PAX East Spotlight: The Outer Worlds

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Waiting in line sucks. This is the thought that went through my head on Saturday of PAX East, corralled to one side of the convention center hallway a little too closely to my fellow con-goers after two long days on my feet. Realizing this was going to be my fate for the next hour, I found myself questioning whether The Outer Worlds panel was even worth it. Spoilers: it was.

Hosted by co-directors Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, lead writer Megan Starks, and lead game designer Charles Staples, the hour-long session showcased gameplay and provided a ton of new details for Obsidian’s newest RPG. I was already looking forward to The Outer Worlds, and after this panel I can confidently say it’s one of my most-anticipated upcoming games.

After telling us a bit about themselves and how they all ended up working together, the developers jumped right into a live gameplay demo. This was an alpha build, so a few notable things were missing - namely, voice acting - but I think it still provided an excellent preview as to what players can expect from the finished product.

The demo took place in Byzantium, a city populated by the setting’s upper-class, whose Art Deco aesthetic reminded me of a pre-downfall Rapture from Bioshock. The devs were quick to point out that Byzantium isn’t quite as polished as it seems, noting cracks in the masonry and buildings closed due to quarantine. Advertisements (for in-game companies, not Doritos) are ubiquitous, affixed on the walls of every building and circling the streets on the sides of patrolling drones. It’s clear to me that, like the aforementioned Rapture or Fallout’s Wasteland, the team at Obsidian has put a ton of thought and attention into crafting the game’s setting, which will make exploration an immersive, rewarding experience.

I’m not sure if the player’s co-stars knew there were live weapons on set.

I’m not sure if the player’s co-stars knew there were live weapons on set.

For this particular demo, the player character was on their way to a film studio to audition for a propaganda movie after being noticed by the director in a previous encounter. Here, we see some of the game’s tongue-in-cheek humor and dialogue choices, as the player runs their lines with fellow actors and can choose to ham it up or play the strong, silent type. Several dialogue choices were gated behind skill checks, a popular feature in many older RPGs that a lot of fans are excited to see make a comeback. The audition quickly turns into a combat encounter, as the director has chosen to use live weapons for “authenticity” during the audition.

This particular weapon is called “The Mandibular Rearranger” for obvious reasons, judging by that guy’s face.

This particular weapon is called “The Mandibular Rearranger” for obvious reasons, judging by that guy’s face.

In combat, we see ‘Tactical Time Dilation,’ an ability that allows the player to slow time to a crawl and target specific body parts to inflict status effects - essentially Fallout’s V.A.T.S. Unlike Fallout, The Outer Worlds allows you to bring multiple companions along with you on your adventure, whom you can equip with weapons, armor and perks. Companions seem to follow their own A.I. in combat, but the player will be able to manually trigger their special abilities, which are on a cooldown. There are a variety of both guns and melee weapons for the player to choose from, along with various weapon types (like fire, corrosion, laser, etc.), although the devs admitted The Outer Worlds’ arsenal is nowhere as extensive as something like Borderlands.

And if you’re not looking for a combat-heavy experience during your playthrough of The Outer Worlds, there will be plenty of other ways to navigate the game’s story. During the question and answer portion of the panel, the devs explained that they’ve designated thirteen different play styles - like stealth, persuasion, or guns blazing - for their QA team to utilize, ensuring that a wide variety of approaches to gameplay will be viable; some may be more challenging than others, but you will still be able to complete the game no matter how you choose to play.

Overall, the PAX East panel really solidified my belief that The Outer Worlds is going to be a fantastic role-playing experience. With more recent titles like Skyrim and Fallout 4 stripping away a lot of the RPG minutiae in favor of a more streamlined, mainstream experience, it’s really exciting to see Obsidian embracing these aspects of the genre. I can’t say the combat looked all that impressive or innovative, but it didn’t seem clunky or boring either; frankly, I’m much more excited in exploring and enjoying a fantastic story in this type of game than achieving blood-soaked, gunplay nirvana. And If the developers’ credentials weren’t enough, the glimpse we got at the intriguing setting and characters has left me confident that The Outer Worlds is in extremely capable storytelling hands.