Reviewed: The Outer Worlds

Reviewed

Few games can capture both the familiar and the uncommon the way that The Outer Worlds did. Obsidian Entertainment crafted an experience that feels both comfortable and new to RPG fans and new-comers alike. Does the game fit too well into other, similar experiences or does Obsidian carve out its own experience that, at least in the Triple-A scene, has been all but dominated in recent years by Bethesda with Elder Scrolls and Fallout? There is a strong sense of familiarity with The Outer Worlds, which is understandable, given that Fallout: New Vegas came from the same developers. This comparison’s not hard to make, but what looks very similar on the face of it shifts pretty drastically once players get into The Outer Worlds. There’s an undeniable style to both of these games that feeds from one and into the other. Despite this connection, The Outer Worlds doesn’t feel like a Fallout game. Despite the similar mechanics, the scope of The Outer Worlds is far broader in scope. There’s also more depth to the world and characters than we’ve seen from Bethesda.  

The Outer Worlds is absolutely a First-Person RPG experience; Obsidian Entertainment made no effort to hide or limit that; in fact, it has become one of the strongest selling points for the game. The Outer Worlds excels at giving players choices. There are options for just about everything you want to do, and with few exceptions, Obsidian’s managed to make even the “weak” points of a character into strengths. You can play just about any role you want. The concept of flexibility The Outer Worlds establishes is apparent as early as the character creation screen, where you can place extra attribute points or even move some from one attribute to another. If you want to play an idiot? You can certainly do that, and the developers not only found a way to make this fun but rewarding. While this choice will affect your character, players may be surprised to find that it’s rarely a negative impact. Instead of locking a character out of specific roles, players who choose to limit attributes will can open up options for the player to explore. Continuing with the Intelligence example, if a player decides to make their character dim enough, they will be considered “Dumb.” This personality flaw will open up dialogue options for the player. Something that The Outer Worlds does differently, too, is that skills are managed quite independently from Attributes.

Playing the good-natured and robust idiot who also can fix a space ship’s engine is a perfectly reasonable option. To further push these inherent, yet only loosely connected design choice, players are rewarded for playing to their character’s weaknesses. Obsidian has managed to mitigate the feeling of being punished for not meticulously rounding out a character’s skills and attributes. Obsidian’s separated the skills in such a way that players can be an idiot savant who may not be able to add or subtract, but can fix that malfunctioning robot in two shakes of a Canid’s feathered tail. What sounds like a minor distinction in games like this ends up creating a wildly different experience in how players interact with the wold. There’s a feeling of being rewarded for trying different skill combinations that would typically be risky in games like The Outer Worlds. Rather than focus on optimum ways to complete a mission, the players are left to their own devices and given the leeway to experience each quest the way they think their characters would approach it. Obsidian chose to support player choice and creativity within skills and Dialogue options in a way that adds to the experience rather than limiting it. One player can sneak through one mission while their friend decides to turn the immediate area into a scorched hell hole with a plasma cannon that calls in every guard in the immediate area. In many cases, these options are interchangeable, the likelihood of a player being able to do one or the other at any given time is almost available to the player and whatever mood they happen to be in at the time.  
 
Now, as progression continues and skill specializations grow, there is a path that they will have to choose. Each Skill option has a maximum of 100 points, but the first 50 points modify related skills as well. The Outer Worlds focuses on characters being more of a generalist rather than a specialist to start. If a player chooses to increase their character’s sneaking skill, they put a few points into the overarching skill set called “stealth.” Placing a point in “stealth” will not only increase the value of the sneak skill but will improve your character’s hack and lock-pick abilities as well. It’s not until these attributes hit rank 50, that players are required to put points into a specific skill. The added flexibility of skill-sets creates a feeling of specialization without giving players the impression that they’re missing out on other choices. If you choose to, of course, players can min-max their characters, but the balance makes this far more of a conscious decision on the player’s part, rather than an unintended consequence of wanting to be great at a particular skill.  

There’s a unique kind of charm to The Outer Worlds experience. The world’s a dark one, where corporations run almost everything, and the things that they don’t are worse for the wear because of it. Corperations view people as assets to they own. This fact is a truth that most individuals willingly accept. Despite this depressing, dystopian corporate existence, there’s a lot of light-hearted moments and sarcasm around this reality. Some characters will always feed you the corporate line. They’ll deliever the tried and true corporate line even at the at risk of bleeding to death first. Then there are the types of characters who are only doing the bare minimum to squeak by, despite the consequences. You’re continually bounding from NPC-to-NPC that either take things far too seriously or are seemingly in on the joke that is the corporate structure. The result feels like an extended, tongue in cheek joke, which delivers a variety of different punchlines that flow to the same ends. Despite all the death, corporate branded fascism, and near-starvation, it’s tough to take seriously.  

The NPCs of The Outer Worlds feel fleshed out and well-defined, with deep backstories that are mostly tragic, there’s a humor to them. They can’t be taken seriously, and the harder the NPC tries to be serious, the more ridiculous it all feels. This choice in tone by Obsidian helps to define the experience and set it apart from many of the grim dystopian futures we see from similar games. Even when terrible things may be happening to characters in the world, it tends to bring a smile to the player’s face and a chuckle along with it. The companions’ players pick up through the game are superb. Some quests you do for them are epic; others are mundane, but there is always a sense of reward and knowledge that comes with them. If you’re a player that chooses to skip the companion quests in The Outer Worlds, well, then all I can say to you is that’s a terribly misguided choice. You’ll help with everything from tracking down the bodies of fallen comrades to coaching someone through new feelings or romance and attraction. There’s a lot to experience, and all of it felt rewarding and worthwhile. 


The Quest system is designed to stay out of the player’s way as much as possible. Obsidian’s goal was not to push players through the experience and seemed to heavily focus on allowing players to move at whatever pace makes them the most comfortable. Once players complete the opening missions to become a ship captain, the world opens up, and even within the first location, a player has plenty of flexibility to explore. Players can certainly avoid the main quest almost entirely until they’re ready to complete the game, and The Outer Worlds does very little to force players onto that track. Secondary quests have a layer of complexity that is refreshing to play through. Most of them have multiple sub-tasks that add to the story and the lore of the area as players progress through them. You’re not going to find too many quests that send you out to deliver some commonly found item to an NPC simply to be turned around and head back to town. The characters in the game also have enough personality to affect how players may handle the missions they’ve chosen to complete. One particular side quest that comes to mind is one where a woman is upset that her workers went on strike. She’s a prickly sort of jerk that would be easy to walk away from if you worked for her. You can either choose to investigate further or take her at her word and get the people on strike working again. It’s totally up to the player in how they would like to approach this mission. Obsidian’s done a great job at using characters to try to affect the outcome of a task. The temptation to screw her over is there, but the reward she offers also is decent. It doesn’t feel like you’re just checking a box to complete a mission, and this is due in no small part in how Obsidian has chosen to present quests in the world. The carefully crafted dialogue options and multi-step requirements to complete a quest has a focus on personal investment for each mission and decision. There always seems to be more to the story with each journey you choose to go on.  


Visually, The Outer Worlds looks alright. It’s not the most striking thing you’ve played this year. I wouldn’t expect The Outer Worlds to win any awards for visual presentation, but it’s also not a hideous textural CHUD either. Most of the textures look flat. While there is plenty of details in them, they lack definition in a lot of places. The same can be said weapons, monsters, and character models. Admittedly, this is a bit disappointing, considering Obsidian used the Unreal Engine, and we know how beautiful textures and models can look. Despite the limits of the presentation, the world is still fascinating. Sky-boxes are intricate, with plenty of detail, especially when looking out at other planets from whatever bit of space rock you’re floating around on. From bubbling sulfur pits to hefty corn cob-looking plants that sway in the breeze, there is quite a lot of small details to enjoy that help bring each location to life. Each planet has its own feel and even the barren moons that you’ll visit seem to have plenty to offer in unexpected nooks and crannies. There, however, were some issues with frame rates that dropped below 60 FPS, for reasons that I couldn’t quite put my finger on either. It may be due to background processes, weather effects, or an abundance of NPCs in the area. It could also have been just plain old poor optimization in certain spots. Whatever the cause, the frame drops were very noticeable when they occurred. Luckily, these FPS drops weren’t too drastic, a majority of these drops landed somewhere in mid-to-high ’50s. It’s not enough to ruin the experience, but when the game is cruising along at 80/90 plus FPS, sudden sink in the frames is quite apparent and distracting. Thankfully, the rest of the experience makes up for any visual shortcomings that players find within The Outer Worlds.  
 


Character animation and movements seemed perfectly acceptable. I’ve not come across any animation bugs or issues with how the characters move and interact within the world, but a lot of it is bland. Humans seemed to be the best examples to look at for character animation, with some excellent motions and facial expressions, while some of the wildlife seemed to be pretty stiff in their movements, which generally appears to be the weakest examples of what the game has to offer in this respect. The Mantiqueen, which is pretty much a big-ass space Matis, doesn’t seem to articulate it’s movement well at all. They look incredibly cool, but the monster’s animation doesn’t telegraph their actions well and they look plain rigid while moving. Another creature that didn’t come together well at all was the Primal. The Primal looks like a troll and gorilla had a forbidden love child that was exhiled to the furthest reaches of space in hopes that it would reproduce to be the biggest asshole in the solar system. For the most part, they were serviceable, however, and this is a big “however,” they have one special attack where they burrow underground and emerge much closer to their target. The animation for this attack looks like complete and utter shit, and that’s the most polite way to put it. The visual queue for this attack is just a bunch of dirt and rock being stirred up from the ground and flung into the air. The Primal then disappears into the planet’s crust, only to emerge right in front of you with the exact same animation. The thing is, players, don’t see the monster crawl into the ground and burrow around. Instead, this gigantic creature’s model disappears! These animations were particularly frustrating early in the game when the monster’s behavior is unknown. It was incredibly easy to be sneak attacked by multiple Primals disappearing at once, only for them to re-appear a few feet away from you.    

The audio queues in the game are wonderful. The music’s good, the voice acting holds up, and the banter that’s thrown around the settlements really helps to bring each location to life. The player will interrupt conversions, hear jokes between patrons in bars, and even the occasional argument between two NPC characters about everything from money owed to heated debates about competing sports teams. The same can kind of quiality is found in combat audio; your enemies will yell out hellish screeches at you when you’ve damaged them. The Outlaws and Marauders will insult and threaten you when it comes to their untimely demise, and companions chime in to recommend swapping weapons if you’re not doing much damage. 
 
If you enjoy games like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, you’ll find yourself right at home. The Outer Worlds also seems to carve out its own little niche in the game genre and offers up some creative styles that you won’t necessarily find in abundance in similar experiences. The extra flexibility of character development, dialogue, and just general personality that The Outer Worlds has to offer is something that the genre of First Person Role Playing Games has been missing. 

Fallout 4: Extended Review

Reviewed

2015-12-15_00011Gamers have had more than a bit of time to digest Bethesda’s latest title, Fallout 4. While it’s a new game in a new location, the game does seem to try to cut a new path for itself, while still keeping the previous titles well within its view. This works in somewhat limiting effects that may have dilute the experiences for gamers that are expecting something either familiar or altogether different. The fourth edition of the series is a bit of a mixed bag of old and new mechanics, at least within the greater Bethesda realm of design. Fallout 4 delivers deeply into some aspects most of us find familiar, while simultaneously leaving many gamers wanting in other ways that should have been explored a bit more deeply. The game itself feels like it’s caught somewhere between the Fallout 3 experience and it’s more serious and dark counterpart, Fallout: New Vegas. Fallout 4 never quite reaches the depths of depravity that we saw in New Vegas, but managing to stay out of the almost slapstick brand of cartoon violence that Fallout 3 had at some moments. The latest Fallout is an interesting beast that tries to deviate somewhat drastically from its predecessors in some respects while still maintaining that classic, “Fallout” feel that many of us are accustomed to ever since the re-introduction to the Fallout franchise with of Fallout 3 in 2008.

Fallout 4 introduced something we’ve never seen in a Bethesda game before. Players are now able to construct buildings and manage settlements in the post-apocalyptic setting. A great addition in many respects, as it gives players a feeling of control while attempting to shape the Commonwealth into something more habitable for settlers and traders. There’s quite a bit that goes into building a successful and happy settlement for the folks that is not readily apparent or explained in-depth. Players must think of everything from food and shelter to defense and even a clean water supply. Simple aspects that most may not things about immediately, like whether or not there are enough beds and the amount of power available all has an effect on the Settlement and the happiness of those who dwell within it. After a few hours with these new mechanics chances are you’ll have a pretty good handle of them and it’s really not a bad addition to the game, even if constructing a series of towns doesn’t quite appeal to you. It does help the player feel like they are making at least a minor difference in reshaping a world that’s be blown to shit.

This construction system does have somewhat of a “tacked-on,” feel to it however and has a fair share of woes. Building will seem incredibly janky at first, walls won’t “Snap” into place 2015-11-12_00002when trying to attach it to an adjoining wall. That is until you seemingly tilt it or move your character just right, then suddenly it fits. In some cases flooring panels just won’t allow the players to lay them down on perfectly flat ground. For players expecting a more consistent and easy-to-use building system in the vein of games like Minecraft or Terraria, will find themselves quite disappointed and downright frustrated at moments. The settlement system is also unfortunately plagued with more than its fair share of bugs. Common annoyances players may come across are cases where a settlement registers as having no “defense,” despite players littering the place with defensive turrets and structures. This will negatively affect that settlement’s happiness until is is corrected. This can usually be fixed by simply moving a turret or placing a new one. Sometimes, something as simple as cutting down to one and then reconnecting it seems to right whatever went wrong.

If really fun, engaging and sometimes, downright silly side quests are your thing, Fallout 4 does a pretty good job of delivering on that. Players will find themselves wandering irradiated lands looking for elusive and eccentric scientists or targeting a precision nuclear strike. (No, not Megaton!) Every time I think I’ve found the last interesting side-story in an area I stumble across someone willing to give me a new job that is a bit more than simply walking into a building and killing raiders or Super Mutants. Quests seem to be positively littered across the Commonwealth, hidden behind seedy, burned out buildings and in dingy, radroach filled tunnels. There seems to be no shortage of things to do and find in the blown out, decaying corpse that is the greater Boston area. Some of these quests are so well hidden though, players may miss them all together if they aren’t willing to comb through every square foot of ruins. In this case, Fallout 4’s greatest strength is also one of its weaknesses. It’s incredibly easy to get wrapped up with the endless stream of generic quests that the Minutemen, Brotherhood of Steel and other factions are more than willing to just pile on top of you every chance they get. While it’s a very good way to make a couple of caps quickly, most players will find that it gets old fast.

2015-12-15_00019This randomly generated quest system is ripped straight from Skyrim’s faction quests. In Skyrim these quests would continually be given to the player as a long as they made the effort to speak to the NPC that’s charged with dishing them out. They were, in no manner required to do. This is also the case with Fallout 4’s quest system. Factions will just give them to you as long as you want them. There is one distinct difference with the way this randomized quest system is managed, however. Certain members in certain factions will just give you quests as long as you’re in earshot. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, whether you’re just there to sell some junk, picking up a new companion or whether you’re there for another quest entirely. Simply being near certain characters will give you “new” quests. This little bit of frustrating bullshit will most likely cause you to avoid certain settlements. You will especially avoiding characters that may just decide it’s a good time to give you a quest. (fuck off, Preston. I see you, you stay away!)

In some cases you can ignore these quests, in others you’ll find that you are not so lucky. Quests that require the player to rescue a kidnapped settler or pay their ransom may actually be the shittiest quests to be included in a Bethesda game to-date. It doesn’t take much time to rescue them to start with, but there are cases where you save someone, only to have that exact same settler get kidnapped again, almost immediately! Now, you might think that you can just leave these quests alone, just sitting in your journal. As long as you don’t act on the quest it’s just waiting for you to complete it like all the others. That’s what I thought and I ended up being dead wrong. A kidnapped NPC has a shelf-life of about three in-game days. After that, their captors kill them of course. These kidnappings also seem to happen no matter how well-defended a settlement is. It is because of this endless quest system that just force-feeds you bullshit that the game can quickly become boring, repetitive and just generally unsatisfying. Why Bethesda wanted such an aggressive quest system that amounts to busy work is beyond me. This is an especially confusing design choice when gamers discover that there’s so many excellent story and side missions available.2015-12-15_00024

Beasts of the Commonwealth are still pretty great. While Raiders, Super Mutants and Ghouls are what will be found out in the wild the most, there are some nice additions within these enemies. Ghouls are quite standard, every now and again you’ll find a “Glowing One” who will douse you in a more than healthy dose of radiation if they get too close. They also have the added advantage of taking quite a bit more punishment then their undead-looking, squishy brethren. The ghouls just feel a bit more threatening this time around too. Most are fast and they have a tendency to crawl out of the woodwork when you least expect it, in most cases quite literally. They are fast and often attack in large packs. While they really aren’t that threatening later in the game, the presentation is great. A great addition to the Super Mutant enemy type is the Suicide Mutant. These crazy bastards arm a mini-nuke, carry it like a football and run at you. If they get close enough they just explode. Killing them before they get to you, if you can successfully avoid shooting their carrying arm grants you a nice little surprise as well. Of course the iconic, mutated, giant Mole Rat is back. It wouldn’t be a Fallout game without it. This time however, you’ll be excited and also maybe a little bit horrified to know that a few of these special little buggers have frag mines stuck to their backs. That was a real surprise the first time I found that out.

2015-12-15_00002Bethesda has made some great improvements with the weapons and their customization in Fallout 4. Gone is that annoying degradation system for your weapons and jams are now thankfully, a thing of the past. Just about every weapon can be customized or torn down to get raw components and even other mods. This allows a player to take their very favorite gun and carry it along with them through the game, throwing upgrades on it as they level so it keeps pace with them as the progress. The selection of weapons is certainly nothing to shake a stick at either. While the player will start out seeing nothing more than homemade pipe guns, they soon give way to a myriad of firepower that has miraculously survived the end of the world, and then some. Many players may even find it hard to give up the odd-looking, yet surprisingly effective pipe guns as well. What first seems like a low level poor excuse for a real firearm  turns out to be a useful, yet ugly looking choice of weapon. Special weapons can be found scattered about the Commonwealth or being touted around by legendary enemies. These legendary guns have a variety of special effects on them that may coordinate well with the kind of character you’re playing. Best of all, just about all of these legendary weapons can be modified as well.

Just as with weapons, the selection of armor and it’s effects are quite deep. Armor adds not only damage reduction, but protection for radiation and energy damage as well. Just like the legendary weapons, there is legendary armor pieces. As if that’s not enough, players will also have more than a few opportunities to equip power armor throughout the game. This adds significant boosts to the player’s carrying capacity, damage reduction and just general “coolness.” Like the weapons, you can modify and upgrade your armor to scale or just give you some extra durability. The downside to power armor is that if you begin exploring early on or just have a keen eye while scanning your surroundings, you’re bound to find a suit of usable power armor very early. There is even a mainline quest that drops you into a beefed up suit early on, to throw down on something you’ve really got no business fighting to begin with. While the advantages are great and throwing on a suit of power armor definitely makes you feel like a badass, it just feels like it’s all a bit too soon. With the number of suits littered around the map along with the fusion core power supplies to run them, the feeling of this kind of hardware being a rare armor-type just isn’t there. It doesn’t quite feel rare at all. In fact power armor is awfully common. While I am sure glad I got the suits, I didn’t bother wearing any of them until I was almost level 30. They just make the game far too easy for the quest lines that you’ll find yourself doing early on in the game. This is also the case later on, with a character over level 50 and power armor it feels like I am running around with God-Mode enabled.

Fallout 4 is definitely a Bethesda game, for both the good and the bad reasons. It’s  what we’ve come to expect from the developer at this point. The game’s got no shortage of bugs in it. 2015-11-14_00002From hilarious little glitches that send an enemy flying into the stratosphere after you’ve delivered a devastating punch, to seemingly game-breaking bugs that lock the player in the VATS system or Pip-Boy. Other bugs that seem to plague most players, like disappearing gun models haven’t been patched out yet, while elusive and hard to pin-down bugs crop up randomly. A current favorite of mine is seemingly caused by looking down the sights of a scoped weapon. For some reason this action will cause the character to warp in some direction. Sometimes it’s only a couple of feet, while other times I’ve warped hundreds of meters in a direction I wasn’t even looking in. This bug is thankfully rare and hasn’t caused any real problems, but nonetheless is something that seems to show up on extended play sessions.

As strange as it sounds to say, it’s become somewhat of a hallmark of a Bethesda title. While certainly these bugs are not a good thing to experience, we’ve seen it so often from Bethesda that it would be almost weird to have a polished experience. Like a good B-movie, it tries desperately to hide what’s going on behind the scenes, but somehow manages to slip up enough and show us what’s really going on. These bugs, both big and small affect how we view the game and while it would be better if Bethesda actually took the time to squash more of them, they also don’t completely ruin the experience in most cases. In some instances they add a bit of humor to a setting that is otherwise depressing.

If you’re a fan of the Fallout franchise, or just Bethesda as a whole then I can recommend this game for you. While it does diverge a bit from the other Fallout titles, with a bit more shallow role-playing and has more emphasis on the first person combat aspects of the game, it does play to it’s strengths and powers forward despite the setbacks of bugs and just generally curious design choices. If you’re a gamer who gets hung up on things that aren’t as polished as they should be then I’d wait a bit on this Fallout 4. Either until the game gets more patches, has a wider library of mods, which already seems to be growing daily, or until it’s on sale so you don’t feel like you just ate $60.00+ on something that may have more than it’s fair share of pain-points. It’s a good game that will hopefully turn out to be better as it matures.