Disclosure: Travel to this event was paid for by Private Division
I've been of the opinion that people should tap the brakes on The Outer Worlds hype for a little while now. It's not that I don't think it has a chance to be an excellent game—everything I've seen suggests that it will very good. It's just tough to match the scope of a Bethesda open world game with a comparatively small team and budget like the one afforded Obsidian.
Obsidian's team, which is led by Fallout creators Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, are resourceful veterans who know a tremendous amount about RPG design. They're also very funny. But the demands of game development have risen quite a bit even just since Fallout: New Vegas, and it's harder than ever for a relatively small team to crank out assets, build complex quests, and implement interesting choices. Accordingly, Cain and Boyarsky have been careful to be realistic about what Outer Worlds can deliver even as fans have gone wild imagining a new Skyrim... but... you know... good (Disclaimer: I like Skyrim).
Anyway, my expectations calibrated accordingly, I recently picked up The Outer Worlds for the first time as part of an extended preview session, and happily, what I found was mostly on point. Its comparatively smooth gunplay makes the Fallout engine feel old and ramshackle, and the time dilation mechanics are much smoother than the classic VATs system. There also seems to be quite a lot to do, at least in the short-term. There was a heavily populated town to visit; a dungeon that could be infiltrated in a multitude of ways; plenty of NPCs to engage with, and very surly marauders to shoot.
That's the benefit of working on a smaller scale, I think. When you don't have to constantly crank out Content, you can spend more time polishing up what's already there. The Outer Worlds is explicitly built on choice and exploration, meaning that you will have a lot of freedom within the actual confines of its design. You can play without killing anyone, or you can go completely the other direction and kill everyone. You can be an inspiring leader, or dumb as rocks. Whichever path you take will change how you interact with the story.
Obviously it's extremely hard to capture all the nuances of an open world RPG over the course of just a couple hours. I went into this demo with the idea of being extremely evil, and the best I could manage was clumsily sneaking into Clive's factory and tripping so many alarms that everyone eventually just opened fire (though they gave me lots of opportunities to explain myself). I picked through rat (sorry, "sprat") droppings. I took on a quest for my companion, Nyoka, and learned about the tragic fate of her friends. I killed a lot of marauders.
To capture some of my experience on Monarch, I put together an extended gameplay video showcasing my adventures. You can watch it below.
Admittedly, I didn't see anything that appreciably changed my opinion of The Outer Worlds. My main takeaway remains the same as before: it's a smaller, but perhaps smarter, RPG with better writing and (I hope) better quests. Small aside: I do kind of love the way that it comes an old-timey aesthetic with high-concept space travel. It makes the whole thing feel a lot like an interactive Futurama, which I'm sure the development team will take as a compliment.
The Outer Worlds is out October 25, putting it squarely in the middle of one of the hottest periods of the holiday season, so it will have a lot of competition. Alas, the Switch version was announced after the event, so I didn't get a chance to ask about it. However, it will be coming at a later date.
In the meantime, check out my interview with Outer World creators Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, where they talk about the realities of dreaming big on a budget. And, of course, expect more coverage on our RPG podcast, Axe of the Blood God.