The Outer Worlds – First-Play Review!
Yeah, it’s another game review! But this time it’s a VIDEO game, and specifically a PC game review (hashtag PCRaceSuperiorRace) featuring The Outer Worlds.
Now, I don’t claim to be a video game blogger, but this one has been on my radar for a while. I rarely get games that are less than a year old – my Steam backlog is as shameful as the next person’s – so it’s not often I play something that’s recent. I still haven’t finished Fallout: New Vegas or Skyrim, and haven’t even loaded Fallout 4! However, I knew I’d have some free time on a recent trip, so got The Outer Worlds (hereafter abbreviated ‘OW’ for brevity) from Humble Bundle Games with a nice little discount and over the past couple of days played enough to just about finish the first part of the game.
This is a spoiler-free review!
I won’t include any spoilers if I can help it, but be forewarned: if you like to go into a story-driven game completely ‘cold’ like I do – that is, without watching any reviews, videos, reading any tips or anything like that, I will do my absolute best but I can’t promise you won’t see tiny spoilers here and there. But I will do my best to avoid them if possible. In fact, if I have any spoilers I’ll put lots of whitespace above and below so you can skip past them, and I’ll put any spoiler text in italics. OK? OK.
So. Where to start? To begin with, the game is very much like the Fallout games, emerging into a fully-realized environment with a central town full of various personalities and businesses, political rivalries, monsters, hidden locations, lots of stuff to explore and all kinds of stuff like that. Very much like many previous Bethesda and Obsidian! I suppose the main change here is that it’s IN SPAAAACE…
That’s not a bad thing, though. I haven’t played any Assassin’s Creed games but seeing every release take place in a new setting (from Italy to Rome to London to wherever)…honestly, it kind of turned me off trying them because it really, REALLY looked like they just changed the skins on the 3D models, tweaked the buildings for the different locale and boom, instant top seller. That’s probably really unfair, but with me not being fully involved with every new game release over the past many years, that’s just what it looked like from the outside. I dunno. Tell me in the comments if I have it completely wrong.
Anyway, like the Assassin’s Creed comparison, it does seem a bit like ‘Fallout in space’, but that’s a lot like saying ‘Skyrim is Fallout with Dragons’ – partially true, a bit unfair, but still only scratching the surface of what there is. And, really, it’s a proven formula, isn’t it? Fallout 3 was MASSIVE, so moving the game from Washington, D.C. to the Las Vegas area was pretty cool. It wasn’t simply a matter of changing the color tone from blue to brown, because there’s entirely new settlements, characters, weapons and storylines to discover, destroy, shoot and unravel.
OK – Let’s Start the Review, Already!
Before you even start playing the game, you start making your character. Since this was a fully digital purchase, there’s no game manual (sob! Miss those days) so I didn’t have a full idea of what to concentrate on when it came to skills, but having familiarity with Fallout you know it’ll involve a lot of shooting, plenty of talking, some sneaking around and some hacking or lockpicking.
If you’ve ever played a digital or tabletop role-playing game, you know the drill: every character starts with a base range of skills, and you pick a few skills to improve on from the get-go. The skills are collected in several main broad groups, including melee (hand) weapons, guns, science, leadership and several others. Each group of skills is then split further into sub-groups, for example melee weapons has 1-handed weapons and 2-handed weapons. The gun skills are split into light guns and heavy guns, and so on. I usually go for a fairly balanced skillset with a slight concentration in combat and sneaking around. You can click on specific skills to see what they actually do and affect, so you’re not completely in the dark. Every 20 points you put in is a major threshhold for in-game bonuses, so try not to stop at a rating of 18 or 19, for example – just go straight to 20 if you can.
Once you’ve decided your character’s skills, you get to pick what your character looks like. This is definitely one of those things that computer games from the old games didn’t have! You might get to choose one or two things about your character, maybe even the name, but the character design of current games is really, really good. If you wanted, you could make yourself in the game, or some famous person, but I tend to keep it simple because I want to get to the game, baby! Well…I start of thinking ‘oh I’ll just do this quickly’ but I still end up taking about a quarter hour to decide the shape of my eyebrows or color of my scar. Because why not! You’re making a fantasy, made-up version of yourself, aren’t you?
But it’s still pretty funny how much alike my characters tend to look. Dark hair, clean-shaven, dark eyes…I mean…that’s basically me. I don’t have as strong a chin as my video game characters, though. And my hair isn’t as great-looking….
Character Generation Complete!
Now, it’s hard to go into a totally spoiler-free game review without giving away SOMETHING, but just in case you want to stay complete in the dark, the next paragraph is just a short bit about the setup of the story. Scroll past it if you want to go in completely cold! But this is basically what you’d know from reading the blurb on the official launch page:
You start the game as one of thousands of passengers on a ship called the ‘Hope’, which for some reason easily forgotten has been marooned for over 70 years near a planet called Terra 2. You are woken from hypersleep by a mad scientist type and tasked with helping your fellow passengers finally reach their destination. The first step involves meeting a ship’s captain on the planet who can help you. Alas, your shuttle lands (splat!) directly on the captain, and his ship can’t get off-planet without a part that you are told is only available from the nearby town… and thus begins the story.
END OF SPOILERS
Starting the Game
The first few minutes of actual gameplay are familiar to anyone who’s played a game like this in recent years. You’re told in little text snippets how to move, crouch, sneak and more, and with the first bits of dialogue you have with someone on the ground you learn how the dialogue tree works. If you’ve played Fallout/Skyrim/anything in the last ten years, you know how it goes: the top responses are pretty tame, the middle responses are non-committal, the bottom responses are quite short and action-oriented:
Non-Player Character you’re talking to: So, I have to get past these huge monsters that are in my way, but I’m hurt and scared. [not the actual text you’ll see, just an example]
Player Character YOU:
1. Oh wow, hey, let me help you with that
2. I’d like to help you, but do you have a weapon you can give me?
3. Too bad, so sad, see ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya. (leave conversation)
That’s sort of how it goes. It’s something most game players have seen in these games, but I just think it’s funny how the responses are literally graded in morality based on the order you read them!
Some easy combat comes next to get you used to how aiming and moving around works, then you are eased into the story with plenty of gentle exploration. I always like to see how concept artists that work on games, movies and comic books imagine the various alien worlds we end up seeing, and the look of The Outer Worlds is really quite cool. The planet you start on has an amazing sky scene, with ships coming and going if you watch the sky for a few minutes. The backdrop of a Saturn-like planet with huge storms and gigantic rings is gorgeous, oh and by the way the planet you’re on also has rings stretching across the sky – and an aurora as well.
It’s all very cool-looking, with lots of bright colors to contrast the strangely-shaped rock formations, liquid flowing water and piles of ship rubble. Plus, everyone for some reason looks dingy and dirty – to emphasize certain things to do with the story, I assume, but it’s funny that there’s plenty of clear water and no one seems to use it for cleaning up!
Overall though, just in the looks department, the game is very visually appealing. I tend to prefer my spaceships more realistic-looking, like something out of The Expanse or Firefly, and The Outer Worlds has a slightly more cartoony, almost retro sci-fi feel to it. I would almost say it feels a lot like Fallout as you’re exploring, which is dangerous, I know, but visually there are many elements that have a 60’s sort of vibe to it. Not exactly 50’s Space Age like Fallout leans heavily on, but the 60’s Americana sort of feel is very evident.
Once you start wandering around on your way to the first person you’re meant to talk to, you have the opportunity to overhear snippets of conversation, and talk to various people to give you an idea of the overall state of things in the local area. It’s very much like Skyrim or Fallout and adds a sense of atmosphere to the place, although it starts to sound a bit ‘samey’ after you walk past the third conversation. But it’s helpful to set the tone, that’s for sure.
As you start to talk to the major characters, it’s easy to start feeling a bit overwhelmed with the politics of the situation you suddenly find yourself mired in, and as you navigate the dialogue selections you can see how things could go… see my conversation example above!
Who’s side will you pick? Who will you listen to, and who will you ignore? As you start to work your way through the first quest these questions start to pop up, and it’s up to you to decide how you will approach each faction and what you’ll say to them. I tend to lean towards the ‘helpful, but also helping myself’ side of things – after all, it’s a game, and I’m not actually suggesting that I’d punch someone out if I don’t get a healthy bribe!
Early on in the game, you can get a companion, which is sort of like the dog in Fallout or horse in Red Dead Redemption, except it’s a person. Companions can be pretty handy! We’ll get to that in the combat section below.
As the game starts, you have one main quest or mission. As you work your way through the quest, you have the opportunity to do side quests, or mini-missions that are a bit quicker to do, but still will require you to expend some bullets, blood and time to get.
My suggestion is to do as many of these side quests as you can! Not only do they get you to explore many areas of the map that you otherwise wouldn’t see, which means finding abandoned areas with bins, lockers and cabinets with all kinds of random gear, food and supplies, but you end up with a pretty hefty boost in XP (experience points) as well. And more XP means better skills, which means getting more XP easier and faster. Boom!
Managing the quests is pretty easy, too. Hit J to get to your Journal, which tracks the quests, and you can select each quest you’re working on, double-click it to make it the focus of your green map/navigation waypoints (which tell you where to go when you’re in first-person mode). The coolest thing about the journal is that as you get new information from each person in the quest you’re working on, your journal is updated with the next step you need to do, or person you need to talk to, to move forward with that quest. No more struggling to remember what you have to do, especially if you take a break from the game for a few days/weeks!
Fighting in Combat
For some folks, the Fallout style of combat is hit or miss. Ha! Joke. Of course combat is hit or miss! 😛
What I mean, of course, is the percentage change ‘rolls’ made each time you attack something in Fallout – I believe the game actually does percentile rolls every time you shoot, and you can make choices of where to hit with visualizations of hit locations giving you percentage chances to hit. I never really minded this, but then I’m kind of an old school tabletop gamer, so the percentile thing never bothered me – it’s just… ‘the Fallout way of doing combat’.
Well, in The Outer Worlds it’s a bit different, your targeting reticle goes red when it’s over an enemy, or over something like a crate or landmine you can shoot to make explode. You can get critical hits for headshots – of course, you have to actually hit the head, so it’s fun to sneak around and aim at some unsuspecting marauder for a merciless headshot.
Sneaking this works out really well in-game. Crouch down in tall grass, and it goes mostly translucent so you can see through it, but your enemies can’t. I think the ‘alert’ thing the enemies have is taken from Metal Gear Solid (well, except for the big red exclamation mark) – try to sneak up to someone and their ‘alert status’ goes from no icon for completely unaware to a small white triangle, large white triangle and finally to red when they’re alerted. Your companion will also follow your lead and sneak along with you without talking.
Speaking of companions, they come in mighty handy! They will attack with whatever weapons you give them, so if you give them only close-up weapons they’ll move forward and possibly get in the way of your shots (or grenades) so watch out for that. You can also tell them where to go, but they won’t sneak to a particular location. They’ll just stroll up to it and alert the enemy! But they are very useful, and if you pick the right Perks as you level up you can get extra XP from your companion’s efforts!
I’ve already mentioned a bit about the cool locales, but it really is worth bringing up again. There’s plenty to see, even in the ‘first part’ of the game, that wandering around is a huge part of the game and well worth doing between stops in your quest-hunting. It’s probably worth mentioning that discovering new locations gives you XP – all the better to speed up your level-up progress!
The map is very helpful with exploring, and it’s cool to see the various random building locations get filled in with information and place-names. The locations aren’t actually named on the map, but you’ll get to know them as you go. The map (hit M to access it, of course) also shows the locations of vending machines (where you can buy and sell small items) and workbenches (where you can upgrade and repair your weapons and armor). Fast travel is also possible from the map, as long as you’re not overburdened.
The ‘First Part’
That’s what I’m calling the first… well, part of the game, for lack of a better term without giving too much away. There’s a definite and clear ‘first part’, is all I’ll say, and when you get to the end of it you’ll know!
I can’t say what comes after, really – not because it’s a spoiler, but because I haven’t played that part yet! But I can say I’m looking forward to the rest of the game.
Getting to the end of the first part of the game took me about 4.5 or 5 hours, and that’s mostly taken up doing all the side quests and lots of exploring. I didn’t explore everywhere or kill every enemy on the map, so if I can get back to this part I’d happily expand my explorations.
First & Final Impressions
This part has a weird title because it comprises the first impressions of the game, but is tied into the final impressions of that first part, as I tried to explain in a non-spoilery way above. There’s loads to like about this game, especially if you’ve enjoyed playing through Fallout 3 and above in the past. There’s a lot that seems familiar and plenty that’s new. It’s definitely a game that will be taking up some precious hours of my life in the near future!
Scroll down a bit and I’ll toss in a few things I remember from playing through the first part.
- If you re-load a save and go through a dialogue that you’ve already read through, you can tap the space bar to skip the NPC dialogue so you can get to your own dialogue choices
- You only have 4 weapon slots, so after you get some longer range guns ditch the pistols. You will find a plasma pistol somewhere along the way, which is cool – I’d suggest hanging onto that
- If you have an OK Sneak skill, definitely sneak through grass as much as you can – you can get a couple of quick shots off before marauders react
- You’ll come across a machine gun that uses light ammo – this is only good against lightly armored targets, like marauders, so don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all. It’s also very inaccurate, so you have to be up close
- The plasma gun is your biggest damage dealer, so hang onto that! If you can, mod it for higher accuracy
- I think the assault rifle is the best all-around gun, try making the ammo electrified so it shocks targets as well
- The assault shotgun (can’t remember the actual name of it, but it’s a step up from the sawed-off shotgun) is great, but only holds 6 shots – mod it so it has more magazine capacity
- For some reason the ship lockers don’t work (maybe a bug or whatever) to store stuff in, so be careful where you stash your loot so you’re not overencumbered
- The best place to stash your loot is probably one of the abandoned (but accessible) domiciles outside of Edgewater
- You can use the Edgewater Civic Center as a ‘base’ once you’ve cleared it (it even has a Fast Travel point), however after I cleared it out the marauders did come back to the house next to it