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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: Oct. 25, 2019


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PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'The Outer Worlds'

by Thomas Wilde on July 16, 2019 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

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

Pre-order The Outer Worlds

By the time I got to The Outer Worlds's closed-doors show at E3 2019, held on the second floor in one of the private meeting rooms, the Obsidian staffers had a unique problem: They were running out of room on the wall to hold all their best-of-show awards. An endless array of placards and badges spread out between their two big demo monitors like graffiti stencils, and I almost gave them one of my own awards on the spot just to see if the wall would collapse. "I didn't see the game. I did, however, cause a singularity. Game of the Year, all years."

The Outer Worlds is Obsidian's swan song as an independent developer, announced just before the news came down that it (and inXile) had been acquired by Microsoft. This game comes in under the wire, so it will still be a cross-platform release, but it may be the last one Obsidian puts out for quite some time.

As for the game itself, let's just go out with it: it's Fallout: New Vegas with its serial numbers filed off. It's a return to the same kind of open-ended, hero-or-villain adventure as New Vegas, set in a slightly harder science-fiction environment with prettier graphics, sharper satire, and similar choices. There's no point in being coy about it, as otherwise, I'd be dancing around the topic for the entirety of this piece.

The E3 demo was hosted by Obsidian's lead systems designer Dave Williams, who described the content of the demo as "a little slice of life," taken from a side quest about halfway through the main stretch of the game.

Outer Worlds is set in the distant spacefaring future on the planet Monarch, in and around a colony called Halcyon, which is owned and operated entirely by corporations. Monarch used to be the planet "Ferra-1" before the corporations tried to terraform it to human specifications, which made the local wildlife more dangerous instead of wiping it out. Now, the cities on Monarch are surrounded by a verdant wilderness, inhabited by killer fauna like giant lizards ("mantosaurs") and insects.

The player enters the situation in Halcyon as a pure wild card, capable of taking various options to navigate the city, the planet, and the intricate balance of its local corporatocratic status quo. The E3 trailer in particular highlighted the fact that, if you want, you can play through the game as a raving homicidal lunatic; the demo showed off a variety of approaches, such as all-out combat, deception, intimidation, persuasion, stealth, and turning enemies against each other.

The mission in the demo was set in the town of Fallbrook, a smuggler's den where supplies and resources enter Monarch without corporate oversight, and which is definitely not a front for local organized crime. The job in question was handed out by Catherine Malin, a local business owner who's sick of dealing with Clive, who owns the local slaughterhouse. The job at hand is to gain control of Clive's factory by any means necessary, and with it, control over one of the major sources of food for Fallbrook. Catherine is prepared to not sweat the details.

In the demo, the player was accompanied by two companions. One, Nyoka, is a huntress, and the other, Ellie, is a fast-talking medic. They're set up to provide serious bonuses, and a character specialized in Leadership can actively boost companions' contribution. Not only do they back you up in combat, but having a specific companion provides you with bonuses to certain specific skills. They can permanently die on higher difficulties, too.

The mission to deal with Clive, "Slaughterhouse Five," took the player into a factory of "cystpigs," a species farmed for what Obsidian was very careful to call their "delicious" tumors. The area was heavily guarded by both humans and robots, but we had a lot of options to get through the factory floor without firing a shot. We'd come equipped with a holographic cloak, which made our party look like we were all wearing the same uniforms as the other guards, and a bit of fast talking got us past the guy at the gate. The cloak's power wore down with every step we took, but getting to a loading screen instantly recharged it.

Even so, and even after we hacked a terminal and turned on the factory's "pink slip protocol" (where all the robots immediately shot the closest human target), it did come down to a fight. Much like, uh, well, New Vegas, Outer Worlds features a system that Obsidian calls "tactical time dilation," which you can use on the fly to adjust the rate at which actions occur. With it off, the game is a first-person shooter, but you can dial it all the way up to the point where it's virtually a turn-based system. You can also maim, blind, or stun opponents with carefully aimed shots to limbs or the head.

You have a variety of weapons, such as scoped rifles, plasma carbines, and heavy machine guns, each of which can be modified to deliver different damage types, and an arsenal of quick-recharging abilities. You're meant to use all your tools as often as you can, rather than reserving them for some theoretical later disaster, as fights in The Outer Worlds can end up one-sided, violent, and brief.

Once we did confront Clive, we had several different options to pursue, based on the character build. We could simply cap Clive, accept his counteroffer to turn around and eliminate Catherine, try to persuade him to merge his operation with Catherine's, or change the subject entirely. We did walk into his room to find him anxious, shaking, and covered with what was probably human blood, which raised a lot of interesting questions.

All in all: it's Fallout. Granted, The Outer Worlds looks a lot better (not that that's saying a hell of a lot), running on Unreal Engine 4, and has a certain sensibility that's feeling more and more accurate to the times. This just feels like a good period in history to go all-in on games where faceless, money-crazed corporations are the villain of the hour, and The Outer Worlds has a sly, subversive side to it which I liked more than I expected to.

The Outer Worlds is scheduled for release on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on Oct. 25, 2019.

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