The Outer Worlds is the Firefly Futurama Fallout RPG I’ve always wanted

You know a game is good when, after about an hour into playing it, you want to slow down and savor it as much as possible so that you don’t get to the end too quickly. That’s exactly how I felt my first evening in The Outer Worlds and, a week later, that feeling hasn’t gone away. This is an amazingly fun and well-done RPG.

I should have expected as much, seeing as how this comes from Obsidian, which has made a focus on building CRPGs that people end up loving to death. Even its early delegated sequels — KOTOR II and Fallout New Vegas — were acclaimed despite being bug-festooned messes. Obsidian’s gotten better from there, and I had a great time going through Pillar of Eternity last year (although I haven’t touched the sequel yet).

So The Outer Worlds is this year’s entry, and it’s a doozy. It’s pretty much a game if the TV show Firefly, Fallout New Vegas, and maybe Futrama got together and made a very odd child. Right off the bat, I adored two key features: Its western motifs (mixed with early 1900s-style marketing) and its lack of, as someone on Twitter put it, “space magic.” Apart from a bullet time feature, everything your character does in combat is either shooting, slicing, or bashing, and I am glad for that.

For my first run-through — and I’ve already decided that I have to do more than one playthrough — I made a generally nice character who scored high on people skills and had a knack for lockpicking and hacking. The character creation process in Outer Worlds is pretty well-done, offering a lot of choice and possibilities before you get into the game proper. I wanted as many dialog options and open doors as possible, hence my priorities. You do get additional skill points per level and one perk every two levels, so growth happens at a good pace.

It also helps that this is a good-looking game. It’s colorful, exaggerated, and just slightly stylized enough to keep it from looking like other titles. Probably what drew me in so quick was Outer Worlds’ focus on dueling corporations on the frontier of space. There’s about 20 of them, although on the first planet you get to know just one — Spacer’s Choice — very well. There’s some not-so-sly commentary here about corporatization and capitalism run amok, but it’s interesting and thoughtful, and I liked having a lot of options to deal with the weirdness that has settled into the lives of the various characters.

And that art aesthetic! It’s just marvelous. There are hints of 1920s ads and art deco and old print and steampunk and what have you. Even the loading screens are great, often offering a glimpse into the game worlds’ creatures or businesses. Obsidian knocked it out of the park in building a fully realized game world with its own rules and logic that’s easy to grasp and appreciate.

That’s why I wanted to take my time and really poke into as much of this as possible. I’m sure some people blitzed though this game, but it took me over a week just to get off the starting planet because I explored everything and did all of the quests and tasks.

Sometimes I’d even double-back and talk to various characters again to see if I had unlocked any further dialogue with them. A bartender at the first town’s saloon particularly caught my interest, because she opens up enough to share that she originally had her sights set on a science-filled career of exploration before she fell into the company line and became a recluse in her own establishment.

Combat in The Outer Worlds is standard first-person shooter (or melee) stuff. I’m not the best at this without wasting a lot of ammo, but there are ways to compensate for that — the time dialation feature and weapon mods certainly help. I often would pause time to get a sense of where everyone was before making my first move. You also get companions to help out, and since they can’t permanently die (not on normal mode, at least), I have no compunction letting them be bullet sponges while I pick off the bad guys from the side.

So far, I really only have two complaints, and both are small. The first is that there is no option here to revert to a third-person perspective, as Obsidian didn’t have the budget for it. That’s really unfortunate considering how much time you can put into creating your character’s looks and finding cool-looking armor. The second complaint is that it’s far more awkward than it should be to compare stats on gear. I bet both of these will be fixed with time.

Here’s hoping that The Outer Worlds will be a smash hit and warrant some good DLC in the future, because this is definitely a world that I want to see expanded.

RPGs have taught me to be a gold miser

Let me start today’s post by asking you a question: How important is in-game money to you in RPGs and MMOs?

Because the answer for me, and I suspect many of you, is “not that much.” At least, money doesn’t matter on a daily basis in current games. Looking back, this used to be a lot different in older RPGs and MMORPGs, where there was only one currency that you kind of needed for everything.

I mean, go back to those older console RPGs and see how a great majority of your gear wasn’t looted but purchased from a vendor. Chrono Trigger gated its gear by offering a better quality vendor when you got to new areas, at which point you’d spend your cash to upgrade your team’s armor and weapons.

MMOs used to be a lot more like this as well. We saw a great example of that this year when crowds flocked into WoW Classic and (re)discovered that gold actually had a purpose beyond WoW Tokens and super-expensive mounts. You’d need gold for just about everything, including skills and bags and travel, and that gold (particularly in the first few weeks) was in very short supply until you got your farming on.

But these days I’m not that concerned with in-game cash. For one thing, most MMOs have secondary currencies that are far more useful — your premium (real money-bought) currency and your zone/reputation-limited tokens. My LOTRO characters sit on mountains of gold that they never have to spend because, outside of the auction hall, there really isn’t anything to buy with it. I just save up to buy some first age Legendary Item and that’s that.

In fact, that’s pretty much my strategy toward all RPGs, whether I’m playing solo or multiplayer. I sell and don’t buy, depending more on loot drops to keep me outfitted. I save up a ton of money in anticipation of a possible future splurge on something big. Because that hypothetical massive future purchase is always looming, I don’t want to fritter that money away on smaller and more inconsequential things.

MMOs have pretty much devalued gold to the point where it’s not worth thinking about much unless you can trade it in for something worth real-world value (such as WoW Tokens or EVE’s PLEX) or you’re just the type of person who plays the economy as the core game. When you can quest and grind forever, there’s no upper limits on what you can earn, and so MMOs have given up on gold sinks in favor of alternative currencies that do have hard limits and specific purchase options.

The only game that I’m concerned about money these days is FFXIV, where my ultimate goal is amassing enough gil to buy a house and outfit it. But since I don’t play the market, that’s probably going to be a long while in coming, and so I try to be frugal and gear up through other avenues.

A vision of a streamlined LOTRO experience

With 530 posts here on Bio Break, nine years of coverage on both Massivelys, and 12 years of play, clearly I am a fan of Lord of the Rings Online. There’s something fulfilling and deeply enjoyable about this ongoing journey through Middle-earth that keeps me coming back to it. But even so, I would be the first to admit that one of its biggest — and yet largely unspoken by the community — flaws is that it is a very alt-unfriendly MMORPG.

That’s not to say people avoid making alts; plenty of folks do. Most of the ones I know personally play LOTRO as their only MMO, and so alts make sense for them. But whereas I have scads of City of Heroes alts, in LOTRO, I have less characters on the selection screen for all servers combined than I have fingers on a single hand. I just don’t make alts in this game.

Why is that? The primary reason is time and length. The journey through LOTRO is more or less linear: You progress through level-gated zones, led by an epic storyline that is tailored to take you through the right places at the right time. And since there isn’t a lot of options how you are going to progress, you’ll be doing the same thing with each character.

And that “same thing” is plowing through literally thousands of quests. LOTRO’s design is very quest-centric, with each zone and expansion adding hundreds of additional missions to keep the playerbase busy and happy. If you were doing those quests when they were released, then you probably experienced them at a measured pace, but that’s not how it goes for most people who haven’t kept up. They’ve been buried under loads and loads of quests that simply take a whole lot of time to get through.

LOTRO has good quests and some really great questlines — Bingo Boffin and the epic storyline in particular. But it also has filler coming out of its ears. There’s kind of this running joke in the game that the writers are desperate to milk out every last ounce of potential content from the source material that they keep players backtracking and making very tiny baby steps forward in their journey so that Frodo and Sam are running laps around them in comparison.

So here’s my thought today about the alt problem. When a player hits the level cap, it should trigger a second game mode that offers a much more streamlined leveling experience. I’m not talking about simply upping the XP (although that would be the easy and most probable method); I’m talking about paring down the obscene number of quests so as to only give players the most essential ones to complete in order to experience the key elements of the story and move more quickly through the world a second, third, or even seventeenth time around.

Another option would be for this “new game plus” would be to eliminate ALL side quests and level fully from the epic alone. Just increase the rewards and XP from the epic to compensate, and players could jet through the game at a much faster pace. If they’ve already done all of the flower picking and pie running on at least one character, why not let their alts have an easier time catching up?

FFXIV: Who decided it was a good idea to give an army to a 17-year-old kid?

I’m very happy to report that last week’s expeditions into FFXIV paid off handsomely. I progressed through the Seventh Astral Era 100 quests much more quickly than before, partially thanks to skipping every cutscene until I got to 2.5 and partially thanks to a couple of unexpectedly long play sessions.

While the story and activities weren’t anything to write home (or to you) about, there were a couple of beneficial factors. The first was that jawing about the story and offering up observations with my free company helped to forge some early friendships and give me someone to talk to about the weirdness that often pops up in FFXIV. We talked about “fantasy pope” and “Alpha Nerd” and whether or not Lalafel lack souls and have to devour others when they get the opportunity. I know the story is very old hat to some of these players, but it’s a point of commonality that everyone has an opinion on, and that helps to build relationships.

I’ve also been getting my “game legs” back through these series of quests. My guildies have offered some helpful hints, especially about gearing up, and I’ve been lightly experimenting with different classes. The Summoner didn’t end up being my thing, and I dabbled for a while with the Red Mage before dying far too often in group experiences. So I did, at least for these quests, jump back into Scholar just so I didn’t have to wait forever for queues to pop. And while I am still very displeased with a lot of the changes Square Enix made with the class, I think I’ve found a workable solution that lets me both quest and group. I’m still going Mechanist later on, but it’s never a bad thing to have a healer in your pocket.

I also got my character to look the way I wanted. I already said that I switched her over to a human with a bit of punk hairdo, but after a little while tinkering with glamours, I gave her an outfit that looked sensible and modern rather than some giant poofy jacket/skirt combo.

Of course, the slight irony to last week was that while I was racing to catch up in the story, Square Enix moved the goalpost even further away with Patch 5.1. Hey, more quests aren’t a bad thing, but I do start to go cross-eyed when I think about how long it’s going to take to get to where everyone else is at. I also have been making lists of other activities that I want to do at some point, such as investigating beast quests.

I’m not on fire for FFXIV, but I am feeling like I’m in a comfortable groove. It’s a good time when I log in, and when I bounce between this and LOTRO, I get my MMO needs satisfied.

Fallout New Vegas: Side questing

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2010’s Fallout New Vegas. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Up until this point in my playthrough, I’ve pretty much been sticking to the main story path without much in terms of deviations. This week? This week I’m deviating as all get out. Finish up some side quests and then do what I love to do in Fallout the most, which is to angle toward different unexplored landmarks and see what’s out there.

I think this might have been a developer’s cry for help after an enormous crunch session.

One benefit of doing this wandering/uncovering the game map is that I ended up in a lot of combat situations and therefore started raking in a good amount of XP. I need the extra levels, and in the span of the week, I think I went up 2.5 levels from combat alone.

Poor geckos. They were just freaked out at the armed space woman invading their territory.

Another helpful factor of this personal expedition was the addition of my first companion, Boone. He’s not the most lively of characters — just a stoic sniper who really hates the Legion — but he’s absolutely great at picking off bad guys at a distance and helping to conserve my ammo.

I wandered through a long radioactive gulch (completely safe, thanks to my spacesuit’s high rad protaction) and then found this drive-in movie theater. It’s not as fancy as the one in early Fallout 4, but I like touches like this.

And there was this memorial. For something, I didn’t find out what. I had a feeling that this might be an actual real-world landmark of sorts, something that the Fallout series does on occasion. But I didn’t feel like researching it.

Fallout New Vegas’ map design is rather genius in its layout. You start the game very close to New Vegas, but there are a lot of high level mobs between you and it, so to get there you have to take a very roundabout route to eventually get there. There aren’t any invisible or visible walls stopping you from trying to go straight there, but you’re probably going to die.

When I stopped back in Novac, the gift store owner let me know that the town was gifting me with my own hotel room. I guess this is my HQ now? Having a bed and a storage locker right near a vendor is very convenient indeed!

Nostalgia Lane: Project Space Station

I took it for granted that I grew up during the Space Shuttle Age of NASA. Maybe it wasn’t as history-shattering as the landing on the moon, but the space shuttle was a huge icon of my childhood, from the Challenger to SpaceCamp to an interesting computer game in 1985 called Project Space Station.

Project Space Station was, in essence, a NASA simulator in which you had a small fleet of space shuttles and was tasked with building a space station while operating a financially successful organization. As a kid, I was pretty horrible at this, never able to turn a profit or figure out what needed to be done to become stable and start working my way up to a huge, bustling space station.

One of the unique factors was that this game’s clock (mostly) kept ticking forward. This mattered, because you were juggling several things at once: shuttles on the ground, shuttles orbiting, the space station, projects, yearly budgets, and the like. The idea was to start small, get a module or two in space, and start doing experiments to make money for bigger and better missions.

In theory, this game was totally up my alley. I was a scifi nut back then (still am) and in love with the space shuttle. But there were two things that kept me from playing it after a while. Well, three if you count the fact that I always went broke.

The first was the arcade sequences that happened with launch and landing. I was *terrible* at these, especially considering all I had was a clunky IBM PC keyboard to work with. Joysticks? On an IBM in the 80s? We weren’t royalty, you know. Failing at these sequences meant lost time and position and a continued loss of money.

The second factor was losing astronauts in space. I killed them off a depressing number of times, usually from forgetting that they were up there orbiting too long. They’d run out of air or water or something, and now I had a giant floating casket that I had to retrieve via EVA and bring back to earth. As a kid with an overactive imagination, this genuinely creeped me out, even if I never saw the actual astronauts. I still didn’t want them to die.

I had forgotten about this game for many years afterward until recently stumbling upon a screenshot and doing some research into what the game was even called. Project Space Station wasn’t a runaway success, but it did well enough for itself and was a good indicator of my love of sims to come.

BlizzCon 2019 thoughts

Both for work and personal curiosity, I watched the BlizzCon streams this past weekend. It was strange for me, personally, since I had distanced myself emotionally and mentally from Blizzard’s products, especially in light of the #BoycottBlizzard movement. But when you cover online gaming news, you go to where the news is no matter where your head space be at.

So how was it overall? Blizzard really needed a home run with this convention after the past month’s fiasco, Battle for Azeroth’s dissatisfaction, and last year’s dull convention showing. I think it got at least a solid double if not a triple, but the studio was missing that stand-on-your-feet-and-cheer moment that could have helped to really pave over the bumps of late.

Let’s start with The Apology. I honestly didn’t think Blizzard was even going to mention the whole Hong Kong thing, because Blizzard does not do humility well, but to my surprise it did just that. With protesters outside yelling for freedom and Hong Kong liberation, J. Alan Brack took to the stage and gave an apology for how he and the studio reacted last month. People have disagreed with me on Twitter about this, but I think that it was a… decent apology. Probably not sincere, probably extracted through gritted teeth. But at the very least, it was an indication that Blizzard took a serious hit over this and couldn’t afford to be so arrogant in the face of fan pushback. It will influence the decisions that the studio makes along these lines in the future.

Brack is a jerk, yes, and he and the company should have completely rescinded the punishments as a sign of good faith. That would have generated a lot of goodwill and effectively doused this issue. As it stands, people will read into the apology whatever they want because it doesn’t go far enough.

Your mileage may vary, but for me, this satisfies what I wanted to see: A somewhat contrite Blizzard that has taken a big step back from squashing opinions and free speech. It’s enough for me to end my personal boycott, although I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to World of Warcraft any time soon.

Moving on to the games:

World of Warcraft: Classic got about no real news, and no mention of a Burning Crusade/progression server. Live was all about Shadowlands, the much-rumored expansion that will delve into the afterlife zones. Maybe it’s just me, but the announcement was downright subdued compared to Battle for Azeroth’s initial reveal two years ago. No jaw-dropping cinematics or shocking feature reveals. Certainly no housing.

The level squish is of some concern. I’ve talked about this in the past, so suffice to say that my fear is that this is the easier fix than actually making levels 90-120 relevant. I’m just tired of leveling up and having no permanent benefit to show for it. If this changes it, then it has my leery support.

But… one of WoW’s greatest strengths over the past couple of expansions has been its zone designs and smaller stories, and I see hints that Shadowlands will be no different in this regard. I see places I genuinely want to visit and explore. I want to hear more about players will be given more in terms of character choice and growth. And I hope that Blizz has learned from the missteps of BfA while taking the best of that expansion and Legion going forward.

I’m also seeing Blizzard trying to iterate on what’s worked in the past and prune out what hasn’t. More character options, new skills, better options, more support for alts… yeah, this is good stuff. I’m more on board with the level squish now that we’ll have the option to start a new character and simply go through a single expansion to get from 1 to 50 and then jump into Shadowlands. That’s a great way to encourage alts and give us more ways to level.

Overwatch 2: Short of this sequel/expansion becoming a full-fledged MMO, there wasn’t much chance of this drawing my interest. It’s a colorful, personality-laden world… but it’s just not my style of gameplay. PvE story missions are a step in that direction, but it has a ways to go to being the kind of game I’d want to inhabit, not queue up for.

Diablo IV: My impression upon watching the announcement and the subsequent panel is that Blizzard wasn’t quite ready to show this game off. It really looks like it was rushed to get some sort of demo done for BlizzCon, but I would bet my wooden nickels that originally Blizz wasn’t going to reveal this until 2020. It’s bloody, it’s gritty, it’s less colorful than D3. I don’t know. It’s hard to get excited with this and without knowing more about it. We’re definitely a long way away from seeing this released — 2021 or 2022 at the very least.