- the spirit of classic Fallouts (and New Vegas) is strong in The Outer Worlds;
- a characteristic, colorful universe with a pronounced artistic definition;
- open plot – every NPC can die, and the player can choose their own path;
- the story and dialogs really branch out – lots of ways to solve problems;
- an extensive system of character development, a decent imitation of the SPECIAL;
- crude combat mechanics, further spoiled by poor AI of opponents;
- technologically outdated, poorly optimized, and glitchy;
- tasks and characters could be more interesting (especially the companions);
- the serious story isn't very compatible with the goofy world.
From the beginning, a hushed voice in the back of my head warned me against The Outer Worlds. It tried to convince me that the game is not exactly what I was waiting for – that it will not be another magnum opus from Obsidian Entertainment, worth any amount of money and any number of hours of your life. The silent voice was not quite right... but it wasn't entirely wrong either. The Outer Worlds turned out merely a decent game.
But this project had every chance in the world to be a complete success. After all, Feargus Urquhart's team took the same framework as with their previous games, with Pillars of Eternity at the forefront. They reached to the roots of the RPG genre – in this case, the origins of the Fallout series – and tried serving the same dish, according to the same recipe, maybe adding some more modern flavors, such as original vision and using more modern hardware. The helm was taken by the best people imaginable – Timothy Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, without whom, the Vault Boy would never have been conceived.
Obsidian dropped the isometric perspective (his recent experiments proved that a boom for games with such perspective had ended) and switched to a 3-dimensional environment. And that wasn't the first time he'd done this – Fallout: New Vegas is still widely respected by the fans of the RPG genre, many of whom consider it the best part of the entire series. What could go so wrong in the case of The Outer Worlds? Unfortunately, plenty of things – even in the areas that should not pose a problem to equally experienced developers.
Waiter! There's Borerlands in my Fallout!
You'd expect, perhaps, that my critique of The Outer Worlds would revolve largely around the game's archaic technology. That's correct, and I have a lot to say about it, but I'll start with a less obvious, and at the same time more important aspect of the game. I'll start with the setting.
Don't get me wrong – Obsidian created a unique and interesting universe. The wild frontier of the cosmos, ironically named the Arcadia, ruled by an unstable, retrofuturistic corporation, is definitely an interesting place for an adventure. Especially since the creators let their imagination go wild and threw in a lot of crazy ideas, finishing it up with some absurd humor.
Unfortunately, someone decided that this frivolous world will contain a very serious story, with serious moral dilemmas. Sounds a bit like Fallout? Sure, this was undoubtedly the intention of the developers – but they've seemingly taken it too far; we'd ordered black tea, and got Regent's Punch instead. The concoction causes a serious cognitive dissonance.
The world of Fallout was uniquely heavy, gloomy, and no amount of black humor in the game could change that – quite the contrary, actually – it mostly amplified the bleak reality of the post-apocalyptic USA. The general outline of the plot of The Outer Worlds – the struggle for survival of a colony faced with starvation – echoes some familiar themes. The problem is that the game is definitely overloaded with jokes, as for such a serious story.
Humor almost pours from the screen. The power of the corporation is absurd. At every turn, we are confronted with preposterous rules and procedures, and the colonists, almost every single one of them, are a bunch of helpless bureaucrats and utter idiots, who lay their banal problems on the protagonist. Want examples? Just take a look at the screenshots in the text. Maybe it's amusing – but then how is the player supposed to treat the story seriously? And Obsidian ultimately want their work to be taken seriously, because this carousel of joy sometimes unexpectedly freezes, and we're faced with a totally serious choice, such as whether to sacrifice human life in the name of progress.
Playing The Outer Worlds feels like reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but with excerpts from Dune, The Foundation, or Solaris popping up every few pages. Or, using a more gaming analogy, it feels like playing Borderlands, and then unexpectedly jumping into the most serious themes of Mass Effect, or perhaps even the horror of Dead Space every now and then. The dissonance is hella strong.
LEFT HOOK FROM ESTONIA
The Outer Worlds is also being robbed from some fame by the release of another RPG. Just ten days before Obsidian's game was released, we've also had the premiere of Disco Elysium. The brings a visionary new approach to isometric RPGs; it's bold, it's unreleting, it's original. It's full of intriguing, sometimes unsettling concepts, and, at the same time, it's realized with fantastic scope, art, and attention to detail – all that from an obscure studio from Estonia! Against the backdrop of such a release, and as a representative of the same genre, the archaic and imitative The Outer Worlds looks even worse.