The Outer Worlds Review: A short, sweet evolution of Bethesda’s classic formula

Set at the beginning of the 24th Century in a system known as Halcyon, you’re mysteriously awakened from cryogenic sleep by a mad scientist. Forced to confront a world that’s moved on without you, The Outer Worlds has the perfect setting for an inquisitive RPG protagonist.

And Obsidian Entertainment knows exactly what it's doing. Ever since the reveal trailer for TOW, the marketing message has been clear: this is a modern Fallout title in everything but the name, made by development veterans with a solid pedigree.

Obsidian has crafted a title that you won’t want to put down until the credits roll. In fact, The Outer Worlds has its hooks so far into me that I’m already enjoying a second romp through Halcyon.

The Outer Worlds, despite mimicking several gameplay mechanics, UI idiosyncrasies, and a similar narrative style of some of the jankier Bethesda releases, feels far more refined that previous titles in this genre.

The gunplay, for one, feels far better than that of Fallout 3 or 4, perhaps due to the emphasis on a first-person view this time around.

It’s also due, in part, to the new ‘tactical time dilation’ skill that allows you to briefly slow time and make precision shots – a gameplay device with a humorous narrative explanation that I won’t spoil.

VATS enthusiasts might lament its passing, but retaining the control of a first-person action view while shooting your foes provides a far smoother experience. And you still get to see the occasional gory slow motion kill, too!

Flaws are another new addition to the traditional perks-and-points system. These optional mechanics, offered when certain circumstances have been met, will grant you an extra perk in return for weaknesses in similar situations. This might be an aversion to heights, a phobia of robotic enemies, and so on.

It adds a splash of new life to a familiar system while also upping the ante, but Supernova – the game’s hardest difficulty – adds the whole bottle.

It introduces new mechanics like companion permadeath and survival systems; if you don’t eat, drink, and sleep regularly, you’ll receive adverse effects to your combat and linguistic abilities, and eventually die. A perfect addition for the hardcore role-players that these games invariably attract.

It’s a shame you can’t toggle the Supernova difficulty modifiers on and off, though, especially to add new layers of strategy to lower difficulties if you aren’t a glutton for punishment.

Beyond this, the writing and voice acting have also come a long way – at least for the first half of the game, but we’ll touch on that later.

One key example of this is the companion quest for Parvati, the timid, kind-hearted engineer. You have the choice of guiding her through a WLW-relationship with another engineer that she idolises, complete with her insecurities surrounding a lack of interest in physical intimacy.

Not only is it a touchingly-told story, but it’s refreshing to see a budding romance portrayed in such an innocent light, especially one that’s usually reserved for titillation.

At the same time, it’s also an optional side quest, which can be completely avoided if your only concern for your crew is how much damage they can output.

Unfortunately, not everything smells of roses in Halcyon, there are some niggling issues that hamper your downtime. The fall damage, for instance, is set exceptionally high and I found myself constantly crippling my legs or dying entirely from what seemed like minor drops.

Avoiding this is a pain in itself, but not being able to sprint or interact with anything while reloading takes the cake. A small quality of life patch would certainly go a long way here.

The biggest issues with The Outer Worlds, however, are its pacing and brevity. It took me roughly 30 hours to complete my first playthrough, despite spending the first half of the campaign interacting with every living soul I could find and investigating every nook of the game’s planets and moons.

That’s not to say that you can’t get a good amount of playtime out of TOW, however, as completing every side quest is a task that’s sure to last 50 hours, and there’s plenty of opportunity for multiple playthroughs to explore alternative outcomes to the game’s biggest decisions.

It is, however, shorter than Fallout fans are likely expecting, and the pacing takes an odd turn for the worst towards the end.

Everything was wrapped up and over with before I really knew what was happening and, although I appreciated the touching ending with a narrated summary of my actions, it all felt too sudden and anticlimactic.

And although there are technically different endings, they really only make minor differences to the final slides.

It’s entirely possible to blitz through The Outer Worlds in about 15 hours if you aren’t one for poking your nose into side missions, but you’ll definitely get more from this title if you take the time to learn about the colonists and deeper lore.

There’s something inherently gripping about the opening hours that I can’t get out of my head; that need to know how my decisions could impact the story differently, a longing to relive the game’s brightest moments, flaws and all.

VERDICT: The Outer Worlds – 4/5

Reviewed on PS4 Pro

Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds feels like a modern-age Fallout title, for better and for worse.

Although it’s grown out of much of the buggy, janky feeling that its predecessors were known for, it isn’t nearly as expansive as the classics you might remember.

It seems that stepping out of Bethesda’s spotlight has raised the production value but limited the game’s depth of content. Still, with quality writing and stellar gameplay, everyone should visit Halcyon’s shores when they get a chance.

PROS

  • Excellent writing, particularly in the first five hours

  • Gorgeous graphics, even on a console

  • Improved controls and responsive gunplay

CONS

  • Pacing issues in the second half of the story

  • Quality of life tweaks needed

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