Video games are obsessed with scale in a way unlike we’ve ever seen. Bragging about map sizes and the number of script pages was always part of the stick-measuring competition in many AAA games, but these past few years have pushed #Content™ to its breaking point. RPGs have been hit pretty hard by this mentality as most entries in the genre are massive titles filled to the brim with more missions than most people have time for. So when The Outer Worlds isn’t promising that level of scale, it automatically feels like a game from yesteryear. But rather than appearing like a relic from the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation, it seems to be a refreshing throwback to an era less infatuated with quantity and more interested in quality.
But that doesn’t mean it feels old. Given Obsidian’s prior work on the Fallout series, The Outer Worlds is most easily compared to the Fallout games (take a shot) from at a glance and once you acclimate and understand its pacing. Yet, The Outer Worlds’ snappier controls are the biggest differentiator that become obvious once you start playing.
The Outer Worlds Preview | Falling out of a genre’s restraints
While the game won’t be confused for Call of Duty or Doom, firing bullets is a smoother experience that isn’t bogged down because of its RPG mechanics. It’s easier to aim and hit targets like a regular first-person shooter akin to something like Borderlands and players can even slow down time for an extra layer of strategy. Something has to fill the hole VATS left and even though this is not as nuanced or unique as VATS, it gets the job done. Your optional AI companions can also slow down fights, but not in the good way as their super move abilities play a cutscene instead of naturally occurring during the fight.
Slowing down time combined with responsive controls makes combat move a little more quickly now. It’s a big change since the Fallout shooters, despite their enhancements, always felt their clunkiest when trying to nail targets at range via manual aiming. Players can also put skill points into shooting and time dilation to make it more of a shooter, and Carrie Patel, the game’s senior narrative designer, described how this was an effort to make the most simplistic part of the game more fun for more people.
“We certainly wanted the combat and shooting to feel really good because it’s the most straightforward way to engage with a lot of enemies,” she said.
Shooting is the most digestible and approachable answer but the game isn’t being dumbed down for more casual players and this approach feeds into its deep, branching mission design. Like the Fallout games (take another shot), missions don’t usually have just one answer. Sneaking — which players can also spec towards — and shooting seem to offer two gameplay paths players can take but The Outer Worlds is also focused on choices that are a bit more nuanced.
The Outer Worlds Preview | A wealth of options
The main mission in the demo revolved around a character named Catherine asking you to “take care of” an operation run by a skeezy guy named Clive. That purposefully vague directive lets players know that there is more than one way to skin a Clive.
Once you sneak or blast through his slaughterhouse, you can simply cut him down in cold blood via an old fashioned bullet or electric club to the head. And most players will do just that because Clive seems like the kind of guy that would sell cigarettes to kids before harvesting their organs. If you’re feeling merciful but still a little mischievous, you can spare him but destroy his operation. Although players with a silver tongue can go in and talk to Clive to intimidate him, talk him down, or flip the tables and even ally with him over Catherine.
There’s a depth and flexibility to that objective that is probably what most players want and why Fallout New Vegas’ side missions (take yet another shot) were so memorable. Patel said that the team tried to design most missions like that where players will have tons of solutions to discover. But Obsidian isn’t trying to overly obscure these different options, but naturally put them in the player’s way so they can make more informed decisions.
“We handle it differently in every quest,” she explained. “But when we offer these options and branches, we try to put them in the player’s path so it’s not this entirely obscure set of things you have to do to find another way to do a mission.”
Some of these choices will be available for people who pick certain dialogue options. And those dialogue options are a decent sampling of the game’s tone and writing. Jokes fly by at a fairly consistent clip, be it in the menu or in straight dialogue. It hardly bats an eye at its humor too, meaning it can be easy to miss one of its many comedic lines. This, combined with the colorful, space setting, gives it a silly Futurama-esque vibe that will hopefully continue to grow and proper as the game moves along. While the Fallout series (sorry, another shot) had its funny moments, this game’s setting isn’t as dire and thus seems more apt avenue for humor.
The Outer Worlds Preview | Exploring new territory
In addition to setting up better punchlines, the extraterrestrial planets are more suited to allow Obsidian to try something new. Being among solar systems we could only dream of not only lets the game have a pretty, colorful art style that dips into the realm of fiction, but it also allows the studio to break free and give players a fresh take on what Obsidian does best. A lot of people on the team enjoy sci-fi and leaving Earth let the team explore a new place, which is also one of the tent-poles of the golden age sci-fi genre that this game takes from. It’s a thematic parallel to The Outer World’s narrative.
“A lot of [the reason for going to space] is, for us, letting the player experience a new setting that is not on Earth,” said Patel. “And that gave us the freedom to really design something with very few constraints that was exciting for us to build. It would also let us lean on our strengths as worldbuilders and give players something they hadn’t seen before.”
The Outer Worlds Preview | Exploring established territory
Although part of the game’s appeal is stuff they have seen before and that might be exactly what some players want and what might turn some players off. While environments have a wide range of colors and people animate relatively well, it can’t quite compete with some of the most advanced games on the market on a technical level. There are loading screens that separate sections of the world. Characters still have hair that looks like a helmet made of strings. The zoomed in dialogue camera isn’t exactly new.
But it’s not a AAA game with a budget that will shame Rockstar or Bethesda and it’s not trying to be and that’s what some of its players are going to yearn for. Obsidian has been fairly open that it isn’t an endless RPG that will hold you hostage for hundreds of hours. Patel described it more as a “quality versus quantity” debate where the latter was the correct choice for them.
“The focus for us has always been giving the player a polished and story-driven experience since a lot of our games are known for their stories,” she said. “We want to make sure that all the content we are giving the player is really tightly honed and gives them a cohesive experience. We don’t want to jam the content for the sake of inflating our hours. So I think that what we ended up with feels right for the game we are making, which isn’t a AAA, gigantic budget blockbuster kind of game.”
Having older elements does not mean it will mean an archaic game because many players today are actively seeking once-hot trends that have died down in recent years. The Outer Worlds will not have microtransactions, an endless campaign, or multiplayer; ideas that permeate almost every major 2019. It seems to just want to suck players into its quirky world, tell them a story rife with depth and choices, and get out without having to soak up all of their time in the process. So while a handful of ideas do seem like they were plucked right out of 2011, some of those features are downright novel in 2019 and could be The Outer World’s best qualities.