The Outer Hype

I have been playing The Outer Worlds via the Xbox Game Pass lately. And… I am not impressed.

People have been gushing about how this is Obsidian’s return to form, how it is a non-Fallout Fallout game, and so on. From what I have seen thus far though, having completed the first major area? It’s a slap-stick snooze-fest generic Unreal Engine title. That might be a controversial impression, so let me unpack it a bit.

First, it’s slap-stick due to the comically evil corporations in charge. One of the very first side-quests you get is to collect the grave fees from the families of those workers who have died. No payment, no continued burial. Another NPC mentioned how one of their workers committed suicide, and if anyone found out, the family would be fined for destruction of company property. All the words were there to evoke a sense of capitalist dystopian hellscape… but the tone wasn’t.

Every single quest or conversation is accompanied by a wink and/or eyebrow waggle. This isn’t Deus Ex or Syndicate or Blade Runner, this is Rick and Morty-level irreverence. And while there are certainly outlandish elements to the Fallout lore and in-jokes aplenty, the actual post-apocalypse piece is taken seriously. That isn’t the case with the Outer Worlds. I don’t know if that was done intentionally or not, or if perhaps things get more serious later on. I just know that when I completed a recent quest in which a NPC was sold as an indentured servant to pay off her debts instead of being assassinated, it did not even remotely register as a moral quandary.

Second, the snooze-fest piece refers both to combat and the non-combat pieces of the game. Having heard that Normal difficulty was actually quite easy, I went ahead and chose the next level up on the slider. And while I have indeed died several times in routine combat, there was never a sense that it was due to skill or anything. “Oops, there was a melee guy there, and he deals increased damage because the difficulty level is higher.” Indeed, combat feels disjointed most of the time, especially when you have companions who essentially teleport around when you trigger their special abilities.

Outside of combat, things are so formulaic that I don’t even know why Obsidian bothered with exploration elements at all. There are three ammo types for all guns (light, heavy, energy); there are multiple damage types (physical, corrosive, etc) but they map 1:1 in a cookie-cutter resistance way; 99% of everything you find is either currency, unnecessary food, and more copies of generic guns/armor to break down for generic parts to repair the guns you chosen to use; mods for guns/armor sound important but are again generic nonsense (your melee weapon deals plasma damage now!) that just ticks the customization 101 box. Even the Perks are boring.

Finally, when I said “generic Unreal Engine title,” you probably know what I mean. NPCs look basically the same, enemies look the same, you can look at a room and immediately understand where you might be able to go and how you might interact with the space. For all the bugs and shortcomings with the Gamebryo/Creation engine that Bethesda uses, going from that to this game is like going from an Erector Set to Mega Bloks.

Like I said, I’m only past the first planet so maybe things turn around. I have heard from basically everyone on the internet already that the game doesn’t though, and it’s only a 20-hour trip besides.

Suffice it to say, I’m not impressed. And I’m starting to think Fallout had more to do with Obsidian’s success than the other way around.

Posted on December 20, 2019, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. About the tone/setting, for me the point was more that many have accepted that the Corps work the way they do, so they don’t see and react to them as ‘evil’, but just how life is. Which itself is pretty dark, especially when you consider the times we live in today and how Fox News viewers are today living in an alternate reality many fully have embraced.

    I’d say keep playing, because the first area for me was similar in reaction, I didn’t ‘get’ the setting. I think the rest of the game does a good job of fully establishing it.

    The combat and everything else though? Yea that stays annoyingly weak, which is why its good the game is fairly short. The overall story I thought was worth experiencing, and I thought the companion stuff I saw was solid (didn’t do the side quests for all of them). Story/setting/flow to me feel like Fallout. The exploration and combat not so much.


  2. I had pretty much the same reaction. Obsidian games have always been these rough gems mixing brilliance with bugs and lack of polish. This game is the opposite, it’s reasonably well polished but doesn’t do anything original or interesting.

    The tone of the game is so weird. It’s so over the top ridiculous right from the start you’d think it’s a Borderlands-style comedy, but the game treats itself seriously. They do try to make things slightly more nuanced later on, but it still falls flat on its face.

    That said, writers like Chris Avellone or John Gonzalez who worked on their past games are no longer at Obsidian and Outer Worlds was done by an entirely new writing team so I guess that explains a lot. All in all, I don’t have much hope in their future projects even with the Microsoft money behind them.


  3. I guess it’s one of those subjective things that’s hard to argue, but the tone struck me as coldly satirical. There are the outlandish touches like the grave fee (admittedly one of the dimmer ideas) but then also pretty-much-almost-here stuff like ’employer’s rights’ posters and ‘we interrupt this advertising with a brief news message’. And it does get less cartoonish further down the line. Having finished the game, my ideological gripes include its misunderstanding of anarchism and some essentially false choices between markets and chaos, but that’s clearing a pretty high bar.

    It’s definitely not an full-on exploration game, though, and unfortunately it is really badly tuned with regard to difficulty, but the story, particularly the characterisation of companions and major NPCs, is quite good, in my view.

    That said, if you’re looking for a more mature treatment of similar themes, I found Disco Elysium to be a great palate cleanser, albeit of course in a very different genre.


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