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The Outer Worlds Review (Legolas_Katarn)

1 post in this topic

Played on PC


The Outer World's plot, setting, and themes are all focused around corporate power, rampant capitalism, and labor issues but it avoids any subjects related to race, gender, or media control, and most of the game's people are so far gone into the mentality it's just not that interesting. Straight up dropping a multitude of subjects the game could focus on and further real world comparisons is certainly a way to kneecap yourself, both intellectually and content and world building wise. Many of the people you run into are essentially at the levels of Elon Musk fanboy, praising an idiot man-child who made his fortune off of apartheid because he's rich and runs a corporation so he's awesome and them wishing they were that awesome. "I'm so sorry you have been forced into this terrible position," you might say to someone when seeing how they live and in some cases how they are dying. "Why? It was presumptions of me to think I deserved medicine, if I just worked harder I never would have gotten sick and then I could one day be just like my boss." When they've reached that point there's really little to do other than humanely putting them down.

You won't be leading any workers revolts as most people wouldn't even understand the concept, so satisfied at being bootlickers or cartoonish weirdos. The people that go about life differently tend to be murderers or people following some ridiculous life philosophy/cult/religion. The game will frequently attempt to push you towards centrism and compromise, even while portraying corporations at their most cartoonishly evil. Basically, it's no Arcanum Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura or Disco Elysium when it comes to covering labor issues and their effects on both the game's world and the real world, and it's kind of hard to be invested in the locations you visit or the multitude of fetch quests you will do when you mostly just want to kill almost everyone you meet. The game's primary focus is on sudden humorous dialogue and ridiculous characters you run into. There are certainly moments that can bring about a faint smile or chuckle but most tends to follow obvious controlling corporate attitudes, self deprecating humor, or lines similar to things you have heard in past games including the companion interjection of, "That's what she said," rarely being completely unentertaining but never quite capable of taking any situation to a laugh out loud funny or memorable moment. You are special because the game says you are special, you will change the life of every important person you meet with a few lines of dialogue, change the direction of every place you interact with, and radically change the fate of the entire sector all in the most narratively and thematically uninteresting ways imaginable.

Part of my interest in getting the game came from seeing the reactions of one of the earliest choices where, in attempting to power your new ship, you have to decide to take power from a brainwashed corporate town in the middle of dying from a plague, from the towns deserters trying to build something new away from the influence of The Board, or from the deserters town after convincing them to rejoin the settlement. I was expecting it to have something interesting to say or to run into some interesting characters in the town, a situation I didn't expect, or the game to have some competent argument against making the obvious choice, but it doesn't. The choice is about as simple as it can be and now that the game is over, the only thing I found interesting was learning how quickly one can lose their sense of class consciousness when a virtual companion is mildly sad about something. After that situation we run into little else in the way of meaningful choices outside of picking between groups of weirdos or siding with or against our destructive overlords. It can be more morally compelling at times than Fallout 3's famous moral question of, "Hey, do you want to nuke a city for fun, or would you like to not nuke things?" Of course, that's really not saying much is it, and it remains quite the embarrassment that people thought it was at the time. As the game goes on the actions of the corporations in charge of the colonies, "the board," seem less and less important until you realize that they are barely even around anymore and the already fairly simplistic choice you make early on ends up being the most interesting thing you ever do.

Locations you will travel to our often pretty to look at, with some nice environment effects and often a large moon or planet as a beautiful backdrop in a colorful sky. For a game of this style it is more linear than what we usually get, this can be good because you are always actively doing something, it isn't that long of a playthrough, and your time isn't wasted by trudging through often dull repetitive locations. However, you also end up with a much more linear world in the sense that everything feels like it was created just for you to complete your string of quests, giving a world with no real surprises to discover from exploration and locations without much in the way of size or a feeling of history behind them other than what is currently effecting them and what you are here to do about it. The locations certainly do a better job than Bethesda's Fallout titles that still like to prop up skeletons and dead bodies in places that live people have been staying in for decades, even though all the containers everywhere full of things that make no sense never do the world design any favors. It also doesn't help that in total you only visit a small number of places, two being the same style of relay stations, and a few areas seem to use almost the exact same design and parts to make up their areas. There are moments where you can tell work went into minor areas. At one point, I was fired from an employer for not doing a job and the guy manning the reception desk who had been friendly now only told me that he wasn't supposed to talk to me. I decided to try out the silencer on my hunting rifle and went back into the room, closed the door behind me, and shot the four inside before anyone could shoot back so the receptionist wouldn't become alerted, after leaving he now would only comment on how quiet things have been inside the office.

Many sidequests amount to little more than fetch quests or set ups that have become ridiculously cliche. You will run into the generic family of cannibals, they will ask you to stay for dinner and say they don't know anything about the man you are looking for, then, because it is still basically a Bethesda esque Fallout game (even if one by a much more competent team), you will just walk upstairs and open a door to find that dinner is made out of people before likely shooting the family for some XP and moving on. You can convince the family not to attack you but why waste the XP, better to convince them for the skill XP bonus and then shoot them all when they are unarmed for the kill XP. A companion wonders how people could do such a thing, while I wonder why developers are still doing the same thing, in the exact same ways. Plotlines aren't made to be interesting, they are made to funnel you along to the end of the game. You won't spend time learning about a place and it's people or anything substantial about the factions, one or two quests for the more important objectives and it's time for the world altering decision then move on. Here's a side quest where you audition for a film role, lot of fun ideas could be had here and it can come back in some amusing ways from seeing posters of yourself, being recognized by people and enemies, having to play out multiple scenes, seeing a final product, nope, just say a few lines or kill everyone in a tiny room for a quick $2000 and 20,000 XP then move on never to speak of it again.

Combat is, quite dull for the most part. It is too much of an FPS to give you much in the way of interesting skills or equipment for yourself or your party and it is too much of an RPG to offer more exciting gun/melee battles. You can do little else when it comes to tactics other than slowing time and hitting certain body parts to blind, knockdown, do bonus damage, etc and the excitement of a good FPS tends to die down when you need to shoot something in the head 10 times to kill it while is awkwardly staggers and continues to shoot you at the same time. Your ability to slow down time is ok but even that is on the weaker sides of games that have a bullet time ability, and they have made so many abilities tied to getting hits while in that mode that it basically means you are going to be putting a lot of your level up perks into passive abilities that make that mode last longer or recharge faster as everything else is useless by comparison. There is a very small number of enemies types and the most interesting thing the game does with locations where you are likely to find combat is to set some random explosive barrels in often nonsensical seeming positions.

You are not rewarded for avoiding combat like Obsidian's past Pillars of Eternity title where all experience was quest based and killing would just get you loot or information on enemies. This puts you in positions where just killing as much as you can instead of making use of alternate paths or conversation options or faction loyalty changes makes more sense than anything else, you can even try to kill as much as you want in some locations and then go talk to someone else to side with them. A location might make stealth an option but other than crouch walking there is nothing interesting about the stealth system to make you want to use it, you would have to make a large skill investment to make it useful, and if you do that you are either going to be making use of the level design and losing experience and loot for it or you are just going to be attaching a silent barrel to your gun and shooting everyone in a way where the level design doesn't really matter anyway. There are some interesting weapons in the form of the science guns, one can shrink enemies, one can mind control them, and the last can shock and levitate them. They can be fun to use just to do something different but having only three with interesting effects like that in a science fiction setting is a little disappointing, outside of that it's the generic bullet, laser, plasma, and shock, fire, and acid effects we've always seen in Fallout and Borderlands. You can customize weapons but none of the modifications are interesting other than changing the damage type to those go to choices, instead you will just spend your money to increase the damage of your weapons of choice so they level with you, until you suddenly find a better version of the gun and realize you just wasted a lot of money and possibly your mod attachments (continuing to follow generic bad RPG logic, once on those scopes never come off).

Outer Worlds has a great healing system. You will automatically regenerate health based on one of your temperament attribute (or not if you decreased it all the way), saving you the time of not having to bother with healing items or sleeping all the time. What makes the healing interesting is that you will find items that will regenerate about 25% of your lost health over a few seconds, but as your medicine skill increases you can equip additional consumable items to be used with that healing items. You can be taking a mixture of food, alcohol, drugs, etc that will give new healing effects, buff your stats, or buff your attributes. It's a good way to actually make use of items that don't see much use in most games like this. In most games you will never actually take the time to equip or eat that item that gives you an armor or damage boos for a couple seconds, but here you can take both those items together while also healing yourself. It's a really nice system, the only bad thing about this is that the game is so easy on the normal difficulty setting that I never once had to heal myself in or outside of combat, and you will probably want to play on a harder difficulty to have a real use for a better thought out than normal system. The issue with playing on a harder difficulty being that you are making combat, one of the weakest parts of the game more prevalent and longer to complete as you are giving the game's frequent high health enemies even more health. Though, the alternative problem if this was a system you actually needed would be that there is no way to choose how much additional items you use to heal without equipping them, meaning what you might want as a quick out of combat heal a waste your resources unless you always want to be fiddling with your inventory.

The way that increasing your skills is done is also a nice change of pace for most RPGs. Skills are separated into similar trees with 2-3 skills in each, you level the entire tree until you get to 50 and then branch off to level abilities by themselves. This is a nice system as it builds up your base skills early for low level characters, allows you time to consider what skills you really want to focus in, and makes sense since the trees contain similar skills that likely would at least somewhat work together. Your ability to converse with people will raise your persuade, intimidate, and lie skill. Unfortunately, much like the games healing system, skills just aren't very interesting or useful. At times I saved up over seven levels worth of skill points because they just didn't matter. I'd keep them saved in order to later level a skill when I needed it to pass a conversation check or to hack or lockpick something, their effects are so minimal that I just had no reason to actively spend them and the game was so easily that small combat bonuses from weapon, science, medicine, and stealth skills just didn't matter for anything directly combat related. Every two levels will allow you to acquire a perk, a series of mostly uninteresting passive bonuses of no to high use depending on your class build. Flaws can also be accepted under certain circumstances, giving you a small or very significant penalty in order to get a free perk in return, many of these are so terrible they aren't worth it and some do next to nothing and are obviously worth accepting. You won't see anything interesting or amusing in the flaws or perks like with Fallout's bad luck or mysterious stranger perks, just a series of mostly number and percentage buffs with five of them existing just to allow you to carry around more garbage to sell.

Speaking of garbage to sell, that can be a large part of the game if you fall into its trap. Loot everything, steal everything, sell everything, break things down to fix your pathetic constantly falling apart weapons, pickpocket if you have the skill and sell all that shit, horde money for no actual reason. What can you do in heavily capitalist and corporate setting where you have a ship that most people can only dream of having, if they are even capable of having dreams anymore as corporate doesn't like to encourage the imagination, and more money than most will ever see in their life? The answer in Outer Worlds is, not much, you can buy a $3000 casserole so your companion can serve it for her date and that's about it. Almost every guide for this game says to take a perk that allows you to fast travel when you are over encumbered, not only is this useless as I have had no reason to do that even with an average strength attribute, but there are so many station (even in hostile areas) and vendors everywhere to sell stuff that you will never need this, and if you are that worried about it then you are unlikely to be having a good time with the game anyway. I suppose hoarding wealth for no other reason to hoard wealth can fit with the themes of the game, but then again, it's such a generic RPG fault, exacerbated by bad systems, never really commented on or done anything with, then further mixed with you not knowing how much money might become necessary for quests after having to spend thousands at different times that I can't really give the game that one. Now it just feels like another missed opportunity adding an inability to make use of it's mechanics to represent it's story and themes, in addition to just not discussing them that well through narrative and setting.

Your companions are enjoyable to have around, they speak up often in conversations, might run into people that they used to know starting new conversations, and you can occasionally make use of their job fields in quest events. I love that the entirety of Parvati's multiple world spanning quest is basically built around the joke of lesbians wondering if that girl that sends them romantic poetry might be into them. It was also nice to see an asexual character as well, I've never had any particular personal interest in having my sexuality represented (from a story perspective I'd still like to see a polyamorous relationship portrayed well but Skies of Arcadia still seems to still be the closest we've gotten to that) but I've seen a lot of people happy to be seen. On the other hand, most of your companions have extremely poor quests, one has you going to see someone, going somewhere else to see someone, picking up a piece of paper next to the first guy, then likely shooting a few people. It is completely uninteresting in every way, the environment created for the fight and as growth for your companion character. One companion has you talk to a few people before finding an old hermit and taking some drugs where you share a vision together with the goal of trying to get him to better understand himself, it's more unique than other quests but like the other activities in this game it stops short of being interesting or memorable and is over after only a few dialogue options, quite likely working more as a situation to get a minor chuckle out of you rather than any kind of deep writing or character development. This likely coming back to the problem popularized with AAA RPGs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age but also in a lot of smaller ones, even going all the way back to the Baldur's Gate games, companions get one quest. Just one, and they damn well better resolve their lifetime of problems in that one, often extremely short, quest.

Companions just aren't very interesting when they aren't talking. Each one can boost three of your stats but you can very rarely order them to do something for you, they each have one special attack that you will likely get sick of seeing, and each only has three unique perks to select mostly giving the same dull (and often almost useless) kind of bonus as all the other perks. You can set if you want them to use a melee or ranged weapon, the distance you want them to keep in combat, and how aggressive to be but fights are often taking place in such cramped areas, with so few combatants, or with so many combatants that these setting don't always end up meaning much. When it comes to equipment you are just going to be giving them the armor with the best armor stats and the best weapon that fits with the range you want them to attempt to maintain. It would be nice to see a bit more control or interesting parks but most enemy types and the AI just doesn't allow for it.

A game with decent companions, some mildly funny moments, pretty planets, but mediocre to average in everything else. The strongest quests in Outer Worlds come nowhere close to the best of Obsidian's New Vegas, any quests that could have been interesting or unique tend to be over before they even really start or waste their potential on basic fetch quest style design that gives you no room to do anything interesting or to figure anything out by yourself. If you are looking at this after playing or with most of your RPG experience in recent Bethesda titles or AAA RPGs then you will probably enjoy this a lot more than someone fresh off of Disco Elysium and who still has thoughts of Arcanum every now and then.

The forces representing the factions and ideologies of Disco Elysium might have you complete a series of quests, finding information, tracking people down, and using your skills to say what you feel are the correct conversation options to do what you you need to do in games, complete the quests with the result you want. Only to then be told, "Thank's idiot, I knew what you were doing the whole time and it was exactly what I wanted," you've inadvertently made them more powerful. And maybe that's what you wanted because you think you still made the best of a bad situation, maybe you're just impressed by them or would side with them anyway, maybe you no longer really care because you're just a nobody trying to get by a cynical world. In Outer Worlds you might alter a person you have never met before's entire worldview and focus with one dull high persuade dialogue option because you're special, and then you get told what a good ally you have found in the ending slideshow and how they helped you be an even better savior than you were already.

Outer Wilds might be a slap or punch in the face to Bethesda, but that doesn't mean much if they're already dead when it happens.

Screenshots and additional thoughts

Darrin likes this

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