Ok, I know you don’t get the title, but trust me when I say it’s really clever. Now at the time of writing I just got home after six hours of flying from Chicago back home to LA. My body aches, my eyelids are heavy, and I am dog tired. But as a great man once said, the review must go on. Because oh boy, I’ve been looking forward to this review! I have 1000 hours and 23 playthroughs of “Fallout: New Vegas.” I think it’s safe to say I’m a fan. Obsidian Entertainment is a developer I have long been partial to, largely originating from my marriage to their most popular game. But they’ve been consistently putting out quality games whenever they can and haven’t dabbled in any mischievous monetization. So it was only natural that I was as excited as my cold, jaded, misanthropic heart had been since “Fallout: 4” looked promising. So why didn’t I pick up this game when it first released last year? Well, it only came out on Epic Games store and cost $60 during a time when I was broke from a crippling addiction to plastic figurines I pay too much for. Thanks Games Workshop. So I opted to wait until it came out on Steam and I had more money. Lo and behold, it dropped a couple weeks ago on Steam. Now you know why I opted into pass-fail this semester.
If my sheer time dedication didn’t already make it obvious, “Fallout: New Vegas” is easily one of my favorite games of all time. I love it to pieces. The world, the characters, the flavor, even the gameplay. I love it all. I seriously think it’s the greatest western RPG ever created. I mean, I said as much in my review of “Fallout: New Vegas” a year ago. And “The Outer Worlds” is intended to be a spiritual successor to “New Vegas.” And it shows. “The Outer Worlds” retains the core philosophies of “New Vegas’” design with it’s own style and flavor.
Rather than the horrors of the post-nuclear wasteland, “The Outer Worlds” contends with a far greater horror: corporate bureaucracy. The game takes place on the distant solar system of Halcyon, named for the company that controls it. Your character awakens on a derelict ship filled with cryogenically frozen colonists sent from earth after having been thawed out by a mysterious scientist who recruits you in a mission to awaken the rest of the ship. He sends you to meet with a smuggler who can help get the chemicals you need to thaw out the rest of the colonists, who is unfortunately crushed under your escape pod after having stood too close to the landing zone. You then commedeer his ship for your noble cause, and from there the world opens up to your own space cowboy adventure, however you choose for that to play out.
The story operates in a similar manner to how “New Vegas’” did, starting with a focal character arc that branches out into the world as a whole. You want to help Phineas Welles, the mysterious scientist with a generous bounty on his head, thaw out your fellow colonists. So first you need to get a ship up and running as a base of operations, then you run odd jobs for a bunch of the different factions, getting to meet them in turn, and before long you’ve played a little part in every corner of the world, and are drawn into a much larger conflict concerning the fate of the system.
The Halcyon colony is under the strict control of the Board. This is literally a holdings board, representing the combined interests of subsidiary companies to the Halcyon corporation. Each company vies for dominance over the other in their game of politics, but all ultimately answer to the Board. All of the Halcyon colonies are owned by one of these companies, subsidiaries of the Halcyon parent company. It’s a world where company policy is, quite literally, law. Where corporate slogans are national anthems, and company loyalty is patriotism. “The Outer Worlds” isn’t the first sci-fi world to have done something like this, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the most convincing. You see as much in the tutorial mission, where a corporate soldier spouts a company slogan after thanking you for rescuing him. The first town is in the midst of a plague, not because of disease, but because company policy states they all have to eat the canned tuna the town produces which is making them sick. Much of the available medicine to treat the illnesses can’t be used because they were manufactured by a rival company. The local church belongs to a Board supported cult religion that emphasises good work ethic as a means to cure ailment. Obsidian does a great job at selling the atmosphere they’re going for, with this world of corporate autocracy they portray. It never lets you forget that the corporations control the frontier, much like how “New Vegas” let you know that every piece of the Mojave was a part of the conflict between the Legion and the Republic.
The game likewise thrives in it’s quests. “New Vegas” did a great job at having quests that emphasised the roleplaying aspects of the game, with a multitude of paths to take and respective outcomes that let the player exercise their character’s personality, and “The Outer Worlds” delivers just as if not more consistent examples of this. This becomes obvious in just the first major quest. It centers around a group of townsfolk that deserted their posts to escape strict corporate quotas, which resulted in strain on the rest of the townsfolk. The town wants them to come back, while the deserters would sooner see the town die out. Neither group is depicted as correct, each is sympathetic in their own ways. And ultimately you are left to make a series of difficult decisions and live with whichever outcome results from your choice. Not only is it an interesting conflict that got me immediately hooked, but it leaves significant room for roleplaying with the volume of different paths and outcomes you can choose to take.
Dipping into the gameplay a bit, the changes to the companion system are one of the strongest improvements “The Outer Worlds” makes. Firstly you can have two follow you around, as opposed to one. Each also has their own ability that can be activated in combat, none of which are game breaking, but they can be pretty damn good. Recruiting companions adds to your crew, and they all stay with you on your ship. The great part about this is how it allows them to interact with each other. Both on the ship and when you’re out and about, companions will randomly chat with each other, characterizing them as well as forming genuinely believable dynamics with each other. They will also interject into your dialogue with other NPC’s. All of the dialogue does a fantastic job at adding flavor and depth to the characters on screen, as well as spicing up your conversations and making the world feel a lot more kinetic. One of my favorite moments playing this game was finding two of my crewmates sharing a smoke together on the ship while complaining about their old jobs.
I could go on for hours talking about “The Outer Words.” I genuinely love it. I love how vibrant the worlds are, how good the weapons feel, how it's the only game I’ve seen where you regain health by taking a hit from your vape pen. So how come I don’t love it as much as “New Vegas?” For as much as I love it, there are a lot of things I don’t like about “The Outer Worlds.” While I like all the companions, they’re all too normal to stand out as much as ones like Fawkes, Veronica, or Nick Valentine from “Fallout” 3, “New Vegas” and 4 respectively. I don’t like how there are only three ammo types, or how damage types are split up among physical, plasma, corrosive, electric and N-ray even though I find it funny that N-ray is a damage type. I don’t like how electric damage is the only viable option against robots, or how plasma is the only viable option against wild animals. I especially don’t like how few speech checks there are for skills other than perception, persuasion and lie. And overall, I just don’t like the flavor of “The Outer Worlds” as much as I do “New Vegas.” And that’s just it, it all comes down to personal preference. I personally prefer “New Vegas” more because it resonates with me more. Sure there are things “New Vegas” does worse, but there are also things “Outer Worlds” does worse than it. They’re both different flavors of the same wonderful thing. One is Coke and the other is Sprite. You’ll like whichever one you like more because you do. Both games are wonderfully realized, beautifully depicted, and phenomenally written; and ultimately I’m just happy we got each of them at all.
Final Score: 9/10, absolute gold. The spirit of “New Vegas” put in an outer space cowboy romp about taking down the evil corporations. Or selling out the man who unfroze you for profit. Whichever you feel like.