A Familiar Journey
HIGH Finding a sweet new backpack to carry more stuff in.
LOW The combat is super, super basic.
WTF The best backpack I found was two treasure chests lashed together with a belt.
Prior to release, I liked the sound of what Outward was trying to do. Players weren’t going to be the chosen one in this game, see – no, they’d just a nameless pleb trying to eke out a meager existence. Head out and live the best life possible within your shallow destiny, lowly peon, and leave the heroism for someone that actually matters. This subversion of expectations sounded awesome, to be honest — hit the open trail and see what’s possible for an average Joe. There’s only one problem with this setup — it’s soon proven to be complete nonsense.
Several hours into Outward I was decked out in plate mail and swinging around a massive iron rod, storming a nearby fortress and fending off a bandit invasion. Not exactly the work of an ‘average’ person by any standard, and this was just one isolated example. Pretty much everyone this ‘average joe’ meets in the open world is a mindless homicidal brigand or a rampaging monster, so make no mistake – it’s a traditional third-person action RPG at heart.
Where Outward actually tries to set itself apart are its survival elements. Plate mail might be good at stopping arrows, but it’s not much use when on a mountaintop freezing to death, or when trying to find water in the desert. This survival concept’s a good one, but it doesn’t hit as hard as it should – water is incredibly easy to find, and aside from one suckerpunch moment where the weather went deathly cold miles from safety, I never felt overly threatened by environmental hazards.
Likewise, there’s an emphasis on minutiae such as selecting a decent backpack for the journey – some don’t have handles for lanterns to hang off, which restricts visibility and weapon choice, others may have benefits such as keeping food fresh longer, and the like. Similarly, it’s a good idea to shuck the damn thing off when entering combat, as fighting with a backpack twice the player’s weight is a good way to get killed – but then, it has to be retrieved in order to regain use of its contents. Again, a good idea in theory, but it’s only a slight step above standard encumbrance that’s been in these types of games since ever.
Outward‘s combat is weak. Whack away at an opponent, wait until stamina refills, then go at it again and block when required — there’s little subtlety or nuance to it. Naturally, enemies don’t seem to have stamina considerations like the player, and they attack relentlessly. In the early days it’s entirely possible to get mauled by weak enemies if things go sideways, so it’s best to approach each encounter cautiously.
While there’s no consequential death in the game, characters may have to retrieve their backpacks or escape from prison in order to resume their adventures. As such, planning each step of the journey in advance is the order of the day. The game autosaves aggressively and going back to an earlier file isn’t possible, so prevention is better than cure when approaching risky situations.
Unfortunately, Outward is host to some bugs – I’ve dropped my backpack and watched it fall through the world upon entering combat, nearly losing all of my progress if not for a speedy shutdown from the PS4 dashboard. On a few occasions I’ve wound up stuck in the scenery which, given the single character save and no fast travel, is more terrifying than it sounds. Any time I thought something might be going sideways, I reloaded without saving just in case my entire playthrough became a casualty.
It probably sounds like I had a miserable time with Outward, but that’s not quite the case. No, it provides an enjoyably average experience for fans of the genre, so it’s not necessarily a bad time — players just need to be prepared to put up with low-budget jank. Good moments like waking up to find snowclouds drifting in is a fairly absorbing experience, and just puttering around in the world is, in and of itself, pleasant enough when timed quests aren’t ruining the enjoyment.
Also, the multiplayer component is reasonably well-done. While the enemy AI isn’t up to dealing with two players attacking them from the front and the back, simply traveling through Outward with a friend along for the ride improves everything.
Outward‘s main issues are that it’s an average experience with a lot of competition to contend with, and that it doesn’t lean into its core concept hard enough. It would never have stood apart from the crowd with its production values, but it had a chance (and missed) at making a mark by failing to establish a truly unique identity.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Nine Dots Studio and published by Deep Silver. It is currently available on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 35 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 2 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Mature and contains Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity and Violence. Honestly, ‘Mature’ rating my arse. Sure, there’s the occasional corpse and bloodstain strewn around each environment but there’s nothing here that wouldn’t be suitable for teen players.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I don’t think there’s much of an issue here. Dialogue is subtitled, and most encounters can be seen coming long before they happen so a bit of caution should be enough to minimize unexpected attacks.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
The chance discovery of a muddy, burnt out copy of '50 Shades of Grey' in a hunting pit gave him an appreciation for complex plots, characters and overarching narrative, and the unexpected gift of a Spectrum 48k allowed him to indulge in these newfound sensibilities with intelligent, highbrow games such as 'flee from the badly animated spinning turquoise dolphins' or 'avoid the deadly glowing bricks of doom'.
The fusion of both these interests finally culminated with Darren teaching himself how to write by basically guessing at what words might look like when jotted down on paper as opposed to being howled inarticulately at the skies.
Now others occasionally get to read his scribblings. Lucky them.