The Outer Worlds is like Lizzo’s ‘Like a Girl.’ I thought this while on the commute, and it dawned on me a little later that this is a ridiculous thought to think. But, it did happen. And I think I understand why this thought came to be thought; the gospel of Lizzo informs us that she ‘woke up feelin’ like I just might run for President, even if there ain't no precedent.’ Similarly, I might become the unplanned ultimate authority in this pocket of the galaxy, or I might just save a space colony destined to collapse. Take the path less travelled, or turn around and walk in the other direction. And incredibly enough, there are no right answers, no good end, no wrong way. Obsidian’s managed to create a space opera with conscious themes and consequences, and no one clipped through the floor even once.
The game opens with Dr. Phineas Welles, vagabond and eccentric scientist extraordinaire, clambering on board a long-lost human colony ship, called the Hope The player customises their character’s attributes from inside a cryo-chamber. Much like Fallout, these include Strength, Perception, Dexterity, Intelligence, and so on. It’s here where I’m warned that making a stat below average will have knock-on effects in the game. I locked in low intelligence, with a helping of speech skills, and expertise in the shooty-bang side of things. Welles taps frantically on the glass and tells the character they are the Halcyon Colony’s only hope. He revealed that the Board – a collective of powerful individuals who organise the corporations running this corner of the galaxy – has left the ship to rust among the stars. My character is ejected unceremoniously into an escape pod to meet Welles’ valuable contact, Captain Hawthorne, for the next stage in his grand plan. Once I land, I see two legs stretched akimbo in a darkly cosmic Wizard of Oz reference. I’ve squished Captain Hawthorne.
The humour continues on this course throughout The Outer Worlds. There are slimy execs only out for themselves, downtrodden workers who believe the Board to be godlike in its powers of execution, fiscal and corporeal. Don’t expect a laugh track or a crash of cymbals with every wisecrack, because the jokes came with a bite that established the game’s anti-capitalist themes. For example, you discover that one employee committed suicide at work. His colleagues complain that it was annoying to take time out of their day to clean his remains off of the walls, but his death actually constituted a corporate crime. His body belonged to the company and damaging it in any way would lead to a hefty fine and disapproval from the Board. This particular planet has fallen on hard times, and it would be the final nail in the coffin if the news reached the top brass.
It would be simple and clean to say The Outer Worlds is like Fallout in space. And if it is, it’s more specifically like Fallout: New Vegas in space, and comes with the bells and whistles of a true Obsidian RPG. However, unlike with that game, Obsidian isn’t stepping into the shoes of an established series here, and the consequent artistic freedom looks like a splendid explosion in an art-nouveau print factory. The delicate font choice, though aesthetically pleasing, highlighted just how awful my eyesight is. Elsewhere, chatting to characters results in a zoom on their face, and a bunch of things to say to them, both hallmarks of Fallout: New Vegas. But unlike its spiritual predecessor, these people have fully functioning face muscles and will squint, smile, and furrow their brow as the protagonist challenges or concedes to their outlook on life. Because my character had low intelligence, I got special ‘Dumb’ dialogue options to use in conversation. Characters despaired over my non-existent knowledge of basic concepts, whereas others liked my gumption, and some thought it best to steer clear of a knucklehead wielding a plasma rifle.
Pushing The Outer Worlds to its limits reveals its most impressive mechanics. Every action has an equal reaction, and if my skills were too low in hacking or persuasion or melee, only a selection of the multitude of options would be possible. It balances flexibility with inflexibility: if I was to be a bonehead with no appreciation for the sciences, then of course I wouldn’t be able to name-drop the periodic table to gain access to a medical facility.
There is always the option to take a traditional approach, though. The Outer Worlds has a conventional selection of weapons and abilities for a role-playing game, and your proficiency with these increases as the character levels up and inputs points into attributes. Stealth is possible, and modifications lets you add silencers and increased magazines to the guns, as well as a host of other upgrades. It’s also got Tactical Time Dilation, which is not Fallout’s V.A.T.S. Kind of. It slows time and reveals weak spots on your enemies, who range from monstrous Mantiqueens to shopkeepers with whom you’ve had a critical misunderstanding.
The combat is fun, and playing with some of the more imaginative weapons in the game is comedic and tactically rewarding. There is even an optional Flaw mechanic, with which players will be awarded an extra perk point if they take on a vulnerability that changes gameplay. I walked over too many mines (how many mines is too many mines?) and I received a Permanent Concussion. I was formerly a half-wit, now I was a no-wit. It meant I got no critical damage bonuses and combat was much harder, even with a heavy weapon, but the game nodded towards my numb skull every so often. You could be a lone ranger in The Outer Worlds, and there are perks specific to a solo experience, but you’d be missing out on its vibrant and volatile cast of characters.
The crew you collect along the way include a not-very-holier-than-thou vicar, a pirate with a medical degree, a wayward anarchist, and a sweet but shy engineer. They’ve got their own companion storylines with which you can pick up and drop at any time. As a woman out of time, I valued their opinions and voices on the determinant decisions in the game, and there aren’t any signifiers to say whether they agreed or disagreed with your conclusion. In addition, there are factions on each of the planets, and how you react to their messages and quests will affect their feeling toward you. Unload a magazine or few into the Board’s lackeys and they’ll feel ‘Put Out’. Settle a feud between two warring communities and they’ll think the world of you, but stealing some snacks will still irritate the people you’ve saved. This may seem a little old-hat, but, when I reached the end of the story, The Outer Worlds detailed how each and every one of my decisions altered the fate of the Halcyon colony.
The Outer Worlds is Fallout in space, but that isn’t to say you’ve seen it all before. In fact, I believe I haven’t seen the half of what this game can do, and it still allures after a concentrated and compact campaign. I’m sorry to report to Lizzo that I didn’t run the whole damn Outer world but I was sugar, spice, and nice, when needs must. The game was surprising and sparky, letting me do what I liked regardless of whether it meant life, death, chaos, peace, or none of the above. It feels like a familiar Obsidian experience, but the game’s polish shows that the studio is a force to be reckoned with. We’ve waited a while for The Outer Worlds, and it was certainly worth it.
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Private Division
Available on: PC, Xbox, PlayStation 4 [reviewed on].
Release Date: October 25, 2019
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