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Can you defy the bitter cold, brutal heat, and ravenous monsters that all desire your death? Outward is an RPG that doesn’t hold your hand in the slightest, as you make your way through an open-world filled with adventure and death. Only with careful preparation will you survive the dangers of this world.
Outward Review – A Rough Adventure
Developed by: Nine Dots Studio
Published by: Deep Silver
Release date: 26 Mar 2019
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), XBOX One, PS4
Price at time of review: $39.99
- Play solo or coop in local or online modes
- Dynamic defeat scenarios that react to your context
- Constant auto-saving means there’s no turning back
- Ritualistic, step-by-step approach to spellcasting
- Constant auto-saving means you must live with your decisions
- Encounter dynamic defeat scenarios
- A unique experience with every playthrough
- An immersive exploration experience
- Creatures will be harder to beat in co-op mode
- Single-player, online co-op and local co-op with split screen
Story and Setting
Outward starts you off indebted to your tribe, a debt in which you must try to repay. In an effort to clear the amount you owe, you embark on an ill-fated voyage to try and earn enough to pay it off. Of course the ship runs aground, leaving you with almost no money and a crowd of angry villagers demanding payment. From here on out, the game opens up into three distinct main quest lines, with a small variety of sidequests you can participate in. Sounds like a good setup, but it is not executed well in my opinion.
You are tossed into this town and told someone in your family did something bad, you’re again told this one person is a close friend, you’re told that you are a part of this tribe. Due to the way the story is told, none of this is given adequate time to develop. I’ve poked at one of the main quest lines out of a feeling of professional obligation and I still have no real drive to pursue it. This is fine though as Outward does not advertise itself as a game with an in-depth story, rather the focus is on the story that you make for yourself.
Even with that though, things fall a little flat as I can tell the devs put a fair amount of work into this world, but very little of it comes across to the player. Very few NPCs will talk with you, and many of them are just shopkeepers that have just add a little bit of flavored text. If there’s books or other written lore entries in this game, I haven’t found them yet. There are ruins scattered throughout the game, but so far I’ve not found much inside any of them so far. To be fair, this is a very slow paced game and I’ve not gotten too deep into the more dangerous ruins, so there might be more if you venture further in. That being said, it’s not very excusable that I’m still so clueless on the world given the amount of time I have spent playing.
In my original draft, this section was turning into a small novel as there are a lot of mechanics in this game but two things made me stream-line this section. Firstly, if the mechanics of this game aren’t going to interest you, the Cliff Notes version is all you really need to read.
Secondly, if the mechanics of this are your cup of tea, then all you’ll want to read is the Cliff Notes version. See, a lot of this game is about exploration, discovery, and the story that you create. Going through the game and making decisions based on imperfect knowledge is a major part of what makes this game unique. There is a tutorial, and it is a must for this game, but you’ll really be short-changing yourself if you go in with a complete understanding of the mechanics. This is the same for most things in this title, for some this will sound like heaven and for some it will sound like a complete waste of time.
At its core, this is an action-RPG, while there are plenty of side mechanics, the main thrust is exploring dungeons and beating down the bad guys and monsters. After administering the beat downs you will loot all of their stuff, maybe find an upgrade or two, sell the rest, and move onto the next group of walking loot.
This brings me to my major criticism of the game, and one that I think will be the proverbial straw for many gamers. The combat is not fun as it is clunky, unresponsive, and it is difficult to use the flashier more complex spells if you’re playing solo. After the most difficult fights have ended, I don’t feel like I achieved a victory, rather I just feel like I cheesed the AI. I honestly can’t tell if this is the result of inexperience or if it was a deliberate design choice. Either way, combat really needs to be better given how much of it you’ll be doing.
As for the rest of the mechanics I’ll just skim over them. Survival is a big aspect of this game, with hot and cold weather, hunger, thirst, and the need for sleep. It might sound like a bother, but the game does a good job of encouraging you naturally to keep track of all your bars. As long as you are mindful, you won’t get in trouble.
That being said, the UI to convey some of the information is lacking. For example as you take damage, you recive ‘burnt health’ which reduces your max HP until you either eat specific foods, drink a potion, or sleep. However, the UI really isn’t very clear on this and I died several times before I figured out what that slightly different color red meant on my health circle.
Speaking of death, you don’t really ‘die’ in this game. If you lose all your health, you’ll pass-out instead. This will cost you one day (which can be a major problem for some quests) and you’ll wake up in a context sensitive situation. This can either be fun, an annoyance, or a really bad situation since the time might have caused some food to rot, which means you can’t eat to get rid of that hunger status, as well as your max HP and stamina is also now reduced. It is certainly an interesting way to handle death, I’ll give the developers that. Something to be aware of is that because you can’t ever die, the game does not allow you to save. There is only one auto-save for your character, and the game is saving almost constantly. Don’t count on ALT-F4 to bail you out of a bad choice either.
Character progression is mostly done by getting new gear, you don’t level up in this game, though you can gain new skills. Some skills are free, some cost silver, and a few require you to spend one of your three skill points to unlock. While skills help, your gear is everything here. Getting a new piece of armor or a better weapon drastically effects how well you do in combat. This also means in certain situations you can lose all your advancement because all your gear gets taken, needless to say that really stings. Though it is always possible to get your stuff back, however it might be pose a big challenge, but as far as I can tell nothing gets destroyed unless you sell it to a merchant and their inventory resets.
Multiplayer is potentially a big bonus here as not only does it have online drop-in drop-out gameplay, but it has split screen co-op as well. I didn’t get to test this feature a lot but from what little I did test out multiplayer worked well. It does seem to make the combat an order of magnitude easier though, which could be a concern. To me this is a non-feature since I don’t have anyone in my house I can play with and I’m not all that interested in playing with random people, but I can see how others would love the ability to play an RPG like this with a friend.
Finally, there is quite the crafting system to explore here. There are no skill points here, you either have the materials to make something or you don’t. There are recipes but you don’t get to read them before crafting, If you look it up on a wiki (or in some cases just take an educated guess) you can craft the item and the recipe will be added to your journal. While you can craft weapons and armor, you’ll mostly be crafting adventuring supplies such as fire rags and potions. Cooking is a major crafting area as well and is very well integrated into the other systems. Different dishes have different bonuses, with more complex dishes providing additional bonuses.
Audio and Visual
There is honestly not much to say here, the visuals are to put it simply, functional. Occasionally you’ll come across some interesting monster designs and much of the gear you can equip is unique in design, but most of the terrain and architecture is very plain looking. There’s also tons of small, tiny errors in the terrain with the occasional prop that just looks out of place such as the giant rib cages that look like they’re made of plastic.
Another thing about the visuals that ties in with gameplay is lighting. When it’s supposed to be dark, it is dark. Running out of light in a dungeon is not good situation to be in. While this sounds like an interesting mechanic, it really doesn’t work well when you are outside. If you’ve lived your life in the city, you really don’t realize how dark the great outdoors gets. As someone who does a significant amount of camping in his life trust me, this games gets moonless nights perfectly, which ultimately means you can’t see a darn thing. This makes outdoor navigation a massive pain, even if you have a lantern.
Audio is a bit of a mixed bag as the actual songs aren’t bad, and SFX are serviceable, but whatever system they are using for dynamic music is a bit wonky. I’ll be on my 17th trip back to town to sell off the two swords I looted and suddenly the music will swell into this epic score, usually spooking me a bit in the process. The voice acting is a bit off as well. It really does feel like they just went around the office and said “Hey, you’re not doing anything. Go get into the sound booth!” I really don’t think you’ll miss much by muting the sound and listening to your own stuff, but it won’t hurt the ears to leave their stuff on either.
OK this might be a bit of a controversial view point, but I feel this game has very limited replayability. As I mentioned in the gameplay section, the vast majority of your adventuring effectiveness is in your gear. True, there is the choice of using magic or not, and which of the skill trees you wish to max out, but honestly you’ll probably have a favorite combat style that you’ll want to stick with. The only real reason to replay the game will be to experience all three faction story lines, since once you join a faction, you’re locked out of the others.
As I’ve already stated though, I don’t feel the main quest lines aren’t all that compelling. Certainly not enough for me to want to redo the game from the start. I really feel that whether or not you want to replay this game is going to hang on both how compelling you find the three factions vs how much the gameplay annoys you.
So despite that fact that I just roasted Outward for a perceived lack of replayability, I still feel this game is a good buy. Assuming again, the mechanics sound like your cup of tea. Due to the pacing and the size of the world, this is going to take you a solid 30-40 hours to finish one of the main quest lines. It might take you a little less time for additional playthroughs, but not much so for a $40 game, that’s not bad at all. The devs give an estimate of 40-80 hours to fully experience the game, and I can see someone easily spending 60+ hours in this game if the mechanics happen to click with them. Toss in the fun you can have with a friend or random people on the internet, and Outward will really give you your money’s worth.
If I could give this game two scores I would. This game has a target audience and for them this is easily a 7.5, maybe even an eight. For the average gamer looking for a neat RPG experience to tide them over until Elder Scrolls 6 or Cyperpunk 2077 it would not even come close to that. Very slow pacing, unexplained mechanics, removal of modern systems, clunky combat, all of this adds up to an experience that the average gamer is probably not going to enjoy.
But if you are in that target group, those looking for an RPG that absolutely does not hold your hand and allows you to get hopelessly lost if you don’t pay attention, and will rip you a new one if you mess up, then this game is for you hands down. In the end though, I do need to choose a single score, and I’m going to go with the one I think will reflect the experience most people will have with this game.
If you enjoyed this review be sure to read more with our latest thoughts on action shinobi Sekiro Review: Shinobis Die Many Times. Or you can check out what we thought about CD Projekt Red’s upcoming sci-fi action RPG in Cyberpunk 2077 Preview: When Fallout Meets Blade Runner.