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The Outer Worlds

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Private Division
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date: June 5, 2020

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Switch Review - 'The Outer Worlds'

by Andreas Salmen on June 26, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The Outer Worlds is a new single-player first-person sci-fi RPG.

Buy The Outer Worlds

Bethesda RPG fans still adore its first spin-off, Fallout: New Vegas, which was developed by Obsidian and led by Fallout's original creators. Obsidian has actively used its Fallout legacy to promote its latest project, The Outer Worlds, which was quickly considered "the proper Fallout sequel" that we've been wanting. The game received critical acclaim on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, but it wasn't quite the masterpiece everyone had hoped for. It ran well on consoles, but the most curious announcement was that a Nintendo Switch port was in the works. That time was two weeks ago, and while it still plays like The Outer Worlds, it doesn't quite look the part.

The Outer Worlds is an FPS RPG, very similar to the modern Fallout titles. In usual Obsidian fashion, the game is a proper RPG title, with stats, dice rolls, and skill checks in the background that account for abilities and skill points. It attempts to create a semi-open world with many stories grouped under a loose, overarching storyline that may look underwhelming at first glance.

We start our journey in the region of Halcyon after being freed from a colonist transporter. We were frozen to survive the lengthy trip. One of the two colonial ships never reached its destination and floated around until the mad scientist and fugitive Phineas Welles awakens us to ask for help to free the remaining colonists aboard the ship. Halcyon is in the grip of evil mega corporations, and we are the only hope to set things right. It's not the grand reveal of us being the chosen one that's has been foretold for centuries to free the universe. We're just a dude, and our journey isn't as set in stone as in some similar RPGs.

Once we've thawed out, we can create a basic character and choose a few skill points to set our direction: brute, good talker, science guy, weapons nerd, etc. The game has a fluid system that enables you to distribute points to create hybrid classes. This enables us to feel like a visitor in this world and go through it on our own terms, which I very much appreciated. Some may dislike that the main story arc feels like a loose thread that provides a general direction rather than dragging you from start to finish. The main arc can be completed in 10 hours if you'd like, but that isn't exactly the point. The Outer Worlds is often more interesting outside of the main quest. While that can lead to a lack of meaningful guidance and satisfying payoffs where it should matter the most, it's rewarding to discover and be surprised by the depth of stories elsewhere — if you venture out to find them, that is.

I'm not fully on board with the opinion that The Outer Worlds is a masterclass in storytelling, for there are still obvious shortcomings in this adventure. The companions that can join your crew are often shallow. Each has a companion quest to provide some context, and they chime in on conversations to share their opinions. Beyond these instances, however, interactions are limited, and it feels like the character development and context are missing. The title usually does an excellent job of telling stories and developing the characters you meet, so in comparison, the lack of content for your companions is quite disappointing.

At the same time, that's what makes its quests so appealing. The Outer Worlds never locks you into anything, so you can kill almost anyone in the world, including quest-givers. You can choose to not use your companions. You can complete the main quest right away, or you can ignore it and rat out the quest-giver. Player choice is embedded into the way it tells its story, and the fact that you can do whatever you'd like is refreshing and usually works to its advantage. Not every decision is weighty, and the level design can be simple. It's nice that I can fight, talk or sneak my way into or around issues, but sometimes, it feels like these choices are not as meaningful as they should be; obvious sneaking routes are in plain sight, so the decisions seem like a preference rather than a riddle to figure out.

The progresses organically, with quests and side-quests flowing in and out of each other. It's easy to go down a path and find yourself in a completely separate questline hours later. It's what The Outer Worlds does best; it doesn't necessarily tell a given story well, but it creates a universe of characters, environments and quests that are fleshed out. Its limited scope with a handful of planets also works in its favour, so there's always something to see and do, even though what you're seeing on the Switch may not be as pretty as expected.

We have seen our fair share of ports on the Switch, from the abysmal Ark to the impressive The Witcher 3, and we know that each new release can swing either way. It's impressive that The Outer Worlds runs on the Switch in its entirety, but compromises had to be made when trying to get a relatively new title on the handheld. Those compromises should dictate if porting a game is worth it in the first place; in my opinion, that has been severely misjudged in this case.

On the surface, The Outer Worlds on Switch targets 30fps and 720p/1080p when playing in handheld or docked mode, respectively. However, numbers alone don't tell the story. The Switch rarely — if ever — operates at the mentioned resolution. Details of foliage and assets have been reduced to the bare minimum or were occasionally removed. In fairness, it makes the colorful The Outer Worlds on Switch look a great deal closer to Fallout with its low detail and muddy textures that usually refuse to load in the first place. The game often looks devoid of detail or atmosphere, especially in large outdoor areas. Since the variable resolution can introduce a great deal of blurriness and texture pop-in, the overall enjoyment takes a serious hit on the system. Overall, the docked mode seems to lose more details, while the smaller screen of the handheld mode hides a few visual shortcomings.

The beginning of the game didn't feel too bad since the frame rate in the early sections were relatively smooth and steady. That didn't stick, though, and once we were about 10 hours into the game and traversing the larger maps, the frame rate dipped more often and more consistently, especially when dealing with larger numbers of enemies. Indoor areas usually look and play significantly better due to the smaller scope, but they are not free of issues. If the frame rate had remained steady, perhaps the reduced detail and resolution wouldn't be as much of a bother, but the whole experience suffers considerably.

This inevitably brings us to combat. As you can guess, The Outer Worlds can be tackled however you'd like, so you can often avoid combat. If you do get into combat, the variable frame rate can make things problematic. The combat system isn't incredibly strong or fleshed out, since it's not necessarily the title's main focus. We have a handful of guns and melee weapons, and it's mostly about hitting enemies where it hurts. Since it plays like a regular first-person shooter, that means sub-par frame rates can take a toll on your ability to consistently hit enemies. The Outer Worlds has a decent implementation of gyroscopic aiming and the ability to limit it to activate only when you're aiming down your sights. Unfortunately, stutters in the frame rate make this feature less than helpful. Additionally, the blurriness and lack of detail of the port can seriously harm your ability to spot encounters or noteworthy items in the distance.

Technical limitations aside, The Outer Worlds doesn't have a strong combat system. Some ideas are fun, such as a bullet-time special ability to target and damage specific limbs of enemies to incur status effects, but it's also extremely similar to Fallout's V.A.T.S. system. Weapons can be found, purchased and upgraded, which means it's easy to stick with a certain weapon instead of to constantly altering your loadout. At the same time, weapon variety isn't up to the expected standard, so there wasn't much of an incentive to switch weapons once I was comfortable with my favorites. There are status effects that can be added to weapons and other goodies, but it always felt somewhat ordinary. Noteworthy exceptions are science weapons, which can be found around the game world and introduce some distinct weapon effects, like the shrink ray. They're fun to mess around with or to give to an ally, but the game has much more potential to create a better combat system.

This may be a deciding factor about whether The Outer Worlds is is something you'd want to pick up on the Switch. The open-ended design is somewhat helpful to circumvent certain shortcomings. In my own playthrough, I tried to focus on conversational and leadership abilities, so my allies became more powerful in battle without too much intervention from me, and my heightened abilities to talk myself out of combat scenarios limited the times I had to engage in it. Maybe that's also why I still had a lot of fun with this sub-par port. The lore and quests are intact, and I was engrossed in finding and playing through them, regardless of the visual quality. While that says a lot about the quality of the story and characters, it doesn't negate the fact that this port doesn't look or run as well as it needs to most of the time, and that'll impact the enjoyment of the game, regardless of your play style.

Of course, The Outer Worlds is more than combat and story beats, but that hardly negates the technical performance. If you can't experience the game on another platform, the Switch port may work for you, since it packs a lot of quality content that'll keep you busy for hours on end if you like to uncover every inch of the world. Rarely have I played a game where random notes on terminals and logs hidden away at an outpost provided genuine advantages in my quests, which led me to explore and go through every piece of story content I could find. It's rare that a game has that effect on me, which is a testament to how well the game is designed and constructed. Everything feels integrated and interconnected, and while this is far from the "best version" of The Outer Worlds, I still appreciated its content and had a decent amount of fun once I was able to look past or ignore the visual presentation and performance.

At the end of the day, The Outer Worlds succeeds in being a story-driven RPG that offers a lot of freedom for you to experience and play the game as you see fit. It doesn't look particularly good or run incredibly well. I don't want to downplay the importance of the story and quests, but The Outer Worlds feels like either a calculated cash grab or a team obsessed with making a game run on an inferior system for the sake of it, rather than trying to find a new player base. It's all here and playable, but play it anywhere else if you can because the trade-offs are larger than the benefits of playing it on a portable format.

Score: 6.0/10

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