Just a few years ago, the bar for story-based video games was set pretty damn high. Want a rich world to get lost in? Well, let Bethesda shepherd you through the Fallout or Elder Scrolls franchises. Dig on deep, nuanced character interaction with romantic options? Hell friend, you should drink from Bioware’s cup of Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Prefer to engage with stories featuring decisions that matter? Telltale Games has you covered with multiple options, including The Walking Dead and Batman.
In recent times, however, that seems to have changed. Bethesda appear to be going through some kind of midlife crisis, releasing half-finished live service drek like Fallout 76. Bioware are on fire as well, with recent titles including the desperately disappointing Mass Effect: Andromeda and the baffling Anthem. And Telltale Games? They went bust.
The point is: it’s rough out there for folks who just want to get lost in a good story-based single player experience, without microtransactions, compulsory online connectivity or any of the other slings and arrows of outrageous monetisation. Enter The Outer Worlds, from RPG pros Obsidian Entertainment, and say goodbye to your remaining free time.
The Outer Worlds has been affectionately dubbed “Fallout in space” and while that’s a bit reductive, it’s also not entirely wrong. The game is set in a far future where humanity, being run by various megacorporations, has colonised the stars and you – the player character – are thawed out of cryogenic hibernation one day in the Halcyon Galaxy, with very little idea of what’s going on. See, you are one of the people on Hope, a lost colony ship filled with fellow icy boys, and after you’ve been woken up by the eccentric Phineas Vernon Welles, you’ll be required to go on an epic adventure to defrost your chums and maybe save the whole damn galaxy.
In practical terms, The Outer Worlds has you fang around the Halcyon galaxy on your ship The Unreliable, getting into adventures, making tough decisions, locking horns with corporations that range from benign to downright evil, and uncovering the dark secret that has killed so many. In essence, you’ll be digging into a moderate-sized adventure (20-30 hours or so) in a massively complex universe.
While the lore of The Outer Worlds is staggering in its complexity, the actual gameplay is a lot more familiar. Obsidian created the beloved Fallout: New Vegas, and if you’ve played that game you’ve essentially played this one too. There will be hubs of NPCs you need to do stuff for, and long sections of wasteland full of marauders and monsters to kill or avoid. Eventually you’ll reach a point in the story where you’ll be required to pick a side, or change the stakes somehow, and then have to live with the consequences.
It’s a classic first-person RPG formula and while it is definitely engaging, it’s beginning to show its age. Also, this is a game by a small-to-medium sized studio, not a multi-billion dollar corporation, so don’t expect the near endless replayability of something like Fallout 4 or a dizzyingly massive game world.
Still, if you’re interested in playing The Outer Words, chances are you’re here for the writing, and the good news is, the story on offer is great. Well crafted, brimming with fascinating little details, wry comedic touches and characters you’ll actually want to talk to, this is a title that feels like a good book or a beloved TV series. So, while the shooting mechanics are fine rather than spectacular, and the loot game isn’t particularly deep, the story itself is an absolute cracker, and one you’ll think about long after the credits have rolled.
If Obsidian were trying to prove that there’s life left in the single player story-based RPG, they have absolutely succeeded. The Outer Worlds is an engaging and promising introduction to a new IP and hopefully the first of many games set in a brand new, intriguing, thought-provoking universe.