The Outer Worlds
reveal trailer showed hyper-capitalist cities, the choice to be a hero or a psychopath, and plenty of gunplay, which, to be honest, hadn’t done much to pique my interest. So I was shocked when I left the behind-closed-doors demo viewing eager to dive into this twisted and charming world.
I think most games suck at self-aware gags and off-color cultural commentary. When people are laughing at nods to streamer life, selfies, and hashtags, I’m usually rolling my eyes and waiting for it to be over. And I think capitalism gone awry” is played-out subject matter that’s rarely well-executed. By all accounts, The Outer Worlds shouldn’t be for me. But it absolutely is. In fact, The Outer Worlds is setting itself up to be for everyone through its wide array of choices, multiple-ending storyline, and playful environmental details.
Underneath its trigger-happy trailer is a slew of options for how to play. We immediately saw diverse dialogue options tailored to your character traits during the behind-closed-doors presentation at E3 2019. The “charming” option was readily available while the “intimidate” option was locked based on the characters’ build. Those who love shooters can, of course, blast their way through the campaign, but those who are more interested in the story and RPG elements can use this to save their ammo. Besides the obvious options of bursting into a factory guns blazing or taking a stealthier route, you can also customize your character build to suit your preferences.
If you’re not the best shooter, you can take advantage of things like Tactical Time-Dilation System, an ability very similar to Fallout’s VATS, which allows you to slow down the perception of time before shots are fired to get a sense of the area. You can build your character so that TTD lasts a bit longer, too.
Investing points in weapons skills can unlock the ability to deal location-based damage and hits using TTD. This was one of my favorite details because it made shots more explicitly meaningful. Everyone knows a headshot leads to a kill or extreme damage but this skill breaks things down further, with options to weaken someone with a crotch shot or cripple them with a bullet in the kneecap. This kind of loving attention to detail makes The Outer Worlds stand out.
In the demo I watched, the player was focused on sneaking into a factory undetected. Towards the end, the plan went awry and a few shots had to be fired. They took enough damage from enemy robots that they were offered a Flaw modifier which, if they accepted it in exchange for a perk point (which is always completely optional), would add a few debuffs whenever fighting robots. This is what makes Obsidian reject the general RPG label in favor of the term “reactive RPG.” “We’re always trying to track what you’re doing,” said Megan Starks, senior narrative designer for The Outer Worlds, “and then have the game change based off on what you’re doing. “I apparently ran over so many mines or just got shot in the head so many times that I got offered a flaw to take a permanent concussion,” remembered Stark, “which made my character dumb.”
Inspired by Fallout, The Outer Worlds is brimming with dark humor – but that’s far from the team’s only inspiration. “The movie Brazil really sets the tone of what we’re going for,” reflected Starks, as well as “Firefly, Futurama,” and the “golden age of science fiction.”
These ingredients play out in adorable disturbing ways, with my personal favorite being the pen of cystypigs. These are animals that have been engineered to produce delicious bacon-flavored tumors that, when ripe and juicy, fall off the pigs and are you used to create various products such as Borst pockets, Borst and beans, and Borstworst. “You haven’t tried the worst until you’ve tried, Borstworst.”
It’s the cutest and grossest thing I’ve ever seen. It has been 24 hours since I met them but I can’t stop thinking about my sad and delicious cystypig friends.
Attention to detail, the genre itself, and the team’s previous work on Fallout: New Vegas made me assume we’re in for a lengthy campaign. But that’s not the case here. Rather than putting hundreds of hours into a single save file, The Outer Worlds invites us to live hundreds of lives across multiple playthroughs.
“The game is just long enough to be really fun and feel like you have like a nice meaty experience,” says Starks, “but it’s not so long that you won’t finish it [or feel like] you can only do one play through.” It’s about balance, and so far the team feels they’ve been successful in creating replayability. “We’re seeing this in focus testing,” reflected Starks, “as soon as someone finishes the game, they’re like, ‘Oh, I want to make a completely different character and make all different choices and see [how the game reacts].’”
You won’t have to worry about customizing yourself into a corner. “You will be better if you want to specialize, but we do allow you to respect your characters,” said Starks, “so you can always rebuild your character.” It’s not perfect, since some attributes are picked up as you play, but your base stats build can be reconfigured.
When it comes to choice-driven experiences, it’s all about negotiating the weight of your choices and feeling like you weren’t sent to the point of no return without warning. This is something the team planned out carefully. You can’t come back from big, world-changing decisions – though you can always take advantage of the multiple save slots – “but for the most part we provide you with ways to change your mind right up until those like really big moments.”
Other gameplay elements include the option to take on missions with your crew of A.I companions. They all have their own personalities and attributes, some of which are premade and some of which are customizable. You can recruit, kill, or kick out people as you see fit. And if you’re playing on the hardest difficulty – Supernova – permadeath is in effect and killing your crewmates means they’re dead forever.
You can play on Supernova immediately, and it includes plenty of extra challenges like getting more Flaws more often without the option to reject them.
The Outer Worlds may force capitalist propaganda down your throat for laughs, but freedom and choice are the real themes when it comes to the action. I’m looking forward to seeing the many ways this world will unfold based on what I do when The Outer Worlds comes out on October 25 for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.