Souls-like games have become a hit over the past few years. We can all agree that we can't get enough. 2019 has started strong with the release of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, but there’s one new Souls-like RPG that you might have missed.
Nine Dots’ Outward is an ode to hardcore games, featuring everything you love about games like Dark Souls and Nioh in a vast open world. In fact, there are certain things that Outward does better than Dark Souls and we’d want it to become a pioneer for the genre in the future.
In which key areas does Outward top Souls and other Souls-like games, though, and what can the industry learn from its development?
10 Smaller Enemies Can Pose A Threat Too
In Dark Souls and titles similar to it, the bigger the enemy, the more trouble you’re in. In Outward, this isn’t the case. Even the smallest of enemies require a special approach and you might have a difficult time with them if you’re not careful enough.
On your way towards becoming a hero in Outward, you’ll encounter all sorts of enemies, from humanoids to animals to constructed ones like golems or specters. Truth be told, they aren’t as twisted and beautiful as in Souls games, but if a challenge is what you’re looking for, Outward will always deliver.
9 A 'Game Over' Screen Like No Other
Generally speaking, Outward does death scenes better than any other game of its type. Essentially, there are no death scenes. Each time you die, you get a random scenario, which you have to tackle or use to your advantage.
For instance, you can get teleported to a jail or a bandit outpost from which you have to escape. This can become a hardship, but it can also provide you with the opportunity to converse with NPCs or find loot that you wouldn’t otherwise. Having a game with random interesting events rather than grinding boss fights until you kill them is something that we always welcome.
8 No Checkpoints
Another layer to the previous segment is the fact that Outward offers no checkpoints. Remember back in Dark Souls when you would run and dodge among enemies just to get to the bonfire and secure a new safe point? That’s not the case here.
Outward offers no checkpoints, as it’s open world. Plus, as we mentioned above, death doesn’t rewind time but instead lets you move forward (after a certain event). The game autosaves on a very regular basis, ensuring that you can’t “cheat” progress. This adds perhaps a hundred more hours to your playthrough, which is something that those seeking a challenge hunger for.
7 Spells Are More Realistic
One thing we loved about Outward is its use of magic. When you first enter the game, you’re nothing more than a peasant, with no magical powers and definitely no mana bar. To be able to become a spellcaster, you have to unlock both mana and all of your skills.
Casting your acquired spells isn’t a piece of cake either. You can use runes, combine spells, cast signets to make the next spell more powerful... it's a deep system. Spells in Outward aren’t just a simple button that you can press to make something happen. Finding out how to become a spellcaster is a big part of the game, so make sure to try that out in one of your playthroughs, even if you’re a “sword person”.
6 Supports Split Screen Co-Op
Modern video games haven’t lost their co-op spirit, even if a part of it has definitely left the building. In most new releases, online co-op gameplay is available. Sadly, couch co-op (once such a popular feature) is often overlooked.
For players that want to spend time with friends while playing a hardcore game like Outward, split screen co-op is an essential element. Sadly, Dark Souls didn’t include such a feature, leaving us with the option of playing online with a “ghost friend”. If you want to bring along a friend for a Souls experience from the comfort of your couch, you now have a solid option.
5 Survival Elements
Sometimes, you don’t need a group of enemies or a boss to give you an adrenaline rush. One thing we’ve learned from survival games is that human needs can sometimes become a bigger issue. Unlike other Souls-like games, Outward has survival elements that take the genre to another level.
In Nine Dots’ new title, hunger, thirst, diseases and temperature are as big of a threat as any other enemy. To keep yourself in good shape for your playthrough, you'll have to constantly improvise to fulfil those needs. We wouldn’t want one of those random death scenarios to kick in because we haven't eaten a meal recently, would we?
4 Meaningful Decisions To Make
One thing we’d love to see in Dark Souls and similar titles is the opportunity to tweak playthroughs by making decisions. There are some important parts where we do have to decide on what to do next, but overall, Souls games have always been linear.
Outward lets you make some mundane decisions about your character that might look trivial at first, but can have a huge impact on your experience. In time, you’ll find that this mechanic is more punishing than rewarding. However, moments like these are what keeps our interest in games that could be mediocre if linear.
3 Inventory Management Is Key
In Outward, you’ll find that your backpack is of extreme importance. In fact, it might be more important than your weapon or armor. The first thing to consider is that the size of your backpack dictates how many items you can carry. Given the fact that you’ll need an ample supply of food, water, spell pages and more in order to succeed, a big backpack is essential.
On the other hand, the bigger the backpack, the slower you move and dodge. You'll have to become accustomed to removing it before entering battle (so you can move more freely) and then picking it back up after combat. In addition, you can attach a lantern to it, in order to see in the dark and more. Another thing to look out for, and one more aspect handled better in Outward than in the Souls games.
2 Varied Playthroughs
Still not convinced that Outward does things better than most Souls-likes? Maybe this entry will do the trick. The game includes 4 factions, each of which comes with its own ranking system and storyline. This means that instead of constant speedruns, you can experience different playthroughs, proceed in different paths and see what every faction is about.
Not all gamers like the idea of so many possibilities in a video game. Some might say that a linear but excellent game is far better than a mediocre one which includes countless decisions. For what it’s worth, even with all its flaws, Outward is one of those games that appreciates the effort you put into it.
1 A World Ready To Explore
To top off all this, Outward is open world. Who wouldn’t love to be able to roam freely around Anor Londo or the Ringed City? Sadly, we can't do this, but we won't complain. We have the next best thing: games like Outward.
There’s one big question here though: what is it you look for in a Souls-like game? If it’s story and depth of characters, Outward won’t be your best option. If you like challenge, exploration, and survival, though, Outward clearly does that better than many of its competitors.