Today it is questionable if a game has an agenda and political hamfistery or if it will be there only for the reviewers to not only dismiss its existence, but to defend religiously it’s claim of its nonexistence. To this ends it was asked for an impressions of The Outer Worlds, an open world RPG developed by Obsidian. A company who routinely inserted sociopolitical narratives and devices into their story structure since the first Pillars of Eternity.
Beyond mere agenda pushing and yes inserting sociopolitical devices to signal to your own community that you are so woke while doing nothing for said minority or other group other than exploiting them to make yourself look good and for sales is agenda pushing, falls the question of quality. It is no secret that from Pillars of Eternity onward each subsequent game from Obsidian showed a noticeable drop in both overall quality and writing. With everyone singing the praises of the Outer Worlds people want to know if it is just hot air from the hype train crowd or if it is legitimately good.
(Note the impressions will be broken down into a shorter spoiler free summary and a more in depth spoilered overview)
To the wokeness question the short of answer is: there is noticeable wokeness, but it is as far as I have noticed allocated to representational. You’ll notice it, it’s very hard not to, but each character you meet is a fully fleshed out character with a history and mannerisms that justify them holding their position. At the same time the game does not go out of its way to portray men as incompetent, imbecilic, evil, and any of the usual other Mary Sue story mechanics you usually see in such narratives. Nor are villains relegated purely the male gender either.
It is not as if the game hasn’t had a chance to portray men as bad. There are in the earlier hours of the game numerous instances where they could portray men as weaker and stupid, but opt not to or opt to depict the women as equally incompetent. The incompetency isn’t gendered, but cultural based and it is noticed by both outsiders and your player character in the same universe. While it remains possible it will get drastically worse as the game progresses the writers appear to have fulfilled their promise to properly depict all sides with a level of maturity and decency with actually fleshed out characters.
Let me put it this way, I’m thirsty for an open-world RPG, I’m not thirsty enough that I wouldn’t return this to the store if the characters weren’t actual characters with depth, personality, history, justification for their current actions, their own philosophy, etc.
Those concerned about gameplay need not worry. When you hear this is a proper RPG, it is a proper RPG. The combat itself plays out very similar to Fallout New Vegas. There are armor stats, but there is no armor layer system like New Vegas, but there are resistances and 5 elements to weapons. On top of that there are various afflictions you can impose upon enemies like blindness by shooting out their eyes or confusion in robots having a level 20 in the lie stat.
Desiring to experience mandatory survival mechanisms and to be prevented from cheesing the experience I went with the hardest difficulty. I can say from experience it is a manageable difficulty that is not overly punitive even if your first character is not a combat build.
My only minor complaint for the game’s systems is if you don’t fully read the tutorial panels you might miss out on important details that are not easily referenced in the in-game guide. For instance my character would come down with a concussion dropping most of his stats. I needed to find out how to remove it, but the in-game guide would only provide a description of what it did, not how to actually fix it. Through experimentation I found sleep was the only way to remove concussion, though it is possible it will go away with time as well. That sort of information should be provided in-game, but if it is it isn’t entirely in a clear method. In other aspects the guide goes above and beyond your usual affair and provides details on nearly every aspect of the game in clear concise details. It was merely unfortunate the answer I needed wasn’t covered as far as I could determine.
At first glance I wrote off the new skill system as overly simplified, but functional. Skills are kept in categories of up to three and until level 50 you dump stats into a category. Your stats will have impacts on conversations, gameplay mechanics, etc and will reward you bonus exp for utilizing them when they come up. It wasn’t until I cleared the first area and all every side quest I could locate that I began appreciating this new system.
Gaining experience to halfway meant that I could develop talent in various skills to a sufficient degree, but if I wanted to master them past a general understanding I would have to then specialize my character further picking the individual skills I prefer. This added a sense of realism. When you learn to shoot in real life you gain a general proficiency with handguns, rifles and if you are lucky something more heavy, but if you want to master each weapon type you must put dedication into it.
As for evil options, yes you can kill pretty much everyone you want except I believe the ship’s AI. Who is ironically legitimately sassy while being a black woman. I’m not talking the cartoonish, depiction Hollywood endeavors to portray in all their projects lacking a single ounce of wit or intelligence. No Ada delivers sass with an intelligence and wit that both resonates with the situation without being disrespectful or annoying. Of the few times I found the game legitimately funny, most of them stemmed from Ada’s dialog and reasoning.
Further into the game you will learn more details about how her personality came to be and her history. All teasing where I left off a deep secret worth exploring. Of all the companions you are with Ada, despite her sarcasm, is the one that comes across as the most supportive of your endeavors and choices. Once past the obvious, “Of course” eye rolling she quickly became one of my favorite characters. Upon first meeting her instead of rushing to complete the quest objective, I became more interested in exploring the ship to hear each of her statements as she mistook me for one of the marauders outside.
More to the point on evil… after the first area there appears to be more nefarious options at your disposal, but at this juncture I’d say its closer to outlaw gang levels of evil, not full on chaotic evil that many players crave from these experiences. One lovely option is if you don’t like the scientist you can snitch his whereabouts almost immediately in the game, but as I am on my good run I do not know how that will turn out. Thus there is the potential for multiple play-throughs with various meaningful outcomes for the game.
Overall I’d say the game is tolerably woke, but is a phenomenal game by itself. If you can’t stand wokeness in the slightest I wouldn’t recommend the game to you. It is very noticeable even if you aren’t looking for it. Yes even though each person is fleshed out, well written, and feels like they deserve their position, the ratio dispersion and the intentions behind it are inescapable.
There was one moment of cringe at the tail end of my time that I was able to nip hard, but again it stuck to representational and not beyond it. The game does at least at this juncture not force players into any particular box and the best outcomes are not some form of socialism, Marxism, or multicultural paradise. If you can overlook that and want a really good open world RPG at this juncture I can recommend the game to you. It scratches the itch in a way that hasn’t been scratched in a long time.
-Spoiler Free Section is Over-
Past this point I’m going to go into more specifics of my time and do my best to not reiterate upon what was already said. There is no modifier beyond this point that will take anything said above and add a “but cause.” As far as I have played the game the wokeness is tame and would fit at home half a decade ago before they started shoving it down your throat. Make no mistake, I will clarify this point. Obsidian had no choice. They were going out of business having lost the tank game contract and had numerous games flop harder than a whale from orbit under Paradox. If this game didn’t sell well they were done. These woke developers understand fully that their wokeness doesn’t sell and that is provable by their promise to not be woke in their writing.
In no way do I believe this is a return to form for Obsidian. They had no choice, but to make a good game. Now they are owned by Microsoft who loves to virtue signal, I wouldn’t give a free pass to anything they develop in the future.
The wokeness starts first with the character creator. Your default character is a black woman. Not abhorrently ugly, but equally not going to be anyone’s pin up either. Beyond that the character creator is pretty simple, but has depth. Where I’ve found systems like Fallout 4’s and Dark Souls to be somewhat versatile they’ve also been rather unintuitive. Each option in this game is on a slider or has a bevy of options to choose from. Arguably this was the easiest face shaping I’ve ever done in an RPG with the complexity offered. You don’t have unlimited freedom, but it’s not impossible to make a cutie if you want to RP as a female character.
The only shortcoming I found with the character creator is as a man who loves the biker beards, especially the narrow, but long chin ones that I sport myself, there were not many options for this. Mustache and beard weren’t as separate as I’d had liked. Overall though I did view this as a minor complaint compared to what was offered which totaled in the 30s for most options and high 20s for when it didn’t.
Surprisingly the colored hair looked good. As a person who has never liked how dyed hair looked I found myself doubling back to the colored options and settling on a nice black with green shimmer with a different style of hair than I normally go for. Though initially I did wish to create a character that looked similar to Yuri from Command and Conquer I was not disappointed with what I settled on.
As for the humor itself the game is not as humorous or zany as the trailers. It’s more an Idiocracy style of humor as the game explores a science fiction version of cyberpunk’s corporatist future. There were moments that made my smile, but nothing that approached the level of brevity from the initial trailer. Even the line about explosive cell death is reworked in the game, which was honestly disappointing as it goes into more depth explaining somewhat incorrectly what it is. In this world it is your body gooifying after a lengthy cryogenic procedure. In real life and more horrifying as you thaw out your cells can rupture from the thawing or freezing process. Essentially exploding in one of the most horrific ways you can die and potentially you would then gooify from this, but still the initial presentation was better.
As said above there is a lot of representation and no they do not make the males look stupid or bad. I’d say the ratio is about 60/40 right now, but your crew is 50/50 not counting the AI. There is one companion I have yet to recruit, but there is also one robot I have yet to activate so I believe the end balance will be 50/50.
Your team’s characters are rather enjoyable to be around, and no I have not run into, “You do you,” girl from the trailer. The first character you will be saddled with is Parvati a country bumpkin mechanic who has trouble speaking up and is probably autistic. At a later stage you do have the option to outright tell her to shut up when she starts mouthing off and unlike other games it does appear that the conversations with companions during other dialog are not relegated to commentary as the non party characters will react and even converse with party characters.
I need to stress she is not very intelligent, but your second companion Max is highly intelligent. Where Parvati is dimwitted and struggles with communication Max is her polar opposite. The man understands and can relay to you complex concepts and is one of the outsider characters to the start area community who refers to it as a ignorant backwater shithole. He is not elitist in that assumption. His assessment is fairly on point. Though the people there are good natured, Max is a man who is intelligent and lacks anyone to communicate his more complex ideas without their eyes glazing over.
It should be noted anyone you don’t like you are not required to take into your crew. You are stuck with Ada and can activate Sam the robot, but beyond them you don’t ever have to see a single one of the other companions. As they are not immortal if they have so enraged you with their mere existence you can rectify that as well.
Now the game’s religious and philosophical views are rather simplified, but in their simplicity it gives a great range of exploration. There are essentially two dominate schools of thought that can be broken down to Order and Chaos.
Scientism believes that a great architect created the entire universe and then left. Everything in the universe thus unfolds according to a plan. This isn’t to say that there isn’t wiggle room in your life to change or develop and that everything is on a set path, but it is to say that you are intended to do certain things and the more you fight against it the more the system attempts to rubber band you back into your path. As a group they believe if they can understand what they call the great equation they will gain the ability to predict and understand everyone’s destiny and even potentially become architects themselves. This they believe can be achieved through understanding the trajectory of every particle in existence.
Their opposites are the Philosphists who believe everything arose out of Chaos. Though the way I have seen them presented they are said to believe in chaos rather than order. Reading up shows their beliefs are that the universe arose out of natural processes and thus does not have a specific purpose. Their intention is to maintain the natural order of the universe, but as Max points out they have largely perverted their original teacher’s teachings and writings to their own purpose more than a hundred years after his death.
These two ideologies form the basis for a lot of the characters view points, but there are equally as many who do not agree with either view or agree with it to various degrees that are based around their own perspective.
Each person you meet is a character aside from the filler characters that make a location populated. Possessing no name their only function is to chat amongst each other setting up the world and drop a singular line of dialog if you attempt to engage them in conversation. It was fairly obvious the representational push for the game and if not for the characterization of each of these people it would have been unacceptable garbage. There hasn’t been a single person I’ve run into that I didn’t believe earned their position, but I had to remark, “I know why you’re female.”
Yes there are men that are stupid, but that is not because men are stupid it is because that character is stupid. No character as far as I can see has been free of flaws or faults regardless of genders. After the scientist the first character you were intended to meet is Alex Hawthrorne who built Ada and helped her develop a personality. Yes the story is rather intricate like this. Where as he dies immediately because he held the landing beacon he was told to put down and move away from, he is by no means a complete moron. Ada herself remarks she should have foreseen him doing something so stupid because it wasn’t out of character. Beyond that instance involve a profound lack of judgment you find out through records he left and from Ada he was a technical genius who loved to improve and overhaul technology.
Ada for example is unique and while I have not fully explored her backstory the fact she controls the entire ship was not her original design. That was the work of Alex and signifies how intelligent this man was, despite being also so bonehead he would hold a beacon. Actually learning more about Hawthrorne has been a rather enjoyable experience. Where he first appears to be a disposable joke, you gradually find out he plays an integral role in the story and has a rather deep past.
The second character you’ll encounter is a member of security who is so forgettable I do not remember his name. He introduces you to the basic principle that his corporation as people are owned by corporations, builds everything as cheap as humanly possible and this will factor into the story going forward. His injury was not a result of his incompetence. His gun misfired after he had gotten the drop on a group of marauders, and yes according to lore those weapons are known to do that. Though sadly they will never do that for your character.
I’d blame that more on development scope than anything else. It would be an interesting mechanic to have to deal with various company defects like misfiring or jamming, but various weapon brands do appear to have various tiers of quality.
My guard was up when I ran into this person, but when you meet his female commander and her male lieutenant you find that they are not just as equal levels of bumpkin, but he was probably the smartest amongst the three. Hilariously the lieutenant will remark that his qualifications for being able to issue tickets isn’t easy, you have to be able to fill out 4 forms! The captain is the epitome of a nepotistic hire trying their best, but obviously isn’t the most qualified for the position. Neither was particularly unpleasant to encounter and later dialogs with the captain offer an exploration of how ingrained this corporatist lifestyle is to the world design.
That’s what really amazed me. Instead of portraying it as inherently evil and making the “muh late stage capitalism” argument these are presented as viable means of living. Not without their shortcomings, they are equally not without their benefits. Eventually you’ll learn there is a schism between Reed Thompson, the current head of town a man who has done his best for 25+ years to keep the town that is now nearly entirely collapsed and the head flavorist Adelaide who is female who has figured away to grow crops. The Short of that issue is humanity is not very good at terraforming and the corporations don’t care so the soil spoiled.
What you discover paying attention to the lore the plagues are essentially caused by them eating only the food they produce and because of shortages in ingredients they have supplemented them with materials their scientists argue still qualifies as technically food. Now mind you this was her decision as well as his. Well the company only sent so much medicine during the first wave of the plague and instead of handing it out first come first serve the head of the town handed it out based on worth to the company and Adelaide’s son didn’t qualify so he died. She felt he should have been given medicine because he was her son, Thompson didn’t play the nepotism corruption game and when you confront him with the accusation he simply tells you the truth, they didn’t send enough medicine. If it wasn’t her son it would have been someone else’s and she never forgave him for it.
The point is they had a chance by every merit to demonize the man, who is actually doing the best with what he’s been given and will sacrifice himself for the town, but they didn’t. In fact it is arguable that the Adelaide is just as much to blame if not potentially more for her own son’s death. Do not expect the Mary Sue tier writing in this game.
Even the one guy I’m reasonably sure is gay or at the very least literally without any friends like he claimed, is in a position where he could easily be portrayed as despotic, but despite contrary positions to the freedom loving Groundbreaker he is fairly well reasoned and sympathetic. I actually look forward to interacting with him on my more nefarious play through to sell out Phineas almost immediately allowing me to instantly get in good with the Board. There are different factions and while I’m reasonably sure the game will have a similar narrative arch it does give off the appearance that like with the upcoming Dying Light 2 how you reach the end will be remarkably different depending on what you choose to do.
Now the cringiest moment I encountered in the game thus far… during a companion quest you seek out the Groundbreakers head Engineer and Captain: Junlei Tennyson with Parvati. After becoming your engineer by your choice she is unsure of herself and wanted tips from a senior engineer with experience on working on ships. She expresses she knows her engineering, but having worked on factory machines and not ships there is much she is not aware of along the lines of little tricks and methods of ship maintenance that she would like to learn from someone who does it for a living. This information is not just dropped on you, but gathered through questioning her motives and yes having the ability to tell her not happening.
Upon introducing Parvati to her, Junlei immediately flirts with her. Keep in mind Parvati at best is bisexual and was not seeking romantic involvement from this encounter. It is one thing if Parvati was trying to utilize sex appeal to get somewhere, but the girl is bumpkins with questionable levels of intellectual development that even Max will point out in his pitch to recruit him and care barely socialize. She’s so stunted she has trouble with another awkward boy who totally has a crush on her. She literally doesn’t see it, and not the “I’m not interested,” variety, I mean “I’m competing with a neutron star in density” don’t see it.
She awkwardly stumbles to issue back what she believes is a complement not flirtation and they agree to exchange messages. Now here is where I literally cringed and not at the writing. This woman is essentially Harvey Weinstein levels of exploitative creepy. Within hours in game and narrative wise she is writing sexually suggestive poems to Parvati who is in her naiveté flustered and excited and comes to you with what she should do about it laying out the extent of this.
Now I don’t know if the developers were aiming for lesbian relationship representation or trying to depict Harvey Weinstein levels of creepy, which I’ve heard is fairly common in some lesbian circles, but the effect was unnerving. I immediately nipped it in the bud telling her to focus on her duties, but man would I have fully told her to watch out for the creep if it was an option.
Realistically if the situation had been any different, I wouldn’t have felt this way toward it. Parvati is a naive highly awkward child like adult who I’m reasonable sure might still be a virgin and is probably autistic. She was not flirty, looking for sex, looking to exploit the situation to her benefit. She wanted advice from her senior who exploited the situation for sex. Oddly enough the game does not draw attention to this fact either, leaving you to draw your own conclusions.
The fact that the moment boiled down to Lesbian #Metoo is rather amusing. Especially since the lesbian community does have a reputation for this behavior. I honestly can’t tell if it pulled a Purge Prequel where it went so woke it became anti woke (before in the purge prequels case collapsing into a woke singularity from which no wokeness could escape) or the intention was to draw attention to the behavior or representation. It is rather interesting that so many interpretations can be derived from the same event that the writer’s intentions cannot be determined.
In conclusion while I cannot say it won’t pull a Technomancer* right now the levels of wokeness are breathable without a filter. It’s noticeable, but at the same time it doesn’t overtly ruin the experience. You are not forced to agree with it, nor are you forced to tolerate it. At any time you can kick crew members off, there are multiple pathways available to achieve and end state for a particular story section and no one side is without their shortcomings or highlights.
What I find to be more important is the gameplay is good. It’s not revolutionary, but if you ever wanted to see what Obsidian could do without being hindered by the creation engine you’ll be pleased. Even with a limited budget, limited scope, and similar development timeframe the game runs smoother than New Vegas with the fan patches. Though it doesn’t surpass New Vegas by any measure, it is as solid.
There is a satisfaction with enjoying an engineering sniper build while planning a corrupt melee greedy brute run. The only advice I can offer is set all AI to defensive rather than offensive on the hardest difficulty. Most of my reloads were not from defeats or deaths, but from the liability the companions brought to the table. In defensive they only engage when you tell them to and will keep fighting till the end of combat compared to passive just has them going after marketed targets.
Combat itself on the hardest difficulty requires for me a bit of planning and thinking. As my first run is not a combat oriented person, stupidity will get me killed fairly easily. Once the fighting starts the game has a bit of a tactical feel to its combat. Plan accordingly and think it through and you can persevere. That’s not even getting into weapon customization.
Though limited you can improve the quality of your weapon for more damage, slap on modifiers to change its performance and have 4 weapons equipped on the quick radial at a time. Elemental damage is key to victory. Where many had trouble with the robots at the power plant, I breezed through because I had acquired an electrical modifier I snapped onto my sniper rifle that had several levels of upgrades applied to it.
A typical robot while still deadly only required 2-3 shots to neutralize. Have Parvati run up and slap them with her special stuns the second one and we just stand by laughing as you easily put it into the grave.
Last thing worth mentioning is there is an overarching conspiracy afoot regarding someone’s attempt to sabotage the colony. Reading the various tidbits of lore doesn’t paint a picture of who it is, but it does allow you to have your guesses. Certainly your rescuer has his ideas of who is to blame, but it’s not that cut and dry.
However it will turn out, it is one that I’m excited to see play out through the course of the game. As I said in the short of it if you are capable of overlooking the wokeness described this game does scratch that open world RPG itch and it makes Bethesda look like a joke. For now the game is recommendable, but again if your intolerance for wokeness is at peanut dust kills you levels this game will not be for you.
*For those that do not understand my Technomancer reference, Technomancer was a game developed by Spiders and its first chapter is without a doubt the best exploration of Freedom vs Security philosophical paradigm. Added in that chapter are mutants who are genetically deformed humans who are sterilized to prevent the deformity from spreading, but are treated at least in the security state you live in extremely poorly. Raising the issue of even though for the survival of humanity certain actions must be taken, the way we treat them reflects who we are as people making the player question whether survival in such a state is meaningful.
Only then to take that complex underpinnings and throw literally it all out as the game retcons itself changing every dynamic to be as woke as humanly possible. Going to stupid as to equate Blacks to Mutants referring to a genetic dead end as the future in a chapter that is nothing but pro immigration propaganda so bad it actually highlights the dangers of the exact same principle by accident. Chapter 3 has the main character spouting SJW talking points and I bowed out at that point. Since then I refer to any game that has wokeness shoehorned in at a later point that many will not reach or will have to much sunk cost into the experience to care as pulling a Technomancer.