Good morning, dear readers! The past few months I’ve started getting myself back into some single-player gaming. First was The Outer Wilds, which was gifted to me by a friend and is fantastic (that might be all I write about it, it’s hard to talk about). My next game, picked up after years of “Should I? Maybe not” was Outward. I’m noticing a pattern here – maybe I’ll try Outer Worlds next?
Outward is a single player fantasy RPG from indie studio Nine Dots. You create a character, wake up from a shipwreck with half your village demanding you pay a hefty fine or be booted out, and thus your adventure begins.
From the off, Outward makes it clear that it won’t be one of your more typical Western RPGs. If you don’t pay the fine to your village on time, or find a way of being let off, you lose access to all the amenities the village provides. You don’t start with much gear, so going out into the world to explore almost guarantees you’ll get your behind handed to you by the various enemies. There are survival elements at play; hunger, thirst and sleep need to be managed with and various diseases and infections need to be avoided or cured where possible. Your maximum health and stamina slowly burn away as they’re depleted and sleeping this off is vital to keeping yourself at max stats: But sleeping out in the wilds with your bedroll is dangerous, so you must assign some time to guard duty lest you get ambushed during the night.
Unlike traditional skill meters in games, Outward makes you wander the world and pay for various skills from Trainer NPCs, which are the only way to improve your character aside from gear. Even more interesting is the fact that you can, in theory, get tons of these passive and active skills in case you change play style: However, some are locked behind each trainer’s “Breakthrough” skill. You only get three Breakthrough points per character, so you have to think very carefully about what play styles you’d like to fully commit to. I really love this system, as it changes the usual slant of an RPG from “Keep doing X to improve” to “Explore the world and carefully decide how you want to play”.
Outward doesn’t start you as some mythical Chosen One – a through line the developers have had since their failed Kickstarter – and it is certainly not an easy game. However, this sometimes comes across as either cheap or detrimental to the experience. Many players have compared the combat to From Software’s Dark Souls series, and as someone who finally dabbled in that series recently, I really can’t agree. While both games’ combat is based around committing to attack animations and trying out different weapons to find your preferred one, Souls’ combat feels a lot fairer. Thankfully Outward doesn’t have death but “defeat scenarios”: Based on where you are and what killed you, you might wake up in a prison cell, an animal lair, or dragged to safety by a mysterious saviour.
Outward’s combat also relies on a more tactical approach, which has been fun to learn. The game encourages you to set up traps, placing a tripwire or pressure plate, then picking what to put into the trap for differing effects. There’s also magic but, refreshingly, you start with absolutely no magic ability and need to visit certain areas and learn certain skills to unlock your magic potential.
In a one-on-one Outward’s combat is usually fairly easy, giving you less pressure to deal with an enemy (although some bigger ones will still thrash you). The way Outward seems to inflate the difficulty is having many enemies wander round in pairs, meaning the landscape is dotted with wandering beasties or bandits who all seem to be out for a romantic stroll together.
And let’s talk about that landscape for a minute: Outward isn’t a bad looking game for the most part. I’m impressed by the look of the world and (some) of the enemy models, although some are a bit lacking texture wise and all the options in the character creator all look awful. However, the lovely maps feel incredibly empty – not for lack of hidden areas or places to go, but the lack of life wandering them. As mentioned there’s some bandits on date night or a few errant animals, but the world really needs fleshing out a bit with some more ambient/ passive wildlife or the like. Especially for a game without fast travel, Outward’s maps seem desolate to downright boring once you’ve soaked the views in for a bit. (There might be a lore reason for the empty maps, but that seems awfully convenient). The game’s story is barebones and of little interest; you only get to side with one faction per character, but I don’t think my pick is the issue, but rather budget.
Overall, the issues with Outward mostly lay with its extreme indie-ness. While it looks quite nice, other areas are not up to scratch. Almost all of the voice acting is atrocious. The sound effects have a fair few duds, and the music doesn’t really work for me. Each region has one day theme, one night theme and one combat theme, leading to quick soundtrack fatigue. It’s such a shame because the gameplay is, bar a few quality-of-life touches, very solid and the visuals are very good for a small title, but the above really hurt the experience and stopped a real atmosphere from building while playing.
There are other things I could mention about Outward, from the good to the bad to the downright untouched, and I still think Outward would be of interest to many. The game isn’t bad, but its stand-out areas marred by flaws in other places that I’m sure Nine Dots could solve with more time, thought and budget should they decide to make a sequel.
So dear readers, that’s my thoughts on Outward! Please share this post if you liked it and comment below or hit me up on my Twitter to tell me what you think of the game or the post! I’ve also recently opened a Ko-Fi account, so if you like the blog and want to support me, you can find that here!
Unfortunately, the next month or two are looking to be incredibly hectic – many, many birthdays and a potential move on the cards – but I will endeavour to post something if/when I can. Until then, take care and have a good day!