Since having the opportunity to put several questions to the creative lead of Outward just a few months ago, it’s fair to say that I’ve been excited for the arrival of the fantasy RPG adventure. Whilst being a huge fan of games such as Skyrim, Fallout, The Witcher and so on, there have been few times where we’ve had the opportunity to play an RPG adventure that looks to truly challenge its players. Outward gets set to change that though, promising to deliver a unique RPG experience.
In Outward, you won’t find yourself taking on some gargantuan heroic role; you’re no hero of the universe, you’re not the latest Dragonborn and you won’t be part of a group of legendary monster hunters. See, you’re just one of the locals, a villager, but more importantly one of few survivors of a recent shipping accident at sea. The very first moments of Outward follow on from this accident and see our protagonist stood in front of a group of angry people, other villagers, who are threatening to take away your home should you not be able to pay off the debts that are owed within the next five days.
To do this you’ll need to venture outside, away from your village of Cierzo, into the vast-open world of Outward, doing whatever it takes to get the silver owed. But after just a few moments traversing the lands – a land lacking fast travel – you’ll realise that gathering enough silver coins is just one of a number of worries you’ll be facing as you look to survive the dangerous and unforgiving world that awaits in this hardcore adventure.
As you set off, you’ll need to have three things in your possession – a weapon, a waterskin and most importantly a backpack to carry your belongings. Your backpack is your most important tool and dependant on which one you have and what you have in it, will often be a deciding factor in just how well you fair when it comes to combat and survival.
It quickly becomes apparent that there aren’t many in Outward who appear to be a fan of our protagonist and after approaching the first pair of strangers, what quickly ensues is a battle of hostility as both strangers speak not a single word before brandishing their swords.
Of course, given the promoted hardcore nature of the game, a level of difficulty shouldn’t be surprising, but what is shocking is just how poor the actual combat plays and feels. Now combat itself is something you’ll frequently find yourself engaging in throughout the world, whether intentionally or not, as often enemies can spot you from a mile off, no matter how much you intend to sneak on by, but when you find yourself in these situations, what you’ll find is a very uncomfortably awkward battle that lacks any fluid at all. In general it feels rather stiff with both player and enemy movement feeling highly reminiscent of combat you’d expect to see from games in the original Xbox era, over that of something you’d expect to find on Xbox One, with each player circling the other before taking a predictable strikes as the battle goes on.
It’s not game breaking, but when it comes to engagement, it’s not a good look when you find the combat feeling aged before you’ve even got started. What makes things worse is that visually Outward isn’t anything special either, with the overall visual appearance comparable to something like that of the original Fable. I’m not usually a man who has too much to whinge about when it comes to graphical polish, but it would have been nice to see something a little more modern in 2019.
Aside from the horrible feel and nature of combat and the sub-par visuals, Outward is however a game that has a ton of potential. There are three unique stories for players to enjoy and depending which faction you choose, the story will play out slightly differently. There is a ton of content to enjoy for those who want to experience everything Outward has to offer. See, as you progress, there will be loads of quests that appear and a constant slew of people to help away from the main stories and it is these which can quickly take you off track. At times it can be difficult to know exactly where you’re supposed to be going or what you’re doing, but for me that is more of a positive than a negative. There will be some who find this lack of direction a little irritating, but that’s what you should expect from a game that allows you to do what you want, when you want, from the off.
As for the story itself, it’s worth noting that the writing isn’t exactly going to wow you as you follow each quest, story mission and errand you get sent on, but that doesn’t mean that you’re in for a dull affair either. Yes, the writing may not prove too memorable, but surviving long enough to see the end of a quest is usually just about eventful enough that you’ll not be thinking too much about the narrative anyway.
What has really impressed me though is the dynamic nature of the game. In Outward, there is very little to stop you doing whatever you want, but with it comes a price. Every action has a consequence and should you leave someone waiting for hours on end, then, well, don’t expect them to still be waiting when you finally get around to doing what they wanted. They will very likely be long gone, and with it will go whatever quest you thought you were doing. This is true for many things in the world and even though dynamic missions are something we have seen a few times before, dynamic defeats aren’t.
What I mean by that is should you find yourself deciding to jump on a group of unexpectedly overprepared bandits, your eventual demise won’t immediately be game over. Instead what may well happen is you could wake to find yourself being held for ransom, being looted, or being left in the woods. In fact there are countless other different scenarios you could find yourself in and it is these things which make the Outward experience what it is, requiring you to learn from your mistakes rather than simply diving in with the same approach over and over. Alternatively, you may find yourself waking in the middle of nowhere, miles from where you were, and that is a right pain.
At times, avoiding combat is a necessity, but other things you’ll need to consistently consider in order to survive include keeping your character fed and watered. This doesn’t just mean raiding a few berry bushes and slurping from the local stream though; this means cooking your meat, sanitising your water and keeping yourself warm from the harsh environment. You’ll also need to clean any potential infections gained through battle – failing to do so will see death rearing its ugly head.
That does mean that a lot of your time in Outward will be spent scavenging for supplies but it’s nothing you wouldn’t expect from a survival adventure and whilst it may be a little irritating at times, especially when in the middle of a quest, it does lend itself towards being a realistic affair. Depending on your point of view, you may well find that is something to be enjoyed.
The real fun in Outward however comes from learning and experimenting, and whilst it’s likely going to take a lot of patience to learn how the different mechanics work, it is enjoyable learning how different people and enemies react, and what you should and shouldn’t be worried about within the world. Patience is a must in this game and even though it may take ten hours or so to truly begin to get rewarded for your efforts, things only get better from that point onwards.
What’s more is that Outward is also a co-op friendly game with both split-screen and online options working wonderfully. Joining a mate certainly makes the game a lot easier, but I do believe that taking in the experience alone is the best way to learn the key rules of the land.
Another thing to note is that while Outward on Xbox One, PS4 and PC focuses itself as a survival experience, there is also a full magic and alchemy system present. To learn new spells you’ll need plenty of cash available, before finding someone to teach you them from the various settlements throughout the land. Thankfully though, rarely will you be finding yourself utilising overpowered spells to get you out of a muddle, and will instead find the magic included running as a commodity that is only used in the most severe circumstances.
Overall and if you’re after a unique RPG experience, Outward is the way to go. It’s not your typical experience, and it most definitely requires a lot of time and patience, but if you want something that you can get lost in for hours on end with a ton of enjoyable content to keep you occupied, then this is the game for you. It’s sad that the combat is dreadful, and visually it’s a poor experience, but away from that, Outward is an in-depth and fulfilling adventure that will force you to think about your actions, as you plan ahead and walk a weary path as you slowly traverse the land.