The Outer Worlds
Fallout’s creators are back, and they’re shooting for the moon
Your ship will serve as a base for you and your companions
The Outer Worlds is not just sci-fi: it is exuberantly sci-fi. Blood-red trees pepper valleys of strange cylindrical rocks and alien shrubs. A spaceship rumbles overhead, coming in for a landing at the nearest spaceport. Rings grander than Saturn’s carve an arc across the horizon, and a field of stars shines impossibly bright in the afternoon sky. It’s a world I already know I want to explore: the colourful vistas of No Man’s Sky, but in an RPG that looks and feels very Fallout, just a million miles away and pre-nuclear armageddon.
It’s a good time to be the creators of Fallout. Not Bethesda, the studio behind the disappointing Fallout76: it’s a bad time to be Bethesda, with new Fallout76 problems popping up every day. But it’s a great time to be Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, who designed the original Fallout in 1997. From the hour of gameplay I glimpse in a demo at Obsidian’s offices, TheOuterWorlds looks exactly the game anyone disappointed in Fallout76’ s multiplayer focus will want to play: an RPG shooter, with a focus on roleplaying.
There are signs that you’re playing a game designed by Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, if you know what to look for. One, there’s never just a single path through a mission, but always the golden trifecta: fighting, talking and sneaking. Two, a unique vibe stemming from what Boyarsky calls “the combination of my dark morbidity and Tim’s silliness”. Three, bending over backwards to prioritise player choice in a world that’s often silly, despite being all shades of gray.
“We can’t seem to get away from it, not that we want to. That’s what appeals to us,” Boyarsky says. “The ability to not only make your own decisions, but also not having a clear-cut, ‘What is the best choice, here?’ That’s where players have to start really thinking, ‘What do I want to do as a character,’ as opposed to, ‘I always play the good guy, so I’m always going to pick helping people.’”
After two years of secrecy, the leads were eager to talk about everything. The demo started on the player’s spaceship, which you’ll acquire in the first act and then use to hop between locations on a pair of planets at the edge of humanity’s settled systems. You’re a bit out of place: you’ve been pulled out of cryosleep after what should’ve been a fatal amount of time on ice, and from there you’ll be thrust into the midst of a bunch of corporations and outlaws vying for power.
“You were part of a ship that got lost,” Boyarsky says. “You have been frozen for 70 years. If you’re frozen for more than ten years, it’s a really bad thing. This [scientist] figured out a way to save you, and he needs you to help him get more chemicals to help save the rest of the colonists. But you don’t have to help him do that. You can go to the ‘evil board’, the Halcyon corporate board, and turn this guy in and see what happens if you do that.” “You get a lot of money,” Cain adds. One of the two main planets has been terraformed and is kinder to human life, while the other hasn’t, making it home to more alien predators. Your ship will serve as a base for you and your companions, much like MassEffect’s Normandy. You’ll be able to chat with them and pick up companion quests, as they all have their own reasons for tagging along with you.
I watched them head to a frontier town to respond to a distress call, then take a mission from a researcher to retrieve his research into hunger-suppressing toothpaste. Like everyone else in Outer Worlds, he works for a corporation. Everything is branded, and the company that sells you lunch is likely also manufacturing weapons or drugs.
“The idea that the game has been built around is that there’s silly stuff and there’s
dramatic stuff, but it’s not always like this separate thing,” Boyarsky says. “This seems very silly, and hopefully humorous on the surface of it. They’re making diet toothpaste, but this relates to a much bigger thing that’s going on in the world.”
Getting that research back involved sneaking into a facility, shooting monsters that have gotten loose and convincing the facility’s guards that you’re on their side… which led to their grisly death at the hands of some bandits patrolling outside.
Of course, it didn’t have to play out like that. You could shoot your way in instead of sneaking, not bother talking to the guards, or ally with them instead. Or you could promise to help a captured outlaw in the facility, then betray her – opportunities for double-crossing abound.
The art style and gunplay of TheOuter Worlds bring BioShock to mind. The animation and impact of shooting look a bit stiff and simple, in the way shooterRPGs often do compared to a Battlefield or RainbowSix:Siege. But that didn’t stop it from looking fun, with tons of choices to make both in how you approach combat and what weapons you use.
There are weapons that use light, medium and heavy bullet ammo, as well as energy and melee weapons. I saw two of the latter, a lightsaber-esque sword with a green laser blade, and a scythe with a sick, dripping blade of red energy fit for a sci-fi grim reaper. The damage you do will be based on the stats of that particular weapon and your character stats.
Like in BioShock, weapons are moddable to do fire damage, shock damage and so on, but you can also upgrade them to higher damage tiers. There’s a nice zip to laser weapons and all the graphical effects look great, like they’re straight out of a pulpy sci-fi serial.
While your character has stats that affect damage, this isn’t RPG combat with dice rolls governing whether your perfectly aimed shots hit or miss. Line up a headshot, and it’ll hit. But for players who care more about the roleplaying than the shooting, the developers came up with a ‘time dilation’ mechanic akin to Fallout’s VATS. You can slow time to help you aim, and while time’s dilated a bit of UI pops up next to the enemy you’re aiming at with info like their HP. It’s an easy way to target body parts, though aiming is still manual, unlike in VATS.
One of the last features they show us is a system called ‘flaws’, which Cain says he’s wanted to put into a game for years. Flaws are character traits you can accept after something happens in the game. For example, after fighting a group of space dogs called Raptidons, you might get the option to take the flaw Raptiphobia, which will make you weaker in fights against them. Flaws are permanent, and you can have up to three of them (or five on a harder difficulty), but of course there’s a trade-off: you get to take an extra perk immediately. “A flaw can be a fear of heights. There’s my favourite, robophobia. We also have afraid of the dark. The game may go, ‘Hey, you seem to catch on fire on fire a lot. Would you like to be susceptible to flame damage? If so, you can have another perk right now.’”
Whole new worlds
The area housing the research facility wasn’t a narrow, linear path: there was definitely room to roam, with enemies and other locations to loot around the map. OuterWorlds isn’t one massive world like today’s open world games, but from what I’ve seen, that’s a good thing. This is not a game made by 800 people, and the smaller environments look intimately hand-crafted, but are still big enough to hold sidequests and reward exploration.
One of the most exciting things the developers talked about was the freedom they’re trying to bake into TheOuter Worlds. “A lot of the map is opened up right after you get your ship, so you don’t have to follow the story immediately,” Boyarsky said. “There are points of no return, but we like to keep your options open for as long as possible.”
There’s a degree of level scaling on enemies, but within limits, which means you’ll be able to travel to difficult places early, if you want, and reap the rewards – if you don’t die. It looks and feels like a proper, open-ended PC RPG, but on a more conservative budget than today’s blockbusters. I’ve only seen a small slice, so it’s hard to say how unique the many paths through the game will feel, how rewarding it will be to take the ‘wrong’ way and carve your own path.
But the setting has an invigorating personality to it, and I think it’s high time we got a campier, more sarcastic Firefly to MassEffect’s wannabe Star Trek.
The art sty le and gunplay of TheOuterWorlds bring BioShock to mind
This guy looks like he’d be harder to intimidate
Screw the post-apocalypse: colours, baby!