I must admit that I had pretty high hopes for The Outer Worlds when I started playing it late last October. I mostly ignored whatever the big gaming sites had to say about it, preferring, instead, to read the blogosphere’s judgement. Which was roundly positive. Well, mostly. In the midst of reading, I penned a few choice comments of my own, which boiled down to “good game, bland story.” They were left while I was in the midst of the game itself. Now that I’ve finished the game, does my commentary still stand? Here’s my rundown of how things went in the land of the people versus the corporations versus famine versus monsters versus robots versus etc. etc.
This article contains a few minor, unmarked story and character spoilers.
As The Outer Worlds begins, you are awakened from cryogenic stasis by a man of potentially questionable motives named Phineas Wells. Your ship, the Hope, is presumed lost by the rest of the galaxy, though it’s really just stranded in orbit and remains filled with other frozen colonists. With a quick greeting and brief explanation, Wells gives you an immediate assignment: travel to a nearby planet to meet a smuggler named Hawthorne; the two of you will then proceed to obtain the chemicals necessary for reviving the entirety of the Hope’s population. With that, your escape pod is thrown onto a planet called Terra 2, and, unfortunately, right onto Hawthorne. (Think: Dorothy’s house falling on the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz, without the ruby slippers.) You, taking on Hawthorne’s identity (since no one on the planet knows what he looks like), proceed to get his ship, the Unreliable, off the planet in order to start your adventures for Wells.
Along the way, you meet various individuals on various planets, some of whom can become your companions – a max crew of six plus you. You learn that the entire colony, Halcyon, here in the year 2355, is embroiled in a battle of big versus small. In this case, the “big” is the Board and its many corporate entities that exist across the system. The “small” are the low-level workers who serve the corporations and are mostly seen by them as little more than (disposable) assets. Over the years, these workers have been repressed through several means. Many carry seemingly untreatable diseases and chronic afflictions. They live in Board-provided hovels, and subsist on malnourished, Board-provided foodstuffs, watch and listen to Board-provided entertainment, all while quoting corporate slogans and Board-approved mottos. While the immediate equation may read as corporations = bad and resistance = good, as you travel throughout the colony, you discover that the general conspiracy within Halcyon is both nuanced and complicated.
Or, at least, that what the game wants you to believe.
Yes, I like The Outer Worlds quite a lot, but it sorely lacked in the storytelling department. This was disappointing considering it seemed that the game had lots to say. And I got that this game provides a pretty contained experience. It’s more akin to a mission-based RPG like Mass Effect than it is an open-world sandbox. There were plenty of opportunities to explore, but after a while, I found that there wasn’t much reason to travel off the beaten path. In the end, although the game appeared to set forth a layer cake of choice, your actual choices within the story were binary – no matter if you were generally nice or generally mean, you either sided with the Board or you sided with the people fighting the Board. Because of this, I struggled, especially in the middle of the game, to care about Halcyon’s future. The lack of a compelling story also disconnected me from my character and her companions. As such, I didn’t spend much time talking to them or any random people who weren’t immediately involved in the quest at hand.
Despite my opinion about its story, The Outer Worlds was a wonderful game. It really was. On the plus side were all the things that made for an agreeable and interesting RPG experience. The game’s character creator, for one, was top notch. I put in a couple hours alone just trading faces. Its many options ranged from wild to subtle, and I found it easy to use with great results every time. Applying character attributes in that old-school way of doling out points, first to groups of skills and then to individual ones, along with managing the game’s perk system (and the subsequent discovery of character “flaws” that traded perk points for downgrades to certain skills), was fun, in an OCD kind of way. It all made me think strongly about my character’s persona, which was good, considering she didn’t have a spoken voice. The choice to make a non-voiced main character was a bold move by Obsidian, but it worked beautifully. Bringing to mind shades of Fallout: New Vegas and Dragon Age: Origins, dialogue options were presented on-screen, and each, as far as I could tell, reflected the exact words said, rather than general sentiments. And speaking of dialogue, many individual conversations I had were captivating, interesting, funny, and even heartfelt. I didn’t care for the “frontier speak” used by some of the human characters, but I understood the reasoning behind it, considering that Halcyon’s Board-approved education was likely minimal, at best. As well that there were definite parallels between the colonization of Halcyon and America’s conquering of its wild west.
Beyond the look and feel of the game, it was hard to argue with its outstanding and immensely screenshot-able graphics, showing an era both bygone and futuristic, as well as it’s excellent, excellent soundtrack. Combat was solid and gear was suitable enough. Looting stood on the proportions of Borderlands, only less varied, with ammo, gear, and junk strewn absolutely everywhere. Thankfully, there were plenty of vendors and vending machines on hand to help lighten the load. As the game’s story teetered, I came to enjoy my time at any given workbench, fixing and modifying my gear. As well, I did spend some time with my chosen crew onboard the Unreliable (I ended up with only five – Parvati, Felix, Ellie, Nyoka, and S.A.M.). While some outlets rightfully sing Parvati’s praises, I found myself most interested in Ellie and Felix. With Ellie, I didn’t have much on her until we met her parents. After that, her background story became much more intriguing. As for Felix, while he was a little one-note in his “stick it to the man!” shtick, he was still amusingly charming.
My summary of The Outer Worlds can be wrapped up as follows: though its story falls short. it has good intentions, and some great aspirations. The game remains a solid and beefy experience, one worth investing in if you’re in the mood for an old-school RPG with modern flair. If nothing else, The Outer Worlds sets forth a grand and beautiful world, one teeming with the down-trodden, the luxurious, and everything in between; and one that I hope we’ll see again future games.
All images including lede taken by author during PS4 gameplay of The Outer Worlds © Obsidian Entertainment, Private Division, Take-Two Interactive (2019).