Let it be known that in my semi-professional opinion the best game Bethesda has ever published was Obsidian’s own Fallout: New Vegas. It has been my belief that any day now, Bethesda would announce a Fallout: New Vegas Remastered or, heavens portend, a Fallout: New Vegas 2 sequel. So when Obsidian revealed their new game, The Outer Worlds, back in December at The Game Awards 2018 my immediate reaction was, “What about New Vegas?” followed by a “Holy-moley this game looks amazing!” Finally, the time is upon us where we are receiving a spiritual successor to New Vegas, from the original creators of Fallout, and published by Private Division, a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive. So how does Obsidian’s newest foray compare to the competition? Here’s our The Outer Worlds review for PlayStation 4.
As excited as I’ve been for Obsidian’s new title (and hopefully franchise) I’ve been blissfully unaware of the news and developments going own while I maintained a media-blackout regarding The Outer Wilds (TOW). I knew it took place in space, in an alternate-style universe in which Earth is controlled by major corporations that have taken over everything from what you do and where you work, to even replacing the concept of ‘countries’ or ‘governments’ as we know them. There is only bureaucracy.
Storytelling, the next generation…
Imagine, if you will, a version of Mass Effect that’s been set in the Wild West and then nuked to give the aesthetic appeal of Fallout, but with the corporations of Borderlands giving rise to the new factions within the universe. That’s about as close as I can come to explaining the goings-on within the Halcyon galaxy of The Outer Worlds, but that requires you to have an idea of each and every one of those other franchises. It might be easier to call it “Fallout in space,” although that doesn’t quite do it justice.
The premise of The Outer World begins like Mass Effect Andromeda in that you’ve been frozen in order to be transported to another galaxy as a colonist. A problem occurred and your ship has been adrift in space for the past 70 years. You are thawed out by a scientist that is working towards unfreezing the rest of your shipmates. You’ve been chosen because you are the best hope the rest of your popsicle-comrades have of becoming defrosted themselves. Thus, off you go in search of the necessary items the scientist needs to save your friends and family.
Right away the off-kilter humor of The Outer Worlds hits you right in the face. Before you even go through the character creation process there are instances of dramatic build-up let down by comic relief caused by a faulty button. When you land on the first planet, there’s a moment that reminded me of The Wizard of Oz in which I crushed someone beneath my escape pod so I took their spaceship. There’s a “That’s what she said,” quip by one of my companions in the middle of me talking to a quest giver about a serious issue. The dark humor of the original Fallout is on ever-present display but without the game appearing too slapstick or macabre.
But things are not all fun and games in the Board-run galaxy of Halcyon. The Board is a group of all the big companies in Halcyon that essentially own everyone’s life. They only care about profits, not the livelihood of their employees. As you saunter off to different colonies, you may run into situations in which you are provided opportunities to save the colonists from being under the Board’s rule. Be mindful however that situations may not be as black and white as they appear – sometimes what you may deem to be morally wrong might be the best choice in ensuring the least amount of people are killed needlessly.
It’s these seemingly black-and-white choices in The Outer World that offer up the most conflicting choices I’ve encountered across any video game. When I thought I was going about the most obvious solution to solve an issue, it turned out to be the most costly choice I could have made. Despite appearing to be the most morally-righteous decision, I wound up causing more harm than good as opposed to approaching the solution more logically.
For instance, one of the first big decisions in the game comes down to supporting one of two factions. If you support the company-beholden faction, it would spell certain death to those that fled in pursuit of freedom. However, if you were to support the camp of rebels it would inevitably lead to the downfall of so many innocent workers that are just doing what they know to survive. Ultimately, I decided on a middle path: support the Board-operated town but replace the previous leader with the leader of the rebels to broker unity between the two factions. To me, this seemed like the best answer – but initially, I was petrified at choosing one group over the other. “Which group of people am I dooming?” I thought to myself. But not every major decision in TOW offers a defined “good” path. Sometimes, it’s just about choosing the “good enough” path.
Attributes, Skills, Stats, Perks, and You!
The basic systems at play in The Outer Worlds will feel familiar to anyone that’s played previous Fallout or The Elder Scrolls games, even Baldur’s Gate or Knights of the Old Republic. There’s a certain D&D element to TOW, including stats and skill systems as well as perks gained every two levels.
There are six different attributes in The Outer Worlds, each of which affects several corresponding skills. For example, the Strength attribute affects Melee skills, Inspiration, Intimidate, Heavy Weapons, and Block skills. I found a lot of consumables that could help me increase some of these skills temporarily as well, although they usually included some kind of withdrawal effect so I hardly ever used them. Sometimes it’s worth it to quaff a bottle of booze though in order to improve your character’s charisma, but you’ll be suffering from a hangover in-game afterward.
Don’t be too caught up in the min-max aspects of your skills though, at least not initially. After you’ve progressed to a certain point in the game, you gain access to a machine that will reset all of your spent stat points and perks, so you never have to feel locked into any mistakes you’ve made up until that point. Initially, I wanted to be a gun-slinging cowboy-type rogue character, like a Han Solo type. However, I fell in love with Heavy weapons like the Light Machine Gun and Grenade Launcher and I felt compelled to reset my stats to better improve my total damage and reload speeds with these weapons.
Each time you level-up, you can invest up to 10 points into your other skills. For every 20-points you put in a particular skill, you unlock a new passive bonus in that field. At level 60 in lockpicking for example, you are able to see the contents within containers before even opening it, so you can make the decision if it’s worth it to unlock something beforehand. There is a lot to customize in TOW and I expect builds will be as varied as one’s imagination allows. Want to be a sneaky, heavy machinegun-toting bandit with a silver tongue and a penchant for unlocking things? You can be like me. Want to play as a pacifist captain that uses their words to be able to turn every situation into their advantage and fights by ordering their crew to act as human shields? You can play that too.
I played with a sniper-build, a gunslinger build, a melee build, and a pacifist team-oriented build and they are all as viable as the other, although I definitely had a preferred playstyle. TWO was really all about how you want to play. Admittedly, some playstyles may have an easier time than others though. Lockpicking and persuasion skills, in particular, seemed like God-tier, since a lot of locked storage containers and doors early in the game contain valuable loot and gear much more powerful than anything else I had found. Persuasion allowed me access to areas I wouldn’t normally be able to get or convince a quest-giver that they can absolutely spare some extra bits to pay me since I did such a good job and all. It felt like I had an easier time starting out because of these skills.
Perks are like the skill-trees of TWO but thankfully aren’t split in-between separate paths that you’re required to unlock. Instead, there are three different tiers of perks to choose from and any perk within a tier is up for grabs when you unlock a perk point every two levels or so. To reach higher tiers it’s as simple as investing points the – every 5 points invested unlocks another tier.
Some examples of Perks include doubling the stat bonuses from armor, reducing the cost of items at vendors, and increasing the amount of time your tactical time dilation can be used. Additionally, some perks expand on your companions and their abilities including how quickly their abilities regenerate as well as the ability to revive them if they’ve been downed in combat by taking a quick hit of your emergency inhaler to heal up.
I was able to gain a few more perks outside of leveling up in the way of character flaws as well. Flaws are gained completely randomly after meeting certain requirements – and partly by sheer luck. My first flaw, I had been under constant attack by mechanized robots and had taken one-too-many hits. My flaw caused an irrational fear of any kind of mechanical being and reduced several of both my stats and attributes. Was it worth it for the extra perk point though? Yes and no: now I could no longer use my robotic-companion SAM to come with me, but I did get the extra perk that I was able to do +20% more damage with headshots.
Combat in Fallout The Outer Worlds
Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System eat your heart out! Say hello to TTD! Tactical Time Dilation, or TTD, is The Outer Worlds’ way of having an aim-assist function. Unlike Fallout in which you could slow down time indefinitely, choose a body-part to attack and let loose; the system in The Outer Worlds feels simultaneously like a grown-up version and trimmed-down version of the same idea. Time still slows to a crawl but there is no system in place to assist you in lining up your shots. It still plays like a first-person shooter, but you get the time to line up your shots more accurately. More than comparing it to Fallout, it might be better to consider it the same as Max Payne’s bullet-time system.
I didn’t use TTD at first, preferring to play TOW much like an FPS in the vein of Borderlands. However, as I progressed through the game and enemies became more difficult to defeat, I realized the usefulness that TTD offers in order to cause status-effects on enemies. By aiming in TTD at certain body-parts, you are able to see which areas are weak and will cause critical hits. Some areas, like headshots, may cause blindness on your enemies – causing them to miss their attacks. Others can stun or immobilize enemies, which I would utilize as a crowd-control method to pick off enemies one-by-one without calling a whole group down on to me.
I liked the diversity of weapons in the game: there weren’t too many different types to choose from in the beginning, but as I explored more and leveled up I started to find different branded weapons and mods to insert at workbenches – either in my spaceship or scattered around in towns and in the wild – that afforded me a customizable arsenal to play with. A Spacer’s Choice Assault Rifle, normally a pretty weak gun, became an electrified death-dealing sniper rifle with a fitted scope and electric mods installed.
Different damage types can help with different types of enemies. Electric damage is super effective against machines or robots, whereas plasma is effective against wildlife and creatures. Most weapons can be custom-fitted to specialize in different enemies. At one point, I carried four different pistols (I was a gunslinger after all): one with a silencer and a scope for taking out targets at a distance, one that dealt plasma damage for beasties, one that shot electrical rounds at a faster fire-rate, and a six-shooter revolver that dealt high per-bullet damage that I used against human enemies.
Armor can also be modded to further customize your playstyle. There are two armor slots, one for your body armor and one for a helmet. The helmets can’t be modded, but often included stat bonuses that would increase your skills, like +5 to Persuasion checks. Body armor however often includes four different slots to really go ham on boosting up your abilities. I would wear heavy armor that provided the highest defense bonus I could find, mod on some additional armor plating, add a whisper-quiet mod to reduce the amount of noise I generated, and added boosts for my persuasion stat so I could convince people to give me more money on quest rewards.
There’s a ton of different styles of armor to find, including Light, Medium, and Heavy sets of armor, in every brand on Halcyon. Some weapons and armor are unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that come custom-modded already to specifically handle certain situations, like armor designed to protect against acid damage and physical attacks that a certain wild beast is known for. My favorite weapon is a hammer that I found on a space-station that cycles between four different elemental attacks every time you swing it. These unique items are usually hard to find and out of the way, so you really have to explore every nook and cranny if you hope to find them!
Final Thoughts and Overall Impression
The Outer Worlds is the type of game that comes around only once every decade. Obsidian Entertainment has a penchant for creating amazing and immersive worlds, full of details that most people will never even see half of. The dialogue in TOW and the humor are among Obsidian’s best work ever. I lost track of the number of times I laughed out loud. Small moments, like one of my companions quoting Futurama in saying, “To shreds you say,” made me feel like The Outer Worlds took inspiration from a multitude of sci-fi adventures that I know and love and compiled it into a choose-your-own-adventure style FPS/RPG genre mash-up.
I instantly fell in love with the alien worlds in TOW from the moment I first crash-landed on to Terra-2. The bright, vibrant colors just screamed 80s sci-fi to me and a lot of the flora made me think of how No Man’s Sky generates a lot of their plants. Beautifully crafted areas in tandem with the gorgeous soundtrack gave the realistic illusion that I was actually exploring another planet. The ambient sound effects drew me in while listening to them, and I felt like each soundtrack enhanced my experience rather than detract from it. While in towns, I would hear more western-style music that made me think of Cowboy Bebop and Trigun whereas exploring the alien countryside I often heard light flutes or soft drums that evoked images of Native American folk songs.
For a game that I couldn’t help myself compare to Fallout, I found that The Outer Worlds overall had fewer bugs and glitches. Maybe that’s due in part to the difference in scale, but I’m grateful that I never ran into any game-breaking bugs or glitches that corrupted my saves or caused my game to crash. Playing on a PlayStation 4 Pro, TOW played perfectly fine. Although I was dismayed to hear that the PlayStation 4 Pro won’t support 4K fidelity, I thought the art-style and the world looked as beautiful as its contemporaries regardless. Some environmental textures were blocky, but nothing that stood out to me without me actively searching for it.
Although some people might initially scoff at TOW’s completion time, I can attest to there being plenty to explore. I finished my first playthrough at just over 30 hours or so, and I started skipping side-quests half-way to focus on the story. I think one of TOW’s greatest aspects will be the replayability in going back and choosing different outcomes to see alternate endings.
Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to talk about the companions you can find to join you on your adventure. There are a total of six companions and each has a distinctive personality. I wouldn’t say anyone acted cliched or cookie-cutter, and instead, they all felt genuine and unique. An outlaw and freelancer that carries a heavy machine gun, a man of the cloth that’s fascinated by blasphemous teachings, a down-to-earth engineer who wears her heart on her sleeve, and more. Unfortunately, there are no romancing options available with any companions, although you can absolutely choose flirtatious dialogue with them. I feel like this was a missed opportunity, but I understand not shoe-horning in features if they’re not fleshed out. In this regard, Mass Effect wins.
I think anybody that enjoyed playing the Fallout games, as well as anyone that has enjoyed the Mass Effect titles, would unequivocally enjoy their time playing The Outer Worlds. I had so much fun exploring every nook and cranny, scouring out-of-the-way locations for loot, taking everything that wasn’t nailed down, and immersing myself in the otherworldy locations around Halcyon. From space-ports to asteroids, moons and terraformed planets, there’s just so much to see and do in The Outer Worlds.
The dialogue is witty, and the side-stories are engaging. There was never a time I felt like I was being sent on fetch-quests. But rather like I was giving a helping hand to a stranger in need. The freedom to respec my character if I messed up their stats allayed so many stressors that I usually succumb to in open-world RPGs like this. Being able to focus on certain playstyles – or remain a jack-of-all-trades generalist – will allow for multiple playthroughs, in addition to choosing to assist different factions a second or third time through.
Although the finale still left some unanswered questions for me, I have a feeling that I just haven’t found them yet. I’m already half-way through my second playthrough where I am spending even more time meticulously combing through deserted houses, looking for cast-aside remnants that I can sell to automated vending machines for scraps. I hope to eventually see all of the different outcomes in each colony, as well as the potential different endings available. But in the meantime, I’ll be content with just hearing my companion say, “That’s what she said,” another time.
Note: A code was provided on PlayStation 4 by PR for the purposes of review.