The Outer Worlds Review: Gameplay Impressions, Videos and Speedrunning Tips

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2019

Obsidian Entertainment

The Outer Worlds will feel incredibly familiar to longtime fans of the Fallout series.  

Think Fallout: New Vegas more so than recent releases in the fabled series, though. Developer Obsidian Entertainment doesn't shy away from its roots with The Outer Worlds while establishing an in-depth single-player RPG that leans heavily into crafting its own sci-fi universe with a humorous undertone. 

And while Fallout comparisons will chase The Outer Worlds, rest assured Obsidian has another RPG monster hit on its hands. The satirical take on corporations in an alternate-timeline, space-western package proves strong enough to stand on its own. The Outer Worlds brilliantly pairs with the deep RPG and varied play options the developer has been known for over the years. 

The Outer Worlds feels nostalgic and is an odyssey of sorts that won't have any problem standing on its lonesome for a long time after launch. 

    

Graphics and Gameplay

Visually speaking, The Outer Worlds screams Fallout right from the opening sequence. 

The engine working behind the scenes is Unreal Engine 4, though things seem instantly smoother than other Bethesda-backed engines. Character models are detailed, the lip-synching is spotty and there is an acceptable level of jank from NPCs, making for a familiar experience but not a game-ruining one. 

Where The Outer Worlds really shines is in the diversity of character splashed into those models and—of course—the worlds themselves. 

Alongside the Fallout vibes, there's a dash of No Man's Sky. Lush, colorful fauna and jaw-dropping skyboxes with stars, planets and other wonders round out the scenery. No place feels the same, and it is easy to get sidetracked simply exploring the world. 

If there is a knock to the game's immersion, it's the sense of scale within communities. They don't feel like big places with big populations simply because there aren't that many NPCs at once. Like some of the lip-synching, this isn't the biggest of issues. Even some of the biggest releases in recent years share both of these problems, so using it as a point of criticism that the game feels like an older-gen release is a tough sell. 

Besides, the voice acting is some of the best players will find in games today, and it helps the game's immersion no end. Nothing shocking there on Obsidian's part, but the variety of characters and how they weave into the central plot is top-notch. Especially on a headset like an Astro A50, accompanying NPC chatter, ambient noises and music really bring everything together to sell an engrossing take on this western in space. 

For those who adored New Vegas, it's easy to see where this is going in the gameplay department. 

Build variety is a huge part of The Outer Worlds. Players who want to be a swashbuckling melee juggernaut can invest the necessary points and go to town. Those who want to sneak around and kill (or not) adversaries can do the same. Sharpshooter? It's there. Slick-talker or mad scientist of sorts? Indeed. 

Out in the world(s), gunplay's weight and impact is a pleasant surprise. It's more satisfying than older Fallout games, and similar praise goes to the feel of melee weapons. Recoil, feedback and impact give importance to combat that prior Obsidian games didn't seem to have. 

It helps the expected variety of arsenal is here too. There are assault rifles and the expected weaponry, but different weapon types are more effective against different types of enemies. Creative scientific weapons like the Shrink Ray does exactly what it sounds like it does in hilarious fashion. 

The Outer Worlds brings some of the comparisons on itself in the general gameplay loop, too, as the game's version of the Fallout V.A.T.S. system is called Tactical Time Dilation. The narrative helps it make sense, and it's always fun to slow down time, have the feedback reveal what a shot will do to the enemy and where before pulling the trigger and watching the carnage unfold. 

The versatility of gameplay weaved throughout can't be stressed enough. It sure feels like players could go the pacifist route and never kill anyone. On the polar opposite note slaughtering everyone seems possible too. On a smaller level, a melee-only build feels great, unlike in past similar games. The presence of a block and full skill tree there makes for a unique playthrough. 

Besides combat, general gameplay flow is fluid. There doesn't seem to be a big stretch of only dialogue. And lessons from old Fallout games persist throughout the streamlined game. Here's a big one: no silly hacking minigame! Just hold a button. Provided the player has collected enough materials, the only thing to worry about is skill level. 

As for the controls, there isn't a big learning curve worth noting. Perhaps the biggest annoyance is trying to walk and pick up items at the same time on a controller, though it's easily solved with something like the paddles on an Xbox Elite Series 2 controller.

In short, this is an expected leap in immersion and gameplay experience as one might come to expect from Obsidian. 

    

Story and More

The Outer Worlds prides itself on a few things, with the satire and varying characters in an interesting world taking a front seat. 

Players assume the role of a colonist who wakes up from a rather long nap and finds themself thrust into a Halcyon colony where corporations command life. It flows from there. 

The narrative immediately goes into great moral Fallout-vibes upon arrival in the first batch of civilization. Shades of gray define the first big decision, all while the player's character simply tries to find a part to make his or her spaceship functional again.

After an introduction of sorts, which is peppered with helpful explanations of mechanics, skill trees and more (there's also an expansive, well-done codex), the scope of the game expands to grandiose territory as players get to exploring a new universe. 

And rest assured it doesn't pour the humor on too much. This isn't "funny" with attempts to woo players with talk about streamers and emoticons. It's all grounded and often delivered dryly with wit inside the confines of this hilarious uber-capitalist setting. 

The conversation trees might have best-ever status for this type of RPG. There are usually four or five options to move a dialogue along, including or in addition to persuasion, threats etc., based on player point allocation. 

Leveling different things permits different playstyles. An old-school classic, for example, is having enough skill points poured into tech-savviness to hit up a terminal and disable enemies instead of going in guns blazing. 

Of course, players could always go heavy on persuasion and leadership and have companions do the heavy lifting. 

Companions play a huge role and do so better than most other games. Not only are they a diverse cast of hilarious tagalongs, but they have their own skill trees with perks. Players can equip them with better armor and weapons, which creates some major party diversity. A companion could be tasked with holding a scientific weapon while the player doles out damage with normal weapons, for example. Some of those companion perks are funny and useful, too—one makes enemies perceive the companion as a bigger threat, leaving the player as a secondary target. 

Just like in older Fallout games, companion NPCs do some weird things, such as engaging in a conversation, only for the camera to pull back upon its conclusion and the NPC not even being close to the player character. None of it is game-breaking or really even immersion-breaking for players well versed in these games, but it isnotable nonetheless. 

As for player perks and skill trees, things seem more complicated at first glance than they truly are. There are tiers of perks players can choose from that grant stat boosts or abilities. In the skill trees, each level up provides points to invest. As a brief example, under the "melee" tree is both one-handed and two-handed melee. Investing enough in one of these overarching categories eventually allows the player to directly invest points into individual categories within trees (ie "Persuade," but not "Lie" under dialogue). 

Another new wrinkle is the implementation of flaws. One early flaw players might encounter is taking too much damage from plasma weapons. If a player accepts the flaw presented as the game observes from their play style, it means increased damage from plasma weapons in exchange for an extra perk unlock. 

In other words, leaning too heavily into a certain playstyle or struggling too much in one area might be something the game observes and offers up a flaw as a counterbalance or nudge toward improvement. If a player accepts, that area becomes perhaps a bigger problem but also nets more gain in perks. 

The Outer Worlds also has a robust character creator, which turned out to be a big surprise. Players who care a lot about character creation might spend a lot of time there before even getting the game underway. 

Once actually through the character creation process, players will quickly see this is how a game with a silent protagonist is done. It's a first-person affair where players would be ripped out of the experience if a random voice actor was saying some of these (sometimes hilarious) lines. 

While most of this is positive, The Outer Worlds does have some incredibly tedious moments. For those so inclined to fast-travel everywhere, slogging through the map (which can actually take a few seconds to load up) and sit through loading screens multiple times in a row, especially during a fetch sort of quest, can be a drag. 

This isn't an open-world game, which makes sense from a narrative standpoint as the player is a spacer who jumps from planet to planet. It's refreshing the developers didn't shoo-in yet another open world like many other games released, but the consistent loading screens do slow things down at times.

   

Speedrunning Tips

Obsidian titles are always incredible speedrunning fodder. 

Fallout: New Vegas, for example, still has world records getting set (near the 10-minute mark, which for those who are familiar with how in-depth that game is, stands as pretty amazing). 

The Outer Worlds figures to have the same allure thanks to the supreme build diversity and some undoubtedly brilliant tricks a running community will uncover. 

As for tips, usual suspects apply. Skipping dialogue and cutscenes is a must once the usual memorization of a run has settled into a player's mind. Fast travel from area to area will be a big point to a run, too. Most key parts of the map offer the option via the map. 

More interesting is build variety. Keep in mind perks in Tier 1 such as increased walk speed and increase sprint speed. Sounds silly, but it's the little things when it comes to world records. And that mentioned perk about enemies prioritizing companions is pretty handy too, as an accurate player can deal out loads of damage to enemies while they're distracted with somebody else in the party. 

Of course, talented runners will probably quickly find a way to get through the game without needing to dish out much damage at all. If that's the case, throwing big weight into perks and skill trees of persuasion, lying etc. will be the name of the run. 

But again, that's part of the brilliance here. As of launch, some of the best-looking runs figure to get violent and lean into traditional means. Thanks to the bevy of options and depth here, before long, runs might look like an entirely different animal. 

   

Conclusion

Generally speaking, telling potential players to adjust expectations comes with some sort of negative connotation. 

Not here. The Outer Worlds plays like the ultimate version of a Fallout-esque RPG released more than a handful of years ago. And this is probably the first time a big release like this gets that sort of descriptor as an overwhelming positive. 

The Outer Worlds is simply fantastic. As the market crams into open-world spaces and always-online boxes like sardines, Obsidian is here with a brand new universe in a traditional RPG sense. It shouldn't be considered bold to do this, but it is nonetheless. Obsidian has this game dripping with love and attention to detail that the community will appreciate for a long time to come. 

The Outer Worlds boasts unforgettable spaces and characters, which as a result makes for high replayability. It isn't some underdog on the block—it's a heavyweight sure to command a presence and in turn will have players demanding more.

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