I’m a woman of simple pleasures. I don’t ask for much. I like fresh bread, Kesha’s Rainbow and story-driven games that make me reevaluate how I see myself and the world. The Outer Worlds delivers. I went into this game thinking that it would essentially be Fallout In Space, and to a degree, it kind of is. The mechanics and feel are reminiscent of Fallout: New Vegas (conveniently, which was also made by genre kings Obsidian) and in the first few hours, I actually forgot a couple of times that I wasn’t actually playing Fallout. Personally, I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. The Outer Worlds takes all the best things from its spiritual predecessor to bring us something snappy, witty, and new– while also having the warmth of familiarity.
In The Outer Worlds, you play a space colonist awoken from hibernation after your colony ship was left abandoned for decades.
You are defrosted by Phineas Welles, a wanted criminal — and a curious ringer for Doc Brown. He tasks you with helping him save your new home, Halycon, from societal breakdown. It’s a lot to take on. You’re unceremoniously plopped on a brand new planet, thrown into the wilds, running off like a person who’s been cryogenically frozen for several decades and is experiencing moderate-to-severe muscle atrophy and has to relearn fine motor skills.
Sure enough, you find a colony utterly failing. It’s a society colonized and ruled by a corporation known as The Board, an omnipresent collective of the 10 companies that own everything. The Board promises “guaranteed lifetime employment,” also known in some circles as “indentured servitude.”
Every citizen is indentured to the Board. They’re mere cogs in its profit machine. All aspects of a person’s life are engineered to deliver on KPIs and maximum profits for the faceless Board. Cost-cutting measures mean workers are often sick and hungry, and need to prove to their bosses-come-mayors that they deserve access to the town’s limited supply of medicines. It’s a giant snake that is perpetually eating itself- mostly because there’s not much else to eat.
It’s a grim universe, but paradoxically one bursting with personality and humor. Mostly in an ironic “the neon lights from this advertising drone really highlights my malnourished cheekbones” kind of way. The game has lots of heart, and some of the best companions I’ve come across in an RPG. I think this, personally, is where the connection between Fallout and Outer Worlds is strongest: The Outer Worlds brings back the biting humor and satire of the early Fallout games, which has been diluted in recent years.
When the game was announced at E3, the developers were quick to clarify the game would not be “politically charged”, but it would be political. It’s a fine line to tread, and Obsidian treads it well. You can play The Outer Worlds any way you want. You can even go on a rampage and kill everyone you come across, if you’re so inclined.
I don’t recommend that path, since exploring and picking apart power imbalances in an ultra-capitalist society is so compelling. You meet all kinds of people from all rungs on the corporate ladder, all with their own outlook on the way things are run. The writing is tight and has plenty of nuance. You’ll never feel like it’s lecturing you one way or another, and that’s what makes it so great.
The problems you are faced with throughout the game are classic ethical thought experiments — there’s the standard trolley problem and the drowning child analogy. The gang’s all here. What sets it apart, however, is the story and setting.
I couldn’t help but see Halycon as a potential end point for us here on Earth, in the age of the climate crisis and private space companies. This game quickly became a window into our distant future: It’s all too easy for me to envisionbuying an entire space system any day now. So I naturally saw it as a way to flex my revolutionary muscles. I went into it with Super Antiestablishment Mode engaged, ready to tear down the Board with my recently defrosted bare hands.
Turns out, negotiating the survival of an entire society at the edge of a distant galaxy is a lot harder than simply flipping off the Moon Man and decimating the structures people depend on — even if said structures function on the fact that they bleed those same people dry. It’s less fun being a devil-may-care revolutionary when you feel the weight of peoples’ lives depending on your choices, even if those people are computer generated. These ethical problems are meant to be difficult, after all.
I came into this game expecting to resist the Board at every opportunity and head down the most radical path, consequences be damned. But The Outer Worlds made it hard. Sometimes you have to cut off the small but prosperous community of dissidents in favor of the corporate-run town — because fewer people suffer that way. It’s one thing to think about it, it’s a whole other thing to flick the switch and see the consequences play out before your eyes.
The characters and scenarios of Halcyon wormed their way into my brain and wouldn’t let go. I’m still thinking about The Outer Worlds several days after finishing. I’m aching to play it all over again, to make different choices and see the impact. The Outer Worlds invites engagement and empathy on a level you just don’t find in other forms of storytelling.
It’s a Revolution Simulator, letting you see how your choices would play out in dire circumstances: Could we cope with the possible destruction of the fabric of our society or would we all just spontaneously combust? In The Outer Worlds it’s entirely up to you.