The Outer Worlds (Switch) Review
I was thrilled when I first saw the announcement that The Outer Worlds was on its way to Switch. It was part of the herald of quality, full-fledged games making their way to Switch. A few months ago, The Witcher 3 made its way across, which was a graphical powerhouse on release in 2015 but was old enough to perform… let’s say adequately. While The Outer Worlds is definitely a triple-A experience nestled snugly on a beautiful, portable little console, there are some problems with both the experience and the console that need to be talked about.
If you’re a Nintendo diehard, you might not have played a Fallout title before – even with Bethesda’s strong support for the Switch, and big titles like Doom now available, we’re yet to see the post-apocalyptic series make its debut on a Nintendo system. Well, this is the next best thing: The Outer Worlds takes clear inspiration from Fallout, especially 2010’s Fallout New Vegas – which many of the developers worked on. It’s an RPG with first-person shooter elements, and the level of customisation and roleplay-ability is second to none.
Right off the bat you’ll design your character and allocate skill points to a laundry list of different attributes – want a character who’s intensely charismatic, maybe great with a lockpick, but weedy and weak, who used to be a cashier? The options are there. Or, maybe you’d prefer a farmer, who’s not especially smart or strong but can wield a shotgun like a professional. While it’s not the most balanced title – some builds will definitely succeed more than others – the level of flexibility and player agency is incredible. You’ll allocate more points as you level up, with the ability to really fine-tune exactly the skills you want as you reach higher levels. There’s also Perks, which grant you different bonuses (or detriments) as you see fit. There are ample amounts of both dialogue and combat to flex your skills in, and missions can often be completed in unique ways only specific builds will be able to pull off.
This level of agency and choice continues through most aspects of the game. I tried a run where I killed every single person I saw and was shocked that there are no conditions that result in the game getting broken – any NPC can die and the game reacts and responds to work around it. Melee only characters are finally not shafted in combat, with the game providing powerful enough unarmed and melee boosts early on to make your experience possible how you want to experience it. Speaking of the combat, it’s not bad – it’s certainly not full of visceral thrills or cool stunts but it’s engaging and tactical. You have a variety of weapons and abilities at your disposal, including a very Fallout-esque bullet time mechanic for precise aiming. The Switch actually introduces motion aiming over other versions, of which you can tweak the sensitivity and range for tight corrections or full-on aim (or turn it off). Aim correction and inverted controls are also available if you need it – again, the level of customisation is top-notch. While controllers are never my preferred input for first-person games, this felt very well put together, and never got in the way of me doing what I wanted. It can get a little easy at the end-game though – spend enough time doing things and you’ll be massively overpowered about two-thirds of the way through. This was on the Normal difficulty, and trying to go as fast as possible in a subsequent run through saw this issue mitigated, so your mileage may vary – but I definitely didn’t find it an intense challenge.
So we know how it plays, but the real heart and soul of The Outer Worlds is the story, and it’s very close to almost fantastic, if it weren’t for the infectious disease that lurks just below the surface. Let me elaborate: the writing is funny, fantastic and entertaining the way through. You’re a colonist from Earth who is awoken from cryostasis in a different solar system by a mad scientist who needs your help collecting supplies to awaken the remaining colonists. The Board, the corporate entity that controls the new settlements, is trying to stop him from doing this. Along the way, you’ll discover the true motivations for all the major players, and build a team of misfits to help you with whatever action you want to take. Characters are great – I got very emotionally attached to Parvati, the very first companion you’ll encounter – and the interactions and relationships they have with you and each other are great to watch. The corporatisation of the new solar system has some great black comedy moments, like the dying soldier you meet in the game’s introduction greeting you with a corporate slogan, or the vendor in the game’s hub world who is forced to wear a giant moon mascot mask and not complain about it (despite the fact he’d really, really like to). The whole game is saturated in this anti-corporate sentiment and satire and it’s consistently hilarious.
The undoing for this great story though is ironically the level of player choice. Each main area you visit – four of them – has its own almost episodic individual storyline. Inevitably, the game presents you with two morally grey options, either of which will accomplish the ultimate goal of getting you what you want but at the cost of another party’s happiness or even lives. This is great, and honestly often difficult to think about, and very, very engaging. You can merely brush upon the people involved, and ignore the dialog and just get on with it, but you’ll pass over some really interesting stories. The big problem though is that with enough time and the right set of skills, you’ll always uncover a third, good option, which results in everything being hunky-dory and everyone resolving their differences amicably.
Maybe it’s a statement: maybe the writers wanted to tell us that hey, there’s always an option to be kind to each other, you don’t have to make these difficult decisions if you cooperate. I found that once I discovered the pattern it cheapened the impression of choice since there was in fact always and only one ‘good’ path – nothing I decided mattered. This adds on to the finale of the game, which in keeping with the episodic nature of the pieces that came before it feels completely separate from the rest of the decisions you make. It’s not bad, and in fact is quite fun, challenging and well written, but there are only two endings – the rest wraps up well before. I really should emphasise that while I sound angry, it’s only because I expect more: as I said in the first paragraph, the level of choice really is liberating compared to most games, and in general, everything is great: treat this like a casual, fun experience and not anything too important or meaningful and you’re guaranteed a good time.
It’s time to talk about how this fares as a Switch title and I’m sorry to say that it’s just not a great time. Handheld, everything is absolutely blurred to hell from the outset, with indistinct… well, everything. The screenshots in this review are mostly from the press kit they want to advertise the game with. There’s very very little in the way of shadows, and distant signs and text are close to unreadable. Texture popping is constant. It’s compressed maybe as much as you could theoretically compress it and it still be the game. All this compromise does deliver a playable game though – I rarely had frame drops (although they did happen) and it didn’t impact the gameplay moooost of the time. I did run into the occasional bug where enemies would shoot at me but not visually load in but it was reasonably rare if that’s any defence. Docked, things ran a little smoother, thankfully, and having it a little further from my face smoothed out some of the blurriness issues as well. It’s absolutely a worse experience than on other consoles, but like with other modern ports to the Switch – at what point do you say ‘but it’s ok, at least we have it?’ I can tolerate this, barely. I’m not sure I would have the patience for this to be my primary way to consume these kinds of games though. And I mean… look at the screenshot just up there. It’s kind of a mess.
Ultimately, The Outer Worlds is like a really realistic hole painted on the ground: with a casual approach, you’ll have the experience as it’s meant to be, but get too close and it starts to fall apart a bit. The choice is a little hollow, the visuals blurry. But if you stand back and squint a bit it’s everything it says on the tin, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a bunch of fun playing it.
...that ultimately feels hollow
So, so blurry. Just not good to look at.
A bit easy