The Outer Worlds is a clever remix of the tried and tested Fallout formula, and that formula definitely translates to the Nintendo Switch. Made by Obsidian, the developers of Fallout: New Vegas, they took this heritage and added colour and comedy to become one of my favourite games from last year. It’s a charming planet-hopping role-playing adventure, full of some of the best writing I’ve seen in a video game.
The real draw for me was that clever writing, the endearing characters, and the engaging and mutable RPG mechanics. The question is, with many visual concessions being made to get this massive game onto the tiny Nintendo Switch hardware, does that charm shine through? The answer is, surprisingly, yes.
The Outer Worlds for Nintendo Switch is available for purchase on the Nintendo eShop for $59.99.
Story – Out of this World
The game opens with you being rescued by Phineaa Welles, a foul-mouthed mad scientist with unclear intentions. You’ve been floating in space for 70 years, after a ship leaving earth for the outer world colonies, called The Hope, is forced to travel at ‘sub-light’ speeds. From a ship full of hibernating colonists, Welles can only free one person, and that person is you. In a daring escape from a ship full of hibernating colonist disaster strikes: Welles’ ship is damaged.
He uses a risky homemade concoction to wake you from your hibernation and sets you on your adventure to help awaken the rest of the sleeping colonists aboard The Hope. He shoots you off his ship in an escape pod to the planet Terra 2, where you are to meet a man named Hawthorne. Unluckily, your pod splats Hawthorne like a bug. Your first rendezvous in the game is with a corpse.
This sums up the twisted comedy of The Outer Worlds. Every character has agendas and quirks in a world where corporations own not just the planets, but the people who work for them too. In this universe, suicide is considered irreversible damage to company property. And you’re the only one that finds it weird. The overriding aesthetic is akin to a 1950s nuclear family. Cute jingles, endless adverts, and harsh conditions. From Auntie Cleo’s to Spacer’s Choice to Rizzo’s, these corporations own the planet you’re standing on and the people who inhabit it.
The over-arching story itself is good, but not great. However, the individual stories you experience along the way are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game like this. And that is the bulk of what you experience. As you hop across a handful of planets you’ll meet so many people, all of whom manage to be unique. It’s such high-quality that even when a character just wants you to fetch something for them, the story around the endeavour makes it genuinely engaging.
In the first 10 hours of the game, you will collect six companions, all with their own side stories to venture down that help you learn more about their lives. They have kinks and quirks, heartfelt desires, annoying tendencies, and always feel like real people. This makes your ship crew feel personal, and, by the end, I had a strong connection to all of them, even SAM the robot.
Gameplay – Restricted freedom
The gameplay is focused on three aspects. There is shooting, melee combat, and dialogue. If you choose to play it as a shooter, there are a plethora of weird guns to choose from and fun modifications to make to them. In general, however, the shooting is disappointing and rarely feels that good. Melee is even worse, and I didn’t find any joy beating down masked marauders. The dialogue gameplay however is the star of the show.
In conversations with the various characters, you’ll usually have a minimum of three dialogue options to reply with. Occasionally, extra options can appear, tied to your level in different skills. If your persuade skill is high enough, you may persuade a non-player character to pay you before you do your quest. If your lie skill is high enough, you may get out of failing a mission with a cheeky excuse. This freedom is constantly popping up and makes every conversation feel worthwhile.
The writing itself is also charming and funny. Just take Martin the moon person. A disgruntled Spacer’s Choice employee forced to wear a large round moon hat all day. You can dive deep into his rabbit hole of corporate slogans and mental anguish, and it’s hilarious.
Go back to him wearing one of these hats, and you have a new dialogue option: “Hey, we’re wearing the same hat.” Our disgruntled employee replies with worry in his voice: “They got you too,” the voice acting conveying the comedy and anguish perfectly. More importantly, however, it’s genuinely a little bit sad, and paints the whole world of punishment and strife while also giving you a chuckle. It sums up the majority of conversations you have in this world: absurd and amusing at the same time as heartfelt and heartbreaking.
This freedom in experiencing the detailed worlds means you can try any number of combinations of stats affecting your skills like lying, persuading, shooting, melee, blocking, sneaking, hacking, and lock-picking. You can be a tank with a shotgun, a liar with a baton, or anything in between. The dialogue is as core a mechanic as the shooting, and your freedom to interact with the world in any way is often exciting.
While almost all of this game shines through the visual concessions, one thing that rarely functions properly is the shooting. Its a disappointment for sure, but not a dealbreaker, as the shooting wasn’t especially good in the original game anyway.
The main issue for The Outer Worlds on Switch is that constant jarring frame-rate drops hamper any combat encounters, and is especially egregious in the wilderness of these different planets. I’ve had issues where the enemies don’t even appear until you’ve run past them. As they pop-up behind you and shoot you in the back, it’s impossible not to let out a big sigh. It makes what is a wonderful experience completely break down.
While the Switch version of The Outer Worlds hampers the combat quite dramatically, it does encourage me to explore more. Not anything the original game doesn’t have, but being on a handheld makes me be more playful, and makes the game open up in a new way. Sadly, that is really the only benefit to playing on the Switch.
Audio & Graphics – Poles Apart
The sound design and soundtrack in this game are superb. The main theme has a soft piano melody akin to the Twin Peaks theme tune, while there are other tracks reminiscent of the Marvel epics. Throughout all this the guns, the items, and the world, in general, have detailed sound design to fully immerse you. As for the Switch port, I can’t tell any major difference in audio quality from the Xbox version of The Outer Worlds, which helps make up for the graphical concessions.
As for graphical concessions, however, they are constant. Within the walls of a building or city, it’s much less noticeable, but anywhere in the wilderness, when your eye is drawn to the horizon, egregious pop-in and absurd blurriness hamper the majority of the game.
The great outdoors was also where I experienced the worst frame-rate issues as well. For most of the game, I found this fine, as you don’t spend too much time outside towns and buildings. However, around halfway through the game you will head to the planet Monarch. This is where you will spend a lot of time in wilderness, and it is very difficult to say anything positive about the visuals.
The whole planet is scattered with big rocks and foliage, all of which have such low-res textures it’s a bit of a shock. Every now and then I would go over to one of these rocks, expecting a higher-res texture to load-in, only to realise that it wasn’t going to get better. And there are so many rocks.
Overall, I was able to get past these visual issues and enjoy most of The Outer Worlds on Switch. But this will definitely differ from person to person. I imagine there are a lot of people who would find this visually jarring throughout and struggle to enjoy the majority of the game. For me, however, I had such a fun time playing that I mostly forgot about how rough it often looks.
The mutable RPG mechanics and charming dialogue mean that you can play in a way that better fits the Switch version of The Outer Worlds. I was able to get past these visual issues and enjoy the game by focussing on dialogue in my playthrough. While that’s great, I can’t really imagine doing all of the combat builds possible in the game. Which is a shame, because the game rewards replaying. This Switch version actively hampers your choices.
The Outer Worlds was reviewed for Nintendo Switch, and a review key was provided by Tara Bruno PR.