The Outer Worlds’ two glorious flaws (and why I love them)

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.

Pillars of Eternity draws me into moral quandries

Over the past week, I’ve set a daily goal to boot up Pillars of Eternity and play through one mission, zone, or 30 minutes — whatever comes first. For as long as I’ve played and reloaded this game, I’ve never beaten it. But I’m closer right now than I ever have been before, and I’m serious about finishing it before the new year.

I think my gaming diet needs some single-player RPG in it, and this one scratches a great itch. It’s so comfortable to slip back into, especially coming from the old Baldur’s Gate days, and I appreciate the addition of the party AI that helps out in combat. This mostly frees me up to concentrate on the story and exploration of new areas, and I think I’m starting to make headway on all of the quests that opened up in Defiance Bay.

Without making much of a stink about it, Pillars of Eternity threw in an awful lot in the way of choices. Quests can be resolved — and even failed — based on actions and dialogue, and I find that these choices draw me much deeper into the story.

One side mission in particular that stuck out at me involved the disappearances of three locals. The first part of the quest was all footpad detective work, tracking down friends and extracting details. All of them pointed to a local theater troupe, and when I made the right inquiries (backed by a full investigation), I was led to a secret underground theater. It was here, apparently (and full spoilers ahead) that rich and influential patrons would pay to watch the show — which always ended with the very real death of an unsuspecting actor or actress.

For anyone but a psychopath, this situation calls for justice. But the game gives a lot of leeway as to how that justice can be extracted. The theater operators can be killed, of course, but they can also be convinced to shut it down if a wealthy benefactor is put away. Additionally, I got to confront the benefactor (who committed suicide when I threatened to turn him in) and a stagehand who was trying to flee. There’s a lot of pull between the desire to see justice done and accepting de facto bribes from the game — extra money if a player doesn’t extract justice. It’s not *real*, so you can justify taking the money for that reason, but I couldn’t do that.

Anyway, my team is starting to gel together as a real fighting unit. I’ve structured it so that there are two frontline fighters and four ranged attackers who plug away with the slowest, hardest-hitting weapons in the game. It gives me a very good alpha strike, and I’ve been able to put away drakes in the first few seconds.

I am wondering whether or not I should get the expansions after finishing this game or move on to another title (there are so many in my backlog, including this game’s sequel). I guess that answer will be “depends on the GOG winter sale.”