The other day, I remembered that I actually had an XBox One. It’s been a long time since I actually used it, as my preference is for its rival, but there are a few good games on it still and so, enter Outward. Although Outward is available on PS4 and PC as well as XBox, it’s been a while since I played on Microsoft’s console, and I did have a good feeling about this open-world, challenging RPG. It does offer multiplayer gameplay – both couch co op and online – but as I didn’t have a chance to play with a friend, I haven’t commented on that in this review.
Out of this world
Outward does try hard to make things difficult – much like Kingdom Come Deliverance. It’s a game that rewards you for thinking about your actions, rather than rushing headlong into danger and assuming that, because you’re the hero, you’ll be fine. It definitely is trying to hit the Dark Souls style of gameplay, which while I’m not a huge fan of, it does give an extra edge to the game beyond what you’d find in, say, Skyrim. In fact, I’d say Outward is a pretty good estimation of what a Dark Souls level of difficulty version of Skyrim would be like. It even has the survival elements tossed in, with it being necessary to eat and drink, as well as clothe yourself appropriately. Whilst the combat was incredibly difficult for someone not well versed in the Dark Souls genre, I did find myself getting to grips with it and enjoying it. After a while, anyway. The other survival aspects were much more up my street and interesting to me.
The world within Outward is truly one of the most impressive parts of the game. The developers, Nine Dots Studio, really knew how to knit together various fantasy elements and aspects with a grounding of reality to make a stunning, interesting and intriguing world to explore. There are plenty of different areas to trek through, varying from the cold, to the boiling, to lovely towns, and even some really nicely made caves too. Even the tutorial showcases some really well thought out environments that have been stitched together – half mansion and half cave. Where-ever you are though, you can be certain you’ll have some well crafted areas to enjoy. And when you get to it, you can be certain to find enemies that have been fiendishly placed to create some epic battles.
I’ll also say that Outward has some nifty ideas that I’ve never really thought of before, and my absolute favourite has to be when it comes to battling. There are the usual things of it having slightly different slashes and power attacks based on what you’re doing with your attacks, but the most intriguing part is what you can do before battle. Rather than be rather unrealistic and battle with a heavy backpack on your back, loaded with kilograms of rubbish, you can press a button to toss it to the ground before you do battle. Now that I’ve typed it out, it does seem incredibly minor, but it was a really cool little touch that the devs didn’t have to add, but enhanced the game because it’s in there.
Although I do understand that it’s difficult for indie studios to get cutting edge graphics in their games, I can’t see why they’d settle for an aesthetic reminiscent of the late-PS2 / early-PS3 era. The character models are, frankly, pretty ugly, and even if you went into it thinking you could make your character a person in your image, you’d be wrong. The customisation for your character is extremely limited, with only three different skin colours, a handful of different faces and a few more different hairstyles. While you can certainly make your character look “good enough”, it’s never going to look fantastic.
Unfortunately, the poor presentation isn’t limited solely to the graphics. The sound design is definitely a very Jekyll and Hyde performance from Nine Dots Studio. On the one hand, the music is decent. It’s never intrusive, but it sets the scene well and manages to convey the general feeling. There’s also a lot of different songs to enjoy across the various areas. On the other hand, is the voice acting. While it’s not poorly voiced or written, the actors appear to go off script a lot. By a lot, I mean, probably around eighty percent of what you hear in the game doesn’t match up to the text that’s on the screen. I can understand it in some cases, when the character’s user chosen name is selected, but not in others. All it does is make it very difficult to follow. You always feel like that you’re missing some key information, because you can’t focus on both at the same time.
The Final Word
Outward is a bit of a mixed bag. It has some really good bits, and it has some really weird or disappointing bits. There is definitely a good game buried underneath those aspects though. Also, I do think that it’s cool there is a couch co-op option, even though I didn’t cover that in my review, so that edges it into the favourable end of the scale for me.