The Outer Worlds Preview - E3 2019
We take a look at the latest RPG from Obsidian
Coming out of the E3 2019 Xbox Media Briefing, I turned to my colleague and told him how excited I was to see The Outer Worlds. He smiled and showed me a text message he had received from another editor at NGN who said that it looked like a PS3 game (obviously exaggerating a bit). I laughed it off, but the observation stuck with me while I was watching the hands-off demo Obsidian showed us at E3.
In many ways, The Outer Worlds is like a game from the previous generation. It reminded me of the RPGs Bethesda Games Studios and Obsidian made, like Oblivion, Skyrim, Fallout 3, and Fallout: New Vegas. It's strange to think about, but we're nearing the end of this console cycle and the only game we've had that's been a first-person, open-world RPG has been Fallout 4 - and even that game came with tacked-on building/homestead mechanics, and the dialogue is always shown in third-person. So, yeah, The Outer Worlds does feel like a game that hasn't come out since Skyrim. The main character dialogue isn't voiced, the camera does a slight zoom when you start talking to someone, there are quest-hubs and character customization. The game very much feels like the kind of RPGs that were at their peak during the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era – but is there anything inherently wrong with that?
We start our demo in the town of Fallbrook on the planet Monarch, a haven for vices like gambling, drinking, and drugs - supplied by the Sublight Shipping Corporation, who we're assured is a legitimate company and not at all a front for organized crime in any way. The city is run by Catherine Malin, the head of Sublight.
As you walk through the town you can hear the chatter of the people. Passing by, they make off-hand comments about Catherine and Sublight. It's this kind of ambient chatter that feels inherent to the kind of world Obsidian are making, something that's been missing in RPGs this generation.
The player-character, whose name and look is customizable, is looking for work and hits up Catherine to see what she can offer. She wonders how she can trust us, since we're new in town. Dialogue options are presented, some greyed out because the character doesn't have enough points invested in those abilities. For instance, Catherine runs a criminal organization, so it's going to be hard to intimidate her, and our hero hasn't pumped enough points into that skill so that option isn't available. However, charming her isn't so difficult and that option is available.
Apparently, Catherine has some new competition in Fallbrook, a man named Clive who runs a boarst factory up the road. Clive isn't willing to pay a cut to Catherine and therefore she'd like him killed. If you're wondering what boarst is... well, I hope you have a strong stomach. A boarst is a pig-like creature that grows bacon-flavored tumors that can be removed and used for food. Yeah, it's gross. Where was I? Oh, that's right! Clive needs to die.
While on the way to the boarst factory, Obsidian told us about some of the lore behind the town of Fallbrook and the planet of Monarch. Named for the corporation that created the planet, Monarch was a terraformed world where the terraforming didn't quite take. The result was that the planet was livable, but some of the wildlife that used to be tiny bugs and critters became giant bugs and strange creatures that are now big enough to terrorize the wilds.
But our hero is not alone, and is flanked by two companions. Personally, I've always found companions to be a weak spot in first-person RPGs. In games like Skyrim or Fallout, they're little more than cannon fodder, and can't be upgraded to help you. That's not the case in The Outer Wilds. Our hero has chosen the leadership trait which allows them to pump extra points into their companions, making them more efficient in combat. Furthermore, companions can help aid you in skill checks, based on their abilities. They also have their own custom dialogue, inserting themselves into a conversation, much like they did in Pillars of Eternity.
Upon arriving at the boarst factory, we search for a way inside, finding a door to the sewers that Catherine hinted at, but unable to enter because it requires lock-picking skills. So instead we decide to try a disguise. Once in a disguise, a meter tracks how long the disguise will be active, shrinking with every step taken.
No sooner do we set foot into the boarst factory, that a guard immediately stops us and asks about a keycard. Here, a little lie goes a long way and the hero has sufficient lying skill to tell the guard that they never received the card. This con works to get the hero deep into the facility. The disguise meter resets every time we change an area, so while the meter can deplete quickly, you can refresh it to keep yourself safe. Finally, the hero finds themselves in an area with the pens containing the boarst, but it's filled with human guards and robots.
Luckily, there's a computer console nearby that can be hacked, another benefit due to well-used skill points. Here there's a hack for “Pink Slip Protocol”, which causes the robots to turn on their human guards, killing them.
We descend into the pens and are approached immediately by the robot. There's an option to avoid combat, but instead, we engage with the robots and open fire. The main character of the game is suffering hibernation sickness, a side effect from their long journey in space. The benefit of this sickness is that they can slow down time to use abilities or line up a shot.
I'm pleased to say that the gunplay I saw in The Outer Worlds far surpasses anything in Fallout 3, New Vegas, or Fallout 4. The combat actually looks like a blast and when you slow down time, you can actually aim shots with your gun to blind, maim, stun, or weaken an enemy based on where you shoot them.
The player and their companions clear the room and head upstairs to confront Clive. The boarst mogul is covered in blood and when asked about it, says that he doesn't enjoy canned boarst, but likes to cut it up himself so it's fresh. There's a dark sense of humor in The Outer Worlds that Fallout fans are almost certain to gravitate towards. I'd even go so far to say it's a blend of Fallout and Borderlands. A little black humor mixed with some quirkiness.
When Clive learns the hero is there to kill him, he counter-offers with all the free boarst you could want should you decide to betray and kill Catherine instead. However, there is a third option, which would be convincing Catherine and Clive to work together. Unfortunately, we wouldn't get to see how these options shook out as that was where our demo ended.
I had no idea how much I missed games like The Outer Worlds until I saw this demo. The concept of getting to build a character that has as much power through dialogue as through combat, being able to customize my character to play and look my way - it's strange that we haven't had a game like The Outer Worlds for so long, and I'm totally ready to get into it. The Outer Worlds launches October 25, 2019 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.