Back in November 2018, Microsoft made a very shrewd move, and purchased Obsidian Entertainment, a studio famed for its RPGs, Fallout New Vegas being a particularly well known example. In fact, at launch, New Vegas was used as an example of how not to make games, with horrendous crashes and bugs afflicting the game when it first appeared. To their credit, New Vegas was patched, fixed, and now stands as one of the finest RPGs on the Xbox 360. Fast forward to today and under their new paymasters Obsidian have released The Outer Worlds; basically a New Vegas styled experience that is set in space. Now, to me, matching Obsidian and their creative skills with a colourful futuristic setting is a match made in heaven. So come with me to The Outer Worlds, to discover what an Obsidian future looks like!
Well, first off, I can safely say that an Obsidian future looks fantastic; bright, colourful, and frequented by all manner of violent creatures and bad people. There are good people as well, and with the introduction of different worlds to explore, the creative juices have clearly been flowing at Obsidian. This is clear as each world has a very different look, from the rundown squalor of Edgewater, where our story begins, to Monarch with its built up towns and acid pools, along with a number of various factions to contend with.
The Outer Worlds plays out from a first person perspective, a lot like the Fallout series of games, with fantastic draw distances that allow you to look across a valley to spot somewhere you can walk to, before setting off and yomping across to it. This feeling of freedom is hugely expansive, and with multiple types of enemies to encounter and overcome, or sneak by if you’re not feeling up to combat, there’s never a shortage of things to do or shoot in The Outer Worlds. Even just poking around abandoned outposts can be rewarding, with items, weapons and armour to be found in chests or lockers. Even enemies can be a useful source of new kit as, in another throwback to the Fallout style, defeated foes can be looted to expand your inventory. It’s here that one of the finest little details caught my eye, showing the immense work that has been put into the game. You see, I was stealing items from an office (don’t judge me!), from a bar in front of a mirror. And as I stole these things, their reflections in the mirror disappeared. Now I hadn’t noticed the reflection until it wasn’t there any more, but it has been the little things such as this which has made me appreciate the thought that’s gone into the overall design.
The story is an immersive one as well, fitting the developer’s catalogue perfectly. It commences back in 1901, when an American President wasn’t assassinated, and thus set in course a train of events that left the world in the hands of mega corporations. These corporations, having conquered all horizons on Earth, have turned their gaze to outer space, beginning to terraform distant worlds, colonising then with their employees. One such collection of planets is the Halcyon Cluster, which is run by a conglomeration of ten large Corporations, controlled with an iron fist by The Board, with Minister Clarke and the Chairman as the figureheads. However, playing through, all is not well in Halycon, and it’s here that we come in. 70 years ago, a colony ship was sent from Earth, with hundreds of thousands of colonists in suspended animation being sent on a 26 year journey. However, as is standard in games these days, something went wrong, and the ship – The Hope – disappeared, apparently lost with all hands. The game opens as a colonist on the ill fated ship is revived, before being sent on our merry way in an escape pod.
Of course, at this point we have to run through the character generating options, and while it’s not the most in-depth I’ve ever seen (take a bow, Code Vein) it is still perfectly possible to create some truly monstrous creations. And if we’re at all honest, that’s all we want from a character generator. From there on out, we are on a mission set by a mad professor to come up with a way to get the rest of the colonists rescued and revived, something that The Board doesn’t want to happen. After crash landing on a planet, the story branches like a tree in winter, with an amazing balancing act being performed.
Remember the way that we had to play factions off against each other in New Vegas, and how it was impossible to keep everyone sweet? Well, The Outer Worlds turns that up to 11. Each corporation and each faction has its own agenda, its own interests and quite often they are diametrically opposed to the rest of the factions’ aims. Thankfully, with a little bit of thought, and a smidgen of stealth, it’s possible to come out ahead. Luckily, it’s even possible to track your progress with each, along with their feelings towards you – even if you go up against the wishes of the heads of the corporations. It’s wholly possible to have good and bad ratings from a single faction, which allows for a great deal of latitude to what can be done.
Talking to people also has another function in The Outer Worlds, as there are numerous possible companions that can be found, chatted up and recruited to your cause. Companions are very useful in a number of ways; watching your back, joining you in firefights when you need them to, and acting as pack mules to help you carry extra items. This is especially helpful as being overloaded slows you down, and may stop you from fast travelling back to your ship. Further, they all come with a series of quests to complete, that will bring them closer to you.
It’s in interacting with people, and even with ADA – the AI that runs the ship that you acquire – that the quality of the writing comes to the fore. Every character, every person that you can interact with, has a thread of subtle humour running through them. One conversation that has stuck in my mind saw an NPC wanting us to go outside and throw a lever. The dialogue choices got increasingly silly, postulating that we may need to go and find three keys before we can throw the lever, with the NPC getting more and more irate, before telling us to “JUST GO AND THROW THE ****ING LEVER!”. And even the loading screens have a sense of humour, while all the corporations have all got their own slogans and jingles as well. For example, go near a vending machine that is owned by a friendly corporation, then you’ll hear a lovely jingle and see the prices you pay reduced. Of course, should they not like you, they go up.
Playing through, it’s perfectly possible to keep finding and completing side missions in The Outer Worlds without even touching the main storyline. There’s nothing like getting yourself into a situation on a planet that you’re not equipped to deal with, and facing a mega monster enemy really makes sure you have to rethink your life choices. To open up all the planetary destinations, you do have to follow the storyline to a certain degree, but the sheer amount of faction missions, side missions and companion missions in play means that there is never any shortage of things to do; wandering around, chatting to folk and helping them out is very rewarding.
The missions are a really varied bunch as well, ranging from multi-part missions where you have to travel the cluster, collecting things so Parvati can have a nice date, to going for an audition for a movie, and everything in between. How you approach the mission is down to you though, with three distinct character builds that you can follow. These are Combat, where the answer is always found at the end of gun, Dialogue, which ensures you can largely talk yourself out of trouble, and Stealth; obviously a bit of sneaking will keep you safe, with use of your holographic disguise helping you out. You can blend the styles though, and by levelling up, can choose not only which skill trees to invest points in but, when they reach specific points, they will give the opportunity to then invest in a single skill, like lock-picking or long guns. This allows you to perfectly tailor your skill set to your preferred play style, and opens up a whole world of customisation. Even the weapons and armour that you do equip can be modified at work benches.
Normally at this point in a review I’d get to the problems with the entire experience, and this one is no different, albeit the list of negatives is very short. In fact, I pretty much only wish for a way to pick up more than one item at once, as if you are trying to grab a lot of items in a short time it isn’t usually possible. But after sinking in a ton of hours – upwards of 30 at this moment, if you’re asking – that really is my only gripe with the game. The rest of the time The Outer Worlds has been a joy to play, and with such a convoluted branching storyline, where every decision has an impact, every playthrough could very well be different. There are double crosses galore, you can choose who to ally with, and in a nice touch, at the end of the game, friendly corporations help you out. I’m not going to say any more for fear of spoilers, but it does feel like a good reward for all the spadework you would have gone through earlier in the game. The humour, the drama, and the storyline all play out beautifully, and best of all, I haven’t seen a single game breaking bug; companions walking through closed doors barely count as a bug these days, and honestly it makes no difference to the overall experience.
All in all and The Outer Worlds on Xbox One is so much more than Fallout in space, and I honestly think you owe it to yourself to play this game. This is one of the most entertaining gaming experiences I’ve played this year, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone and everyone.