The studio that made Fallout: New Vegas has returned to the first-person RPG with The Outer Worlds, a smart sci-fi adventure that looks and feels decidedly “Fallout-y”. But is it good enough to scratch that Fallout itch?
Though they have a long and storied 16-year-long history as a game studio, Obsidian Entertainment has long been known as “those people that make sequels to stuff.” And while Obsidian have developed a few well-received original games (such as little-known RPG Alpha Protocol and recent acclaimed forays into turn-based RPG territory via Tyranny and Pillars of Eternity), it’s the sequels that many people will know them from. KOTOR 2, Neverwinter Nights 2, Dungeon Siege III… they’ve all been solid games in their own right, but have lived in the shadow of their ancestors.
So, it’s perhaps not surprising that the game which many see as Obsidian’s finest work was, in fact, a sequel. Fallout: New Vegas was a strange beast – a kind-of-sequel to Bethesda’s Fallout 3 that used the same game engine, mechanics and overall art design, it was a project handed to Obsidian because Bethesda was too busy making Skyrim. Ambitious, a little bug-plagued but rich in both story and player choice, New Vegas quickly became regarded as a classic – better than Fallout 3 and, some say, than Fallout 4. How nice it would be, fans thought, if Obsidian could go back and do another Fallout game.
Which brings us to The Outer Worlds – the best Fallout game that isn’t actually a Fallout game that Obsidian’s ever made. But this time, we’re dealing with an original concept developed completely independently – it’s the last Obsidian title to be completed before their recent purchase by Microsoft. So why are Fallout: New Vegas fans so excited?
“Which brings us to The Outer Worlds – the best Fallout game that isn’t actually a Fallout game that Obsidian’s ever made.”
The Outer Worlds is the work of Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, two of the key people behind the original Fallout – the early turn-based games, not the big-budget open-world ones that most people connect with the name. Boyarsky eventually worked on Diablo III, while Cain ended up at now-shuttered sci-fi MMO Wildstar, but the pair ultimately arrived at Obsidian developing this game, one that recalls the aesthetics of Bethesda-era Fallout but heads off in a different direction.
Set in an alternate future that’s somehow stuck with the visual style of the early 20th century, even as the world’s been taken over by giant corporations, The Outer Worlds sees you wake up aboard a colonist spaceship where something’s gone terribly wrong. Packed with thousands of people frozen in cryo-sleep making their way to a new planet, the ship’s been cast adrift and left to be forgotten by one of the corporations, which decided it was better for the bottom line to just write it off. Your task, then, is to help wake everyone else up, so you’re sent down to a nearby planet to meet up with a smuggler who can help you… but who gets accidentally squished under your landing craft. Oops! From there, you’ll have to find a way to fix your ship, save yourself and the other colonists, and deal with the various factions you encounter along the way.
As you can probably guess, this all sets up a story that’s loaded with social commentary and barbed wit, played from a first-person view that looks an awful lot like a Fallout game (unlike the recent games in that series, though, there is no third-person option – so, after creating your character, the only place you’ll see their lovingly-crafted face is on the character menu screens). Even the conversation camera is lifted straight from the Bethesda Fallout playbook.
This is, of course, an action RPG, and those who love deep character customisation are going to have a ton of fun with The Outer Worlds. There are many and varied stats to put points into, ranging from combat to social to stealth to hacking. There’s also another layer of character perks you get to pick from every couple of levels, and a wealth of gear that can be looted and tweaked. It’s all brought together by a user interface that’s absolutely gorgeous – very much in the steampunk style of the advertising and architecture in the game world. Obsidian’s goal with this game is for it to be rewarding to play through multiple times – there’s no “best” character build, but rather, a whole lot of options that let you drastically change your play style. It’s even possible to complete the game without killing a single living creature (robots don’t count!) if you’re up for the challenge.
The joy of games like this is in the branching story with its many options and side quests, the alliances and rivalries you set in motion by your actions and ultimately, the world you shape. But those looking for combat aren’t left out; there’s plenty of it if you want it, with some rather strange weapon types keeping things interesting. It’s done much better than combat in the recent Fallout games, but it still feels a little loose on console; enemies run around a lot and if there’s any aim assist active, it doesn’t do much to help you. For those who come for the story and not the gunplay, there’s a very forgiving easy difficulty, while at the other end of the scale ‘Supernova’ throws up a hardcore challenge including potential perma-death for your companions.
“The Outer Worlds feels a bit like a mash-up of the best bits from a bunch of well-known games…”
Speaking of which, those companions you gather along the way are terrific, all fully-voiced, eager to join in with conversations and full of branching stories of their own. You can pick two to take with you out in the world at any time – and if you think that sounds a little Mass Effect, you’d be right. Much of the dialogue interaction has a decidedly BioWare feel to it, though your player character is silent. Indeed, The Outer Worlds feels a bit like a mash-up of the best bits from a bunch of well-known games – Fallout meets Mass Effect with the retro visual flair of the Bioshock series and some of the fluorescent colour that characterised Wildstar. Yet despite this, it feels genuinely fresh and original.
Visually, the game is gorgeous. It’s not an open-world game; everything on screen has been handcrafted and it shows. The worlds you explore feel big, even though much of it is backdrop rather than playable real estate. And with Obsidian using Unreal Engine 4 this time instead of Bethesda’s jank-riddled engine, it runs smooth as silk – notably, game-breaking bugs are nowhere to be seen.
So, is The Outer Worlds close to being the new Fallout game we’ve been hoping Obsidian would make for nearly a decade? In many ways, yes, it is – but this time, things are far more focussed on the story and world-building. It’s an old-school RPG in shiny new packaging that’s distinctly Obsidian, but decidedly different.
The Outer Worlds is available October 25 for PS4 and Xbox One.