The Outer Worlds is a brief, entertaining ride
obsidian silent-protagonist noromance steampunky humorous RPG science fiction
I finished The Outer Worlds last night after investing what I'm guesstimating was around 25 hours into it. I'm guesstimating because with Game Pass games there's no real way to track your time, unless you use a third-party utility like Gameplay Time Tracker. Weirdly this is not something that exists in the current iteration of the Xbox WIndows 10 app. In any case, it's definitely not a Skyrim- or even Fallout 3-level time sink. However brief, though, it is an enjoyable experience.
You play as one of a few hundred thousand colonists on a huge colony ship bound for the Earth colony of Halcyon, consisting of a few space stations and several inhabited worlds. Something goes wrong with your voyage, you drop out of, let's say for the sake of argument, hyperspace (the game does not delve into this sort of thing in any detail beyond simply stating that FTL drives in this fiction are referred to as "skip" drives because the vessel "skips" c) far off course and your ship is adrift for 70 years. The skeleton crew maintaining the vessel has long since perished when a rogue mad scientist revives you from your cryosleep after several failed attempts with other unfortunate passengers. He needs you to find a way to procure more of the same kinds of chemicals he used to revive you so that he can start waking up other colonists in hopes of averting a systemwide crisis, seemingly of mismanagement and tyranny, although you later learn something far less pleasant is going on as well (naturally).
Everything about TOW feels a bit scaled-down compared to the conventional RPG-epics that Obsidian is known for: the scope of the game and the threat that is your ultimate nemesis, the depth of the companion NPCs, and the world-building. At least to all appearances, the greatest threat in the game is one that affects only the system you're inhabiting presently, so there's no universal or even galaxy-wide menace here. While there are a fair number of recruitable companions, not all of them have companion quests and there are no romance options among them; the closest you come to that is potentially setting up one of your earliest recruits with a life-partner. (Whether a lack of romance in an RPG is good or bad is undoubtedly a subjective assessment and a debate for a different forum.) The world-building that is there is fun but a bit shallow. For example, there appear to be two main metaphysical viewpoints (which seems like a small number) in this fiction, philosophism and scientism, and one of your companions is a strong proponent of the latter. Neither of these philosophies or religions is explained very well, and the companion in question goes on a sort of vision quest and receives some fairly meaningless gobbledy-gook that is supposed to enlighten him. The whole thing seems like it wasn't terribly well-thought-out.
The game has several things in common with Fallout and Wasteland. This isn't a post-apocalyptic setting, and it's not Earth, but the artwork and tech all has a vaguely steampunky look to it, and there are mega-corporations that control huge swaths of territory as well as industries and have their own unique technologies (well, by "unique," I mean slightly different). The game's humor tends to largely be derived from a satirical approach to how corporations actually running worlds would do things. For example, Sanjar Nandi, head of MSI on Monarch, asks you to retrieve a powerful weapon, the BOLT-52. This turns out to be a (minor spoiler) requisition form. While you're retrieving that, he also asks you to erase any files you find on nearby computer systems, files which happen to include an unflattering personnel review of one Mr. Nandi.
Combat in TOW is a real-time affair with what the game calls tactical time dilation (TTD). This not-quite-VATS allows you to target vulnerable points on enemies and slows them down while your meter is charged. The game explains this as a side effect of your extended cryosleep and unorthodox awakening--which is to say that it doesn't really bother to explain it at all. In any case, combat is curiously easy on the default difficulty level, rendering this game one of the rare instances of an RPG in recent memory where it's not necessarily advantageous to dump a lot of points into combat skills. In fact, I played as a really smart colonist with a focus on engineering, science, and dialog skills. This is a very viable build, but you miss out on a LOT of stuff in this game if you don't boost your hack and lockpick skills. Your primary stats, strength, intelligence, perception, et cetera, rarely seem to matter all that much, relative to secondary skills like persuade and hack. In The Outer Worlds, you pick your primary stats and put points into secondary skill groups at the beginning. In a somewhat novel approach, individual skills are placed into groups and you can boost as many as three skills at a time with a single point allocation until one of those skills hits 50 (out of a possible 100), at which time, you have to increase each skill within that group individually. Each level grants you 10 skill points to allocate and every third level you get a "perk," which provide bonuses to things like your weight limit, accuracy while moving, armor, et cetera. You can also gain extra perks by taking flaws, which the game will offer you at various points. For example, if you get killed by raptidons on Monarch a lot, the game may ask you if you want to take a "herpetophobia" flaw, which causes you to have a negative reaction (in the form of stat debuffs) in the presence of certain animals; if you choose to accept it, you can pick a perk from the tiers that are currently unlocked. It's an interesting system, and you do have the ability to respec on the ship you acquire early in the game, the Unreliable.
The game's ending does leave open a few possibilities for sequels, although it seems unlikely that any will be forthcoming. I wouldn't mind a deeper exploration of this world, but I'll probably just have to settle for Wasteland 3, whenever that is finished. As much fun as I had with the game, I still keep circling back to its brevity. The game's MSRP is $60, which is what you'd pay for something like Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Witcher 3, or Mass Effect 3 (yes, I know people hated that one, and that's not the point). While the game feels polished and well-done for what it is, it lacks the epic scope of something I'd expect at this pricepoint. Naturally many people will be playing it as part of Game Pass either on XBONEs or PCs, but in some ways, I'd rather see this priced $10 or maybe $15 cheaper at MSRP and not be part of a Game Pass than see it released at this price either because Microsoft was hoping to offset development costs and the cost of having it available for "free" to many users or just because someone has the mindset that all new games have to be $60. I don't think that's a thing, but--and I've already belabored this point to what is probably an absurd degree, this is just not a $60 game. I realize this is something of a backhanded endorsement, but it is a good game in general and a fun RPG experience, despite my reservations about its size and scope. If you enjoy RPGs and you have Game Pass, it's absolutely worth your time. If you don't have Game Pass, wait for a sale (you're a CAG if you're reading this, so you were going to anyway).