By: Anthony Bussing
“The Outer Worlds” (Obsidian, 2019) is the love child of a graphic novel and a good, old-fashion, video game. Set throughout many destinations in the Halcyon solar system, the atmosphere of the setting is that a corporate organization known as “The Board” has monetized the populations into bureaucratic puppets, with all but third-party factions, planetary wildlife and resistance groups enduring to The Board’s obedience.
As an independent anomaly introduced to the Halcyon system and its social tyranny, the player character is explored as a catalyst to historical decisions culminating in the fate of Halcyon’s future, politically and literally. The Board is all Halcyon knows and its’ workforce at the bottom of the hierarchical class is losing their minds from working and living conditions.
I’ve got a soft spot for collectibles when it means arsenal loot, while the writing in text artifact collectibles has never appealed to me in a game before since “Dark Souls 3” (From Software 2016), “The Outer Worlds,” however perfects both collectibles. Representing the third-party faction of a wanted scientist, arsenal loot is presented as “science weapons” that range from anti-weapons to an instantaneous disguise cloaking-device. The text artifact collectibles meanwhile are presented as text and audio logs, private diaries, management reports, corporate paperwork and communication exchanges. Like the combat and stealth systems, the collectibles here aren’t anything new and improved to the genre, however the writing in “The Outer World’s” text collectibles was so incredibly believable to me, I found myself in my first playthrough of the game to be fighting the informed fight of the underdog, for coworkers whose discourse I was inspired by. I then realized through later playthroughs to catalyze a less reactive response to my actions and decisions, achieving a more overall protagonistic as well as antagonistic futures for Halcyon.
Each game mechanic employed to achieve the experience of the game is appropriately executed, except for the supernova difficulty and the player level capacity. Supernova difficulty attempts to dabble in survival game mechanics by modifying the health system, implementing food and thirst maintenance, companion permanent-death, and limiting fast-traveling to the player’s headquarters. While these survival mechanics aren’t necessarily flawed, I feel that they inappropriately hinder you from experiencing the full story of “the Outer Worlds,” especially companion perma-death that consequently gate-keeps players from experiencing those related storylines as well as those side character’s inclusion in the bigger picture.
While I understand the need for such a mechanic, the current level capacity barely allows for first-time playthroughs to achieve specialized endings without an informed arsenal of skill points unrealistically required to do so, forcing frustrated players to circumvent these harsh requirements and consequently backtrack progress.
What’s most memorable about “The Outer Worlds” is the cast of named characters. The insignificant characters are the extras you would expect, being named general occupational labels, juxtaposing the significant characters, as well as reinforcing the believability of the tyrannical reality of The Board’s heavy hand in ruling Halcyon. These bystanding corporate puppets allow for the story to be packed into a smaller cast of relevant characters, and it’s done so effectively, while still allowing for the background to shine in the aforementioned text artifacts. The player interacts with this main cast of characters by engaging in deliberate dialogue encounters, providing a varying emotional, comedic or believable range of storytelling, all through impressive writing.
The strongest force tying everything together is the focus on storytelling. From the plot twisting consequences of player agency to the foundational and contemporary history of Halcyon, “The Outer Worlds” is a fantastical presentation. After having played through the base game’s story to experience multiple entirely neutral, malevolent, and favourable ending outcomes for the future of Halcyon, I rate “The Outer Worlds” a 10 out of 10. A combination of catastrophic satire, social existentiality, sci-fi tropes, and entertaining performances, “The Outer Worlds” is beyond an amazing, meta-critical, story presented through effective game conventions.