General game information
Game name: Outward
Release date: March 26, 2019
Store page: Steam
Genre: Open world action RPG
Developer: Nine Dots Studio
Publisher: Deep Silver
As I’ve admitted before, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Outward until they released a dev blog talking about… backpacks. There are a lot of great open world RPGs doing the rounds nowadays, but as far as I know, not a single one of them has ever been marketed with a trailer showcasing tactical backpack usage, so I can safely say that I found that video not only impressive from a marketing standpoint, but also quite intriguing, as it quickly managed to set Outward apart from the pack.
Fast forward two weeks, and I’ve managed to get my grubby hands on an early build of the game, so if you wish to know my thoughts on this intriguing open world RPG, you only need to continue reading.
Outward starts like so many RPGs before it, with a catastrophe kick-starting the hero’s sense of adventure into high gear. Only here we are not exactly a hero, and the event that sends us off into the wild is not a world-altering menace that can only be defeated by the Chosen One. In Outward, we play as a normal person, forced to gather enough coin to pay a debt before the enraged villagers take away our home.
With this objective in mind, I gathered as much stuff as I could and left through the city’s gates, head held up high, and heart bursting at the seams with the desire to prove all these villagers how useful I was. My pride would quickly take a few hits, however, as a demonic creature pummeled me into submission with its talons (I later found out that the creature was some sort of super-sized dodo). Managing to stave off its attacks with a few of my own, I realized that I’d lost the backpack I’d dropped at the beginning of the fight, and since the night was quickly closing in, I had to find it fast, or I might lose the meager supplies I’d gathered while I was in the town. Of course, things don’t always go as we want them to, and the light of my torch attracted some unwanted attention from a group of shady-looking people (who I hilariously confused with traveling merchants at first). A few smacks later, and I was looking at a loading screen…
Interestingly, that didn’t send me back to a checkpoint or the menu. Instead, my character woke up in some sort of fortress, missing all her cash, and with a few extra bruises on top of the ones that had been acquired during the fight with the
demonic creature dodo. Turns out I’d been captured by a band of marauders who decided I was worth more to them alive than dead. Thankfully, they’d also picked up my backpack, so when I eventually escaped their hideout, I also recovered my crafting materials and extra bed rolls (yes, you need to take that with you if you aren’t in a town, because lack of sleep ends up affecting your character’s health).
After a few more close shaves, I realized that Outward doesn’t treat defeat the same way that most RPGs do. Instead of just dying and getting to reload, we’ll be captured by bandits if they were the source of our troubles, or rescued by kind hearted strangers if we were mauled to bits by a vicious animal. From one of these encounters, I got a new backpack that wouldn’t carry as much as my older one, but crucially, would let me roll during combat without having to unequip it.
Remember when I said that the reason for my character’s abrupt wish for adventuring was actually that she had to pay a debt? Well, I forgot to mention that I had to pay that debt within a five days time frame, something that sure as heck wasn’t going to happen after all these close calls and narrow escapes. Outward autosaves all the time, so there’s no loading a previous save and retrying here. Should I just leave my home town and try to make it in the wilds as an adventurer? By this point in time, I was completely lost in the great outdoors (your map keeps track of points of interest, but won’t tell you exactly where you are, since this is a fantasy game and there’s no tech for a GPS). Judiciously, I decided to start over again, and this time, I played the tutorial (which is not only pretty long and detailed, but incredibly helpful, considering all the systems that make up this game).
After spending almost half an hour learning how to play, I started a new game, and this time around, I gathered all the stuff I could from the starter town, cashed in the things that weren’t essential to my survival in the wilds, and went to talk with the trainers, who were happy to teach me a few skills in exchange for a bag of cash (incidentally, the silver coins I was carrying weigh something, so you a good tip is to stash all your cash before going out of the city, unless you are sure that you will have a use for it outside). With this newfound knowledge and two extra quests in my journal, I headed out again, ready for adventure.
I decided to try to complete one of the two quests I’d accepted back in town, as it’d net me enough cash to pay half my debt, and the description didn’t sound too bad. According to the lady who hired me, she required a certain item from a cave where some bandits were holed up. The item wouldn’t be directly in the possession of one of these miscreants, so I should be able to sneak past them and snatch it without getting into any scraps. After spending fifteen minutes or so searching for the cave, I managed to slip inside undetected, my heart racing as my character channeled her inner Sam Fisher through the dark corridors of the underworld. It was hard work, made even harder by the certainty that if I got detected, there would be no hurried quickloads or anything of the sort. Thankfully, the game’s somewhat limited AI worked in my favor, and I was able to grab not only the MacGuffin I was looking for, but also a few stray tools that would fetch a nice price back in town. I beat a hasty retreat, and with my heart full of glee, escaped the cave a bit richer than I’d entered it. Of course, all the time I spent sneaking through barely lit corridors meant that it was now dark outside as well, so I had to eat (there are limited survival mechanics, and our character must eat and drink in order to function at peak efficiency) and set up my camp in order to get a good night’s rest. The camping system is simple but at the same time different enough from titles like Skyrim to feel fresh. Instead of just choosing how many hours we wish to spend dreaming of angels and riches, we should also mount guard and set aside some time to repair our gear.
The night didn’t present any complications, and after fighting a pack of wild creatures that seemed very interested in my person (and who were VERY afraid of fire once I started showing off my all-new skills), I collected their remains and started the long walk home. Once I entered the town and collected my reward, sold the tools I’d stolen from the bandits, and finally had enough cash to pay my debt. Since this quest line seems to be part of the main story in the full game, I won’t spoil what happened next, but I now had access to my own house again, so I stashed all the extra materials there and prepared to head off again, only this time in co-op.
Yes, you read that right. Outward supports cooperative gameplay for up to two players, local or online. I didn’t have too much trouble setting up a session (basically, your single-player game becomes a co-op match at the press of a button, though you lose the ability to pause once you do that). There are a few limitations that are seemingly tech-related, as I couldn’t go outside of the city without my partner (or enter any dungeons on my own). Thankfully, we could explore the expansive outdoors area, going to very different sides of the map without getting a single warning that we were too far from one another.
My co-op partner was a bit more aggressive than I’d been so far, so we got in a few extra scraps (not all of which ended in our favor). This also let me evaluate the combat system a bit more in depth, and while it’s perfectly serviceable (there’s a stamina management aspect and a stability meter that works for both the player and their enemies), I believe that it could use a fair amount of work in the animation department, as attacks feel weightless and it’s hard to judge our reach while engaging in melee combat. Magic seems a lot more impressive, though it requires resources in order to reach its full potential, so we didn’t engage in too many fireball contests (casting my fire spell was also a far more engaging experience than in similar games, as I first had to draw a sort of magic circle around me, and only then would my fireball become bigger than a spark). I wasn’t able to get my hands on a gun, but I did acquire a bow, and my experience with ranged combat was similar to what I’ve just said about CQC. It currently feels weightless and relatively imprecise. Hopefully the development team will have enough time to improve on this front.
Aside from that criticism, I am completely sold on Outward, as even in this unfinished build, it offers an experience that very few modern open world RPGs can match, full of player choice and systems that we might not even notice they are there until we stumble upon them.