The Outer Worlds preview: hands-on with Obsidian’s new RPG

The makers of Fallout: New Vegas and KotOR 2 serve up The Outer Worlds, a spacefaring RPG with plenty to offer...

When the makers of Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II and Fallout: New Vegas come out with a fresh RPG title, you can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll want to check out. So, when we heard that Obsidian was previewing The Outer Worlds at a trendy London location, the invite was impossible to refuse. The demo ended up taking place on the hottest UK day in recent memory, but thankfully the venue had some powerful air conditioning to keep us feeling cool.

What we saw on our screen was pretty cool, too. After a brief introduction from the Obsidian team, we sat down with a pre-release build of the game which we were allowed to start from the very beginning. And after watching the opening cut-scene and working through a fun character creation interface (which we were asked not to spoil the specifics of), it was time to kick off the gameplay proper.

What’s immediately obvious is the game’s dark yet tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. The first character you meet promises that a “dashing gunslinger” with a “one-of-a-kind ship” will pick you up shortly, and the Star Wars reference there is enough to raise a wry smile. However, when you get to the meeting point, it’s immediately obvious that your Han-Solo-alike mentor has been crushed to death by the pod you were travelling in. All that’s left is a mushy pile of blood and guts. What fun!

This expectation-skewering early gag sets the tone nicely, leaving your character to find their own way through this weird-but-maybe-not-wonderful world. Your backstory is that you left Earth to start a new life in a distant star system, called Halcyon, which is being colonised by corporations. Your ship got stranded while you were in stasis, though, meaning that your arrival here comes 70 years late. And the planet’s corporately-controlled society bloomed into something properly odd while you were sleeping.

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This story set-up is enough to differentiate The Outer Worlds from the familiar locations and plot points of Obsidian’s previous RPGs, but the gameplay is familiar enough to ensure that fans of KotOR 2 and the classic Fallout games won’t feel left out. The opening segment of the game introduces the combat controls and conversational mechanics, as well as teasing just how brand-obsessed this planet has become, before introducing the player to their central hub (a grounded-for-now spaceship that your mushed-up mentor left behind).

These early interactions are really enjoyable, with the conversation choices introducing the idea that you’ll want to appear loyal to whichever company your talking partner represents. Doing so, and deploying some subtle mind games, will mean that you can make people do things for you and/or go easy on you. On the flip-side of that, if you start mouthing off about the big corporations, you’ll probably find yourself in more combat situations than are strictly necessary.

Speaking of combat, it’s worth taking a second to mention that there is a little bit more going on here than just pointing your gun and shooting. Due to some time dilation that occurred while you were in stasis, you also have the ability to slow down time during combat. Your powers are pretty limited to start with, but this is still a neat trick that can help you out of tight spots.

Once you’re through the tutorial-y bits, you’ll be able to explore the open world a bit more. There are giant creatures dotted around the place, which you’ll either want to engage with for some combat experience or sneak around because you’re in a hurry. You’ll eventually get your first major settlement, Edgewater, where there are a few different side-missions to pick up as well as the next steps in the main storyline. You’re only really looking for ship parts at this point, but you’ll be drawn into plenty of other dramas if you speak to right people.

You’ll also pick up your first companion character in this first settlement – a local woman named Parvati – and it’s immediately clear that she has a deep backstory that will be revealed over the course of several conversations. At the behest of her boss, who runs this area, Parvati accompanies you on a mission to a greenhouse-esque location that cold hold the parts you need for your ship. Before we got too deep into that quest, though, it was time to move on to a different demo.

To give us a better idea of the game as a whole, Obsidian opted to load up a saved-game that has got a little further through the story. We’re dropped back into the game at a crossroads between three different settlements, and we now have another companion. This one is a woman called Nyoka, and she’s a bit of a scoundrel that doesn’t seem to have much love for the companies in control.

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Walking in one direction leads to a bridge that seems to be uncrossable at this point. Going another way leads to a big creature battle that was more difficult than our earlier skirmishes with the native fauna. But the third road is just right, taking us into another settlement with its own cast of characters that have quests to dish out. Speaking to the leader of the locale reveals that she would like to launch a takeover of a nearby factory. Ducking into a smaller building reveals a shady druglord that wants you to track down some missing gear.

The drug-tracking quest is pretty simple, taking us past an eye-catching waterfall and into a cave where some drug mule critters have been killed. We later track the remaining stash to another small building, where the drugs can be retrieved from some critter dung. It’s not exactly glamorous, but there’s a healthy payment to be received if you complete this kind of dirty work.

The factory-takeover plotline is a bit more complicated. The location is staffed by robots and owned by a human villain, and there are a couple of ways to approach the mission. You can either go in all-guns-blazing or pick up some disguises that will make your party look like robot staffers. We opt for the latter approach, but this brings about some more challenges. Your disguise isn’t foolproof, basically, and there’s a fun gameplay mechanic which puts a timer on your screen. Every time this timer runs out, if you’re in a place that you shouldn’t be, the actual robots will come over and question what you’re up to. You can make excuses to stop them from rumbling you, but this sense of being found out adds a fair bit of tension to proceedings.

Eventually, we find our way to the big boss man and confront him. We try to talk him into giving up the factory without bloodshed, but it seems like we haven’t gathered enough data during our undercover mission to blackmail him into compliance. This failure to prepare leads us into some aggressive negotiations, and we end up leaving the factory in a hurry after killing its manager. This counts as mission accomplished, but we feel like the pacifistic route through may have resulted in a greater sense of achievement. 

Almost out of time, we manage to squeeze in one more side mission. Nyoka has asked if we can visit the grave of one of her old friends, so we do (battling a few beasties on the way), and this leads us to a clue about the whereabouts of another old acquaintance of Nyoka’s. We head to his bunker and help him defeat some enemies, learning a bit more about Nyoka as we go through the motions of the mission.

From the big battles to the personal errands, The Outer Worlds feels like a fully-fleshed-out RPG with plentiful intrigue to offer. The regular bursts of humour and corporate satire keep us entertained, and the flashes of combat keep us on our toes. We look forward to learning more about the world and our companions, as well as trying out a more pacifistic approach to the big missions, when the game launches later this year. Certainly, this one has our attention.

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The Outer Worlds launches on 25 October for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. A release for Nintendo Switch will follow at a later date. If you’re looking for some further reading, you can click here for our chat with the developers.