living your life in a corporate space paradise

It’s in the studio’s back catalogue, though, that the blueprint is unearthed. Structurally, The Outer Worlds is KotOR II, with planets to hop at will in your own spaceship; moderate-sized hubs containing quests, side quests, and enemies to pulverise. And in the heat of the moment, it’s Fallout: New Vegas; viewed from a first-person perspective, filled with loot, and even allowing time manipulation during gunfights. It’s two older templates mashed together with contemporary touches. A game from 15 years ago made today.

It doesn’t feel particularly new, but it does feel refined. In its opening hours The Outer Worlds skilfully straddles the line between awing and overwhelming players. You’ll encounter a stunning alien horizon before you’re swamped with numbers, a genuinely funny joke before the exposition starts getting dumped, and your own dubiously acquired spaceship before the intricacies of levelling-up need to be fully comprehended. This is a more accessible RPG than most.

As with previous Obsidian games, you get a lot of choice over the kind of character you'll play.

As with previous Obsidian games, you get a lot of choice over the kind of character you’ll play.

It’s also impressively flexible, at least in terms of playstyle. I crafted my character into a silver-tongued charmer that could talk his way out of any situation. (In a second playthrough I shot everyone, even quest givers, which also proved viable.) I never felt like I was missing out on more exciting paths as I Jedi mind tricked my way across the galaxy.

And what a galaxy it is. From an asteroid base with thousands of spinning planetoids floating in low orbit, to a dusty saloon town that’d feel at home in a Clint Eastwood movie if it wasn’t carved into a subterranean cavern, to planetside skyscapes filled with brilliant purple hues and ring systems, The Outer Worlds is gorgeous. And not because of sheer technical grunt, but because of bold, consistent art direction. As a result, it’ll still look pretty in a decade.

The surface of Terra 2 is the best place to view the planet's rings.

The surface of Terra 2 is the best place to view the planet’s rings.

It’s only towards the second half of the story that some of shine wears thin. Obsidian is a smaller team than the big-budget behemoths that usually inhabit this genre, and it shows in places. This galaxy may be spectacular, but it lacks a pulse. As you run between quest chains, talking to various waring factions, the unnerving sense that this universe is a diorama existing only for you will be hard to shake. (Nearly all games of course only exist for you but some, like The Witcher 3, are better at hiding this fact.)

It’s also not particularly challenging. As long as you’re carrying level-appropriate gear most firefights won’t stretch your abilities. Similarly, at a certain point once you’ve accrued enough credits, the game’s economy breaks: you’ll be able to afford all the health packs, armour, and ammo you need to overcome any obstacle. Admittedly this is thematically appropriate given that the same is true under corporate capitalism, but it removes just a bit too much of the friction from the game, and I’m not convinced it was intended as critique.

But none of this dampened my enthusiasm for long. The Outer Worlds is a well-written, novel, gorgeous roleplaying game, made for today using some of yesterday’s best tricks. If you fall into the trap of using fast travel instead of letting the illusion wash over you, it can feel like ticking off to-do list items instead of adventuring. But if you force yourself to slow down and let the sharp dialogue, otherworldly vistas, and intriguing characters work their magic on you, it’s one of the best roleplaying experiences of the last few years.

The Outer Worlds is out now for Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4 and PC.

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