The Outer Worlds

FBT is in the Outer Worlds and over Borderlands in the latest sci-fi shoot n loot RPG.

Isn’t ‘Outer Worlds’ just a different way of saying Borderlands? Comic sci-fi open-world shooter-looter-RPG set in rotting wastelands ruled by soulless corporations, cartoon colour-schemes, raiders who run directly at your gun barrel, Pandora-like creatures, weapons with elemental damage, vending machines, comically indifferent characters… Well, can’t be any worse than Borderlands 3 can it?

No wait, this isn’t Borderlands, it’s Fallout. We’ve got followers, slo-mo deaths, an inventory that needs management and tinkering, terminals, endless food items that grant brief perks, reputation, multiple-choice answers, cannibals… we can even be over-encumbered. Plus, this is from Obsidian, who did Fallout New Vegas.

No hang on, it’s Mass Effect. We’ve got a ship with a quirky AI, companions with loyalty missions, moral decisions to make, and … who’d have thought sci-fi RPG could become so generic? So what is Mass Fallouterlands about? As if I hadn’t guessed.

As usual in the future, mega-corps own the universe. Two ships, the Hope and the Groundbreaker set off for the Halcyon system, with the crew cryosleep. While the Groundbreaker arrives, the Hope is lost. Until, years later, crackpot scientist Welles discovers it. Only able to defrost one of the crew, who has developed better reactions (bullet-time) and better intelligence (skill-tree) while on ice, Welles sends us to Halcyon for help.

Unsurprisingly, Halcyon has become corrupt under the mega-corps (now a hyper-conglomerate called The Board) and society has broken down with bandits, war lords and crime lords making life difficult for the settlers who eke out a living in the mining towns, factories and harsh conditions in Halcyon. It’s up to us to either bring it all down or make it right as we search for a way to defrost the Hope’s popsicle population.

For the first hour I just sigh my way through this; it is like my Steam Library corrupted and merged every RPG I’ve played, it’s like someone modded Fallout with Borderlands skins. This is like gaming’s equivalent of a cover band. And then, suddenly, I’m wrong.

I’m having way too much fun to dismiss this as a reheat. This is exactly what I want from a sci-fi RPG. This is the game Borderlands 3 should have been, the game Fallout 4 should have been, the game Mass Effect Andromeda should have been, the game Rage 2 thinks it is – RPGs have become self-important and bloated; Outer Worlds isn’t original, but it strips it all back to what made RPG-shooters original.

Our ship, the ‘Unreliable’ is the antithesis of the Normandy; a battered scow of a freighter that acts as a base as you bounce around the planets within Halcyon picking up waifs and strays who become followers; but they are more self-serving and dysfunctional than I am.

The first, and best, is Parvati, a nervy mechanic who tags along because she’s told to. At first she seems like the typical NPC who just explains things, but her adorable, jumpy attitude grows on you, and we can help her gain the confidence to date another engineer which is so good. She’s accompanied by ‘Vicar Max’ who is anything but a man of the cloth, wiseacre and sawbones Ellie, scruffy Felix and drunk gunslinger Nyoka, and a bot, ‘SAM’ – who’s not exactly Legion; its actually the ship’s janitor - we swap out his detergent with acid and let him think he’s literally ‘cleaning up’ by dissolving baddies; and he can be found dusting when on downtime. They’re the best of the worst, a pure motley crew and it’s a painful process picking who comes along, they’re all so good – I always pick Parvati though; when you’re faced with a moral choice, she’ll pop up to prick at your conscience…

While there is a familiarity to the worlds, mostly a mashup between the future-western and retro-future styles, it just has a really nice vibrance and energy to it. As we make our way through the system, it appears The Board are not entirely evil, just realistically inept, and that Welles might be just an anarchist with an axe to grind. But who cares about all that?

The fun is in running about the planets and cities, meddling. There’s not one dud mission or quest and it’s perfectly balanced, an old-school RPG; it’s on you to decide what kind of person you are, but it’s not overwrought like so many RPGs nowadays, it just sets up what we’re here for and then gets out the way, letting us have the fun. You can even turn flaws into a positive – certain playstyles you adopt are flagged and can be permanently hobbled in return for perks.

The key thing though is this is a fairly short romp, a far cry from the 50-hour-plus overstuffed Ubisoft RPGs nowadays. But it doesn’t feel bare, it’s timed just right to feel like you’re accomplishing something, getting somewhere. We’re out of our depth, but never drowning. I actually understood what was happening in the main mission, instead of watching a dramatic cut-scene thinking ‘who are they again?’

2019 also saw the release of Crackdown 3, and that is terrible for the same reasons I pre-judged Outer Worlds – it aped the Just Cause/Saint’s Row style so closely it felt lazy and tired; but Outer Worlds isn't aping a style, its gone back to the basics we loved. It is true that Outer Worlds adds nothing to the genre but RPG has been as plundered as a cave in Oblivion – there’s nothing left to explore, it just comes down to how you do it and Outer Worlds knows exactly how - it aces the RPG experience, instead of over-engineering or over-stuffing it, Outer Worlds makes you feel you’re here for a good time not a long time.