot various areas, and have moments that stick with you. It only takes a few hours of gameplay to get hooked, but that hook keeps you until you realize this is a legitimate Game of the Year contender.
Writer’s Note: This review covers the Day One release of The Outer Worlds on Xbox One. In the event of developer updates, this article will be updated.
The Outer Worlds’ Fight for Freedom
The Outer Worlds begins when Phineas Welles, played by Piotr Michael, wakes your custom-made character out of a 70-year cryo-sleep. You were supposed to meet more colonists, but they moved on with life. Now, corporations make up “the Board” that runs the galaxy, Halcyon, like a business. The Board divvied the planets up among themselves and put profits over workers. Welles fights back, making him a wanted criminal.
Once you’ve built your character, Phineas puts you into an escape pod and drops you onto Terra 2. You’ll land in the Emerald Vale, The Outer Worlds’ first of many gorgeous locations. Many planets have multiple locations to explore, such as Terra 2’s second location, Roseway. The Emerald Vale is teeming with bright and vivid colors that make a poster-worthy picture. What’s more, Emerald Vale’s main town, Edgewater, has a rustic music theme out of the Wild West. Some music tracks appear in different parts of the galaxy, but only when it supports that area’s style. Otherwise, the various areas are hard to confuse with each other.
Role Play Like No Other
The Outer Worlds gives you a comprehensive yet streamlined set of skill trees to upgrade. As mentioned above, you create your character while Phineas is waking you out of cryo-sleep. You can change your best skills, attributes, and appearance here all while Phineas comments on your choices. Skills group into various folders when you first start out. Once you hit 50 in a skill, you can put attributes solely into that skill instead of the entire folder. It’s a novel concept that heavily supports role-playing specific character ideas (ie the Disciplined Soldier).
As you level up, you unlock “perks” and “flaws”. Perks give you specific bonuses such as increased walking speed or carry weight. You unlock perks once every two levels, and every five perks unlock a new tier of perks. Sometimes, you can unlock a flaw, which nerfs skills related to that flaw but gives you an extra perk. Flaws unlock after doing certain actions too much. For example, the game offers the Cynophobia perk if canids, a creature in the game, attack you too much. Role-players will love this because it forces them to incorporate weaknesses into their characters. They can develop them as well as the NPC’s are in The Outer Worlds.
Characters Steal the Show
Halcyon’s residents, namely the companions you recruit, steal the game’s limelight. All voice actors and actresses, namely Ashly Burch as companion Parvati, give extra life to beautifully written roles. These characters range from calm yet overburdened ship captain to the black market’s grandmothers working in the black market. As you talk to them, you learn how multi-dimensional all the characters are. Edgewater’s bartender used to dream big, and your ship’s AI program misses her first captain. Speaking of, The Outer Worlds fleshes that captain out with his past logs on the ship.
Companions are the best characters. There are six potential companions in Halcyon, who augment the gameplay and the story. You can bring two companions with you when you’re exploring outside the ship. Each companion boosts different stats such as tech-related or medical-related skills. In combat, you can make your companions regroup, focus fire on a specific target, or attack that target with their special ability.
What’s more, they influence various story beats. Without going into too much detail, there’s an early plot choice that affects two separate communities. If you get there with a companion from one of the communities, she’ll offer her perspective before you make your decision. This attention to detail also shows up in your armor choices and even your online status. Tiny choices like this show how much Obsidian and Private Division care about this game: they want you, the gamer, to know they worked as hard as possible on this.
The Outer Worlds Has Some Lacking Areas
As wonderful as The Outer Worlds is, it has flaws of varying levels.
For example, there’s only one challenging difficulty setting. There are four different difficulties: Story, Normal, Hard, and Supernova. Story mode, as the name suggests, is designed for the player to only focus on the story. Normal and Hard modes both mean to be like their traditional counterparts but play closer to easy and normal modes respectively, especially if you’re going for stealth or speech focused playthroughs. Supernova is for the hardcore players. To stave off penalties, you need to continually eat, drink water, and sleep. Supernova plays as the only truly challenging mode, and that’s a problem. Intense difficulties shouldn’t be the only challenging level in a game. A game can challenge players without requiring intense settings.
The Outer Worlds’ biggest issues are its UI and HUD.
The HUD uses a horizontal compass (see above) for direction, which only shows markers from your point of view. So say there’s an NPC behind a wall you’re looking at; the NPC will appear on the compass, but you can’t see them. The biggest issue with this happens when sneaking around. Since you can’t track opponents outside of your line of sight, they’re marked with arrows that dot the border of your screen. HUDs don’t work this way. A HUD is supposed to give you all important information at a glance, but this setup forces you to spend a few seconds to take in the entire screen. A more condensed enemy detector would work better here.
As for the entire UI, the text size is microscopic. You need to continually squint and lean forward to even try to read the text. If this only applied to subtitles, it wouldn’t be such an issue, but it’s everywhere. Menus, dialog choices, and item caches are all hard to read. This drastically hampers the experience because gamers don’t want to spend that much time reading the basic text. At the least, The Outer Worlds could use changeable text sizes.
Finally, the world map is okay at best due to a sizable pile of minor issues. First, you can only show objective markers for one quest at a time, which can lead to tedious planning. Also, those markers don’t specify bonus objectives from the main ones, meaning you can miss optional objectives. Said planning takes time away from the actual gameplay, and is a minor headache.
Blast off to The Outer Worlds
The Outer Worlds soothes that earlier itch. Obsidian mixed compelling characters, customizable gameplay, and vivid aesthetics into a work of art. Halcyon is a colony worth fighting for because its characters feel real. Likewise, you can make your character as realistic or cartoonish as you want. No matter the poor UI or easy difficulty, Obsidian gave us an easy Game of the Year nominee.