The Outer Worlds from Obsidian Entertainment was my favorite game of 2019, and I already replayed it on PC in early 2020. It was an excellent role-playing game with tons of great shooter and melee combat, fantastic writing and characters, and storytelling. It has now arrived on the Nintendo Switch as an absolute hot mess of a full-priced port.
I recommend you avoid it until significant patching and price drops occur — unless you only have the Switch as a gaming option, in which case you might still love it as much as I did despite the warts.
Here are the basics about The Outer Worlds:
The Outer Worlds is a new single-player sci-fi RPG from Obsidian Entertainment and Private Division.
Lost in transit while on a colonist ship bound for the furthest edge of the galaxy, you awake decades later than you expected only to find yourself in the midst of a deep conspiracy threatening to destroy the Halcyon colony.
As you explore the furthest reaches of space and encounter a host of factions all vying for power, who you decide to become will determine the fate of everyone in Halcyon.
In the corporate equation for the colony, you are the unplanned variable.
Story: Obsidian Entertainment is known for producing the best and most interesting stories in the role-playing world. They were formed by people with resumes, including the legendary Baldur’s Gate and Fallout games of the 90s, and have themselves created most of the best-written role-playing games of the past 15 years. These include Neverwinter Nights 2, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2, Fallout New Vegas, Tyranny, Pillars of Eternity 1 & 2, and more.
The Outer World jumps right in with a compelling premise and a wild set of characters. You will never be bored from a lack of exciting quests and interactions. As always, with Obsidian, your choices have consequences, and you can align yourself in a variety of ways to get to several possible outcomes and endings.
To me, the story was what kept me engaged and coming back for more. Obsidian delivered more of their incredible characters and companions, each of whom has their own backstory and motivations and will try to either influence you or seek your approval for their own desires. Fortunately, the game we got on the Switch is complete and has all of the characters, quests, and story intact.
Graphics: How do I say this politely? The graphics on the Switch port are a mess. I am not a huge critic of graphics in portable versions of games – I will be very forgiving to get a game ‘on the go.’ Plenty of Switch ports of PC games such as Doom (2016), Wolfenstein II: New Colossus, Diablo III, Civilization VI, and of course, the recent The Witcher 3 all look great while each had to make small compromises.
For The Outer Worlds, the compromises were VERY significant, particularly when playing in handheld mode. When playing, docked things are significantly better, but still a significant step-down from playing on PC or consoles. In handheld mode (my preference), textures are mushy, details are washed out, the color palette is squashed, and the open areas suffer from significant pop-in of not just details but enemies and other characters.
As a result, it is possible to run down the road that looks empty and suddenly find yourself in the midst of a battle with enemies who popped in out of nowhere. This also happens to buildings and signs – you will just see blurry blobs until you are right on top of things. As I said, it is better in docked mode – but still not great because of performance.
What bothered me even more was that the graphic quality and performance was inconsistent throughout the game. You get used to the game looking like it was a decade old or more, then suddenly you see a few gorgeous areas with butter-smooth performance, which just makes it more jarring when you come upon a sign that you can’t read until it is right in front of you.
Performance: Porting house Private Division said they were targeting 1080p docked and 720p in handheld mode with 30 frames per second locked. It turns out that it was more like ‘wishful thinking.’ I have already discussed the mediocre graphics, but the bigger problem was all of the frame rate dips as I wandered the world. Not only could enemies pop in, but as the game lagged trying to catch up with frames, you could take loads of damage waiting for the sluggish controls and also waste loads of precious ammo.
The game doesn’t feel like it was polished enough to release. There was a ‘day one patch’ that helped things compared to previews I have seen/read, but it feels like a long way to go to have a satisfying game. While playing the game, there was another patch bringing the game to 1.01, which also helped a bit. But unfortunately, the game remains ‘fully up to date’ at the 1.01 patch. In comparison, my PC version has already had the 1.04 patch for a while. To make matters worse, Obsidian & Private Division even said, “Patch 1.4 has been released to all employees” when announcing it on Twitter – and has not made any comments on the Switch patch or responded to questions. The last communication was in late June, saying ‘working on it.’
Based on this, I would say that we need to assume that the 1.01 version is ‘end state’ for the Switch. And that is sad because while the game was one of my favorites — not just for 2019 but in general for recent years — but on the Switch, it is pretty tough to recommend due to performance and graphics.
Gameplay: The Outer Worlds is a combination FPS-RPG (first-person shooter and role-playing game), and in the manner typical for the genre, when you enter combat, your success is based on your personal ability to aim and time strikes and blocks, and also modifiers based on your characters skills and attributes. So you could play the game with a melee-focused brute and find your pistol much less useful than if you were a smaller, more dextrous character with skills focused on aim and concentration.
Aside from the performance issues, this style of game adapts pretty well on the Switch – and along with the story is the reason I played it to completion in handheld mode! Once I worked out a system to deal with enemies appearing spontaneously, it became fun to try out a variety of weapons and techniques – and since each enemy has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, it is critical that you develop an understanding of how to address those before you end up dead.
Because of the complex three-tier attribute/skill/perk system that all interact and influence everything you do, there is a need to focus on a couple of combat and non-combat areas to ensure success in all but the easiest play mode. For example, in my main playthrough, I was a science-focused melee combat character with high levels of diplomacy. That allowed me to maximize a cool science-based melee weapon (and getting that was a quest item itself!) but meant I wasn’t very skilled at opening locks or hacking computers. My gun skills were also very weak, but fortunately, you can bring along up to two companions on missions, which allows you to have a ranged sniper and hacker with you to complement your skills.
Controls: The Outer Worlds plays like a fairly standard first-person action-RPG. Using FPS-style console controls, most gamers will recognize augmented by the Switch’s gyroscope controls, which themselves can be tweaked to your liking. I will always prefer the keyboard & mouse control system, but whereas earlier handheld systems had inferior controls, I never felt like the controls in The Outer World held me back.
Conclusions: I wrestled with whether to title this review ‘even inconsistent graphics and erratic performance couldn’t kill my love for this game.’ But what I realized was that if I didn’t ALREADY love this game —and know it was worth working through the issues — I would likely have quit after a few hours and lamented the money lost in the purchase.
And that is how I end up calling this a ‘hot mess of a great game’ – yes, The Outer Worlds IS a great game, even on the Switch. There are so many classic gaming moments to explore – pretty much everything with Pavarti is a gem – and the breadth and variety of things to do, explore and destroy just make it a blast. BUT … you DO need to get past the graphics and performance – and that means fundamentally changing how you play the game compared to other systems. And – that is something it is hard for me to recommend.
Source: Personal Purchase
Price: $19.99 for The Outer Worlds from the Nintendo eShop.
What I Like: Excellent story; Intuitive control scheme; Tons of quests; Many hidden items/unlockables; Great skill trees; A variety of play styles and difficulty levels increases replay value to high level
What Needs Improvement: Inconsistent graphical quality and performance; Overall performance leads to difficult fights and adaptive strategies; Patches lag way behind PC and consoles