Scour the internet for any article on The Outer Worlds and you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid mentions of Bethesda’s Fallout games, those immersive post-apocalyptic FPS/RPG hybrids which seem inexorably linked to Obsidian Entertainment’s newest IP. While this doesn't represent Obsidian’s first rodeo with the genre — they helmed the critically-acclaimed Fallout: New Vegas, a well-received franchise spinoff which also contained a considerable amount of radroach-sized bugs throughout — their newest title can't help but pointedly face off with last year’s launch of Fallout 76.
Obsidian themselves really have nothing to do with Bethesda’s latest divisive game-as-a-service foray, and their recent buyout by Microsoft Studios would soon herald the announcement of the single-player open-world title The Outer Worlds. Incorporating an action-RPG core with a vibrant alien environment to explore, The Outer Worlds looks fit to finally serve those players disappointed with Fallout 76’s instanced online shenanigans, offering up a familiar but highly polished set of mechanics in the portion of its playable campaign made available to select press.
Fallout 76 was considerably less visually drab than its predecessors, but The Outer Worlds is positively bursting with color and contrast. Eerie fauna canopies over bright orange dog-like beasts (known as Canids, these might serve as a kind of representative mascot for the game), bizarre overgrown insects lumber through clutches of mushrooms, clanking robots clank, and roving well-equipped marauders look for distracted prey. A Mantiswarm buzzes near glowing swamp pools audibly bubbling amid hazy maroon mountain crags. These vistas are a far cry from the dilapidated views of splintered shacks and dried out irradiated land, and the game world seems to combine a gorgeous hunk of No Man’s Sky’s interstellar real estate with high-tech outposts, pocket communities, and walled-in corporate city-states.
The UI and general aesthetic mixes equal parts art deco, art nouveau, and steampunk sci-fi western, feeding a vision that seems both pleasantly antiquated yet novel. Lacking a trusty Pip Boy, The Outer Worlds utilizes an array of menus, and while they felt a little hard to flip through in the demo — there are sections for weapons, armor, leveling up skills, mods, system settings, a quest journal, and so on, all seemingly organized in arbitrary sequence — navigating through them might eventually feel like old hat, given some time. What's clear is that the general sense of character generously feeds aspects like the voice acting and architecture on down to the smallest details, like the Bioshock-reminiscent sans serif font or the overall absence of hard corners for text boxes, all of which connect into curves and decorative flourishes. It’s both attractive and far apart from the smudged scrappy cold war stylings of Bethesda’s modern series.
Part of Fallout’s apparent dustiness when compared to its modern ilk might stem from the antiquity of its assets (or perhaps its engine), which possibly makes The Outer Worlds seem even better-looking than it should be. There’s a silky smoothness to everything in motion, from the enemies juking around bullets, to the beautifully long draw-distance, to the much more realistic emoting and facial expressions for the NPCs. This latter aspect still remains just this side of the uncanny valley, but miles ahead of most other expansive open-world sandbox games.
Visuals alone aren’t The Outer World’s strongest card in the deck, though, and the game’s quest-based nature mixes well with the action and emphasis on exploration. Firearms and melee weapons all have a sharply precise feel when compared to the wavering, loosey-goosey action Fallout fans might be used to. At some point, after storming a compound devoted to the manufacture of some quasi-narcotic confection called (or possibly made out of) "Purpleberry," we soon discovered a Purpleberry Launcher resting in a shop sink. Grenade launchers, of all weapons, rarely deliver an optimal experience in an RPG-flavored FPS, but this is utterly not the case in The Outer Worlds — this launcher had a beautifully tactile responsiveness and punchiness, with smoky laser flourishes and an area-of-effect activated on hit. Just in the brief time spent with it, it quickly grew into a favored primary weapon.
Something else occurred in that same compound: the ability to equip a disguise. Following a simple prompt, players could use a special item to blend into a previously hostile outpost for a limited time, taking this as an opportunity to investigate an area, stealth-kill a target, or just make a hasty retreat. It was hard to discern how deep the disguise system goes, but it seems to open up viable strategies for hit-and-runs or careful navigation through a group of human enemies who might have a player on their wanted list.
You can equip up to four different modifiable weapons and hot-swap between them, but let’s talk about the obvious elephant in the room: VATS. The Outer Worlds opts for an excellent and upgradeable slow-mo ability which recharges over time, enabling players to try and aim for specific body parts to inflict status ailments on enemies; for instance, aim for the face and you might be able to blind a target. Sure, in practice, it seems to serve a similar function to VATS, but where VATS injected a turn-based system which hearkened back to Fallout’s original games, this ability feels more empowering and doesn’t just leave things up to a dice roll.
Building off of Fallout: New Vegas, there seems to be a devoted attention to companion quests, and the demo started us off with a pair of women pursuing their own objectives and eager for the main character to help. As expected, these companions have conversational trees similar to the other NPCs in the world, but Obsidian indicates that how we pursue and develop these quests is open to experimentation, just like it is with other quest-givers in the environment, and companion NPC alignment with our own decisions affects how future scenarios develop and play out.
You’ll also soon notice that NPC companions come with their own special abilities with cooldowns, each of which can be triggered at will during conflict, recalling the character abilities from certain BioWare games. Activating these abilities also prompts a brief and zesty animation that creates opportunities for combos, which adds a nicely dynamic flow to the combat that makes it feel like more than a simple matter of DPS numbers increasing. Parvati’s ability in our demo was a lightning hammer groundslam worthy of Thor, which stunned a given target and any surrounding enemies, allowing the player to quickly clean up dazed mobs.
Last November, Screen Rant determined that there’s certainly fun to be had in Fallout 76, but it was such a drastic departure from the tried-and-true gameplay many fans might have sought, a comfortably hungry niche which The Outer Worlds looks primed to satisfy. At this stage, even though it doesn’t quite seem to present a massive innovation in the genre, its layers of mechanical and visual polish, sharp script, eye-candy-laden world, and distinct sense of character hints at a substantive and beautiful single-player campaign to be had. That means no microtransactions or pay-to-win, no requisite multiplayer quests, no esoteric crafting objectives and, hopefully, far fewer bugs and glitches as a result.
The Outer Worlds is scheduled to be released on October 25 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The game has also been announced to be released on the Nintendo Switch at a currently undisclosed date.