The Outer Worlds is a first-person shooting RPG developed by Obsidian Entertainment. It is available on The Epic Games Store, Xbox One and Windows including game pass and on PlayStation 4. Joseph Pugh conducted this review on a standard Xbox One Console.
The Outer Worlds is a first-person shooting RPG with a huge focus on player choice. Your character has just enough background to get them started leaving with the player to dictate the rest. You choose their skills, dialogue choices and play style. What kind of company they keep, who to aid and who to give the middle finger.
You traverse the Halcyon system interacting with all kinds of weird and entertaining characters. What tasks you choose to perform and how you complete them will influence many of the characters and factions in the game. Sometimes with extreme results.
Your character gains levels as you play, allowing you to further increase their skills and choose perks. Equipment and even companions can be customized to a degree.
This was painful to write. My review is coming late so I’m already aware of how much some folks are enjoying the game. I get far more joy when talking about how much I love a game than I do writing about how much I dislike it. Yet, Outer Worlds has several flaws I can’t ignore. So bear with me on this crazy ride while I go against the grain. I truly did want to like this game.
The Unplanned Variable
Your character begins the game as a forgotten colonist pulled out of deep freeze by an eccentric scientist. The same scientist needs your help to save the other colonists. You customize the appearance of your character and their attributes. I was initially incredibly impressed by the number of options.
You choose how strong, fast, perceptive, how temperamental your character is. You then put some points into an expansive tree of skills and even choose your past profession that grants a little boon. The entire time you are doing this, the scientist makes little comments about your choices. It’s entertaining, deep and it made me incredibly excited to dive into the game with my personal character.
You are thrust into the first world of the game shortly after character creation and begin making your decisions. Conversations are usually large branching dialogue trees where you choose how your character responds. This is often true even with characters not central to any story-line, such as a random bartender.
Your choices can influence your quests, reputation, and even the fates of other characters and groups. The Outer Worlds features multiple endings. You gain experience points for performing nearly every action in the game. When you level up, you can distribute points in your various skills, ranging from long guns to lying, stealth, leadership, and more. Certain thresholds of each skill a bonus. For example, if you put enough points into intimidate, some foes might temporarily flee when you kill one of them.
Every other level you gain a perk point. Perks often grant more substantial bonuses, such as increased health, or better prices when shopping. You can even obtain flaws while playing.
For example, maybe you were fighting mechanicals and get prompted for the flaw, robophobia. It might cause you to take more damage from robots. You can refuse the flaw, but you gain a free perk point if you take it. It is an interesting and fluid system that’s implemented seamlessly into the game-play.
The character system is deep and you can theoretically mold your character into the exact archetype you wish it to be. In practice, most of your choices turn out to be fairly meaningless as The Outer Worlds simply doesn’t care about the skills that aren’t dialogue focused.
Characters and World
You visit several worlds and meet an absolute ton of wacky and zany characters. Most of which are humorous or funny to a degree. The writing and voice acting are fantastic and all the characters are interesting. Whether it is your companions, quest givers, or local bartender, they all have an immense amount of personality.
I was particularly impressed with just how many hub cities there are. Each one is full of unique oddball characters running the various facilities. The Outer Worlds is very dialogue-heavy, but the setting and its residents are interesting enough that I was always eager to talk to more people.
You choose how your character responds. You can be blunt and to the point, ask a lot of questions or exude sarcasm. If you have points in certain skills, mostly diplomatic ones, you get additional options that can really alter the game’s paths and quests. These checks, and there is no percentage roll related to them. You either have the required number of points in a skill or you don’t. This applies to other skills as well, such as lock picking.
Some other skills can give you additional dialogue options, like medical or engineering. However, they usually have very little impact. They give you experience points and usually a line of dialogue from an NPC that boils down to. “Wow, you are really smart! Now I’m going to continue saying what I was going to say in the first place!”
One exception is if you choose to make your intelligence very low at character creation. You often get access to hilarious “dumb” dialogue choices. It is a neat addition that I really appreciate.
The worlds themselves are often colorful, alien, and visually striking. The indoor dungeons, so to speak, are fairly drab, basic, and repetitive. I do enjoy the comments my companions make about the world around them. The Outer Worlds has a lot of small, but nice details.
The combat is that of a straight forward first-person shooter. You can equip up to four weapons at once and swap between them. You can sneak around to get the jump on enemies or go in guns blazing. Interestingly you can also perform a dodge, which is not common in first-person shooters. You can bring along one or two companions and if you have enough leadership you can give them orders and have them use a special ability unique to each of them.
You can also temporarily slow down time using tactical time dilation. If you have some points in guns, targeting different points of enemies will imbue a status effect. Shooting the head might blind them, or the legs cripple them.
The melee system features combos, blocking, and power attacks which is more than I was honestly expecting and a delightful surprise. The combat can be satisfying with how the enemies react to status effects. They can be dazed, knocked down, and more. They can be dismembered and head-shots can take off their noggins completely.
This is where The Outer Worlds’ flaws begin to show. I played the game on hard and past the first hour, the game is laughably easy. Even if you don’t put points in your combat skills at all. The threshold for basic features, like the hit location system, is extremely low. You are likely to have enough points in those skills to meet that threshold unless you purposely refrain from doing so.
Beyond that, there is very little difference between a character who puts a ton of points into guns and one who doesn’t. They get a bit more critical hit chance and less sway, but that’s it. The enemies go down in a few shots regardless.
This makes most of the combat skills a trap choice, since you don’t see any real benefit for picking them, even on hard. This flat the implementation of many other combat mechanics. What good is the ability to blind, or slow down enemies using tactical time dilation when they go down quickly in the first place?
What strategic value is gained by exploiting a weakness, if they are defeated quickly regardless? Is there any benefit to the damage bonus gained from sneak if the enemies only take a couple of shots anyway?
Several science weapons exist, each one has a neat quirky effect. You cant really enjoy the usage of some of them because of how easily enemies are dispatched. You could shrink someone and smack them in melee, but they would die quicker if you just shot them.
The issue is further compounded by the fact that your combat options are somewhat limited. Your companions have an ability they can use, but you don’t. In fact, the Halcyon cluster must have outlawed hand grenades as they simply don’t exist in The Outer Worlds.
I came to this conclusion while playing on hard mode. Even though my foolish self accidentally chose an option at character creation that made it so my health didn’t regain naturally, I still walked through nearly every encounter within seconds. There is one difficulty above hard, called Supernova. But it is implemented in such a poor way it doesn’t really make the game harder, just more frustrating.
In Supernova, you must sleep, eat, and drink. You can only save at your ship and your companions can die permanently. Your companions are helpful but die constantly because they have no sense of self-preservation. You cant reload easily if they die because you can only save on your ship.
I love survival games, but The Outer Worlds is not a true open-world game. While it has fairly open hub worlds, it doesn’t give you the freedom to engage with the survival mechanics in a good way. You cant, for example, drink from sinks or rivers. You need to find or buy water from a vendor.
The dialogue skills not only give you the most options when progressing the story, but they also grant passive bonuses in combat. They can make foes flee, cower, or in some cases attack each other, simply when you shoot them. It is clearly unbalanced in regards to the rest of skills by having more of an effect in combat, than the actual combat skills!
We aren’t done yet though. It gets so much worse. I encountered several side quests where I needed an item that was behind a locked door and my lock picking skill was too low. I would then find a key to the door only a few feet away! Invalidating the fact that I didn’t choose to play a lock picking character at all. At times the quest marker would even point me to the key!
These weren’t main quests where the player needs to be able to progress, they were side quests. I don’t play the bad guy in games when I have the choice, as such, my character didn’t have much in the way of stealth skills and I refrained from stealing. However, I had to test a few ideas.
With few exceptions, you can walk inside any room in any shop or house you can enter. The NPCs do not follow nor protest you doing so. With a meager ten points in stealth, I could rob anything I wanted that wasn’t in direct view of an NPC. (Who again, did not attempt to watch me.)
You can use and sell stolen goods with no penalty and there are literally tons of things to steal everywhere you go. I had to take it further. I stole something off the shelf in front of a shopkeeper who then intervened and stopped me!
The game presented me with dialog options some of which were fueled by my dialog skills but the required threshold was pretty low. I said, “Oh I was just leaving” The NPC let me go. Then I sold the item I stole in front of him, back to him immediately. The only penalty? A slight drop in reputation with that faction.
What does reputation effect? Store prices mostly. If it drops too low they will become hostile, but if you stay away for a few daysthey forget about it. You can pass time by sleeping at a bed.
Stealth and stealing are ludicrously unbalanced, despite the fact I had no stealth skills. I simply talked my way out of trouble with little to no penalty and sold the stolen item back to the shop keeper!
Ammo may as well be set to infinite, even without stealing I never even came close to running out. It was never a concern. If you have a few points in engineering you can modify and improve weapons and armor, but due to the incredibly easy difficulty, it by and large doesn’t matter. You will pick up better gear as loot.
You find a gigaton of loot but it was hard to be excited about it because of how little impact any of it had on the combat. The Outer Worlds sells itself on playing the character you want to be. But your choice is largely an illusion. There is a clear best choice and you are never punished for not having a certain skill unless that is related to dialogue.
The Outer Worlds has a load of mechanics put into place, and while they are functional, they aren’t cohesive. They were implemented with little regard for how they would interact with each other and the game is a mess because of it. They had to make it so a player could complete the game no matter how they built their character. Obsidian succeeded, but only by making those choices matter very little in the first place.
Worlds has a great story, writing, and expansive dialogue options. It has interesting worlds and your companions are as deep and quirky as the rest of the cast. But for me, The Outer Worlds fails in nearly every other respect.
What joy I could find in the combat was stolen away by how easy it is, even on hard, and even without focusing on combat skills. Your combat options are limited, grenades aren’t even a thing. What you do have, like the tactical time dilation system, is invalidated by how quickly enemies go down.
The skills are unbalanced, half of your choices are meaningless and the dialogue skills are clear winners. If you don’t choose them, you chose wrong. The mechanics interact horribly with each other in a way that makes theft easy and broken and again invalidates any choices you have made for the sake of not punishing you for lacking something.
Ammo could be set to infinite with no discernible impact on game play. I could go on but this review is already a long one. I get that some say The Outer Worlds is a game you play for the story. Fine, why does everything else exist? You have to traipse through brain dead meaningless game play between each story segment. Why not cut production costs in half and make The Outer Worlds the greatest player-driven choose your own adventure visual novel of all time? Because that’s what it boils down to in practice anyway.
If you enjoy The Outer Worlds, you aren’t alone and this review isn’t an attack on you. I’m in the minority on this and that’s okay. These are issues you may not care about or even notice. I just couldn’t overlook them, and frankly as a game critic, I shouldn’t.
You might be interested in my review of Horizon Zero Dawn
- Colorful alien worlds
- Great writing, story, voice acting, and characters.
- Lots of dialogue and choices that can impact the story. You can even kill most NPCs and continue the story!
- Deep initial character creation
- Your companions are interesting and quirky with lots of additional stories to pursue.
- Combat is laughably easy and poorly engaging, even on hard
- Limited combat options, with the few you have suffering due to the lack of challenge
- Most skill choices have very little impact on the game
- Many systems intertwine poorly, making several aspects unbalanced and weird
- Survival elements in the Supernova difficulty are poorly implemented
- Almost no game-play consequence to any choice you make in the game, undermining several skills and mechanics