While a foul taste may still linger from other recent attempts at the genre, Obsidian has re-entered the fray with a monumental bang, and further solidified themselves as one of the best RPG developers in the industry today. While other studios seem hell-bent on nickel and diming their customer base, Obsidian has crafted one of the best fully-featured games I've had the joy of playing this year. If, like me, you grew up with games like KOTOR 2 and consider Fallout: New Vegas to be the pinnacle of the first-person entries in that series, The Outer Worlds is one of the best attempts at the genre in years and may even be my favourite game this year (I'm reviewing another title right now that may just take that top spot for me).
Much like a budding flower, The Outer Worlds starts slow. It gradually opens up to reveal a massively impressive RPG that doesn't take itself too seriously but is devout on delivering a wealth of options for players to tackle any given situation. Much like the best games in the genre, The Outer Worlds lets players loose in a spectacularly beautiful universe, where choice is the foundation that enables you to play the game you want to play. Do you want to be a mentally-stunted thug that beats enemies to a pulp with a shovel, or will you instead take on the role of a silver-tongued rogue, equally proficient at defusing situations through the art of conversation or slightly more murderous (stabby-mcstaberson) tactics? Will you side with the corporations or will you join the rebels fighting for freedom from indentured servitude?
All of these choices and so many more are entirely yours as the player to make. The sense of freedom I felt when approaching each and every mission or situation is unparalleled in gaming this year. I lost count of the number of times, I sat staring at the screen, mouth agape at the situation I had just fan-dangled my way out of. How did I manage to clear the entire quest without so much as aiming a weapon?
The first thing you'll notice when booting up The Outer Worlds is how jaw-droppingly gorgeous the design is. Sure, it runs on Unreal Engine, much like plenty of other washed-out brown shooters. Where The Outer Worlds separates itself from the pack is its masterful use of colour and western-themed art-deco design sensibilities. From the moment you step foot on your first planet, you're greeted by a sumptuous buffet of dazzling flora and fauna, selling the point that you truly are on an alien world. Nearby planets loom terrifyingly close on the horizon, while shimmering aurora borealis caress the vibrant skylines. The sense of place is terrific, and every location you visit during the fifteen to thirty-hour adventure feels unique and thoughtfully designed.
While the game shirks the open-world design of its peers, Obsidian has instead crafted a series of linked larger maps. There's a tremendous amount of detail packed into each area, and space is used fantastically with quests taking you to each and every corner of the universe. I wasn't expecting the worlds to be so spectacular. I was concerned that forgoing a large open-world would make the game feel small and less interesting, but it actually achieved the opposite feeling. There were several moments that had me saying "holy shit", like the first time I stepped aboard Groundbreaker in all of its neon-lit glory. I can't overstate enough just how impressive all of the locations are in the game. There's a wonderful amount of diversity between them which helps keep things feeling fresh as you progress.
Improving dialogue abilities even has an effect in combat which is excellent. In most games of this nature, if you focus too much on dialogue skills, you're often left criminally underpowered for combat encounters. Not so in The Outer Worlds. Say, for example; you have a high intimidate skill, not only can this be used in conversation: it'll also automatically trigger in combat, causing some enemies to cower in fear leaving them open to attack. I can't state strongly enough just how well Obsidian has done with the skills and perks system. In another smart move, the first tier you reach in each of these skills generally unlocks the most useful skill in that tree. This means you can spread out your skill points early on to unlock the best abilities, and then focus on specializing as you learn what works best for you.
There's just so much freedom in player choice in every single aspect of the game. I naturally put the majority of my skill points into dialogue-based skills, and I was not disappointed at the wealth of dialogue options this opened up. I could persuade, lie and intimidate most characters to bend any situation to my will. Taking on a massive quest and somehow weaselling both sides into doing your bidding never gets old and is the heart of the experience.
When I look back at my favourite stories, the one thing they all have in common is characters we can relate to. A story is only as strong as its characters, and The Outer Worlds cast features an outstanding mix of rag-tag rebels, bureaucratic business buffoons and morally corrupt corporate loyalists. The game is a masterclass on how to do characters the right way. From my companions who I grew genuinely attached to, to the more seedy characters I couldn't wait to escort to an untimely death, the games cast is brimming with personality on every front.
I found myself wanting to talk to every single NPC I came across and digging deeper into their dialogue options often rewards you with more side-quests or handy information. During your adventure, you'll meet more than your fair share of deplorable characters too. From corrupt middle-managers hell-bent on pushing their workers to the bone, to characters that seem nice at first, but quickly reveal themselves to be sociopathic lunatics, the cast is one of my favourites in recent memory with a ton of memorable characters.
While talking will get you in and out of many situations, you will still occasionally have to resort to more violent methods to progress. Combat in The Outer Worlds feels more than adequate. It does feel a little floaty at times, but the focus is very much on precision. Instead of the Fallout V.A.T.S system, The Other Worlds allows players to slow down time, allowing you to shoot specific body parts on enemies quickly. For example, slowing time down and shooting an enemy in the head will induce a blind effect, leaving them scrambling to find you while you pick them off from relative safety. The combat is definitely a step up from the Fallout series, and there's also some excellent variety in your arsenal. From standard bullet-firing guns to lasers, flamethrowers and a bunch of melee weapons, I found the array of weapons kept me mixing up my arsenal and trying out new guns as I picked them up. The game also features a handful of awesome science weapons like the shrink ray or a gun that rearranges your enemies face in horrifying and hilarious ways. I was expecting combat to primarily take a back seat or feel tacked-on, but thankfully, if you want to play an action-heavy role, you won't be disappointed.
Also of particular note is the games expert voice acting and music. The score is so subtle at times that its hard to notice, but the way a single instrument is used at times adds a hauntingly lonely feeling to the proceedings. It's all surprisingly restrained but is always beautiful and fits the game perfectly. The voice acting is also some of the best I've encountered in years. Almost every single character feels like they are having fun with the often-hilarious dialogue. Lip syncing is also, for the most part, well-executed, and I loved how characters would turn to face my companions when addressing them in dialogue or look down to examine something in their hands. It's these little details that sell the world and its inhabitants There is the odd outlier with stiff lips and a wooden delivery, but the vast majority of conversations I encountered kept me so interested, I didn't feel the urge to skip a single line of dialogue throughout. The way the game pokes fun at corporations and impotent management is pitch-perfect and feels frighteningly close to home.
In a first for me, while reviewing the game, my wife got tired of watching and asked if she could try the game. I spent more than a few hours watching her play and was impressed with just how different our approaches could be to any given situation. Where she was compassionate, I was cocky. Where she showed cunning guile in a quest, I threw bullets at it. I think that's the biggest selling point for The Outer Worlds, the game just feels so tailored to play the way you want. You never feel forced into handling a situation in a particular way and experimenting more often than not leads to some hilarious outcomes. It's also worth noting that the game features no loot boxes, DLC, bonuses or purchase incentives. It's a massive breath of fresh air seeing that everyone who buys the game gets the same content.
To say games of this nature can at times be buggy is a massive understatement, but somehow I only encountered minimal issues during my time. I had one mission block me from progressing until I reloaded the game and the game sometimes thinks you are in combat when there are no enemies around. I was genuinely shocked at how smooth everything runs and how little jank I encountered. It just goes to show that if you put the work in, it's possible to actually release a finished game at launch, Other devs, take note...
Much like the astronauts who express sadness when returning to earth following an extended stay in space, The Outer Worlds has left its indelible mark on me in the best way possible and I'm not quite ready to say goodbye just yet. Obsidian has delivered an action-RPG of the highest calibre and undoubtedly one of the best games of the year. If you're a fan of the genre, you absolutely have to take command of The Unreliable and embark on this incredible journey across the stars as soon as possible.
In the past, I've always yearned for more Fallout, but now that I've tasted the latest from Obsidian, that has changed. I'll just have The Outer Worlds 2 thanks...
+ Packed with memorable characters.
+ Gorgeous design and eye-popping colour use.
+ Incredible amount of player freedom & choice.
+ Top notch voice acting, dialogue & writing.
+ Humour is genuinely funny.
+ Interesting stat & skill system leads to plenty of diversity.
+ Excellent score.
+ Hugely replayable.
+ Shockingly bug-free.
+ No microtransactions or gated content.
- Some long load times. Up to 30 seconds on PS4 Pro.
- Typical Unreal Engine pop-in.
- The final nail in the coffin for the Fallout series?