Big action-adventure games with broad, winding storylines and quirky character interaction can be fun. And right out of the gate, Obsidian Entertainment’s The Outer Worlds checks a lot of those entertaining boxes.
The game is set sometime in an alternate future. It’s a world in which the big cheeses on Earth decide it’s high time that mankind started to colonize other planets in the great spacey beyond. And, of course, they offer many blissful visions of happy days to those brave souls who venture forth.
But as is sometimes wont to happen, once some leaders get a taste of the new frontier out in space, they get a bit greedy and power hungry.
A Star Trek kind of future, this is not.
One of the furthest colonies from Earth is in the star system of Halcyon. And your character is heading there. (In classic RPG style, you design a male or female avatar with a look you love and specific, hand-chosen skillsets.) But your giant ship filled with hundreds of thousands of colonists is left to drift after the faster-than-light skip drive breaks down en route.
The predicted 10-year trip in suspended hibernation ends up being 60 years before a rebel scientist named Phineas Wells finds your ship and revives one particular individual from the many dozing unaware: you, of course. And since the government is corrupt, and Wells is a wild and crazy science guy whom people want dead, you have to become his hands and feet in an effort to save your fellow colonists.
What ensues is a sci-fi romp that involves gaining a ship and a crew, then zipping around the solar system on a quest for glory. The planet-hopping narrative, quirky characters, razor-sharp humor, creative character upgrades and scores of decision-focused quests unfold from there. And it all feels like something of a simplified but well-crafted Fallout game blended with the smirking interplay of an old Fox TV series called Firefly. (Of course, that’s not a huge surprise since many of the original Fallout creators were in the gamemaking mix here.)
As you fly between planets and deal with their corporate government factions, you’re faced with more than just step-and-fetch missions. You also find yourself in the middle of morally gray conflicts that force you to choose a side.
The conversational options are huge and sometimes expand even further depending on the skills you choose and the strengths of your supporting crew mates. And that becomes part of the fun. Do you want to be a criminal or a hero? Can you find the hidden conversation clues and apply the right brainpower to a problem? Is there a pathway to benefitting those on both sides of an argument? Or does everything have to devolve into you and your crewmates grabbing a gun?
Even if you are a hard-working, diplomatic sort, however, you can’t avoid the messy gun-battle side of things in The Outer Worlds. Gameplay doesn’t feel quite as heavy as the aforementioned Fallout, but it can still involve a lot of trigger-pulling. Even if you try to sneak by human foes, there are wild beasts, robotic nemeses and, well, human foes ready and waiting to attack without asking questions. The game is designed that way, offering scores and scores of exotic weapons to discover, tinker with and upgrade.
Machine guns, plasma weapons, lasers and blasters unleash powerful attacks that can be visually slowed down with a special time-slowing control. Though the blood splash is relatively light, you can still, quite literally, blow an enemy to pieces and leave the corpse decapitated and limbless. And, if you’re so inclined, you can also aim and mow down innocent citizens. (The game penalizes players in those cases, but it’s still possible.)
On the language front, this game takes on a slight space-cowboy air. And that can be a good thing. In many cases, the various characters you meet will choose creative ways to make their anger or displeasure known and substitute local colloquialisms for typical cuss words. But that’s not always the case: F- and s-words occasionally pop up along with other lighter crudities.
As mom used to say, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets an eye poked out.” And though this setting’s a bit different, the idea applies here, too. The Outer Worlds has a lot going for it. Still, it plays a little too rough at times.
And nobody likes it when mom is frowning like that.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.