Midway by way of Obsidian Entertainment’s new role-playing shooter The Outer Worlds, I met a man miserably enjoying a company mascot, his head semi-permanently enclosed in a massive, ghoulish moon masks. I spoke to him for a number of turns, hoping there was one thing I might do to assist. But if there was a method to enhance his life, he by no means recommended it, and I by no means discovered it.
This encounter seems like an encapsulation of my time enjoying Outer Worlds. Obsidian is maybe finest recognized for creating Fallout: New Vegas, top-of-the-line installments of the post-apocalyptic Fallout collection. Outer Worlds is clearly a non secular sequel to Fallout, that includes a related role-playing system, retro-futuristic aesthetic, and penchant for darkish humor. But Outer Worlds additionally reckons with one of many greatest narrative tensions in Fallout — and role-playing video games typically.
Non-specific spoilers observe for one model of The Outer Worlds’ branching story.
Fallout, like many role-playing collection, is about an successfully superpowered participant navigating a lawless world. Your character often begins in some hidden vault or different remoted backwater, emerges into a post-nuclear-war hellscape, and turns into a wandering white knight, omnicidal monster, or one thing in between. Along the way in which, every sport wants to clarify what makes you so particular — and why the characters you meet, who’ve theoretically survived a long time within the wasteland, are consistently asking you for assist.
The Fallout video games (particularly New Vegas) usually counsel that you just’re extra handy than superhuman. You’re mediating disputes since you’re an outsider, or doing soiled work for extra highly effective folks — both since you’re a newcomer who wants cash, or in the event you’re the kind of virtuous character I play, since you’re actually form of a sucker. But by the tip of the sport, you’re nonetheless probably the most essential folks on the planet.
The Outer Worlds has a related premise. Instead of a Mad Max-inflected Earth with a ‘50s Raygun Gothic aesthetic, it portrays a far future the place the Gilded Age of robber barons by no means ended. Huge corporations with old-timey names like “Auntie Cleo’s” have colonized a photo voltaic system known as Halcyon, turning its planets into nightmarish firm cities, hardscrabble survivalist compounds, or a labyrinthine jail. And as a substitute of coming from a vault, your protagonist is an unfrozen passenger on the Hope, a long-lost ship that apparently holds a few of Earth’s brightest minds in suspended animation.
But Outer Worlds doesn’t hassle with false modesty. From its first couple of minutes, you’re successfully probably the most distinctive folks within the recognized universe, and an eccentric scientist named Phineas Welles has dispatched you to save lots of Halcyon from a horrible destiny. The photo voltaic system has been mismanaged past restore by a corrupt company board. Phineas explains that there’s just one answer. Is it rallying the downtrodden however resourceful folks of Halcyon to overthrow their overlords, drawing on their shared data to construct a higher future? No, that may be foolish. You must unfreeze extra extraordinarily good folks out of your ship, then ask them to save lots of the world.
Outer Worlds is a political polemic constructed on online game logic. As many evaluations have identified, the sport harshly critiques companies that exploit folks. But Phineas’ various isn’t giving extra energy to the exploited. It’s giving Hope passengers the equal of an RPG protagonist’s “good” choice: drop into an unfamiliar society, spend a couple of minutes speaking to the residents, and single-handedly repair all their issues.
You can learn this as a self-aware little bit of meta textual content — most role-playing video games are about noblesse oblige, and Outer Worlds simply cops to it. In-world, although, it’s additionally remarkably darkish social commentary.
Fallout video games, for all their grim set dressing, are about folks constructing a new life within the ruins of a fallen world. Societies have appropriated pre-apocalyptic symbols (from Elvis to the Atom Bomb) in artistic methods, and characters have no less than the phantasm of company. Many of Halcyon’s inhabitants, against this, appear irreparably damaged by capitalism. Company city residents endure below horrific and draconian guidelines, too, indoctrinated by company propaganda to think about a higher life. Defectors are both indiscriminately violent “marauders,” rebels who’re revealed to be callous and bitter, or real idealists who battle to make a distinction.
I’m used to the ridiculously highly effective dialog choices in Fallout video games. But I felt nearly responsible utilizing speech checks in Outer Worlds, as a result of its characters appeared so pathetically desirous to be manipulated. I might stroll away from fights by giving safety guards a uncommon phrase of kindness, or infiltrate an workplace by transparently enjoying on company lackeys’ insecurities. It’s as if Halcyon’s creaky, decaying companies poison everybody they contact — and the Hope’s passengers aren’t merely good or robust, they’re uncorrupted by the rot. No surprise Phineas is so concerned about them.
But over dozens of hours of planet-hopping, Outer Worlds undercuts these neat technocratic options. It’s arduous to really feel like a good particular person in Halcyon. If any individual asks you to save lots of their assistant from monsters, your reward is listening to about how a lifeless protege would have broken their profession. Help any individual discover their fallen comrades, they usually’ll become not directly concerned within the killing. The sport’s creepiest quest has you examine an “early retirement” program for underprivileged residents. It’s far extra horrific than it sounds… however you’ll be able to’t do something to vary it, and within the context of Halcyon’s forms, that makes excellent sense.
Outer Worlds ends with an epilogue just like Fallout: New Vegas’, with a narrator explaining the way you formed Halcyon’s future. Unlike Fallout, The Outer Worlds presents a fairly clearly “good” and “evil” closing selection, not a handful of morally different choices. My good resolution, although, made me really feel surprisingly small. Yes, I had technically saved Halcyon. But I’d achieved it by nudging the levers in a system that was far too large to manage, then watching the consequences play out as soon as they have been too late to cease. I didn’t really feel like a hero forging my very own future — simply a cog turning the wheels of historical past, like all people else.