When the developers from Obsidian announced that The Outer Worlds would let you assemble a squad of companions, few people knew exactly what to make of that information.
After all, the popular pre-release narrative surrounding The Outer Worlds seemed to position the game as Obsidian’s spiritual sequel to their previous much-loved RPG, Fallout: New Vegas. And while there were companions in Fallout: New Vegas, their roles were somewhat limited. They mostly served as an extra gun during combat and offered a little flavour from time to time.
But now that we’ve played The Outer Worlds and given it a 5-star review, it’s clear to see that we needn’t have worried: the companions in the game are a big part of what makes the overall experience so great, and there’s a lot more depth to these characters than there was in their New Vegas predecessors. For example, the first companion you pick up is a nerdy, moralistic and very likeable female mechanic named Parvati. She has a tendency to steer you towards helping people, and Parvati has quickly become something of a fan favourite.
During a chat with Den Of Geek US, The Outer Worlds senior designer Brian Heins explained that his new game’s compansions – of which there are six in total – were always intended to be deep, unique characters.
“Each companion has their own things that they are personally good at,” Heins says. “So you might have a companion who’s really good at lock picking, and if you aren’t, but you have that companion with you, they contribute their skills towards yours so you can now pick certain locks that you wouldn’t be able to achieve otherwise.”
We saw glimpses of this harmonious companion skill system in New Vegas, but The Outer Worlds goes much further with the idea than that game ever did. Heins even compares the skills of certain companions to equipping a particularly good piece of equipment.
Most importantly, each of your companions in the game boasts a distinct personality that may or may not blend well with your own or with the personalities of your other companions.
That idea of contrarian companions who boast their own views feels much closer to the systems we saw in games like Mass Effect and Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. Honestly, the way that BioWare (and Obsidian, who took over the KotOR franchise for its second instalment, The Sith Lords) treated companions in those games does feel like a big inspiration for how they are treated in The Outer Worlds.
Just as in those games, for instance, each companion has a story just waiting to be explored. During your own playthrough of the game, you might even see a companion leave your party after certain (entirely optional) events advance their own story to the point of leading them away from you.
Even better, your choice of companions in your away team will affect how the world reacts to you and how certain sequences play out.
“Each companion has their own point of view on factions in the game, the career paths they’re going on, etc.” Heins says. “If they’re with you when you’re talking to various NPCs they’ll interject and give you their opinion in conversations.”
As anyone who fell in love with HK-47 in KotOR knows, sometimes the best companions are ones that will test you, tease you, or even get you in trouble. It turns out that The Outer Worlds features companions that serve a similar role. Sometimes, your companions will even use their skills to straight-up troll you.
“So, you might have a companion who’s a really great liar, which is always fun when you’re having a conversation with them,” Heins says. “It’s like, ‘Are you just lying to me right now? I can’t tell.’”
While companions having a little fun with you in a private conversation is one thing, there are also times when the attitude of your companions can lead to some unintended consequences if you’re not careful.
“One of my favorite companions in the game is a guy named Felix,” Heins says. “He’s almost like your hype man. So if you have him with you in your party, he may get excited and start egging on your enemies, trying to edge things towards a fight. It’s like ‘Whoa, Felix, calm down. Let’s talk our way through here without just getting in a fight.’”
All in all, the companions in The Outer Worlds give those eponymous faraway planets a lot more personality – while you’re exploring the eye-catching areas and picking up various quests, you can always rely on the people on your party for interesting input and a bit of entertainment. Certainly, the game wouldn’t be quite as wonderful without these companions by your side.
The Outer Worlds is out now for PS4, PC and Xbox One (you can even get it through Xbox Game Pass). A Nintendo Switch version is coming next year.