The Outer Worlds: an In-Depth Review

In the distant future, in a solar system known as Halcyon, adventure awaits! Gun toting bandits, greedy Corporation leaders, and vicious wildlife all seek to destroy you! But never fear! You are the intrepid captain of the Unreliable! It’s time to save the colony, gather a crew and who knows? Maybe you will have some fun along the way! The Outer Worlds is an engaging, action packed and often ever-so charming adventure that has been a joy to play, and offers a lot for its price! What makes this an honest review, instead of one that is bought and paid for (by the good people at Spacer’s Choice! It’s not the best choice, it’s Spacer’s Choice!)? Well, let me explain…

The Outer Worlds (and the World thereof)

The Outer Worlds takes place sometime in the future, where Earth has sent colony ships into the unknown and terraformed several planets of the Halcyon system, with varying results. However, the colony ship you were on, The Hope, has had a problem: the ten year trip, in which you were in hibernation, has turned to 50! You are awakened by the ever eccentric Dr. Phineas Welles, a scientist who claims to need your help in waking the other colonists on the Hope. Welles describes them as the best and brightest: scientists, philosophers, engineers and so many more! However, he is being hunted by the Board, a group of powerful corporation heads that want nothing more than to stop Welles and keep the power they have. You soon are dropped on the nearby planet of Terra 2, but not without first dropping on Captain Hawthorne, Welles’ contact (apparently he was known for doing reckless behavior, like standing near a drop beacon!). With the Captain smushed, you take it upon yourself to be the new Captain of the Unreliable, Hawthorne’s ship, and its semi-sentient computer, ADA. As you explore the planets in the system, and help Welles with his mission, you soon discover a dark secret that threatens the survival of the system itself! Well, maybe. Depends on how well you do with dialog and terminal hunts, to be honest. But we’ll get to that!

The World of The Outer Worlds is a charming one. There is a 50’s era Sci-fi feel to everything, with Art Deco designs and cheery jingles that fill the air. However, you will quickly notice that EVERYONE is repeating these jingles! As it turns out, the future is not looking great: corporations have taken over every facet of life on the planets, and of their often hapless workers. Names like Spacer’s Choice, C&P, MSI, Rizzo’s, and Auntie Cleo will pop up everywhere, and often with the workers reciting their company’s slogan at every possible moment, to the point that you worry that if they don’t, they could be fired or worse. While some corporations are actually sensible with their employees, like MSI, others, like Spacer’s Choice, work their employees to the bone and beyond, and often cut corners just to make profits. Adding to this is the descriptions on the items in the game, often with humorous, tongue-in-cheek descriptions. With the food items specifically you realize that oftentimes the companies are incredibly lax when it comes to food content (or basic nutritional consideration). But all is not dark and gloomy in this area of the galaxy! There is also talk of Tossball (and its complicated and rather violent rule set), serials (like the ever popular Masked Marketeer!), and most importantly, adventure! I loved learning more about the world and its people, though the areas of the game are somewhat limited, as there are only 4 planets in the base game (one of which only has a couple of missions on it, and another is the end level), and the enemies are mostly the same, as there are only 3 main types of dangerous wildlife, with a few sub variations. The other enemies are bandits of various types, which are also similar across all planets. I just wish I could’ve seen more planets with other types of enemies and wildlife, or at least have distinct bandit types for each planet. However, even with the limited types of enemies, there is still plenty to do in the Colony! It all depends on who you want to be!

Choose your own Adventure(er)!

As one would expect from an RPG, you get to craft your character to fit the way you want to play. Do you want to be a melee focused brute, who can dodge and block, but knows nothing about science and can’t talk his way out of a brown paper bag? Go for it! Want to be a gun toting, silver tongued devil, that uses his wits as well as bullets? Why not?! Want to be an awe-inspiring scientist, who commands the respect of his comrades? Of course! Or do want to be a mix of all of these, the classic Jack of All Trades? Do it! Do you want to be ridiculous and max out one tree just for the heck of it?! I guess you could do that… Me personally, I went with upping Guns, Dialog and Science to being the highest and I felt I did great for myself. Afterall, combat is but one of the major gameplay elements. The other is talking! 

For combat, you have a choice of using Melee Weapons (either one or two handed), Pistols, Long Rifles or Heavy Weapons. Each of the guns use either Light, Heavy or Energy ammos, all dependent on what each individual weapon uses. So you could use a heavy revolver (a Pistol) that uses Heavy ammo, or a Light Machine Gun (a Heavy Weapon) that uses Light ammo. And any energy weapons (either Plasma, Shock, Acid or N-Wave) use Energy ammo. Personally, I found the best success with using Heavy weapons, and kitted myself with a Light Machine Gun, Heavy Machine Gun, and Flamethrower. The Heavy Machine Gun in particular was awesome, as its heavy rounds shredded everything that got in my way. Armor also plays a big role in combat, as it has various armor types and values. Light armor often has lower armor scores, but more passive bonuses; medium is a good balance; and Heavy has great defense, but often no bonuses, or bonuses with trade offs, like +5 to block, but -5 to stealth skills. For me, I just kitted myself and my crew with heavy armor, just to keep them alive. Well, sort of… They seemed to drop pretty quick anyways. However, for special situations, like lockpicking a chest or schmoozing someone up, I would preemptively switch to special gear to make my job far easier. Then afterward right back to the armor.

In combat, the main source of healing is your inhaler. It uses Adreno, a lightweight item to heal you, along with other items as well. If your Medicine level is high enough, you can even put 2, 3, or 4 extra recovery items into each inhale, allowing you to have temporary bonus health, increased health regen, added bonuses to certain stats and more! Now how someone inhales Fish Stix and Purpleberry Crunch cereal is beyond me, but I suppose that is the wonders of science! Though I will be perfectly honest: at Normal difficulty, the combat is way too easy. I never died once in my playthrough. Not ONCE. I came close at the very beginning of the game, when I didn’t have a lot of Adreno, and at the end boss, but other than that I was mostly fine. I had stocked up on and found so much Adreno and way, WAY too many other health items (so many stacks of Raptisaur meat) that I was never in danger of dying. Although, Supernova mode sounds stupidly hard, as you have to eat and drink during the adventure regularly to not die. Maybe someday I will try on Hard mode, but we shall see.

The other interesting feature of combat is Time Dilation. When activated, it slows down everything and allows you to target weak points on enemies to make them unable to walk, attack, or make them blinded for a time. Each weapon also has a unique effect during TD, allowing for sniper rifles to have a kill shot, or a weapon to cause bleed or stunning the enemy briefly. This ability can be abused rather maliciously, as you can even get perks that increase its recharge and do extra damage. It is always a great idea to get the drop on the opponent and use TD to soften up a few targets (or take them out entirely) before tackling the main group.

For both Armor and weapons there are workbenches that can be used to repair items (as they lose durability with use), install mods (which can increase fire rate or change ammo types, or add increased dialog skills or more carry weight), and even tinker with them for money to increase damage or armor value. Honestly, if you have the money and patience, you can make yourself stupidly powerful and tanky. Though I would recommend to wait to get the 2.0 versions of the weapons that you find later, as they are FAR more powerful. Seriously, the difference is shocking. Also what is interesting is that if your engineering skill is high enough, you can do most workbench functions anywhere! Very handy for breaking down unneeded items and repairing them on the fly!

Another interesting aspect to combat is stealth, but in a most intriguing way. Early on you get a digital shroud, that allows you to take on the appearance of another person, granted you have the ID card for it. These are used in areas that are restricted, where security will shoot on sight otherwise. Using the shroud, if you have the right ID, will cause you to become just like anyone there, for a limited time. As you move, the bar lowers until it hits the end, which then prompts a guard to approach and talk to you. If one of your dialog skills is high enough, you can bluff your way out of it, but you only have 3 times to do so until they wise up and attack you. This is a unique way of doing stealth, and actually is one that would make sense, especially given how corporate guards probably won’t know each employee and you just need to keep their suspicions down enough. However the system is highly exploitable, as the minute you enter a non-restricted area, the three dialog tries reset, so essentially, you just need to jump from non-restricted areas as often as you want, and never have to have more than one dialog moment, sometimes less, if you path it right. There are times where you run out of deception meter and are not near guards, where either dialogue doesn’t trigger, or they start shooting at you, like your cover is blown, but this rarely happens. It is just random at times to know where IDs are, so some areas are frustratingly out of reach until much later. Or never, without a guide.

But all of that is only part of the puzzle, as you soon learn that there is far more to handling Halcyon than just smacking and shooting everything. The Role playing aspects of the game are fantastic and is one of the big reasons to love this game. A far cry from the simplistic “Good guy, Snarky, Jerkbag” options, there are a lot of choices that one could make, which sometimes takes things in completely unexpected directions. Like if you choose to intimidate a person instead of persuading them, they could end up hostile and might not allow a certain interaction. Or you could have an especially high score in science, and help the person you’re with to solve a problem they have that they couldn’t have had you not had the skill. It is also intriguing to dig a little deeper to find out more info, sometimes unlocking added missions or objectives. This can even lead you down completely different paths. For example, you are tasked to help a revolutionary execute a traitor, but do a little digging and well, things are not as clear as they first appeared… Talking to the people in the world was always great and I was often surprised when things went unexpectedly well. Though, I sometimes wonder if I screwed some other things up as well, but that comes with the territory. Also, dialog is so important in this game, that it is much harder to get the end you want without it: a fair warning to all you who don’t level dialog.

One interesting aspect of the game is that after 50 points into a stat group, you then can specialize into one of their subcategories. For example, Guns go into Pistols, Long Rifles and Heavy Weapons, each getting a bonus to that type after 50, while before 50 they all get certain bonuses. For dialog, there is Persuade, Intimidate and Lie, each having its own benefits in talking, as well as combat. Depending on how you want your character to look, you could completely ignore combat related trees, and instead become the master of talking, where you can pass all sorts of conversational hurdles, essentially ignoring a lot of messy situations. In fact, oftentimes the “go here and kill this person” missions have an alternate way to solve the problem without violence. Though I love wanton destruction as much as anyone (see my Carrion Review), I often challenged myself to see what I could do. Now sometimes I did just end up killing them, but sometimes I came out of it with an interesting outcome that I felt made the colony a better place. Or just go the opposite route, ignore most of the dialog trees and just brute force your way through everything, whatever! Like I said, your adventure, your rules!

One interesting aspect of the world is Flaws. Whenever something happens a lot, like being attacked by Mantisaurs or walking into too many mines, you have the option to choose a flaw, a permanent debuff to your character in exchange for a perk point. It is a trade off that can open for some interesting play styles. Make yourself weaker, but get all the points in the world! However, I was a dunce in this situation: the first (and only) flaw I accepted was one that was a permanent concussion that lowered my Mind score. I thought this was fine, until I realized that I had talented into all Mind affected stats (Galaxy sized oof there). Rather than respec into non-Mind related skills, I just over compensated, and tried to adjust for that. Next time, I won’t make that mistake, promise.

The Crew is all here!

Now while you could go solo on this adventure (perfectly acceptable, and what I often do in games like this), I highly encourage you to grab some crewmates to come with you. No, not actual people, I mean the in-game crewmates! As you go along your adventure, you will encounter people that want to join your team. Whether they want to join after you help them with a job, or simply show up next to your ship, these guys are all memorable and unique in their own ways. My favorite is my first companion, Parvati Holcombe. She starts out as an engineer in the cannery town of Edgewater, canning fish known as Saltuna, who volunteers to help you find a power supply for your ship (formerly Captain Hawthorne’s), the Unreliable. While she is used to the rough corporate lifestyle, she hasn’t lost her sense of wonder or enthusiasm. The first time she is on a colony ship, she gets so giddy and excited, exclaiming “I can’t believe it! I’m actually in space!” you can’t help but love it. 

But she is also an interesting example of how to make representation in games (and entertainment in general) work. Normally, I am not one to advocate for more representation in media, as I feel that usually the market is best at deciding it, and more often than not, incidental inclusion works the best. Predator is in my top 10 favorite movies, and surprisingly has a very ethnically diverse cast of characters, but I only noticed when I thought about it. No one was on a soapbox or anything (mostly because no one was obsessed with it in the 80s, not like now), and yet it had a diverse cast. And the focus was not on their race, but their abilities, and it showed in the movie. Same with LGBT representation: if it fits in the story and the characters, and it is well written, then by all means add it. Season 4 of Legends of Tomorrow and Ghost of Tsushima handled this very well, and the same goes here. Early in the game, after leaving Terra 2 (and Edgewater), you go to the Groundbreaker, another colony ship turned independent trade hub. There you meet Junlei Tennyson, the Captain/Chief Engineer. Parvati had said that she had heard about her and, being a fellow engineer, wanted to meet her desperately. Well, during your talk with Junlei, you notice that Junlei seems to be interested in Parvati, and not just as a fellow engineer. While back on the ship Parvati herself seems to be noticing it as well, but is hesitant on whether it is real or not. She soon receives a lovely poem from Junlei, and gets nervous but excited and asks if you could go out for drinks to think it over. She also confides that she also has trouble with physical intimacy due to past traumas, and wonders what to do. Through proper encouragement, you can get her to ask Junlei out and help her to procure scented soap, dinner and dessert, and even a new dress, all for the date. Now, if it had just been a shallowly written character, I would’ve rolled my eyes and said, “oh great, I’m doing this now…” But it wasn’t just a lesbian on a date: it was Parvati, my companion who had fought by my side, who had hopes and dreams, concerns and fears, excitement and nervousness, all of which she chose to confide in her captain (I also went with the very understanding and open captain approach). She was a proper character, a character I bonded with, and throughout the entire experience, I was rooting for those two, because of the fantastic writing that went into the whole experience. This is how inclusion is done right: it is not easy, and it might not work for everyone, but it worked for me!

The rest of the companions are fun, but never with the same level as Parvati (sorry, she’s mah fav). Still, having their witty banter was always great, like how Parvati and Felix talked brain teasers, with Parvati giving him new ones, and he usually came up with an Anti-Board answer, much to her chagrin. Moments like these were memorable and it is fun to mix and match the companions to see what new dialog you can get out of different combinations. What is also interesting is the special abilities each has, which is unlocked with enough Determination skill points. Each companion has one, whether a shocking stun, a drop kick, or unloading with a weapon, it adds variety to combat and can help with particularly big foes. Put enough points in there, and your companions can be especially formidable, and can activate their special ablities multiple times throughout fights! So if you really want to be a team player, I say go for it! Now I found 5 companions, but it looks like there is room for 6, so more incentive to go back and see which one I missed. Who knows, they could even be better than Parvati! Not likely though…

The Fate of Halcyon is in your hands!

With all of your skills allocated, weapons loaded, and companions at your side (or not, you antisocial loner…), it is time to head out into the world! But you will soon find that the choices you make will impact the world around you. Entire towns can be altered because of your decisions, sometimes unexpectedly. What always kept things interesting is that each mission was rarely as straightforward as it seemed, and it was also intriguing that things that happened in other missions could affect people and events in ways you didn’t expect. For example, in a mission where you run into a family of creepy cannibals (saw it coming very quickly), you find the remains of a dock worker. Go back to town and tell his supervisor about it, and you have easier dialog choices that are because you found him. You even use it as leverage in renegotiating wages for disgruntled workers, and get them back without a fuss! All because you found a side mission randomly! This also works with the main story missions, as often completing side missions open whole new paths that change how the story goes. This level of detail in the world is fantastic and makes you wonder, if on a second playthrough, if you could find even more! Small story threads, here and there, make it so this is a living breathing world, one where you actually feel your actions making a difference, and is something I appreciate from games like this. It encourages exploration and experimentation, as you never quite know how things turn out. You can sometimes worry if you’re making the right choice, but ultimately what matters is that it is your choice. It is your adventure after all! The only thing I wish from the game was to have more worlds to explore and more side missions to do, mostly because I was enjoying myself thoroughly. There is DLC for the game, which I might check out later, but I have my plate full at the moment, so it will have to wait.

Ready to blast off?

Through my time with The Outer Worlds, I killed hundreds of enemies, talked my way out of dozens of sticky situations and befriended the most unlikely of allies. I was a silver tongued (if slightly concussed) devil, a scientific genius and the deadliest heavy weapons man in Halcyon. But that is just the story of Captain Dain. What will your story be? How will it end? Will you help Phineas Welles to save the colony? Or will you sell him and yourself out to get in good with the Board? Will you bring your friends along? Or go it alone? Will you try to stay within the lines? Or dump all your points into stealth and steal everything not nailed down? Whatever you want to do, go and do it! I got it on sale for $30, but I would say it is worth its $60 asking price, as you can easily get over 20hrs of playtime in just the first go. And since there are so many different builds to go, you can run through it many more times, should you choose. So what are you waiting for?! If you like action, Roleplaying and fun interesting characters, then get yourself ready to blast off, into The Outer Worlds!

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