Outward is a new game from developer Nine Dot Studios that came snuck in while everyone else was looking at other games. It seeks to combine souls like combat and difficulty with a more survival type of fantasy RPG game that isn’t worried about holding your hand so you can survive to see the morning. IS this combination of genres a success or a flop? This is our Outward review.
Outward is a mash-up of several different types of games. You have the combat with blocks and rolls that feels somewhat Souls like in its premise, but sometimes its execution leaves a few things to be desired. You have a survival aspect that not only do you have to eat and drink but because of how your maximum health and stamina go down over time; you have to sleep or get some very special herbs or potions to put those stats back. You have no “You are here’” marking on your map, so you must find your way via landmarks and a compass. You have to worry about weight management for your inventory in the form of a backpack which when worn can affect your ability to roll out of danger. And there are no strength stats to make it so you can carry more weight, simply get a bigger, heavier backpack. It features a more complicated magic style then what you may be used to from most games, often requiring you to cast a sigil of some kind on the ground before you can truly cast the real spell that lies dormant in that little cantrip you know. Add to do a story that is a bit on the light side and you may begin to wonder if this all swirled together works. For the most part, it does, let’s take Outward apart to see what does work and how together it makes for a unique gaming experience.
Let’s start with the combat since that is where you’ll be spending a great deal of time doing because most everything wants you dead. At its core, the combat is about blocking with or without a shield or dodging an attack and then retaliating in kind. The beauty in Outward lies in the different ways you can have combat depending on armor, weapon type, magic, items, skills and traps. There are no character stats in Outward and you don’t level up. You can find, buy or craft various items in the game. Combat with a two-handed axe feels fundamentally different than say using a one-handed sword and shield. It’s heavy and has weight to it. You could rush headlong into combat and probably die. Or you could set it up beforehand. Plan where the monster will come and lay out various traps, maybe place a Sigil of Fire to one side where you want to lure it too, take your backpack off to give you better dodging and then fire a bullet from your gun to start combat. As it races headlong towards you it sets off your various traps, all the while you’re inside you Sigil casting fireball to burn it to death before it even reaches you. Because of all the different weapons, traps, items that can give not only you a buff but put electricity on your weapon for a time, combat in Outward can be a complex symphony of destruction. Or it could just be a chaotic mess. While I did mention it is Souls like at its base, there are times where it seems the mechanics come up short at times if you’re expecting it to be 100% like that. The best way I describe it is if you have a backpack of any decent size on, you’re doing fat rolls and it literally is better in this game to block attacks instead of doing. Although blocking magic is another beast entirely.
As mentioned above there is no leveling system in Outward. You simply kill things and get/buy better things so you can die a little less. There are skills in the game though. You’ll usually notice one NPC per town by a bunch of weapons who tends to teach a specific class set of skills. Some you can buy for silver and use as is, others require you making a choice to go into that class tree and committing to those skills. Be careful which way you pick some things are irreversible. Some skills felt like some tuning is needed, with some having crazy cooldown time; but the skills on offer give you a variety of ways to find your playstyle in Outward.
Survival is a fairly key aspect of Outward. It’s reflected in the basics of drinking and eating but goes in depth that it also encompasses being overheated in hot weather or a debuff when you wet and cold from the rain. Oh, and there are infections and diseases. While gathering water, I accidentally drank sea water; it gave me a stomach infection which meant that sometimes whatever I ate came right back up making eating a pain. If I hadn’t drunk a special herbal tea to get rid of it, it could have progressed to a disease and gotten worse; but over time and sleep it would have gone away. There are worse things than a stomach ache in Outward, but thankfully there are various teas and soups you can make to help you get over them. It should be noted that all food expires, but cooking it or making jerky of it helps it to last longer but can change what benefits it gives you. Couple this with the need to sleep to bring your max health and stamina stats back to normal, which is something you can do in the outdoors in a tent or bedroll and is the only way to repair items (yes you repair equipped items as you sleep, but you have to set time for them meaning less time to sleep); gives Outward the survival feel that most games lack.
Outward features a magic system that can revolve around magic cast from your person or runes set into the ground beneath you. The system is one that more ritualistic than others. It requires learning various things, having possible reagents on your person and setting up the spell. You can learn a basic fire spell that is good for lighting campfires but step into a Sigil of Fire that you created earlier and now that spark has become a mighty fireball ready to unleash burning death on your foes. The magic system helps to give the game a uniqueness and yet another way to experience combat.
Obviously, you’re going to spend a lot of time looking at Outward so let’s discuss those graphics. They aren’t the most up to date in your face you can see his pimples, but that doesn’t mean its bad. The world feels lush and varied as you travel from swamp to a dessert and beyond. The lighting, in particular, is very well done, there have been several sunsets I’ve simply stopped and stared at for the beauty of it. One thing that is lacking though is in character creation; you left with a handful of face option with no way to change anything except your hair and skin tone. And when it’s dark you better have a torch or lantern out, otherwise you are fairly blind.
It’s time we touch on the story in Outward. For the most part, is a single player game (there is co-op); so the story it tells is important for the player. You’ll find yourself on the main quest that branches depending on which faction you decide to support in the game, along the way you get bits and pieces of story along with some NPCs offering you side quests; but by no means should you expect some epic sprawling storyline. If you come looking for that kind of experience from Outward, you will leave disappointed. What lore and story is there is interesting in its own right, for most people who see single player RPG it won’t be enough.
The final piece to touch on in Outward is its sound. The music is well done and seems to fit well with the world and combat. The voice work though leaves something to be desired in its execution. At times NPCs will rattle off the complete paragraph of what they’re saying, other times you get a random sentence that’s some in the middle of what they’re talking about. It leaves for a disjointed experience and had me turning off the NPC voices. Sound can play a key element in combat by helping to add a certain weight and feel to it, unfortunately in this department Outward is left wanting as well.
A free copy was given for review purposes.