Futuristic game offers a compelling satire for corporate time

Game Name: The Outer Worlds
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action role-playing
Publisher: Private Division
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Rating: M, for Mature

By Gieson Cacho // The Mercury News (TNS)

The new sci-fi game The Outer Worlds is a satire that skewers corporations and late-stage capitalism. It takes place in the distant future on a colony owned by the board of the Halcyon Holdings Corporation. Light years from Earth, the alliance of companies has run amok in the star system.

Players take on the role of a colonist aboard a lost ship called Hope. It went missing during transit, and instead of finding and rescuing the passengers, the Board swept the disaster under the rug to avoid bad publicity and lost finances. Everyone assumed it was gone until a rogue scientist named Phineas Vernon Welles manages to save one of Hope’s passengers, the Stranger.

That’s the protagonist that players create. They craft the hero of the campaign and mold the Stranger to their playstyle. They can make the colonist a melee specialist, who rushes enemies with a sword in hand, or they can turn the character into a smooth talker who is able to avoid battle. The variety of ways to resolve conflicts is a strength of The Outer Worlds.

What separates The Outer Worlds from similar games is the razor-sharp writing and distinct world-building. After the Stranger is rescued, the hero quickly becomes embroiled in a grand quest to save his fellow colonists on the Hope. That mission expands as the Stranger visits other locales and uncovers a plot that will impact every person in the Halcyon colony.

It’s a setup for a space opera, but Obsidian grounds The Outer Worlds with humor. In the colony, the corporate ethos has embedded itself so deeply that soldiers and citizens spout off advertisements in regular speech. Children are born into indentured servitude and the fear of losing their job makes employees do comically bad tasks.

Players have to navigate this farce and decide which side they stand on. They can side with the Board or Welles. They can bring together feuding communities or they can empower one side to overthrow the other. Some of the choices will be difficult and most of the quests that players will come across are enthralling and will keep players attached to the narrative.

The creativity of the world building almost makes up for the stiff animations and the redundant character designs. It seems like several of the colonists are cut from the same character model with slightly different hair or a few added scars. Graphically, The Outer Worlds won’t impress players the way a game such as Red Dead Redemption 2 would, but that doesn’t matter too much when compared to Obsidian’s distinct visionary style.

That’s a minor quibble because The Outer Worlds is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a well-crafted role-playing game that will enrapture players with its storytelling while also giving them a pressing reflection on the times.