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.