The Outer Worlds

Fall­out’s cre­ators are back, and they’re shoot­ing for the moon

PC GAMER (UK) - - PREVIEW - Wes Fenlon

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.

Space cow­boy

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

Smile!

This guy looks like he’d be harder to in­tim­i­date

Screw the post-apoc­a­lypse: colours, baby!

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