Dark or Light

OPINION: The Outer Worlds Is Exactly What We Need Right Now

Poorna Shankar Posted:
Editorials Not So MMO 0

Right, let’s not mess about. The Outer Worlds is utterly brilliant and is exactly what we need right now. I’m here to tell you why.

If you’re interested in our review to get an idea of what the game is like before you buy, definitely check that out here. And if you’re interested in my thoughts on the PC port, give that a read here. If you do read that PC port, you’ll note that I mention how amazing it is as an RPG. And that’s because, well, it’s incredible and showcases what single-player RPGs used to be before this era of live services with Fallout 76, Anthem, and Ghost Recon Breakpoint releasing in just the last 12 months alone.

First off, the writing is just phenomenal. Obsidian have always had a knack for good storytelling, and boy do they flex their muscles here. The writing is just so witty, sharp, and never shies away from its parody of ultra capitalism. If anything, it goes in the other direction and wholeheartedly embraces it. Characters constantly show you their steadfast blind loyalty to their respective corporation, and this never gets old. In an era where substantive writing in games is falling by the way side in exchange for more action and more loot, it feels great to completely immerse myself in a game which doesn’t shy away from quality storytelling.

This extends to the characters in your party as well. I have only recruited four thus far, but each of them have a distinct personality, motive, and genuine character. Parvati is unquestionably one of my favorite characters in games already because of just how well the aforementioned writing creates and structures her character.

Her motivations are so clear, and I absolutely love her infectious optimism, innocence, and willingness to help others. She is such a believable character, and I always go out of my way to speak to her every chance I get. I’m so invested in her personal story that I will go out of my way to make sure she’s ok, as I would a friend. This deep level of bonding with characters in a game is by no means new, but from my personal observations in the industry, is becoming increasingly less common as I explore further.

Just as with quality in-depth writing, relationship building in games is being left behind in the live service era as publishers want to entice you with cosmetics and the ever-present grind. Note, when done correctly, the loot chase can be incredibly fun. But for someone like me who always prefers a more intimate, insular game experience, this lack of relationship building between myself and characters is something I have so desperately wanted ever since Red Dead Redemption 2 last year. To see The Outer Worlds double down on this brings a massive smile to my face.

Of course, this being an RPG in the truest sense, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the genuine level of choice you have. I don’t mean choice in the more surface level sense of, “decide if this character lives or dies.” I mean it in the truest sense of the word extending to virtually every single mechanic in The Outer Worlds. Allow me to explain.

From the very start of the game, you are constantly confronted with how exactly you wish to structure your character. I am pouring almost all of my points into Dialogue and Tech skills so as to talk my way out of conflict, and to hack and lockpick my way into places to satiate my desire to explore. However, I could have just as easily poured everything into combat skills and just Call of Duty’d my way through the game.

It is a testament to Obisidian’s sheer talent that they not only allow these various styles to be perfectly viable, but they actively encourage and enable such variety. I find myself constantly pushing conversations as far as I can take them just to see how far I can stretch Obsidian’s game design. Will the game really allow me to talk my way out of this one? Will I really be able to collect this bounty without killing this baddie simply by talking to him? I am so happy to report that thus far, I have failed spectacularly in this quest. The Outer Worlds is wholly content with allowing me to completely dictate my playthrough.

However, choice means nothing without consequence. Here, too, The Outer Worlds comes up aces. Because of my choices to dump all my points into dialogue and tech, I am woefully inadequate at various other skills such as combat. As a consequence, I must spec my party members accordingly to make up for my deficit. I must constantly think about what my choices mean for me as a player, and how these choices not just affect me, but also my party members. I cannot begin to tell you just how much I appreciate Obsidian reminding us that such choice and consequence were once the expectation in games.

Once again, I return to the present and the era of live services where any presentation of choice is without any real consequence. For example, I mention in my Ghost Recon Breakpoint preview coverage how I was presented with choice in dialogue. As an RPG player, I expected that choice to have an actual consequence. However, I was disappointed to learn that the choices presented were for merely “RP purposes” and had no real consequence.

How can I expect to truly understand these characters if choice doesn’t matter? What are their motivations? How will my actions matter if I am simply not engaged? Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a great example of how shallow writing, total lack of characterization, and a façade of choice and consequence exist purely to shuttle you from one looty shootout to the next. How utterly drab.

Because of the genuine depth in writing, character building, and choice and consequence, The Outer Worlds reminds us of what games used to be. In an era of live services, The Outer Worlds feels like a cool damp cloth upon my fevered brow. And that make me sad.

I’ll leave you with this parting thought. It is perhaps fitting that for a game skillfully parodying the consequences of ultra capitalism, The Outer Worlds includes no microtransactions, no loot boxes, and no monetization whatsoever. In fact, it didn’t even have any special editions nor preorder bonuses. However, the company and game against which it could and should be compared, Bethesda’s Fallout 76, included a botched $200 Collector’s Edition, is devoid of any actual human NPCs with this major content release delayed into 2020, a doubling down of microtransactions, and now a $100 a year subscription service.

Obsidian deliberately chose the other route. They simply made a game filled with content, and sold it. How radical! And in so doing, they reminded all of us of what games used to be. Things like story, choice, consequence, and relationship building used to matter. They used to be the norm. Sadly, this is simply no longer the case. And this is precisely why The Outer Worlds is exactly what we need right now.


Poorna Shankar