While some things never change, it's nice to walk away from a game and think, "That was exactly what I was after."
A small gathering of Australian media and influencers were given a 90 minute hands on with The Outer Worlds earlier this week, broken into two segments. The first 15 minutes showed off the opening of the game, including the wonderful character creation process, although a representative from Obsidian asked attendees not to spoil those bits so everyone could enjoy it fresh when the game launches across PC and consoles on October 25.
After about 15 minutes going through the setup, and understanding the basics of how the inventory/skills/perk systems work, the developers loaded up a second save further into the game with a level 11 character in the Monarch wilderness, with more perks, different weapons and a little bit more area to explore.
The preview was an opportunity to understand how The Outer Worlds flows in a moment to moment sense. In other words: by the end of the session, we'd know if the gunplay was any good, the game's performance (at least on a decent PC) and how organic the side missions and companion abilities were.
The bad news: The Outer Worlds is still a giant Obsidian shooter-RPG, so you're going to run into some weird clipping issues or the odd unresponsive alien. There's a bizarrely low tolerance for fall damage. Some of the sound effects are lacking a bit of punch — particularly the flamethrower, which seems barely there — and the enemy AI won't threaten anyone at the normal difficulty setting, even complete novices.
You'll get well and truly sick of the companion cutscenes every time they trigger, although sometimes you can't see your characters at all because the camera will wander off, and Nyoka will be there, screaming Rambo-style while she unloads her minigun into some poor bug from Starship Troopers whose afternoon nap you just rudely disturbed.
But all of that is me finding things to nitpicking. Because at the end of the day, what The Outer Worlds does is exactly the experience I wanted from Fallout 76.
That's not to say that I wanted Fallout to be more of a sci-fi game, or The Outer Worlds to rectify the flaws of another product. I enjoy these kinds of shooters because it's fun to wander, level up, discover a new city or bunch of random quests I wasn't planning on, collect XP and try dumb builds while laying waste to everything in my path and watching those numbers climb up.
For that to work, some basics need to be in place. Firstly, the shooting is solid across the board. Ammo management can be a little bit of a problem if you wander too far, since mantiqueens and the like are a bit stingy on bullets. But for the most part, my character and the two companions, Pavarti and Nyoka, were more than enough for any enemy in my way.
Because you're more than likely to be overleveled in a preview environment, it's hard to gauge just how much you'll be able to wander around with abandon in a normal playthrough. The weapons did enough damage that I rarely felt the need to use the bullet time meter, although how much use you'll get out of that depends on the specific build you're going for. The perks and skills shouldn't change between now and release, however, and the variety of options you have coupled with the Fallout-esque skill points should keep plenty of people happy.
The skills are broken into seven main branches: melee, ranged, defence, stealth, dialog, tech, and leadership, the latter of which exclusively influences your companion's ability, damage, armour and more. Every skill point will improve a base ability by a small degree — more points in ranged will improved your crit chance and sway in heavy weapons, while unlocking extra critical damage and the ability to ignore armor. (Boosting your ranged stat also benefits your pistols and assault rifles, just to be clear.)
There wasn't enough time to fully explore all of the Monarch wilderness — and we were very kindly asked not to explore other worlds, should the option present itself. The PR handlers at the event noted that press earlier in the day had primarily focused on just exploring Fallbrook, a settlement immediately in front of where everyone spawned.
So I turned turned west and kept walking towards the centre of the wilds. After randomly scything my way through an abandoned encampment, Nyoka asked me for a favour. A crew she used to run with had split up; most of them had died. She wanted to gather their effects and have them all buried together, and so I set out on a side mission to go and find his medallion.
What I liked about the journeying was that it wasn't particularly onerous. Outer Worlds has a pretty decent base run speed, which can be boosted further with perks. There's also a dodge that recharges quickly. It's not very useful going forwards, but handy if you need to duck side to side.
Because most of my gameplay was mostly mechanical, travelling from locations and just seeing how the game handled the most intense environments, there weren't a huge amount of voiced cut scenes. (You can see one of the most intensive battles The main character is silent, as you'd expect, but the companions sounded natural for the situations they were in. The character models were a little stiff, although the facial animations were fine (not amazing, but not Andromeda-level bad either).
What made me smile the most was the very end, however. The session was wrapping up, and one of the local PR members sat down for a chat. I asked how the family was, they asked about my partner — you know, the usual non-work stuff.
I was still playing the game at this point, but not looking at the screen or paying much attention. I was fast travelling into the settlement that I'd run away from upon loading the save, and my mind was elsewhere.
I'd picked up a flamethrower through the process of Nyoka's side quest. So since it wasn't going to affect my actual playthrough when the game comes out, and I wasn't really that stressed, I just took a flamethrower to the entire encampment. Mentally, I expected to get wiped in seconds — like I'd deliberately punched on with the guards in Stormwind or Ironforge.
Instead, the town of Fallbrook burnt to a cinder.
"SubLight Salvage & Shipping are now Angry," the game helpfully told me, seconds after the town was basically devoid of human life. My reputation with SubLight, unsurprisingly, was in the shitter.
But of course the game would carry on. Of course I could lay waste to an entire faction if I so chose.
It's not a unique mechanic for an Obsidian game, or shooter RPGs, but it's exactly the kind of choice I want to be able to make in The Outer Worlds. How easy it'll be in the full game is another question entirely, but there's a comfort in knowing the option's there.
If you were worried about The Outer Worlds before release, take a breath. It's shaping up just fine. It'll have a degree of jank in parts, as games of this scope always do, but the core gameplay loop is tons of fun. You don't see everything in a preview, of course, but it's sure as hell the one thing I wanted to be thinking about on the way home.