The Outer Worlds borrows a lot from Fallout. More specifically, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, the latter being developer Obsidian's own creation. You travel between disgruntled communities, picking up quests and shooting people you don't like. You click your way through branching dialogue options, and the camera zooms in on a character's mug whenever you initiate a conversation. At times it's eerily similar to the popular post-apocalyptic property, but as a pure role-playing experience, it has Bethesda well and truly beaten.
Obsidian has proven itself a master of player choice, and The Outer Worlds is perhaps one of its finest works. As was the case with the aforementioned Fallout: New Vegas, the freedom that you're given in the way that you can approach quests, deal with people, and build your character, is pretty much unrivalled. The result is a title that is consistently engaging, surprising, and rewarding, regardless of how you choose to play.
Taking place across a space colony known as Halcyon, your custom character is awakened from stasis a whole 70 years after your ship -- conveniently named The Hope -- should have arrived at its destination. You see, Halcyon isn't doing too well. Food shortages and plague outbreaks mean that some communities are barely hanging on, while governing bodies struggle to maintain law and order as situations grow more dire by the day.
Coaxed out of cryosleep by an unhinged scientist named Phineas Welles, he reckons Halcyon's doomed unless you can help him resurrect everyone else who's still sleeping on The Hope -- some of the best and brightest minds that Earth ever sent off into space. What follows is a planet-hopping adventure that sees you bring peace or complete and utter chaos to the colony. The choice is yours.
There are factions to side with, characters to lean on, and societal scandals to uncover. You can spend hours helping people out and making friends, or you can just step off your ship and start popping heads with your favourite revolver until you find some answers. The beauty of The Outer Worlds is that you're never out of options. Say you need information from someone, but even your silver tongue can't convince them to part with it. You could try lockpicking your way into their backroom and rummaging through their files -- but what if your lockpicking skill isn't high enough? Maybe you'll have to settle for doing them a favour or, y'know, you could just brutally murder them and loot their corpse.
Quests can change dramatically depending on your actions, and your alignment with each faction can fluctuate significantly if you adopt a more, ahem, extreme approach to problem solving. There's no doubt that you can weave a tangled web throughout Halcyon, but again, it never feels like you're punished for doing things your way. Sure, siding with those guys might have been easier, and it might have netted you shiny new amour, but you would have missed out on some hair-raising shootouts and a slew of deliciously dark dialogue options.
Speaking of which, The Outer Worlds has some of our favourite ever dialogue options in a video game -- and that's not something we say lightly. Your character isn't voiced, but this gives way to some brilliantly written and often genuinely funny responses. You can be the most snarky smart-arse that the galaxy has ever seen, or you can just straight up lie to people on a constant basis. You can obviously be a nice guy as well, but where's the fun in that? Dialogue choices are presented to you after almost every line of speech, and it's this immediate back and forth that makes every conversation thoroughly engaging, all while allowing you to shape your character's personality. It's top tier role-playing.
Of course, it's not just you that has to deal with the people of Halcyon. You can recruit six different party members as you go about your business, each of them with their own outlook and moral standings. It's with these allies that The Outer Worlds starts to look a bit like Mass Effect as they each find a home on your ship, which is comically named The Unreliable. While your pals aren't quite as memorable as Garrus or Wrex, they're all interesting, nuanced, and brought to life by some great voice acting. And yes, they even get their own loyalty missions.
As hinted, these missions will see you travel all across Halcyon. The game's not open world, but it does feature a number of spacious locations that you're free to explore. Between large cities and dangerous wilderness, environments feel distinct and well realised, even if they come off as somewhat static when compared to the open worlds that we've grown used to seeing this console generation.
Okay, so we've got a great cast of characters and a twisting, turning story that branches off in countless different directions based on your actions -- but what about combat? Well, we're happy to report that the gunplay here is leagues ahead of what Fallout 4 has to offer, even if it doesn't measure up to the more focused first-person shooters on the market. It's actually quite twitchy, and movement is smooth. Some weapons have a better kick to them than others -- the revolvers feel great, for example -- but overall, it's rock solid action.
Combat's elevated by TTD, or Tactical Time Dilation. It's essentially The Outer World's version of V.A.T.S., letting you slow time to a crawl as you assess your enemies and pick your shots. However, attacks made while using TTD aren't automatic -- you still have to move, aim, and pull the trigger. As such, it's a more versatile mechanic than Fallout's alternative, since you can slow time to move away from incoming assaults, or reposition yourself if you're caught out in the open. TTD doesn't last long unless you're standing very still, but it recharges quite quickly, allowing you to punctuate each skirmish with some stylish kills.
Unfortunately, melee combat doesn't fare so well. Attacks made with blades and blunt instruments tend to lack a little bit of impact. It's not a deal breaker -- going melee is great fun once you're used to blocking and dodging -- but it doesn't feel as satisfying as capping your foes with your favourite rifle.
Now, we know what you're thinking. Obsidian's got a bit of a reputation when it comes to buggy games, but you may be surprised to hear that The Outer Worlds is basically bug-free, at least in our experience. Aside from that one time where a party member just... Died for no discernible reason and we had to reload our save, we didn't come across a single issue in our 40 hours with the release. It also runs well on PlayStation 4 Pro, the framerate sticking to a consistent 30 frames-per-second outside of some very minor stutters when it's busy autosaving. When it comes to performance, our only real complaint is that load screens can be lengthy -- some of them breaking the one minute mark if you're entering a particularly dense area.
Moving on, The Outer Worlds isn't a much of a looker, despite some lovely skyboxes and good art direction. Some textures are pretty darn muddy, and some characters are pretty darn ugly. That said, the facial animations aren't bad at all. They're certainly not inline with the best in the business, but much like The Witcher 3, the game makes great use of decent stock animations to get the job done.
Before we head over to the conclusion, it's worth noting that The Outer Worlds isn't a particularly long game. You could probably blitz the main story in 15 hours or so, but you'd be missing out on some great optional quests. A full run bumps your playtime up to 30 hours or thereabouts, and honestly, it's quite refreshing not to have to spend 100 hours digging through a gigantic RPG. What's more, at 30 hours a pop -- likely much less on additional playthroughs -- The Outer Worlds has a massive amount of replay potential.
The Outer Worlds is a role-playing triumph. With its sights set squarely on player choice, Obsidian delivers a brilliantly crafted sci-fi adventure that's packed with witty writing, great characters, and a fantastic degree of freedom. Add solid combat and rewarding exploration to the mix, and you've got the recipe for an RPG that begs to replayed time and time again. An essential purchase for fans of the genre.