Part two of my series on (relatively) recent gaming disappointments. Part one covered Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
The title of this blog post gives away my biggest disappointment regarding the otherwise fantastically entertaining game, Outer Worlds. But before I get into the ugly, let’s talk about the good and not-so-good. (No real spoilers follow except the fact the game was a lot shorter than I expected it to be.)
I kind of stumbled across the trailer for Outer Worlds. I can’t remember what I was looking for. What I do remember was sending the link to the trailer to just about everyone I know with a note along the lines of “Have you heard of this?”
From the original creators of Fallout and the developers of Fallout: New Vegas, which just so happens to be my very favourite Fallout, Outer Worlds seemed set to rock my world—especially after the dismal failure that was Fallout 76 (which, to be fair, wasn’t a total failure. You can read my thoughts on it here and here).
The game starts pretty much where the trailer does and it’s fun. Let’s capitalize that: FUN. There’s also a feeling that this is going to be big. Epically big. Maybe even Skyrim big. I had got to design my character pretty much from the ground up, after all, skill points and everything. The character build is akin to the great RPGs like Neverwinter Nights.
Having played many such games, I didn’t sweat the small stuff. I nearly always drift into a cross-class territory, meaning my characters end up with a mishmash of skills. They become good at a lot of things, great at virtually nothing. The essence of a good role play game (and attitude) is to roll with it. Bungle that encounter? It is what it is. If I had to backtrack to a save point every time I chose the wrong dialogue option (or let someone die), I’d never finish a game. Life doesn’t come with a reset button. I tend to play RPGs the same way.
The world design is pretty awesome. It’s basically open with each area becoming accessible as the story hits it. You can wander where you like, though, limited only by terrain. You will die if you wander too far ahead. One of my fondest gaming memories is running my lowly night elf hunter through Stranglethorn Vale twenty levels below that of the mobs. I died a LOT. But for some reason (I forget why), I needed to get to the ship launch point at the bottom. There were undoubtedly other ways to get there. I decided to run. Die, collect my body, run some more. Rinse, repeat. Game design has changed a little since then. Very rarely do you collect a body from somewhere on the map anymore. Now you’re more likely to find yourself near your last save point. Oh, well.
Thankfully, the story in Outer Worlds kept me engaged enough that I didn’t feel the need to wander too far. I did jump ahead in a few instances and was able to use either a sniper nest, trap and ambush, or kite my way out of trouble. All good stuff.
I even didn’t mind the pile-on of additional quests that started to make me feel as if I’d be stuck in the beginning zone forever. Again, I’m used to it and figured that by the time I left the planet, I’d be familiar with most of the game mechanics.
Finally, the main story is pretty tight and you keep to it fairly well. It’s always there, in the background, and you’re reminded often enough that you’re not here to set up a new home and decorate it at will, but to actually solve a problem and save a few lives while you’re at it.
While the story is good and tight and all that, the attempt somewhere along the way to discredit your, ah, benefactor, doesn’t really come off convincingly. I never bought it, anyway. I guess that could count as a spoiler of a sort, but it really isn’t. We all expect the story to have twists and turns and for the good guys to maybe turn out not to be good guys. All pretty standard.
I wish the companion backstories had equal depth. A couple of the companions get short shrift; in particular, Felix and SAM. If I hadn’t noticed the empty slot in my roster, I’d never have gone looking for Ellie—which is okay. I failed to recruit Leliana and let Sten die the first time I played Dragon Age: Origins. (Thankfully, I rectified this during my 16 subsequent play-throughs). Learning you missed out on a companion—especially one that died because you missed them—can add a lot of texture to the game. Consequences are real and all that.
All of this being said, my favorite companion is probably Vicar Max. He’s just so self-serving. I figured you couldn’t trust him AT ALL which meant I always knew exactly where I stood with him. His backstory is also the most interesting (to me).
But where is SAM’s backstory? SAM is awesome. Also, why did Felix have to be such an idiot?
In further complaints that might be relevant to me and only me, why did I spend all that time sculpting my character’s face and choosing their hair color if I was NEVER GOING TO SEE THEM? It’s all first-person, which is just weird for an RPG. Not a game killer, but weird.
Finally, why is there no romance option? I don’t always play out the romance options in RPGs, but I like knowing that they’re there. Sex happens—except in Outer Worlds. These folks spend a lot of time on the ship and no one sleeps together. This is also where I note that while the ship’s AI had a fun personality, the welcome aboard messages—little notes about what your shipmates got up to while you were gone—get more than a little repetitive.
Some of the quest chains are missing or broken. I’d find a body in an elevator shaft—someone I’d spoken to only days earlier—but couldn’t link it back to a quest. One of the things I love about the Fallout games is the incidental questing. I’ll be on the far side of the map, in a zone twenty levels above my own (it’s a thing I do, okay?), dying and collecting my body on the way to somewhere, and I’ll stumble across the most awesome quest. Nearly always, this quest will tie back into the main story and I’ll end up with a cool reward.
This didn’t happen in Outer Worlds. Quests tended to be locked to origin points, meaning if you missed the beginning, you missed the entire thing.
The not-so-good stuff isn’t truly annoying until you hit the big one: the game ends way too soon. In fact, the ending is rather abrupt, as though the studio ran out of money and rushed to finish the game, providing instead of the other half of the story, twenty minutes of epilogue slides to tell the rest of it.
In searching online for evidence to support my theory, I came across a nearly 50-50 split in opinion as to whether the game was unfinished (or too quickly finished) or not. Some reviewers vehemently supported the game’s structure, citing the lack of depth in the final setting as typical for end-game where the writers want to keep players focused on the main objective. Others seemed to feel as I did, that the game was supposed to be longer.
The ‘supposed to be longer’ theory is supported by the setup. The character sheet. I chose points for the long game because that’s how it was set up. Looking at the level and point caps, I expected to be playing for close to eighty hours, if not more. I’d hardly specialized in anything by the time the game was done and I really hadn’t started to look for better weapons or gear. I hadn’t needed them. Not really.
Next, there are the uneven companion arcs. Some tie into the main story (sort of) and some don’t. But they all could have, given more time. As it is, they’re actually pretty inconsequential. Stuff to do along the way.
There are planets on the map that we never get to explore. I guess if we were to pin up a map of our solar system, there are planets we wouldn’t get to explore. Not without some pretty neat equipment. Thing is, they have neat equipment in the game. The means to go to all the places. In light of the crises facing these people, it made no sense that there were planets that hadn’t been colonized or at least set up as resource factories.
Finally, the epilogue cards. To me, sitting there opened-mouthed, thinking, wait, what, I’m done??? The cards were just bizarre. I hadn’t had time enough in this world to care about the people whose lives were now playing out for me in happy summary. I wasn’t done! Also, the epilogue cards confirmed one simple fact: I wouldn’t be returning to this world to play on. The end of every story was unfolding before my eyes. The game was over.
It was weird and jarring and very disappointing. I had been enjoying the game, despite my list of not-so-good complaints. Every game has stuff you’re not 100% in love with. You shrug and move on. This world was fun, the writing engaging, the possibilities seemingly endless. And then it was suddenly done.
An easy fix, I think, would be to revisit the character build system and narrow it down. Make it less complex so that players aren’t planning for level fifty and beyond, not realizing they’ll never get there.
I also really feel—after being disappointed by several too short games now—that the price of games needs to be revisited, and more closely aligned with the length of a single play-through. I really don’t mind paying $70 for a game. I can afford it. I only buy a new game every couple of months and I don’t have a lot of other costly hobbies. But I do object to paying the same price for a game that spans, say, thirty hours on the first play-through when another game lasts for upward of a 100. It’s like paying full hardcover novel price for a kid’s chapter book.
All of this being said, Outer Worlds isn’t terrible. It’s actually pretty fun. It delivers on many of the promises of the trailer. Personally, though, I think it’s far too short and therefore not evenly balanced. This will have me regarding any further offerings from this team with a hefty side-eye.