You were supposed to wake up and make a bright future for humanity out among the stars. The people of Earth discovered father-than-light travel and massive colony ships were sent out to find new resources, new worlds and new profits. But something went wrong and you wake up sixty years late and things have gone pear-shaped while you slept.
70 years of an entire colony being run by a bunch of companies had a pretty dire effect. The companies control pretty much everything in the area, from news to education, food to salaries are all company mandated and controlled, with nobody knowing anything else. People are born as the property of various companies, and any breakdown, damage or well… anything that goes wrong is billed to the employee or across the entire branch, making things move slowly and resistant to change. Everything is about profit here and most people don’t even know what a weekend is, because of decades of being told that work is the only satisfaction, and the only purpose for existing, as they tell you company advertisements that they are contractually obligated to spout. It paints a picture of some of our current companies, like the way Amazon sends messages to worker’s hand scanners if they haven’t scanned a barcode in a while, and eventually sends staff to reeducate you if it happens multiple times, but ramps that idea up to 11.
It can be quite daunting as almost every NPC is completely caught up in this being absolutely normal, and they are resistant to any changes to the system. Even some of your party characters baulk at going against the established order of things and because the game never breaks character, you might find the satire is so broad and all-encompassing that it sometimes feels like you lose sight of it, or the point it was trying to make.
Lean mean questing machine
Thankfully you aren’t a part of this reduction of people to cogs in a machine and as an outsider, you arrive and make drastic changes to the status quo. You go through the various towns and sleepy settlements like a whirlwind of change and violence if you want, setting right bandits and marauders while making money and doing quests. In most cases, you will find two diametrically opposed factions and after working for both for a while, you will be forced to make a choice as to which one you will back. Choosing who to help might make you some enemies, which ranges from getting charged more for items, to eventually angering people to the point that they will shoot on sight. As you run around questing and exploring, several interesting characters can join you on your mission, following the newest, coolest ship captain in the colony.
I quite loved my crew, but not in the same way you would love your Dragon Age companions.
There is a lot to explore, but not massive amounts like current open-world RPGs. I am reminded of decade or so ago RPGs before being open-world meant having kilometres of open, boring expanse and hundreds upon hundreds of boring houses to enter. The Outer Worlds is much leaner than current fare, and it is a pretty welcome change. I was excited to explore areas, to enter buildings to look for things to scavenge and steal, and to explore every corner of the map. I was happy when I found a new town, a place to get quests, to shop and uh, help myself to a few choice items. There are no mini-games here either as the game takes a pretty no-frills, no-fuss approach to picking locks, stealing things and hacking. There is no crafting, no building of settlements with scrap you collected. At most you can add a mod to your weapon or use some money to level your favourite guns and armour up, meaning that once you find the perfect weapon for you, you can keep throwing money at it to make sure it stays relevant.
Take your time and dilate it
Levelling and RPG-wise, your skills decide how good you are at something, with every 20 points in a skill unlocking a powerful passive effect. These vary from doing sneak attack damage to extra damage to weak points or one of my favourites: not using any magpicks when picking an easy lock. I do wish there were some active skills to do, but the game’s gunplay and time dilation stay fun the whole way through and I am merely looking for a bit more meat. Time dilation is your best friend in combat and works a lot like a slimmed-down, quicker alternative to the VATS system. If you don’t move or shoot, you hardly use any of your time meter, allowing you to see the level, health and armour of your opponents. While shooting or moving it drains faster, but you are guaranteed certain status effects, depending on where you hit. Blind an enemy, cripple them, knock them over or just go for the weak spot, it is up to you, but you only have a few shots before your gauge runs out, so use them carefully. I loved using a sniper rifle to start off a fight, hitting the head for extra damage and blinding a tough foe before hitting the torso with the special effect of that weapon: execute. Yip, it does bonus damage and sometimes turns the enemy into a gibbed mess.
In the end, I quite loved my crew, but not in the same way you would love your Dragon Age companions. I was happy to help them become better people or deal with their past so they could move on and be better people, but I wanted a bit more in this area. Things I was sure someone would comment on while exploring the world got no response at all or only one character would interject in a conversation while the other stayed quiet.
The Outer Worlds is a comfort game. Similar to how you have that favourite shirt you can’t wait to put on when you get home, no matter that it is so old you can’t wear it out anymore, The Outer Worlds feels just like that. Like a comfortable blanket, it wraps around you, reminding you of your favourite RPGs from many years ago. It might not blow your mind, but you will enjoy visiting for 25 hours or so, either fixing people’s problems or blowing them away to “fix” the problem. It feels like finding a great game from a decade ago that you somehow missed that has amazing graphics to boot.