Like any medium that slowly transitions into sophistication, modern video games are increasingly paying homage to the classics. As the age of the average gamer gets older and computing technology becomes more sophisticated, any reminder of the old days taps into a deep-rooted nostalgia that warms the heart of those old enough to remember. No other game in 2019 better exemplifies this reverence to the past than The Outer Worlds. A space-western themed adventure, The Outer Worlds doesn’t try anything new. Instead of attempting to amaze you with new cutting edge features, The Outer Worlds just simply reminds you what makes video games fun in the first place.
Within the first few hours of The Outer Worlds the player is immediately hit with reference after reference to older classics of the RPG genre. The character creation at the beginning is shockingly similar to any Fallout game, and the intro sequence steals numerous shots from the intro to Bioshock. The time dilation power, a mechanic that lets the player slow down time, is identical to the Dead Eye mechanic in Red Dead Redemption. These are just a few notable ones — veteran gamers will undoubtedly spend hours finding all the little tributes littered throughout the game. However, despite the constant copying, The Outer Worlds still maintains its own distinct identity. Like a Quentin Tarantino movie, The Outer Worlds remixes successful aspects of older games and merges them into a 1940’s art deco-inspired space frontier that carries a dark humor while also being whimsically cute.
You play as a space colonist who, after being frozen in cryo-sleep for years, is awoken to a galactic frontier controlled by feudalistic corporations. After establishing their bearings and acquiring a spaceship, the player is free to explore the galaxy. Open world but not truly an open world, The Outer Worlds is split into planets, dividing the game into smaller regions of exploration. This means you can’t aimlessly walk to the edges of the world in search of adventure. Rarely did I find serendipitous encounters, and most exploration felt contrived, but it was never to the point to make me stop playing. Fortunately, each planet has its own unique feel — some have exotic wildlife and megafauna, while others boast futuristic cities and sweatshop-like factories.
With exploration limited, the core of your adventure is the relationships you forge with characters and factions within the world. Some characters can become your travel companions, aiding you on mission and in combat. The Outer Worlds has a surprising amount of depth in its companion customization. Companions have their own skill trees, equipment loadouts, combat perks and special abilities. Refreshingly, non-combat skills actually seemed to matter. Missions can sometimes be completed diplomatically and a shrewd choice of words can unlock secrets that combat never could. Mastery of dialogue, engineering, hacking, and other non fighting based abilities had tangible effects on the game world. You’ll be regularly mixing and matching different companions based on the context of the mission because nothing is ever one size fits all.
In a traditional Fallout fashion, the decisions you make tend to lie within morally grey territory and ultimately have an effect on the outcome of the story. Nothing you ever do, however, is so drastic as to permanently change the game. The Outer Worlds isn’t trying to push edges — it just wants the player to have fun. Though the choices will always be moral quandaries, you’ll always come back even if you made a supposedly “wrong” decision.
It’s hard to come by a game like The Outer Worlds in 2019. In an era where most games are trying to be experimental or change the industry, many forget that fun should always be the focus. Borrowing successful elements from classic titles, The Outer Worlds is a good ol’ fashion video game. With all its homages, it reminds gamers of the fun we used to have as kids and assures us that this fun still lives today.