Let’s cut to the chase – The Outer Worlds is the unofficial sequel to Fallout New Vegas that you’ve wanted all these years. Developer Obsidian has carved a reputation with CRPGs such as South Park: The Baton of Truth, Pillars of Eternity, and of course, the Fallout series. However, with Bethesda in charge of the latter, the studio sought to create a spiritual successor that retains the heart and soul of its work in the series.
The Outer Worlds takes place in a sci-fi setting; a departure from the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout. It’s an alternate future where megacorps rule over earthly societies, and ultimately the Halcyon star system, which was originally intended to be inhabited by key personnel, who would be pivotal towards the colonization of Halcyon. However, the ship carrying these colonists got knocked out of slip space and was therefore forced to travel at sub-light speed. In the meantime, Halcyon was colonized through other means, and the colony ship was later found adrift in space with its passengers in an unrecoverable stasis. As a result, the Halcyon Holdings Corporate Board chose to abandon the colonists altogether and placed the ship in orbit of the ice planet Typhoon in a bid to conceal its existence.
The Outer Worlds begins seventy years after the colonists were first put in stasis upon embarking on their journey to Halcyon. The colony ship, named the Hope, is rescued by a rogue scientist called Doctor Phineas Welles, who manages to resuscitate one of the passengers using a concoction he devised and informs them of the fate of the other colonists. You assume the role of this passenger and are tasked by Welles to head over to the nearby planet and bring back some chemical supplies so he may also revive the other colonists, and in turn, save the Halcyon from impending doom.
Before you can start saving the star system, you’ll be greeted by a somewhat barebones character creator. Though, given how the game is only playable in a first-person view, this is hardly an issue as there are only rare opportunities for you to be able to view your character in a third-person view. On the other hand, there’s an abundance of flexibility when it comes to defining your character’s stats. There are a variety of initial skills and perks to choose from.
Your journey aboard the Hope will take you across different planets with locales that boast a distinct aesthetic. However, it often feels like the structure and layout of areas is similar to that of a previously visited planet. That said, the scope of exploration can vary from planet to planet; while some are larger, others are confined to a few small areas.
The standout element here is Obsidian’s talent for creating believable worlds and rich and engrossing lore. Loading screens also play their part in adding to the world-building, with sublime advertising screens and newspaper headlines that depict the actions and choices you make during your playthrough.
The corporations aren’t just vendors of weapons and items. They play a significant role as they have their capitalist concerns and conflicts. Depending on your actions, you may gain a positive or negative reputation with a faction, which can lead to both favorable or unfavorable consequences. It’s player agency at its finest, as your choices carry considerable weight.
These dynamics are established very early on when you visit the very first planet, where you’ll be made to choose between the survival of a group of environmentalists or an industrial federation that treats its workers like slaves. Your choices are relayed via a rich dialogue system, with multiple ways to complete a given quest. You may choose to present yourself as hostile and engage in combat, or you may choose a more passive approach by choosing favorable dialogue options or by taking the stealthier route.
It’s a testament to the quality of writing that most NPCs, of which there are many, manage to grab your attention and exhibit unique traits of their own. They’ve fleshed out personalities that speak to you in a comical and delirious tone. You’ll end up growing fond of some while hating others. It’s also possible to pursue a romantic relationship with some, leading to some interesting possibilities. Based on your choices, some of these NPCs will join you as companions in your adventure across the Halcyon. While Obsidian’s design philosophy is prominently visible in The Outer Worlds’ core, it also appears to have inherited certain elements from Mass Effect’s DNA.
Engaging in combat doesn’t feel close to as satisfying as the exploration and dialogue system. The gunplay is serviceable at best and weapons lack the punch one would expect from them. Shotguns, in particular, are quite weak and redundant. Melee is clunky and generally unreliable. To make up for these shortcomings, the developer appears to have included a bullet-time mechanic that slows down time for enemies over a limited period, making the combat mechanics less frustrating to deal with but at the same time making the default difficulty rather trivial. Your companions are also able to aid you in battle via special abilities, which play out in the form of cutscenes.
There’s also a half-baked ‘flaws’ system that lets you apply a limited number of permanent negative attributes to your character in exchange for an extra perk point. Most of these flaws are types of phobias that aim to add a layer of realism to the experience. They aren’t beneficial to your progression but do add a layer of realism to the experience for those looking for a greater challenge. The ‘Supernova’ difficulty further ramps up the difficulty by introducing new restrictions, such as survival mechanics, and largely caters to completionists.