They say history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. From The Outer Worlds’ first rhyme — “You’ve tried the best, now try the rest” — it’s couplets all the way down. The game is the work of Obsidian, with many of the surprisingly vast development team hailing from the old Fallout games, plus 2010’s New Vegas, which leaves its mark most noticeably on the gameplay, partner system and script, but there are other evident influences glued onto each stanza, from a Bioshock Infinite-esque Gilded Age aesthetic to literary references scattered throughout the mission names.
None of which is to say that The Outer Worlds is bad — in fact, if it borrows liberally, it does so with great skill. A classic meal well cooked is still worth eating, and it’s food which is at the heart of the primary plot dilemma. The space colony of Halcyon, ten years’ faster than light travel from Earth, is a corporate dystopia running out of food. There is no alien intelligence in Halcyon, just a smattering of gorgeous neon landscapes populated by hostile wildlife — and vegetables are not easy to come by.
Into this slow deterioration is thrown the player, unfrozen from cryosleep on a colony ship called the Hope by a mad scientist stereotype. Adopting the identity of an unfortunate agent sent to meet your landing pod, you are tasked with scouring the system, completing quests with a colourful cast of six partners.
Quests are plentiful and often come with a large helping of possible solutions. Arguably there are sometimes too many — one major plot quest asks the player to choose between diverting power to a dying company town where workers live in slavish obedience to their corporate masters, or to divert it to a colony of deserters who are growing nutritious food which could help fortify them against a plague ravaging the planet. It’s a genuinely difficult choice, but one which is negated by the discovery of a third option uniting the factions, best for everyone except an unlikeable factory foreman. There are plenty of these third ways throughout the game, and without any major reason for the player not to take them, they often make the other choices feel like a de facto bad ending.
When it comes to the ending, however, choice is much more limited — there are only two paths (plus a gag non-standard game over) and having played both, one is so much more obviously good than the other that again it’s scarcely a choice unless you’re explicitly playing a renegade run. Fallout New Vegas managed four different endings, three of which had enough positive qualities to arguably qualify as good, so it’s slightly disappointing to have so much more restricted a choice here.
It’s in the player customisation where the choice shines through — with a handful of personal attributes and a much larger range of available skills, it’s easy to create custom builds which suit your playstyle, and combat-heavy, stealthy and diplomatic styles are well catered for. It’s good to see non-combat skills useful across a wide range of scenarios, from enhancing companion firepower to giving a chance to confuse or terrify enemies. Some are more useful than others (don’t bother putting any points into defence skills unless you’re specifically doing a melee-only run) but levelling up is frequent and perks, while less unique than in Fallout New Vegas, can be very powerful — and can be applied to your companions, too.
The level cap of 30 is surprisingly limiting — if you take the time to do all the subquests you come across, you’ll be maxed out comfortably before the endgame, and reaching that stage does take some of the purpose out of the game. Weapons are comparatively few — there are perhaps a dozen basic types of gun and the odd special variant, and God help you if you prefer melee — and ammunition is plentiful. There is relatively little to buy from stores besides ammo and health top ups, and while the script is well populated and tightly written, you’ll have met most of the characters in the relatively small environments without breaking much of a sweat.
The game has and promotes a season pass, and the first DLC pack has just been released, so these are restrictions that will presumably lift given enough time. But it’s a limiting factor on multiple vanilla playthroughs — once you’ve seen both endings, there’s little further to be gained from another run.
Still, it’s a wild ride while it lasts — and between the gorgeous worlds, unique aesthetic and genuinely engaging story, it’s well worth the cost of a Game Pass subscription for the time it takes to complete. While you might be left wishing there was more, that’s hardly a damning indictment, and Obsidian are still best in class when it comes to RPG engines and storytelling.
While fans seem to have been disappointed that this wasn’t another Fallout: New Vegas, it’s worth taking The Outer Worlds on its own merits. While it isn’t vast in scope, it’s a beautiful romp through a spellbinding world filled with laughs, revulsion and heartfelt moments that will enchant you for the time you’re playing.