The Outer Worlds Will Rattle Your Idea Of A Perfect Planet

the outer worlds kotaku review

The very first quest in The Outer Worlds, Obsidian’s highly anticipated first-person RPG out October 25, asked me to make what felt like an impossible choice. On one side was a community of outsiders frustrated by corporate control. Their outpost was something like a worker’s paradise — they were well fed and mostly happy, surviving by relying on each other. I admired their leader, Adelaide, for the passion that she had for her people. On the other side was the corporate-owned town they left, led by Reed Tobson, an idiot that didn’t seem to realise that asking his workers to only eat canned fish (for protein!) led to the population being ravaged by plagues.

Despite how much I hated Tobson, he was right that the people working for him suffered because of the workers that had abandoned the town to form their own community.

I still don’t know if I did the right thing.

The choice I would make would destroy one of these two communities permanently. I managed to find an in-between option, which disbanded the outpost of deserters but also allowed for deep reforms in the town. I was satisfied with this for a short while, but when I got back to my ship, I saw that I’d received a bit of memorabilia from my adventure: a town sign. As I sidled up to examine it, its description told me that I had taught the deserters something important about their dream of a life without corporations: to never dream.

The universe that The Outer Worlds takes place in is bleak. Halcyon is a corporate-owned colony consisting of two planets of workers, a mining outpost on an asteroid, a ship called the Groundbreaker that acts as a waystation for groups of workers going to and fro, and a prison planet. Things are in dire straits, as the workers suffer low wages and long hours while the wealthy live in a gilded city, unconcerned with their plight.

Several questions drive the game: How do you create the ideal society? And who is at fault for bringing this one to its knees? What adequate punishment exists for those responsible, if there is one at all? The Outer Worlds acts as a mirror this way; you answer these questions via the myriad choices you can make in the game, your moral standing met with visible consequences. You can also avoid all these questions in favour of just shooting everyone you see and taking everything in sight, though as time goes on, you will see how your selfishness affects the people around you.

You play a variable that the corporations hadn’t accounted for in their quest for total economic and social control. The scientist (and outlaw) Phineas Welles has unfrozen you from 70 years of cryogenic sleep. You were a passenger on the colony ship The Hope, which houses some of the greatest scientists, artists, and philosophers Earth had to offer but never made it to its destination after being knocked out of its planned route.

With their help, Welles thinks that Halcyon can recover, but he needs you to find the chemicals he needs to wake up the rest of the colonists, who have been frozen for so long that they would otherwise experience what Welles calls “explosive cell death” upon being thawed. Your perspective as someone outside of the colony is one that will eventually shape its future.


For players concerned about Obsidian’s past issues with buggy releases, you can breathe a sigh of relief. The game isn’t quite bug free — my game had a hard time whenever I visited the abandoned, monster infested town of Cascadia, with texture pop-in and longer loading times, and for some reason it believed that one of my companions was dead, making it impossible to finish their personal quest (and snagging me a deadpan explanation that they didn’t survive at the end of the game). Neither of these issues were exactly game-breaking for me, and my playthrough didn’t suffer for them. This is the Obsidian game that people have been begging for: one with polish.

The Outer Worlds

BACK OF THE BOX QUOTE

What happens to a dream deferred?

TYPE OF GAME

Class struggle simulator

LIKED

Extremely thoughtful writing paired with gunplay that's just as sharp.

DISLIKED

Because the game sets the bar high, the places where the writing doesn't go far enough are glaring.

DEVELOPER

Obsidian

PLATFORMS

PlayStation 4 (played), Xbox One, PC, Switch (eventually)

RELEASE DATE

October 25, 2019

TIME PLAYED

Around 40 hours

Being frozen for 70 years has some advantages: You gain “tactical time dilation,” which allows you to slow down time for combat. By slowing down time, you can target specific body parts that will temporarily give your enemies debuffs. Shooting an enemy in the eyes will blind them, making their shots less accurate. It’ll also allow you to reposition yourself, to peek out of cover with just enough time to take down an enemy and run to waist-high wall.

The weapons themselves are fun enough to use that even though I tried to talk myself out of violence as much as I could, I never dreaded violence when it occurred. You can find and buy different modifications for your weapons and armour that change how they work, making almost every weapon and armour set work for every playstyle. If you like the hunting rifles but need something that takes out the automechanicals (robots that often have guns), you can add a mod that changes their damage type to shock rather than physical. If you like a certain set of heavy armour but need to sneak by a couple enemies, you can modify that set of armour so that the sounds of your footsteps are quieter.

The Outer Worlds serves the player’s needs mechanically at every turn. As you level up, you can unlock perks for even more abilities, like the capacity to carry more items, recharge your tactical time dilation faster, or get a little health with each kill. You can also take on flaws, which will allow you to unlock another perk while giving a permanent debuff to your character. Flaws unlock based on your own weaknesses as a player. If you get sprayed by acid too many times, you can take on a flaw that makes acid that much harsher. I ended up not taking on any flaws, wanting not to continue to suffer for the ways I am deficient as a player, though I can see how this system will drive other players to change up their strategies in order to grab that one perk they were hoping for.

These gun fights are fun and sometimes satisfyingly tricky, but it’s hard to get around the elephant in the room when it comes to Obsidian games. Yes, The Outer Worlds mechanically resembles the Fallout series. It was made by the same team that worked on the first two Fallout games as well as Fallout: New Vegas. It’s built on the skeleton of Dungeons and Dragons, with the player assigning points in perception and intelligence in character creation and as you level up.

You will have to pass checks on those stats to unlock dialogue options that allow you to finish quests in different ways. This is not dissimilar to what Fallout has become under the ownership of Bethesda, though I will say that I have not felt as motivated to finish Fallout 3 or 4 as I felt to finish The Outer Worlds. The writing is centred, focused on getting the player to confront its class struggle, the universe built with that goal in mind. As a bonus, it’s also quite funny. Early on in the game, I laughed as a corporate guard told me that they were busy dealing with marauders, and worse: parking violators.


You and your band of companions will eventually uncover some dark truths about Halcyon. From there, you can reshape it to fit whatever your vision of humanity’s potential is. For some, this will be a reflection of what their politics already are. As a socialist, I knew that whatever I ended up doing would be in the service of a colony that put the rights of workers first. Others who are more sympathetic to corporatism and capitalism will also have paths to enact their visions.

If you see fit, you can even side against the scientist who unfroze you, Welles. The Outer Worlds will challenge you to make hard choices in your quest to find a better way of life, offering viewpoints that run directly counter to your own in a way that always felt fair and compelling. By the end of the game, I felt like I understood my own politics better.

The key to making this feel naturalistic is by challenging the player to really commit to their ideals. When I first encountered the Iconoclasts, a faction of sorta socialists that are dedicated to their cause with a cult-like fervor, their community starved under a leader who spent far more time on empty rhetoric than on praxis. (In a turn that made me laugh, he’s also a former journalist.)

It’s safe to say that the leader of the Iconoclasts is a pretty bad person, but on the other hand, under the control of the corporations, workers don’t have bathroom breaks or weekends. If you play your cards right, you’re probably going to find a way to stay true to yourself without leaving people in power that aren’t serving their communities. But in order to get that far, you’ll have to actively care, and the game provides enough deep character writing to give you avenues to care about what happens to the people of Halcyon.

You companions act as guideposts to the many different walks of life that make up Halcyon. Their personal quest lines reveal as much about these characters as the world itself. Parvati is so used to not belonging that when she meets someone that she’s interested in romantically, she doesn’t know how to handle it. Her quest is both an examination of what it is like to be a square peg unable to fit in a round hole as much as it is a touching queer love story.

Vicar Max, like other followers of his faith, is looking for peace in some kind of grand design, to make an uncertain world make sense. He is also, as the kids would say, daddy. One of my favourites, Felix, is an orphan who is fleeing Groundbreaker after starting a fight with his foreman over sports. He isn’t well-read, but his convictions are strong — he doesn’t need to study theory to know that workers are being exploited. Your companions will have strong reactions to the main story quests and the decisions you make in them. In fact, it was Parvati’s reactions in that first quest that led me to the choices I ended up making.

No matter your politics, you’re not going to finish The Outer Worlds without addressing issues of labour head-on. I’m a union rep for Kotaku, and at times playing this game reminded me of the things we talk about in our meetings: How do we meet the needs of the workers, how do we placate the bosses?

As someone not contracted by a corporation, you’re referred to as a “freelancer” by quest givers, which amused me. One quest even had me negotiating between striking workers and their boss. Labour is at the centre of everything in Halcyon. The issues that are destroying the colony are directly related to the division of wealth between bosses and workers. Halcyon feels full and complete — at the edges of your understanding of its history lies the implication that nearly a century of life has unfolded in this colony.


As my time in Halcyon went on, I ended up parsing what the game was asking me to think about through the Langston Hughes poem “Harlem.” What happens to a dream deferred, in space? Throughout the game you will see the result of dreams that have festered, dried up, crusted over. Once I got that idea in my head, it was hard not to notice to limitations of such a laser-focused pursuit to interrogate class struggle.

Halcyon being called a colony certainly made me bristle at times, though conveniently, there are no sentient races that the colonisers have displaced. In The Outer Worlds, all social problems are filtered through class. Sexism and racism don’t meaningfully exist even though race does; many of the people you meet across classes are black and brown.

Race and gender go essentially unacknowledged from the game’s core narrative to its tongue-in-cheek riffs on PR buzzwords, which was frustrating in a game so deeply embroiled in power dynamics. In our world, class and race are inexorably tied, and a world in which questions of class are more eternal than questions of race strikes me as dishonest. I trust in Obsidian to broach those issues with the same grace as they do issues of class, so I wish they had gone there.

The Outer Worlds is so impactful that it made me question and ultimately settle more thoughtfully into my beliefs. My game ended with what felt like a utopian, worker-led vision for Halcyon, and the game gives you the room to enact whatever your personal vision may be. It pushed me without feeling preachy and gave me some fun shootouts between the politicking. In the end, The Outer Worlds aligns itself with Hughes. The dream of paradise that Halcyon has deferred exploded. How you pick up those pieces is up to you, for better or worse.


Comments

    Sounds really good but even though this is on my backlist as a line pusher, I'm gonna hold off to ensure all the bigger bugs that arise get ironed out.
    (Plus I'm trying to get through some other games before Death Stranding next month)

      I can't wait until November 1 so I can talk about that game. Fuck.

        Is that when the review imbargo lifts or when you get a copy to play?

      I honestly keep forgetting that Death Stranding is so close to release!!

      RE: Outer Words - it looks interesting, Fallout 3 was my first Fallout followed quickly by FO:NV (my first FO3 playthru ended the week of NV release) and I have to admit I placed the story second to adventure and chems. I'm a little nervous that I may not enjoy this as it seems to be a narrative-heavy-title

        It's closer to KOTOR meets FALLOUT to be honest. You have smaller individual areas you travel to rather than a singular open world. Planets with areas you go around, solving issues in multiple, multiple *MULTIPLE* different ways. So far, I'm blown away by the amount of ways I've found to solve different things in the very first zone. It's pretty damn impressive. Fallout 4 doesn't even come close to the depth on display here.

        Plus the gunplay is pretty fantastic :)

    Guaranteed she talks about it being racist, or sexist, or something along those lines.

    I’ve given up reading her articles. I hope someone from Kotaku all likes video games ends up covering it.

      No, clearly you gave up reading her articles before this one, because you missed her entire point.

      Give me writers like her, even if I dont always agree, than a writer who pretends just because this is a computer game such things dont exist.

      I always question why some people feel the need to belittle someone's unique style and interests, just because they dont marry with their own personal interests. It would be terrible to live such a shutted life. I dont need to like or agree with someone's belief to comfortably read how they view the same things I do, through a different lens.

        Ah yes. I’m sure you’d love reading Bill O’Rielly’s take on Metal Gear Solid. Going into huge tangents on gun ownership and global intervention (no thanks!)

        Sorry Blake, but people put significant portions of their life into creating modern games like these. I get what you’re trying to say, but I find agenda-writers like Gita incredibly disrespectful to our medium. Imagine someone at Edge writing the way she does in her articles.

        Is the game good/bad? We need to know. Is the game unethically monetised? Tell us! Is the story/plot overtly in bad taste? Yes, tell us!

        Should you waste 500 words on your disappointment regarding the games lack of lesbian relationships? Probably not. Unless you’re writing for a very specific niche.

        Like I said... I won’t read this. Way, way to much nonsense from her in the past. I might be way off the mark on this particular article, but I kinda doubt it.

          Perhaps you SHOULD read this one as you are off base on this particular review.

          I find it bizarre that you consider any talk on narrative theme to be wholly interested to the quality of the game.

          Like, moon unit levels of bizarre.

          I’m sure you’d love reading Bill O’Rielly’s take on Metal Gear Solid. Going into huge tangents on gun ownership and global intervention

          Not Bill O'Rielly's, no, but hell yes I'd read that. Or watch a well produced YouTube vid on it. That actually reminds me of a video I watched recently about video games, guns and the way public buildings like schools are being built today, by Jacob someone I think? It was like "Designed for Violence" or something along those lines in pretty sure. Holy hell that was a great video that really made me think.

          Anyway, just so you know, this review is actually really damn good, one of the best I've read already (and I've been soaking in them today, I'm so psyched for this game!)

          Ironic then that this particular article contains barely any discussion of those issues. Can't really understand why people comment on things they haven't read, but different strokes I guess.

          More importantly - best guess, the prevalence of different topics is most likely driven by engagement. Generally speaking, more engagement = more similar stories. You may not had read the article, but you opened it and commented on it - which is more engagement than someone who, for example, just read the article and enjoyed/agreed with it. If you don't like this type of article (ignoring, of course, that this isn't actually an article of the type you're complaining about) or a particular writer, then - and I can't stress this enough - don't engage with it. Don't open it, don't comment on it, just pretend it doesn't exist.

        I too have never read an article by this woman that didn't leave me feeling talked down to, patronised and annoyed.

        Just my 2c.

          Maybe that says more about you than it does her writing. As in your interpretation of what she is saying and its impact on you, less than what she is actually saying and the fact she has no idea of who you are, nor trying to cause a reaction in you.

            Not trying to be attacking.. I'm just tired of the INCREDIBLY obvious double standards being imposed by certain groups onto other certain groups and then labelling it as "equality"

              Nice to know that what I was saying has been reinforced... So it's ok to make blanket statements about a certain group of people, but not others, and it's enforced. Hypocrisy at it's finest

            @rowan is right generally gita writes terrible articles about sjw crap, but i have read a couple great articles in the past and what i did read of this one was also great.

            if you take into account the majority of her contributions then @rowan and @chinesefood have legitimate complaints, unfortunately for them this article is not an example of what they find objectionable so it makes them look crazy.

            if you think about all the articles you have read blake that gita wrote can you honestly not see where they are coming from?

              I tend to not take much heed from people crying about ‘sjw’s’, it’s really hard to take those who use it seriously, at least the author of this piece can construct sentences and point forward a coherent point, even if I don’t always agree

            I'm not the only one who feels this way. Surely that means something?

            So you downvote all my comments just because I'm saying something you don't agree with?

            Nice. Real open-minded to other's opinions aren't you blake.

            I think the reply you wrote to me, really applies more to you buddy.

          well i can tell u this article is different and she has written great stuff in the past, if i take you literally and you really have never read a gita article that didn't for lack of a better word trigger you, have you considered that the ragebait headlines that accompany the horrid articles your referring to are the reason you only remember her writing terrible articles.

          maybe your falling into the ragebait trap and you normally only read the articles written by her specifically to tick you off and get engagement.

            I'm not triggered or raged. I'm 39 years old so hopefully I've left that kind of thing behind. But I don't like feeling spoken down to or patronised.

              nobody likes that and Gita does that often, i more just wanted you to think if maybe the reason you think all her articles are shit is because you only engage with the ragebait.

              it drives me up the fkn wall too but i mean Kotaku gotta pay them bills right... and insulting and patronising the readers sadly gets more engagement and makes more money.

        I dont need to like or agree with someone's belief to comfortably read how they view the same things I do, through a different lens.

        This is why, even though we may not agree on a lot of things, I always respect and appreciate discussing things with you :)

      Games don’t exist within a vacuum. Art reflects life. I’ve never had a problem with Gita’s articles. They are thoughtful and touch on lots of things.
      By the sounds of it she’s made the cardinal sin of
      1. being a female.
      2. Discussing social issues.

        Go away arnna.

        I've already clarified that I was wrong.

        since you decided to comment on it i will assume you are aware of the criticism leveled at some of Gita's articles.

        so you are either doing a classic gas lighting and deliberately ignoring all the arguments made and replacing them with "sexism" har har

        or you ??? i can't think of an alternative given my original assumption.

        just because you don't agree with someones assessment of her writing doesn't mean you can ignore their complaints and replace it with sexism. These people have repeatedly given their reasons for disliking Gita's writing before so i think you should familiarise yourself with them and make a counter argument or just don't comment because it is not simply sexism and claiming it is makes you look like a fool.

    it is not an agenda, it is personal tastes, motivation and interests. To describe that as an 'agenda' is lazy and insulting. Made more funny that this is an opinion piece. Which leads me to...


    Is the game good/bad? We need to know.

    this is not a review, like most of her pieces. They are opinion pieces and she is having her opinion, based around her interests and focus. Most times they are written before she has finish the game, they are a 'this is how I going things'. Now to you, you may find those thing distasteful but to other people, they are interesting and different than the other generic game sites around the traps, that talk about raw gameplay and pretend real world issues, dont penetrate into all forms of art and culture. Books, tv, art, games, music. It happens to all of them whether directly or indirectly.

    As for Bill O'Reilly, yeah there are limits on what I subject myself to but that said, yes, when channel flicking on Foxtel I do sometimes land on Fox News and I do stay and watch and try to understand things through their eyes. Some times easier said than done, and sometimes impossible. A dark and scary void.

    Yet here's the thing, I cant see how this authors work is anywhere near as bad as Fox News, if you think she has an 'agenda', I hate to break it to you, it is very much on the tame side of how it could be.

      Then perhaps they shouldn't use a picture emblazoned with "Review" as the header, if it is indeed not a review of the game...

      Just saying

    This just changed from a "this looks good" to a "must play immediately" for me.

    It was already on my wait list, due to the aforementioned history of buggy launches, and my sense of humour having diverged from theirs over several decades, but I appreciate the heads up on the bug involving companions state. I’ll wait until I hear about being fixed, since it sounds like it can creep up on you and I play these kinds of games for the stories.

    Haha I laughed because sometimes her articles grate for me a bit too, but this was pretty straight forward. It's interesting, over at RPS they claim the writing and quests are very unoriginal and that the setting lacks bite.

    But fuck that, been waiting yonks to play this, gamepass day 1 I am so ready

    Looking forward to this. Already pre-loaded it. Definitely worth a play on ms game pass at least.

    Very nice to see people disagreeing, but managing to do so in a civil manner.
    Good to see!

    I actually preferred that it focused solely on class without getting into race and gender/sexual orientation. As a bisexual man, it would have bogged down the class analysis, and while often racism has led to class issues, asking a game company to dive into both at the same time without having the game suffer as a result is a big ask. In addition, I feel that the best way to combat racism/gender/sexual orientation issues in a game is to treat them as sexual orientation is treated in this world, that being just one more aspect that makes a person who they are, but doesn't define them.

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