I recently had the chance to go hands-on with a new RPG called Outward - another game that promises to immerse you in an open fantasy world where you create your own story. The interesting thing about the approach developer Nine Dots takes with Outward, however, is that you don’t get to be a Geralt or a Dragonborn or the Prince that was Promised. None of that nonsense. You start off as some poor schlep with not a bar of silver to their name, a load of debt, and the survival sense of a toddler.
When Bill emailed me the key for Outward I had never heard of the game before - I guess with good reason as it’s not due for release until March 26th - but I can’t imagine it’s going to stay that way for long. There’s something alluring about not being a chosen one in an RPG game, for once, and it’s pulled off rather brilliantly. Everything in your first few hours of gameplay will be an uphill battle to get your feet beneath you - mimicking what it would really be like to be dropped into an alternate fantasy reality with some clothes, a waterskin, and a satchel.
In Outward, you start out with a pretty simple character creation whereupon you will take control of your character following some sort of ship-wreck (which you’ll learn a little more about later). There are no tutorials telling you where to go - it’s up to you to start wandering around the area. You’ll come across some torches and berries - maybe a weapon or two if you wander in the right direction. Whether you end up going to sleep or ‘dying’ to a hyena you’ll end up in the same place: back in your lighthouse. From here you’re free to explore your little abode (I suggest picking up a satchel you’ll find on the ground - it won’t let you leave town to adventure without it - along with whatever else you can get your hands on. Once you leave your house you’ll find out you owe the entire town 150 silver - of which you have none - and that you have to go make that amount and pay it or forfeit all your town holdings.
In town you’ll talk to people and be introduced to some of the systems Outward has to offer. I don’t want to spoil anything - discovery is the key to this game - but you won’t be able to leave the city to explore the wilds beyond until you have in your possession basic survival gear: a satchel, weapon, waterskin, etc. The guard will teach you a skill for the weapon you’re holding and you’ll be on your way. At this point I found myself wondering: what in the world am I suppose to do now? There was no real quest I was on. I had a map, not that it showed my location (you’ll need some real-life skills for figuring where you are out), and a general idea of where I should head to learn some magic - an involved and ritualistic process that involves preparation and materials to pull off. Little did I know what was really in store was my prompt, uncelebrated death. See, I made the mistake of thinking I could take on two wanderers at once. News flash: you definitely can’t right out the gate.
Combat in Outward is really similar to a Dark Souls experience. You need to block or dodge enemy attacks or you’ll watch large chunks of your health vanish and die in short order. This does bring me to my first gripe in that the controls don’t feel quite as responsive as I would like them for this kind of combat. I don’t feel like there’s much in the way of telegraphing going on by the enemy to indicate that you should dodge to begin with, at least not with these wanderers, which made combat feel a little more luck based than I would have liked. Luckily this isn’t a release and this issue can still be addressed and fixed. I will note that you have to take your satchel off before attempting combat (B on the keyboard) or risk being sluggish in combat and using more stamina during dodging than need be.
Speaking of death - it’s hard to really call it that. It’s more like you end up on death’s doorstep and then someone comes by and either rescues or enslaves you. I’ve found myself back in the starting village - hurt and liberated of all my collected gear - as well as in a cave with a strange creature who healed me up a bit and gave me a tent for resting while on the road. It’s a neat system I found, though some of the scenarios feel a little lose-lose (like ending up in a castle-like area full of hostiles to which I just ended up dying to again).
What really drives the ‘you’re a person and you’ll die if you aren’t smart’ feeling home with Outward is the survival system. While it doesn’t feel as punishing as pure survival games it is definitely a system you have to pay attention to. Not only do you have to manage your thirst and hunger, but you can become sick from eating raw food, get too hot or too cold, and need to sleep or risk penalties to your various resource pools. Sleeping must be done, at a minimum, on a sleeping mat but sleeping out in the open means risking an ambush so you have to balance your sleep with pulling guard duty to keep the chances of said ambush low. If you’re playing co-op with a friend you can trade off.
I’ve spent about four or five hours in Outward so far and haven’t even scratched the surface. Forging my own adventure, blazing my own trails, and creating my own story has been a joy I haven’t experienced in a game in quite some time. The game is a little rough around the edges at the time of this writing but is still over a month out from release and I remain hopeful some of the mechanics will be polished by then. Outward is definitely worth keeping an eye on if you enjoy a challenging, open experience that rewards perseverance, curiosity, and sometimes outright stubbornness to keep on trucking.
You can learn a little more about this single and co-op game on their Steam page.