Nine Dots Studio’s new release Outward is an open-world adventure RPG that throws the player into a brutal world as a nobody. The game is set up to have the player adventure through a dangerous world, while starting out as an absolute nobody. There isn’t any magical hero off to fulfill a prophecy here, just trying to go out into the world to find a home and make a few bucks on the side. But will the game provide a worthwhile journey? This is our Outward review.
The intro to Outward immediately lets the player know that they are nobody special within the game world. A brief introduction explains that you start in a tribe that judges people as members of their bloodline, rather than as individuals. The lucky player had a grandmother who did an unspecified terrible thing to put the entire bloodline into debt, which you are still paying off. You go on a sea expedition with one of your friends to make money and pay back some of the debt, but a shipwreck leaves only the player and your friend alive, with everyone else dead and all of the loot gone. Waking up from the wreck, your house is surrounded with guards trying to collect what you owe, and the leader of the town ordering them to give you 5 days to pay your bill or lose your house. From here, you’re on your own as to figure out how to live your life.
The concept of Outward is fantastic, unfortunately the execution could use some work. Though some things could be forgiven as this was made by a pretty small dev team, lots of little things build up and make it hard to feel immersed. Outward is like the difficult, open world RPGs that were being created back in the early-to-mid 2000s, with no hand holding and a big emphasis on exploring the world. With so much organic story development occurring, small things like talking to people shouldn’t be awkward. Spoken lines and text dialogue rarely line up, to the point that I preferred to just disable the voice overs (which you kind of can, by turning the voice volume down all the way in game). The atmosphere of walking outside of a town and being thrown into a fairly big zone, with a non-magical map that just shows you paths rather than a big flashing point of where you are, helps travelling feel more like an adventure by causing you to get lost occasionally and discover things you may not have. This will of course put you into dungeons, caves, or bandit camps, which makes you interact with the game’s awful combat system. The combat system definitely seems influenced by the Souls series, with quick targeting, swinging and blocking, casting magic, and rolling out of the way. The implementation leaves a bit to be desired, as while you are affected by a stamina system during combat, your enemies aren’t. You can quickly be swarmed and beat to death by a few enemies, while you’ll have to back up and try to carefully swing through their constant onslaught of attacks. Backing up to make space will just have them constantly sprinting at you, and even if you roll there don’t seem to be any invincibility frames that spare you, meaning you can end up just getting hit anyway. Smaller points of interest on the map feel more like a handful of world objects dropped in a group, and less like an old town or landmark. You can still explore and hope to find a chest or a dungeon entrance, but it doesn’t feel exciting enough to look around just for the sake of looking around.
Everything that happens in the game is used to push the character’s personal story forward, and that may be one of the game’s best features. The game is constantly saving in the background, meaning your choices carry a weight with them and you can’t take them back. Within minutes of starting the game I ended up alienating the only friend I had for a measly 25 silver, trying to pay off my debt and save my house. He would no longer talk to me at all, though I was given a chance to make it up to him later on by paying him back double what I took. Failing the first quest (which I ended up doing) means that you lose your family’s house, and guards are stationed outside of it to keep you from entering. Resting outside in the open world brings a chance of being ambushed while you are sleeping, causing you to have to defend yourself. Even death is used to add to the narrative. Rather than the player actually dying, hitting 0 hp ends up starting a new narrative event, which could be anything from being taken prisoner to being rescued. You may or may not wake up with your loot, depending on what happens, which is a good incentive to have a house with a chest you can store stuff that you don’t immediately need in. The downside to this is you can get caught in a fairly painful negative loop after a death. You can be taken prisoner and beaten within an inch of your life, and then have to try and either recover your gear or find another way to survive. This can lead to you dying again fairly quickly if you run into an enemy, meaning once again you can be taken prisoner or dragged to an open field, back in the same position of being close to death. The events seem to be random, and I had a string of 4-5 deaths in a row where I couldn’t do much other than just die again before I was lucky enough to be saved by someone and dragged back to town, where I could get some basic gear and go back to look for my loot.
Survival in Outward isn’t the same as the usual survival game. While food and water are important, you won’t constantly need to be foraging around to survive. You’ll only need to eat and drink a few times per in-game day, leaving you time to try and survive the rest of the environment that you’re in. Random aggressive enemies will walk around in patrols and may catch you unless you sneak by them, an area’s temperature can be too hot or too cold depending on your gear and will limit how long you can travel, and even running out of fuel for your lantern while travelling at night can leave you with no choice but to sleep until morning, hoping that the food and water you do have doesn’t rot and that you aren’t ambushed. Of course, coming prepared with cooked food and a few full waterskins will keep you plenty prepared, assuming you aren’t taken prisoner and stripped of your belongings.
While Outward is definitely a niche game to start with, it feels like it could have used another few years of refinement before being released to the world. There is such an incredible amount of potential here for someone looking for a difficult, story-based adventure, but so much in the way of enjoying the adventure. With such an interesting take on a dynamic story going throughout your adventure, it’s unfortunate there is so much detracting from it.
- Preparing to travel through the huge world is fun
- Lots of hidden areas to find
- Split screen or online multiplayer adventuring
- Combat is very unpolished
- Voice lines rarely line up with in game dialogue
Note: Our PC copy of Outward was provided by PR