Do you ever feel as though role-playing games are still too guided and restricting? Or do you wish you could share a traditional open-world adventure with a friend in split-screen co-op? If so, then Outward from Nine Dots Studio and publisher Deep Silver may be just the game for you.
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Developer: Nine Dots Studio
Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre: Role-playing game
Modes: Single player, multiplayer
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
An ambitious endeavor
On paper, Outward sounds like a dream for anyone looking for a truly escapist role-playing experience. From the outset it resembles a traditional RPG adventure such as The Elder Scrolls or Dragon Age. Players take control of a shipwrecked local who must set out to regain their fortune and seek their fate.
The divergence from these more traditional RPG’s is immediately apparent going forward however. The quests you are given are extremely vague, with little guidance on how to complete them. There are no objective markers, subtle hints, or obvious paths prodding you in the correct direction. It’s basically up to the player to blindly set forth and achieve whatever broad goal has been given.
Survival of the fittest
On top of a distinct lack of guidance, Outward adapts the genre further by blending in survival elements. RPG veterans are used to having to deal with item management and over-encumbrance, but Outward takes things a step further. Players must also deal with challenges such as hunger and thirst, or heat and cold.
These survival elements really add to Outward’s attempt to be truly immersive. In Outward you won’t be making a bee-line to a HUD marker, completing a check mark list of tasks, and then fast travelling back to town to cash in. Instead you’ll more likely be wandering in the direction you hope will lead to something useful, making sure you stay fed, hydrated, and warm or cool enough along the way.
But where am I?
Like I said, on paper Outward sounds like an escapist’s dream. There is a minimal focus on obvious “video game” mechanics, and a greater emphasis on simply learning to survive, adapt, and succeed in a fantasy open world. Unfortunately, as great as that sounds, it just doesn’t play out that perfectly in practice.
There is no HUD in Outward for example, but even more troublesome is the fact that while there is a very general map with minimal detail, it also does not show your actual position. While I appreciate the level of “realism” this lends, it really makes the game a struggle at times.
Finding something to do
The lack of fast travel or objection markers again speaks to the ambition of Outward. It really makes the game feel like an adventure of your own choosing. That said, the question really becomes just how much adventure is there to find?
Outward does away with experience and leveling mechanics, so there really isn’t any reason to engage in most random combat outside of looting for useful materials. But really, most often these aren’t really valuable enough to justify the effort—especially when the combat mechanics themselves are really just so-so. Unfortunately Outward simply doesn’t have the level of combat polish to match its ambition.
This can make traversing the large open world a bit tedious. While it’s true that there is a level of excitement in setting out across the unknown without traditional immersion-breaking mechanics like markers and magical “paths” to follow, there is not quite enough actual engaging content to make those time-consuming treks always worthwhile.
Looking a bit worn
Outward’s appearance doesn’t really hold up well to today’s standards either. It’s understandable to an extent—I mean of course you can’t expect a smaller developer to have the same crew and resources as bigger RPG developers like Bethesda or Bioware. Nevertheless Outward really looks like a game that’s much older, which makes it a bit harder to look past some of its other shortcomings in gameplay.
This isn’t to say that Outward can’t be an enjoyable experience. In fact, I really appreciate what it’s trying to do with taking away the overtly “video game” elements to create a more immersive and realistic style of adventure.
Truthfully, I think Outward may even be a bit ahead of its time in what it is attempting to accomplish. We are seeing more and more big developers trying to find new ways to make players forget that the game they are playing is in fact a video game. Just look at the strides Rock Star took with Red Dead Redemption 2 this year, and you’ll see how games are evolving in this manner.
Truthfully I expect to see a lot of Outward (though vastly refined) in future releases such as the next Elder Scrolls game. Just imagine travelling around that world without way points or markers, relying more on your senses to guide you than a line on a map, and a near infinite number of ways to accomplish any given task. I think Outward is really on to something special, but its development team just doesn’t have the heft to see it through the way that the big studios will in the coming years.
Quest with a friend
On the brighter side, even if the trip can be a bit droll at least you can share the experience with your best buddy. Not only can Outward be played with a friend online, but it even has the option for split-screen co-op—something almost unheard of in its genre.
For a long time I’ve heard people say they wish they could play their favourite hard-boiled single player RPG games (like Skyrim for example) with a friend. One of Outward’s best features is its implementation of these multiplayer mechanics, and I definitely extend my kudos to the developer for working them into the game.
Outward is an ambitious RPG with incredible ideas, but may just be a bit too ahead of itself
In a sense, Outward is the vision of the one game I truly want. It plants the seeds for a truly immersive role-playing experience where game development outgrows the immersion-breaking tropes and mechanics of the past. It does show just a glimpse in to the potential of what games could become.
Unfortunately Outward just doesn’t quite pull it off. It doesn’t quite get past the real problems that come from eliminating the customary elements of game design that players are used to.
+ Attempts to subvert game expectations and create an immersive experience
+ Multiplayer and split-screen co-op
– Clunky combat and outdated graphics
– No player location on map or fast travel makes traversal tedious
OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF OUTWARD
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 3.5/5
Overall Rating 3.5/5 (70%)
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I go crazy playing it! Really nice!
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