Disclosure: Travel to this event was paid for by Private Division
I like to measure open-world RPGs by how evil I can be. I mean, yeah, I can run around shooting people, but can I troll hapless NPCs? Can I destroy an entire alien race? Can I feed one of my companions to a pack of well-dressed cannibals?
Sadly, my recent hands-on with The Outer Worlds didn't offer a ton of clues in that regard. So given a chance to talk to lead designer Charles Staples, I wound up interrogating him about the path of dark side. What would it take to be evil? I mean, really evil.
"We like to have shades of grey in The Outer Worlds," Staples laughs.
Shades of grey nothing. That was a terrible episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'm ready to go all Snidely Whiplash on this game.
After some prodding, Staples starts to open up a bit. "There are plenty of ways you can backstab people," he says. "You can make agreements and go back on them; you can sabotage the good work that people are doing."
In The Outer Worlds, you are a space traveler who awakens from cryosleep. You subsequently go on a journey that takes you to multiple planets, has you deal with a multitude of factions, and pits you against giant megacorporations. It superficially resembles Skyrim and Fallout in many respects, but while its still an open world RPG in the broadest sense of the term, its scope is less than that of your typical sandbox.
As in Fallout and Skyrim, the story takes you on multiple quests, many of them with an "evil" option. I saw one such quest during the event that I attended last week. In "Slaughterhouse Clive," you are sent to infiltrate a farm full of intergalactic pigs. The ensuing level hits on many of the pillars of The Outer Worlds: you can be stealthy and sneak all the way up to Clive, you can take on a fake identity, or you can just kill everyone (that was the option I wound up taking).
But if you're feel really devious, you can sabotage the pigs' food. This has the effect of completely ruining Clive's business from the inside. Take that, capitalism.
Other ways to be evil include harassing your companions. If you're mean enough to them, they will eventually up and leave. It's quite possible to drive away all of your companions, leaving you to wander the cosmos alone .
If you're feeling homicidal, you can kill pretty much everyone. Other RPGs like Skyrim have essential quest givers who are invincible, but The Outer Worlds has no such restrictions. I ask how the game plays out if you decide to go full Zodiac Killer on everyone. "Tim Cain was on the 10th or 11th playthrough, and he did murder everyone along the way," Staples responds. "That did shorten the quest since there aren't many sidequests when you kill the quest givers. But the main story did progress, and he got some ending slide that were... appropriate for what he did."
Not coincidentally, Obsidian's last RPG of this type, Fallout: New Vegas, also let you kill pretty much everyone. The only exception was Yes Man-the A.I. assistant to the mysterious Mr. House. If you decided to kill Yes Man, he would reincarnate instantly and go about his business. The Outer Worlds doesn't have a Yes Man equivalent, but the dev team does use certain tricks to ensure that the story can continue, such as having certain plot points delivered over intercom. In that sense, you can't kill "everyone" per se, but you can still do plenty of damage.
On the flipside, you can choose to be a total pacifist. This likewise comes with its own design challenges, as Staples and company have to make every encounter solvable in some way. "We tried to make sure that there are other options available. If there are enemies in a location, are there other ways to deal with them? Can I avoid them? Can I hack a machine to get around them?" Staples says.
The tried and true method, of course, is to dump as many points as you can into the appropriate stats and try and talk your way out of situations. Most conversations have a large number of options—something that should make fans who were disappointed by Fallout 4 happy—and many can seemingly be resolved simply by choosing the "special" option. If The Outer Worlds is anything like the original Fallout, you'll be able to talk the final boss into killing themselves.
Now that's evil.
Regardless of how you choose to play, you can bet The Outer Worlds will offer plenty of opportunities to leave your mark. Directors Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky have a long history in the RPG genre, with their resumes including seminal RPGs like Fallout and Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. Their design philosophies tend to put a premium on player choice above everything else. You will undoubtedly be able to interact with the world of The Outer Worlds in some very interesting ways-hopefully ways that haven't really been seen before.
In the meantime, all I ask is that you be nice to the space pigs. There really is such a thing as being too evil.
The Outer Worlds will be out October 25 on PS4, PC, and Xbox One, with a Switch port set for a later date. For more information, check out my interview with Cain and Boyarsky from PAX East.