'The Outer Worlds' Tells Good Stories But Gives You Dull Adventures

The Outer Worlds begins poorly, and ends well. In fact its entire structure is one of nested narratives that follow this progression from awkward starts to rewarding and complicated finishes. But the entire experience of the game is contained within the microcosm of its starting area. There were all the irritations that frequently turned it into a slog, and then there were the endings and the grace notes that kept me going.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vb5j88/outer-worlds-review

Dang, I think Rob is the most down on the game of anyone I’ve seen so far.

Yeah, I feel like this game may be the biggest disconnect between myself and Waypoint in a long time. I am having nothing but an excellent, excellent time.

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Probably just a taste thing. Along with how it resonated with him politically.

Rob also seems to be the only person on earth who likes Breakpoint, heh.

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So, I’m still in the first area of this game, but I can definitely see where Rob is coming from.

I’ll have more thoughts when I finish it myself, I’m sure, but here’s a couple I keep having: I feel like I’d rather be playing my heavily modified Skyrim. It looks better, has deeper systems, and it’s exactly the comfort game I like.

I know it’s unfair to compare a new, unmodded game to one that’s been out for years and has thousands of mods but I keep doing it anyway?

A weird thing to note. Rob talks in this review about how the company town feels lived in, but every house I went into felt so sparse. No one was ever in any of them. Most of the people are just named resident? It’s a very small thing, but the lack of meaningful and even non-meaningful clutter items really makes these spaces present as sets and not homes.

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I’ve only seen the first 90 minutes, but I already feel the “Hello, I’m Stupid McCapitalism and I speak in brands and slogans” thing to be extremely grating.

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I will say one of the strange things I’ve heard is Dan on the Beastcast talking about how the shooting feels better in Outer Worlds than Fallout 4, which I don’t agree with at all.

I feel like of the 3-4 guns I’ve fired so far, they all feel underwhelming and look really boring. And the shooting just feels… Flat? I dunno, I feel like the combat in Fallout 4 was much more punchy. Enemies threw a lot of grenades at you, and you had really good control of your weapons around corners.

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I’ve been really enjoying the combat in this. Prefer time-dialation to VATS and think the guns are pretty fun. :x This is a rare moment for me. I’m with Ryckert on this one.

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To each their own. I haven’t played much of Outer Worlds yet, so I’ll have to have more time with it.

Even outside of VATS/Time Dilation though, I feel like the guns in Outer Worlds all look and feel pretty meh.

I will say though that Fallout sells hit impacts better. The dismemberment in fallout makes sense, but here people just fall apart or fall down and it’s kinda… like death animations from a game from like 2009 or something lol.

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I’ll say that for me so far, I do think that the gun play in Outer Worlds is the best I’ve played in one of these games, better than any Fallout game for sure. But I’ve always considered this an especially low bar to clear and I don’t think the gun play is especially good. It’s on the more enjoyable side of passable.

While I’m mostly having a pretty good time, Rob’s review and Austin’s thoughts both had their own aspects that I found to hold true for me.

In Rob’s review I really agree that the Firefly schtick wears thin, and I think it wears thin FAST. That said I also have never liked Firefly so I think I’m especially ready to hate it. The other thing is how limited the character creator felt. If you’re giving me a sci-fi game in 2019 and the options are male/female, I’m gonna be disappointed.

In regards to Austin’s thoughts, what I found to ring true was that the amount of junk you’re picking up feels at odds with the space opera genre. I’m supposed to be some dashing space faring captain, so why is this game so eager to give me 20 Spacer Sabres to break down???

Like I said earlier, I’m having a great time with the game, but it’s far from perfect. I’m glad we are getting more tempered takes like Austin’s and Rob’s to help give me language to think about why I’m bouncing off aspects of this game.

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I’ve only played about a couple hours, and I would say it’s meeting my expectations for a spiritual successor to F:NV.

Putting aside how the hyper-capitalist backdrop and semi-libertarian flavor may or may not engage you, there’s a value in the way that this and NV have a deeper regard for allowing core or incidental characters to just tell you stories about how the world functions, and about their role in it.

The first major settlement you get to screams of being an actual, functional place where people know and talk about each other (also, you know what they eat). That seems like a small accomplishment to praise, but there are very few games which make me feel like I’m in a living space.

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I just want to mention that this isn’t the only negative review of this game. The Rock Paper Shotgun piece is just as negative (and personally, I’ve seen a bunch of Devs disappointed on their own feeds too). Rob isn’t as big of an outlier as it seems.

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Sam Greer’s review (which you can read for free on her patreon) is similarly cold on the overall experience of The Outer Worlds, even if there are certainly things about it they enjoyed. Which I don’t share as some sort of takedown of the game because it’s clear that it is working for a lot of people.

If anything, I am just glad to see more critics that stray from that narrative because honestly, I’m so used to a lot of homogeneity in the critical reception of AAA games, particularly those that are widely well-received. More diversity of perspectives and taste in the realm of game reviews is something I’d happily welcome.

As for Rob & Austin’s thoughts, I find myself growing increasingly tired of the prevalence of “chosen one” narratives and moral choices that centre the individual as staples of this genre of RPG (and to some extent, immersive sims) so I imagine I would share some of their criticisms. That said, I like this sort of game a lot and count many of them amongst my favourites, and will likely have a decent time with The Outer Worlds whenever I get around to trying it out.

I am just desperate for developers to get away from these tropes and start experimenting with what stories you can tell if the player isn’t the catalyst of every major event/decision. I also tire of these games that let me play a helper/revolutionary in one hand and then in the other offer fantasies of wanton murder and supporting the oppressive status quo. If your spectrum of choice is trying to appease radically different ideologies in its power fantasy then it can only serve to leave you with a muddied, centrist core message most of the time.

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‘Ziggy Stardust plays Oliver Twist’ perfectly describes my player character. Percy Starman is a slightly ugly, bald man with fabulous green eye makeup.

I’m enjoying this much more than the Fallout games but same as in those, I’m finding it really hard to care about NPC who are just kooky caricatures. It’s made worse by the fact the two companion characters I’ve met so far seem much more well written and realised people. I haven’t made the choice at the end of the first planet yet but it feels like I’m either siding with the mindless ‘corporate’ drones or the mindless ‘free’ drones.

I’m glad this game seems to be pretty successful though. Here’s hoping with Microsoft’s resources Obsidian can expand their formula and push it to some more interesting places with future games.

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I feel like this has to be the best test (within a AAA setting) of Fredric Jameson’s (or maybe Mark Fisher’s?) statement that “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism”. Glancing at the factions available I am not convinced but I reckon I’ll still have a blast finding out!

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When was the last time a video game made people call other people ‘pinkertons’ because they made a choice in a video game.

I’m all for critical thinking around video games, but holy shit who the fuck cares what arbitrary choice a player made in their game.

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So, I’ve spent enough time with Outer Worlds that I finally read Rob’s review, and I think it – in addition to the Sam Greer review Emily posted above – nail how I feel about the game. As a game, I’d describe it as “aggressively fine”: there are no glaring issues, no big swings that completely miss the mark, gameplay wise. But the result of that is that nothing feels terribly exciting for me. It plays almost exactly like the nu-Fallouts, which is fine but not a whole lot else.

The writing, though, is where I completely fall off. I just can’t shake the feeling that this is little more than the radical centrist’s pastiche on late capitalism in which the very thought of rejecting capitalist structures altogether must be paired with some flavor of immorality and/or incompetence. I get why this is the case, but it’s still such a bummer that I get left feeling like I’m never playing a desired character role so much as I’m taking an elaborate Buzzfeed personality test to see how willing I am to seek long term changes at the expense of ruining people’s lives.

Take that Emerald Vale climax. Why is it that in my particular playthrough, I don’t find out about how horrible a person the deserters’ leader is until after I made the choice to give them the power? And why is she written so that her resentment toward the company town comes about as a result of grief, as opposed to any sort of class consciousness? And why does the game suddenly go so far out of its way at the last possible moment to tell me “You know, you’re going to kill a lot of people if you make this choice” when it had hours beforehand to make it clear why I should favor one faction over the other? When I got to the part where Parvati pleaded her case, I just rolled my eyes; not because I’m some heartless tank, but it just felt so contrived to the point that I could almost see the writer’s hand guiding me to making the choice that they’d have made themselves.

I’m just left with the impression that this game’s writers either couldn’t or didn’t want to imagine an alternative to capitalist society in any form that makes it desirable. So often, it seems like the most moral choices the game paints for the player are ones that find balance between the two poles and come out the other end supporting a “good capitalism” – "It’s “Horseshoe Theory: The Video Game:” If you go toward either extreme, you’ll be treated as a bad person, but if you stay in the middle then you’re officially a good guy!

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When you make ethical media consumption the core pillar of your politics, you’re guaranteed to develop brainworms, even if you’re a leftist.

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This is where I think I’ll land on the game, with the rider that this game is too comfy cozy RPG junk food in every other aspect of its design for me to care that much its politics. It’s using the trappings of capitalism but even the darkest consequences of that are played for laughs. None of it tries to hurt or shock the player, there’s no feeling there - so it’s hard to get annoyed by it horseshoe theory-ing every major choice. I just refuse to care about your attempts to come across as deep, videogame. The factory owner gets got.

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