The Outer Worlds Review
Reviewed on Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and PC
"It's not the best choice, it's Spacer's Choice!"
Unless you were living underneath a derelict cargo freighter last year, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of The Outer Worlds. For the uninitiated, it was a well-received game released last year for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC and developed by Obsidian (who were purchased by Microsoft in 2018). The universe The Outer Worlds is set in explores an alternate timeline of historical events in which United States President McKinley was never assassinated. As such, the trust-bustin’ American folk hero / real-life President Theodore Roosevelt never took office. This allowed for the formation of massive corporations that dominate life in the distant future and have begun terraforming alien planets and forming their own colonies. After rolling your own character and being informed that you are one of the aforementioned space colonists that has just been woken up from cryosleep, you are tasked with finding a way to resuscitate your fellow sleeping colonists aboard the colony ship Hope so that they might be able to salvage the other floundering colonies in the planetary system of Halcyon. As one might reasonably surmise from The Outer Worlds’ title, all manner of planet-hopping shenanigans ensue.
To anyone that has played a modern Fallout game (or even an Elder Scrolls game, for that matter), The Outer Worlds will feel immediately familiar as much of the core gameplay remains similar. Explore, hack, slash, shoot, loot, quest, explore branching dialog trees, make difficult decisions based on morality, rinse, and repeat. It makes sense that The Outer Worlds plays like a love letter to the genre, as Obsidian also developed Fallout: New Vegas. Obsidian has managed to add enough improvements be they quality of life, interesting story elements, mechanics, or otherwise that this game feels more like an evolution of the concept and less like a shameless cash-in on the formula. In lieu of the VATS system present in the Fallout series, The Outer Worlds introduces a “time dilation” mechanic, allowing for a sort of bullet time that can be used to quickly dispatch your foes. There’s also a greater emphasis on utilizing your companions both in and out of combat which, in addition to the excellent writing that fleshes out each possible member you can add to your crew, makes your allies feel like a more intentional inclusion to the core of the game and less like an afterthought.
Upon arriving on the planet of Terra 2 at the outset of the game, I was quickly informed that due to some unfortunate circumstances related to my recent crash landing, I was the newly minted captain of the Unreliable. Even more unfortunately though perhaps befitting its name, the Unreliable is in need of a power converter before it will be operational again. The location of two of these power converters is made known to me shortly thereafter, though both are currently being used by two competing factions that rely on them to sustain their respective settlements. I could acquire one of these to use for myself but doing so would require diverting all power away from one of the settlements to the other one, forcing me to ally myself with either the corporate colony of Edgewater or a splinter group of idealists that have escaped their indentured servitude in Edgewater to live more freely as deserters in their own makeshift town.
Interestingly the decision between these two groups was not a clear-cut one, at least not for me – both of them were presented with certain characteristics that I found admirable and also quite a few elements that were less than undesirable. While I had several options that existed along a spectrum of gray, through some cleverly written dialog options I was allowed to dismantle the camp established by the deserters and remove the incapable leader from the town of Edgewater. I then established the leader of the deserters as the new mayor of the corporately-supported town and allowed her to bring her newfound (and disturbingly pragmatic) farming techniques to the townsfolk, providing them with other forms of sustenance aside from the “Saltuna” produced in Edgewater’s cannery which they had all previously been surviving on. This was all accomplished without having to fire a single shot from one of the many customizable and upgrade-able weapons I had amassed in the meantime. The level of personal agency that I felt while playing through merely the first area of the game is unlike anything I’ve experienced in a mainline AAA title to date, and it was incredibly refreshing.
On June 5th, the Nintendo Switch port of this excellent title was released. After spending the past week or so familiarizing myself with this version of the title, I’m happy to say that the fine folks at Virtuos that were responsible for this port have done an outstanding job given the admittedly under powered hardware in the Switch they had to deal with. That’s not to say there aren’t a few caveats, because there obviously are. As the saying goes though, you can’t port a AAA omelet that was released last year onto the Nintendo Switch without breaking a few eggs. While there are quite a few rumblings that this port is at best a bit of a mess and at worst something to avoid entirely, I’ll gladly and wholeheartedly disagree with all that and say that you shouldn’t always believe everything you read on the internet (unless you read it here, of course). Let’s break it all down.
When a game as big as The Outer Worlds is brought to a portable console, the common expectation is that content, corners, graphical fidelity, surely something must be cut to accommodate such a pint-sized package. Granted, this has become less of a concern in recent years with The Witcher III, Doom, and others all arriving on Nintendo’s console intact and The Outer Worlds is no different. You are absolutely getting the full game here and as someone who fondly remembers when twiddling away on a big gray plastic brick with a monochrome dot-matrix display was the pinnacle of portable gaming, this will never cease to amaze me.
The Outer Worlds, as with any Switch game, performs at its best when played docked. PC Gamers will likely thumb their nose at the 720p resolution and not-entirely-steady 30FPS you’ll get playing on Nintendo’s console but during my playtime I had zero issues with it. Unless you’re comparing Nintendo Switch screenshots side-by-side with a more powerful platform the vast majority of individuals are not likely to notice any major differences – especially during gameplay. Undocked and on the move the resolution drops to 540p and the framerate isn’t as steady, with the occasional dips and stutters more frequent and my Switch getting noticeably warm during gameplay. While my PC could certainly provide a more aesthetically pleasing experience I’m not able to simply grab the whole 20lb metal box and walk out my front door with it whilst simultaneously enjoying seamless gameplay. For that reason alone, the convenience of having such a massive, magnificent title crammed into an almost pocket-sized package is hands down worth the slight downgrade in visuals.