Fallout fans have been eagerly anticipating The Outer Worlds, a space-cowboy RPG from Obsidian Entertainment, makers of Fallout: New Vegas. New Vegas is pretty widely regarded as the best in the series for the way it handles dialogue options and character choice by giving players a branching narrative with faction relationships to maintain (or destroy) and a world that evolved around the choices you make. The Outer Worlds picks up where New Vegas left off, this time in a futuristic space-faring society run by greedy corporations.
The Outer Worlds eliminates all of the bloat associated with modern Fallout games by streamlining crafting, leveling, inventory management, and exploration. Instead, it focuses on a well-crafted and succinct narrative that provides ample opportunity for player choice, character growth, and theme exploration. It's Fallout in everything but name, yet it doesn't necessarily manage to capture the charm and sincerity of its predecessor.
The Outer Worlds is the best Fallout game since New Vegas, without a doubt, despite being a mere fraction of its length and size. While the game is sure to satisfy players that want those complex dialogue trees and morally opaque choices to make, The Outer Worlds feels content with letting the genre stagnate in predictable systems rather than evolve the genre with any kind of truly emergent storytelling.
In Space, No One Can Hear You Try To Unionize
Earth's most powerful corporation formed a group called the Halcyon Holdings Corporation to colonize a distant solar system. As one might expect, a society ran by corporations isn't particularly keen on things like human rights or labor laws. There's no such thing as vacation time, they can only eat the plague-causing food product "Saltuna" manufactured on-site, and they're paid a pittance. Yet, many workers express loyalty and admiration for their oppressors. Others, disillusioned with being gears in the machine, forsake the HHC for an even harder life out in the wilds where they must contend with barren soil, dangerous creatures, and marauders.
Your character is colonist who, along with several other hundred colonists, was left in cryo-stasis by the HHC rather than joining the new colony. Your group is made up of scientist, engineers, and others whose intellect pose a threat to the established power structure in the Halcyon system. Better to leave the lot of you frozen and maintain the status quo.
Once awoken, your main objective is to find the means to wake the rest of the abandoned colonists and, eventually, wrest control of the Halcyon system away from the HHC. On your path through the system, you'll meet workers and learn about life for the colonists, going on fetch quests in typical quid-pro-quo RPG fashion. You'll walk into the middle of a conflict between opposing factions at every turn, typically among company loyalists and independents, and be forced to intervene in order to pursue your own goals.
The Outer Worlds' strength is in how these conflicts are presented and all the ways they can be resolved. There are very few good vs. evil choices to make, rather, there is always a cost. Your own sense of morality and political ideologies will guide you through the choices in the game, whether that be for the benefit of sympathetic characters, the greater good, or yourself. The degree to which you involve yourself in the lives and conflicts of the Halcyon people is both satisfying and thought-provoking, and the relatively short length of the game makes it fairly palatable to roll a new character and perhaps make some choices you'd never make in real life. That, for me, is the ideal RPG experience.
Trimming The Fallout Fat
Fallout games have so much looting, inventory management, and stat tracking that they are often a daunting experience. I've often considered revisiting Fallout 4, but then I think about ballistic fiber, adhesives, and how much a microscope weighs and I realize I'm over it.
The Outer Worlds isn't without it's weight management and junk scrapping trappings, but it never feels bothersome to the point where my experience was weighed down (pun intended). This is partly due to the length of the game and the smaller pool of items you can potentially collect, but it also has everything to do with how simplified all of the systems in the game are.
There are three types of ammo: light, heavy, and energy. Every gun has two mod slots and can be upgraded through (tinkering) on a linear damage-increasing path. When you level up, you get 10 points to put into your skills, like hacking or persuasion, and a perk point to spend on a bonus, like movement speed or companion damage. It's all incredibly intuitive, and designed to be adjusted quickly so you can get back to the dialogue trees and story beats that the developers have spent so much time crafting.
I never felt like I was living in my inventory the way Fallout often makes me feel. I didn't have to keep track of 15 guns that all have their own ammo type. I didn't spend hours staring at the floor making sure I looted every last screw. Instead, I talked to everyone, I dug deep with my questions to really understand all the nuances of every situation, and I made choices that I felt were just and fair. That's what I liked most about New Vegas, and I'm glad that's what I got here.
Satisfying, But Slightly Tired
And yet, I can't help but feel like I wanted so much more from The Outer Worlds and the ways I could interact with the world. This genre is meant to be a translation of the tabletop RPG experience where increasing your character's stats opens up new paths and shortcuts. For me though, the level to which the systems are transparent really impedes immersion and story-telling. Too often was I faced with two choices: (A) kill someone, or (B) use my Persuasion Skill to get what I want. It really takes away from the authenticity of the characters when all of them can be persuaded to abandon the their core values by me saying, "You're wrong, stop."
It isn't just speech skills either. I constantly walked right into people's homes, looked through their belongings right in front of them, and then blackmailed them with the information I found to their utter and complete surprise. There are so many exceptional performances and so much strong writing in this game that gets completely thwarted by how "gamey" this game is. I wish veteran RPG studio Obsidian was more interested in evolving the genre than offering the same laughable, immersion-breaking encounters that were just as silly in New Vegas a decade ago, but that's just not the case.
The Outer Worlds is a polished game that delivers most of what fans loved about New Vegas. It doesn't capture the iconography of Vault Boy or the excitement associated with finding a new vault and discovering what dark experiments were going on within it, but it provides a predictably serviceable story that explores themes of work ethic, class divide, and the value of human life in compelling ways. It's absolutely worth your time.
A PlayStation 4 review copy of The Outer Worlds was provided to TheGamer. The Outer Worlds is available Friday 10/25 on PS4, Xbox One, and Epic Store.