I’m still enjoying every moment playing through Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds, although I haven’t been able to zip through this game as quickly as some due to time limitations and recent illnesses. Still, it’s been one of the best purchases I’ve made this year, and I’ve read not just a few articles discussing its world and design.
What is most interesting to me are two commonly cited “flaws” that seem to run counter to most big-budget CRPGs these days. The first is the lack of romance options with your companions, and the second is the relatively quickly playthrough time (something like 20 to 25 hours).
I, for one, am deeply glad for both of these flaws. I don’t even see them as flaws. Let me explain.
For starters, I think romancing companions was super novel and interesting back when BioWare was doing it in Baldur’s Gate 2, but these days it’s felt like this very forced system that players demand but are not satisfied with when they get it. Why? Because it’s really silly to gamify romantic relationships with computer characters. You stop interacting with those characters the way you’d actually want to and instead try to pick the one option that will push your “love meter” further. You bend your will to, let’s face it, seducing them so that you can get the satisfaction of… what, exactly? A tepid bedroom scene, a murmur of heartfelt love, and then exactly zero follow-up to that romance then after?
I’ve never seen an RPG, MMO or otherwise, really explore a romantic relationship in depth between a player and NPC. There are no spats, no marriages, no dates, nothing except this seduction mini-game. It’s unsatisfying, yet it’s become so expected that people have a snit fit when it’s not there.
So yeah, I’m glad The Outer World decided to chuck that away, because it is far more interesting to just interact with your companions the way you want to and develop friendships with them. My crew is great, each one with his, her, or its own wonky personality. I can help them with their own storylines or not, but if I do, I’m not doing it to get into the sack with them. That feels far more realistic.
The size of the game is absolutely fine with me too, because I’m far past the point in my life when a 100-hour CRPG feels manageable. You know how much people have been pushing The Witcher 3 on me? I keep nibbling at that game, but its combat system (which I’ve disliked in all the Witcher titles) and its sheer size keeps me at bay.
Let me put it this way: I don’t want to play a big game just because it’s big. I’d always, always prefer a smaller, more hand-crafted RPG world that had a density of detail and a good pace of storytelling from start to finish. Chrono Trigger is a great example of this, as it is only a 16 hour RPG (more or less) that is incredibly replayable and delightfully designed.
That’s what The Outer Worlds is. It’s not huge. Most of its areas aren’t massive. But they are well-designed and a lot of fun to explore, and I feel more relaxed without the pressure of a scandalously big world map pressuring me to visit All The Places. I have a reasonable shot at finishing this game before the end of the year, and I love that feeling in a CRPG when you do get to the end. Don’t get it that often, and never with MMOs.
So yeah, Obsidian, you make your own games and don’t let the way we’ve always done things determine the course of your design. It’s made this game better for it.