Obsidian Entertainment is a studio best known for building on the work of others. Its most popular games to date are titles like Knights of the Old Republic II, Fallout: New Vegas, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Dungeon Siege III. Even the studio’s better-known original work, like the Pillars of Eternity series and spiritual spinoff Tyranny, are modeled on old-school RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale series, and Planescape: Torment.
So it’s not entirely surprising that, despite being a completely new franchise, The Outer Worlds (not to be confused with the excellent and extremely similarly named space-exploration game Outer Wilds, which came out earlier this year) draws on Obsidian’s own past RPG and action experiences to create something that’s both new and familiar.
As Brian Heins, a senior designer at Obsidian, told The Verge in an interview, The Outer Worlds isn’t meant to follow up any specific past game. “It’s more like this is our next Obsidian RPG,” he explains. “Because between, like, KOTOR, New Vegas, Stick of Truth, they all have kind of the same DNA running through them, which is Obsidian’s style of RPG.”
That said, after getting a chance to play a few hours of The Outer Worlds, there are clearly some big influences here from Fallout: New Vegas (and, by extension, Fallout 3), if only because of genre. The Outer Worlds is a first-person sci-fi action RPG with a big emphasis on conversational systems and gunplay. That was always bound to draw comparisons to Fallout, especially when the developer is already known for working on a Fallout game before.
In that vein, The Outer Worlds does feel a lot like that now relatively uncommon kind of single-player, stat-focused RPG. Your character has a full list of stats that you can focus on. Your weapons have stats. Your armor has stats. Your abilities have stats. Your companions have stats. Stats galore, with plenty of potential paths for how you play.
Player choice is also a big part of the game. While there is, ostensibly, a main storyline — one that sees players awaken decades in the future on a lost colony ship and thrown into a conspiracy in the far-out Halcyon solar system — The Outer Worlds didn’t seem particularly invested in the fact that I pursue it. I was dropped into a demo experience a few hours into the game. I had just started wandering around a planet when I immediately began talking / negotiating / shooting my way in and out of situations.
Practically every conversation is filled with dialogue choices. Did I want to be polite to the gang leader who’s asking you to track down his missing drugs? Be flippant? Use my character’s intimidation skills to demand an extra cut? Or use my charisma to lie about what I recovered, keeping half for myself? That’s just one conversation from one relatively minor sidequest. The dialogue (at least for non-playable characters) is fully voice-acted, too, although my character was audibly silent, even though I could choose exactly what I was saying.
During my time, I played things relatively straightforward — charging into an enemy facility, gunning down robots and security guards alike with the help of my companions. But there seemed to be plenty of other options, like sneaking in the back, disguising myself as a guard, or mucking about with the machinery powering the factory. The game also adapts as you play. I died a lot in my demo to a particular type of giant alien monster, and I was granted a “flaw” that altered my stats against those creatures in the future, for example.
In another example, player choices can deeply change how the plot plays out. “You can kill every NPC in the game and you can still complete the game by doing so,” Heins says. “It changes the game dramatically. There’s certain quests that may or may not be available based on who you killed or when you kill them. Generally for quests, if there’s somebody who’s a plot-critical NPC, if you kill them, we try to have some way for you to gain whatever information or item they’re supposed to give you … We try not to fail quests based on players doing the things we allow them to do.”
Conversely, players will be able to play almost all of the game as pacifists. Heins says that you can “generally get by without killing any humans,” although there are some creature encounters where players will still need to resort to combat. (But they can theoretically farm that out to their companion characters.)
For all of the emphasis on choice, the Fallout influences are also still pretty heavy. There’s a time-slowdown mechanic that allows players to specifically target areas on enemies, which is basically Fallout’s VATS system. There’s a variety of factions — corporations, in The Outer World’s future — that are at odds with each other that players can help out or antagonize. There are companions that you can recruit who’ll join you on your journey and comment along the way. While the art deco stylings help set The Outer Worlds apart, it can only do so much to differentiate the gameplay.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. After a few hours of The Outer Worlds, it feels like a game from a slightly different era. It plays like a tightly focused single-player adventure with no game-as-a-service payments, in-app purchases, or tacked-on multiplayer. Even Bethesda has started to move away from that, with the still-somewhat-controversial online game Fallout 76.
And in a world where games try to suck players into an endless loop to squeeze every last dollar and minute of attention out of them, that kind of focus — even if it’s not the most original of conceits — feels like it might be enough.
The Outer Worlds will be released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on October 25th, 2019. A Nintendo Switch version is also in the works.