The Outer Worlds Review: Obsidian Entertainment Delivers Once Again

By Heidi Nicholas,
In the decade following Fallout: New Vegas, and despite the acclaim for Obsidian Entertainment's subsequent Pillars of Eternity series, it was hard to imagine whether the veteran RPG studio would be able to top their last foray into retro-inspired sci-fi shooting. But in The Outer Worlds, they have done so. Fallout fans will recognise the Obsidian effect in the extensive dialogue, branching storylines and oddball sense of humour. Yet The Outer Worlds also stands alone with its own distinct flavour.

The Outer Worlds Xbox One Review

The Outer Worlds has all of the winning components from Fallout: the mad scientists, the sci-fi-western vibes, the all-controlling evil corporations, the completely bizarre humour, and the strange and beautiful landscapes. My only issue with the Fallout games was that I wanted prettier, more diverse worlds. Naturally that's not feasible in a post-apocalypse setting. Whilst The Outer Worlds has just as much dark humour and grim themes as any Fallout game, it also takes place across an array of visually stunning planets. The first thing I wanted to do after taking control of the character was take a screenshot.

The Fallout games were funny, but the surrounding context was morbid; the games were, predominantly, dark. The Outer Worlds is the other way around, putting the fun at the front while still exploring some dark themes. You’re woken up after seventy years of hibernation by a mad scientist who blasts you out into space with only a garbled explanation of your mission. Straight away, The Outer Worlds doesn’t want you to take anything too seriously. The story is still amazingly complex and morally intricate, asking the player to make impossible decisions where they can’t anticipate the outcome — but the game wants the player to keep having fun along the way. The humour is everywhere — in the dialogue, in the sarcastic and alarmingly sentient system piloting your ship for you, in the scientist hawking aphrodisiacs made out of Raptidon venom, and in the lives of every one of the multitude of NPCs populating the Halcyon System.

The Outer Worlds Xbox One Review

Complexity is in every part of the game. Like Skyrim, the character creation could take anywhere from 20 minutes to hours as you peruse exactly what shade of bruising you want for your character’s left cheekbone. There’s a huge range of options for faces, skin tones, makeup, scars, and hairstyles. Thankfully, finally, hairstyles can be used for both male and female characters. The companion system is equally intricate. Each has their own distinct personality, and this remains the case throughout the game – no one grows silent or repetitive. It’s up to the player whether they want to pursue each companion's personal goals. Each companion feels unique, too. They comment on the world around the player and bicker with each other. Depending on which two you bring, they’ll perhaps reminisce about their home if they came from the same planet, or else get to know each other better. They’ll interrupt and participate in conversations you have with quest NPCs, and offer outlooks tailored to their personalities. For those who prefer a more lone-wolf experience, there’s perks to account for the extra power missing if you choose to leave companions behind.

There’s a lot to explore in the Halcyon colony, but the game uses its distinctive 1950s advertising aesthetic to remind players of what they’re up against. Spacer’s Choice, Auntie Cleo; all the corporations have vendors littered across the system, each with an equally memorable theme tune. NPCs have slogans scattered through their speech, and their dialogue makes their indentured status clear: “I’m contractually obligated to recite company slogans to any visitors”, “Is this a test? Am I being tested right now?...Wouldn't want to spend my life working anywhere else”. The corporations have every citizen in a stranglehold, and in a world where unemployment is described as worse than death, everybody is too terrified or brainwashed to speak out against them. Even the loading screens aren’t free of it: cycle through a few tips and you’ll come across: “Your loading screen tip could be HERE! Contact Spacer’s Choice for your affordable marketing options!” No matter how far into the wilderness you go, you can’t escape the Board.

The Outer Worlds Xbox One Review

The game throws you straight in to the action, literally, and this bare-bones approach works perfectly — the player's intitial experience matches that of the voiceless, confused protagonist. The only downside is that the huge onslaught of information can be a little overwhelming at times, especially if you’re not familiar with the lore structures of similar games. Phineas Welles, the scientist outlaw who woke the player up, does give a quick explanation of what's going on with the system, but there's a wealth of unfamiliar ideas thrown in fairly piecemeal. The Board, Terra 2, Spacer’s Choice, marauders, Mantiqueens, and Phineas himself: it’s all a big blur of statistics, details, and quick flashes. This becomes easier once some familiarity has been established with the big names of the Halcyon system, but the onslaught of information doesn’t end with the story elements — it also impacts the weapons.

Weapons can be assessed with an amazing level of detail. A huge list of statistics can be opened up with everything from noise range and equip time, to the degree of recoil and sway. But it’s a lot to take in if you’re not prepared for such specification. When everything’s so detailed, it’s harder to learn how to tell which things should be kept or sold, broken down or discarded. It’s fun to try everything out, but in a fast-paced battle it was a little tricky to figure out which one to use on the fly. What enemies are susceptible to plasma damage? When do you use weapons with N-ray damage? What is N-ray damage?

The Outer Worlds Xbox One Review

V. A. T. S. is back in the form of Tactical Time Dilation (TTD), a side effect of the character's long hibernation which leads their brain to process time differently. It allows for time to be slowed so that certain parts of an enemy can be targeted; to maim, cripple, blind, or to use a critical hit. It's very effective — but as with previous iterations, the action doesn't always lend itself to remembering to use it. The same goes for companions' individual abilities; the combat is so sudden and fast-paced that it doesn't always feel automatically natural to make use of these tools, instead opting for melee or long-range weapons. This isn't at all a bad thing: real-time combat feels genuinely intense, and the guns themselves are very satisfying to handle. Like similar games, it will likely be more critical to use on playthroughs above Normal difficulty, the recommended setting for newcomers. All available tools will likely be vital for a full playthrough on Supernova mode, which brings back all of the arduous status monitoring of New Vegas' Hardcore setting.

The Outer Worlds Xbox One Review

The slightly robotic nature of the facial animation will be charmingly familiar to Fallout fans and irritating to its critics, but there have been improvements. There’s a lot more emotion and personality conveyed, and the voice acting is hugely effective. There's a staggering amount of world-building going on for those willing to look for it. If a companion idly mentions something about a base currently being explored, there's often an option to have them continue the thought, leading to another nugget of lore or character. When asking a robotic merchant whether they were just “a glorified vending machine”, they replied that they would be shocked by the question if only their protocol for it wasn’t damaged — and it's not a throwaway joke. With a high enough engineering skill to fix it, a player can find out just how shocked the robot really was.

The dialogue options are definitely one of the strongest parts of the game. There are so many options to choose from when responding to even the most trivial of cues. This is the first game for a while where each dialogue decision feels like a struggle to pick between several great options — and that’s even before your particular skills come into play, allowing you to access even more.

The campaign isn’t made to be rushed — It’s full and rich and very much worth taking time over — and so our journey through it continues. The side missions are typically complex, inviting players to spend as much time on them as any main mission. The Outer Worlds is also heavily designed towards replayability. Even if you built your character exactly the same on a second playthrough, there’s still so much more in terms of choices and branching dialogue that the experience would be completely different. It’s one of those rare games where the usual “you can be anything you want to be” promise comes close to reality.

The Outer Worlds Xbox One Review

The achievement list wasn't available at the time of this review, but we anticipate a variety of requirements that take a reasonable amount of effort to earn — certainly the achievements unlocked in this playthrough were few and far between. Hopefully, that should serve to make unlocking them even more satisfying.

Summary

Aiming for the stars worked admirably for Obsidian Entertainment with this fantastic sci-fi RPG. There are elements of Obsidian's earlier work, especially Fallout: New Vegas which will delight longtime fans. Yet The Outer Worlds excels most when it has fun within its own unique identity. The wealth of lore and world-building details could be a little overwhelming for brand new players, but a little confusion early on shouldn't stop anyone from taking The Outer Worlds for a spin.
4.5 / 5
Ethics
The reviewer spent 23 hours desperately fighting against raptidons, mantiqueens, and marauders as they tried to take on the Board, earning 7 achievements as they did so. An Xbox One digital code for the Standard Edition was provided by the publisher for this review. Played on an Xbox One X.
Heidi Nicholas
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Hey, I'm Heidi! I've just finished studying a Masters in English Literature, but I've been obsessed with gaming since long before then. I began on the PS2 with Spyro, before graduating to the Xbox 360 and disappearing into Skyrim. I'm now a loyal RPG fan, but I still like to explore other genres — when I'm not playing Assassin's Creed Odyssey, or being lured back into Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Witcher 3!