The Outer Worlds Xbox One review: This maiden voyage is an instant classic

The Outer Worlds thoroughly lands its maiden voyage, making it the most-promising new IP in years.

The Outer Worlds
(Image: © Private Division)

The Outer Worlds launches on October 25, 2019, and as I write this, I literally just got finished with the story.

Set a few hundred years in the future, 10 Earth corporations pooled their resources and purchased an entire solar system, shipping out several colony ships with the aim of building up an all-new home away from Earth. As you might expect, things didn't exactly go to plan.

The Outer Worlds is an utterly tremendous achievement that showcases the best of Obsidian's writing wit, world-building detail, and character focus. The game borrows heavily from other major beloved RPG franchises that have fallen out of favor with shareholders in recent years, which is perhaps ironic given the game's extreme-Capitalism plot beats. Obsidian fills that forgotten niche with confidence and rigor.

Here's everything awesome (and not so awesome) about The Outer Worlds, the most exciting new IP in years.

Stunning world, combat, and characters

What I loved about The Outer Worlds

The Outer Worlds feels like the culmination of years of Obsidian Entertainment experience with RPGs, from Knights of the Old Republic II to Fallout New Vegas. What the studio has put together here has some rough edges, but here's why I think it's the most exciting new IP in years.

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The Outer Worlds
Genre | Sci-fi RPG
Players | Single player
Developer | Obsidian Entertainment
Microtransactions | No
Xbox Game Pass | Yes, PC and Xbox
Launch date | October 25, 2019
Launch platforms | PS4, Xbox, PC
Price | $60

Bethesda and Bioware, known for games like Skyrim and Mass Effect often feel like they've taken a step back from the very idea of a single-player RPG, urged by shareholders to chase multiplayer cash cows. There's been a slight void in the market for an RPG on this level where your choices truly matter, and Obsidian is filling it with confidence and rigor.

Set a few hundred years in the future, several corporations banded together and purchased the Halcyon solar system, shipping huge colony ships across the galaxy to reach it. As a member of one of the hitherto lost colony ships, The Hope, you're unceremoniously revived out of hibernation by what can only be described as a mad scientist, then dropped out of space on the surface of a colorful alien world. The opening is as hilarious as it is disorienting.

Obsidian's writing shines through as The Outer World's best feature. From the most minor side quests to grand finales, Obsidian had me roiling in laughter, sickened with disgust, and perplexed by deep philosophical discussions between the game's surprisingly fleshed out fictional religions. Much of The Outer World's marketing has revolved around the game's humor, and of that there is plenty. It lures you into a false sense of security, however. Make no mistake, The Outer Worlds can get extremely dark, extremely fast. It'll sucker-punch you, and leave a lasting impression.

The world-building is simply excellent here, with Obsidian really flexing its experience to build something that fans of Firefly and Cowboy Bebop will utterly adore. Halcyon's colonies are trapped in a capitalistic hell, where corporations literally rule.

Indentured servitude has been religiousized, almost, as each colony you visit is besieged by various problems. Roaming deserters and marauders, hungry alien monsters, and worker droids gone haywire. You'll travel across various colonies in various states of disrepair, unlocking the secrets of the mysterious Halcyon Board that controls everything.

The Outer Worlds marries shooter combat with RPG mechanics more elegantly than many other similar games.

Along the way, you'll meet comrades and enlist them (or reject them) into your squad, making the journey all the more rewarding. SAM the repurposed sanitation droid that now spews acid, instead of soap, hell-bent on eliminating "germs." Ellie, the runaway-turned-pirate, and Vicar Max, who reads his enemies their last rites before shotgunning them in the face. Each companion has their own quests and quirks to solve, and will bicker and banter among themselves along the way.

The Outer Worlds approach to combat has some rough edges (which I'll go over in the next section), but I'd argue that The Outer Worlds marries shooter combat with RPG mechanics more elegantly than many other similar games that have attempted it.

As a side effect of the hibernation process, the player character perceives time a little differently. Time dilation allows you to slow down the action, and target specific body parts manually for different effects. Cripple legs to make enemies move slower, blind them with a headshot, or disarm them by shooting their hands. If you choose to roll with companions, they can provide tactical support with their unique abilities which charge on a cooldown. The SAM droid can use his rocket boosters to slam down on enemies, creating an area stun effect, for example. These abillities add some depth and tactical play to proceedings, which can be crucial on higher difficulties.

Structurally, The Outer Worlds takes place across various wide open spaces. Monarch is by far the largest, complete with large city settlements, abandoned colonies and plains full of roaming monsters. Some of the side missions take place in smaller locales, which you can access via your personal ship — The Unreliable. You can skip a lot of the side missions and head straight to the end, but the game will be nowhere near as rich for those who rush. The epilogue guides you through the long-term effects of every decision you've made throughout the game, after all, so be sure to take your time.

(Image credit: The Outer Worlds)

The Outer Worlds is the first shooter in what feels like an incredibly long time where your choices really matter. You can choose to persuade, intimidate, or lie your way to better rewards or new story paths, while betraying or supporting various factions. There are plenty of gray areas, morally, when it comes to your decisions, and your choices ultimately shape what sort of colony Halcyon will become.

Obsidian's writing shines through as The Outer World's best feature.

It's rare that I find myself longing for more after finishing a game nowadays, in an age of perpetual service-driven experiences. The Outer Worlds feels as old school as it comes in that respect. I adored every moment of my time in Halcyon, blasting bandits into bloody chunks, warping gravity with the game's unique "Science" weapons, and watching heads burst in slow motion.

There is no question in my mind that The Outer Worlds represents an instant classic, but like many of those Xbox 360-era RPGs we remember fondly in 2019, there is quite a collection of annoyances worth addressing.

UI, A.I., and physics oddities

What I disliked about The Outer Worlds

I'm happy to to forgive The Outer Worlds for most of these, as reading my list of grievances in my notes feels like a list of nitpicks rather than genuine problems, particularly since most could easily be patched. The first entry in a new IP is always going to have pain points here and there, but The Outer Worlds has quite a few oddities that I hope Obsidian can address either in patches, or in future sequels (and oh my God, please make a sequel).

Outside of conversation dialogue, The Outer Worlds' cities and townships can feel a little robotic. NPCs walk around and discuss your deeds and decisions, which is awesome. However, they only really stand around, feeling like props, rather than living entities. It undermine's the game's environmental design, which is otherwise staggeringly good.

In terms of combat, many of The Outer Worlds' kill cameras just, fail, most of the time. Vicar Max's shotgun scenes are almost certain to drop the camera behind a rock or something, obscuring your view of the fun. It also doesn't help that companion abilities have this tendency to target friendly NPCs, unintentionally, which often comes with dire consequences.

The enemy/companion A.I. isn't that great either, with NPCs generally running into the open, without any concept of taking cover or avoiding fire on the ground. You can, at least, control your own NPCs with handy commands, which elleviates some of these issues.

Outside of conversation dialogue, The Outer Worlds' cities and townships can feel a little robotic.

Some of the weapon's visual effects are far too large and bright at times, which betrays the whole point of having slow motion kills. If I can't see the effects of my slick slow motion skillz because they're hidden behind a gigantic red flash, what is the point? Also the gore mechanics feel quirky and inconsistent. Sometimes, a sniper shot to the chest has caused a target's arms and legs to fall off, which while hilarious at first, is a little bit odd considering that it can be rare, even with maxed out rifle skills, to produce a skull-popping headshot.

The other annoyances pertain to the UI. Scrolling around the map on controller is painfully slow and sticky, and the fact you can't track multiple quests at once forces you into the menus far more often than I'd like. The Outer Worlds also suffers from what I'll call Prey Syndrome, where completing late-stage side quests requires you to fast travel around the entire system, with interim space trips, producing a parade of loading screens.

The ability to stack quests would've helped with that sensation. I'm also not a huge fan of the game's medical inhaler, which serves as your primary method for health replenishment. The mechanic itself is great, but you have to constantly dive back into the menus to restock it with raw materials, which I feel could've been implemented without having to enter the main inventory screen to manage.

None of these issues really hindered my enjoyment of the game, however. I didn't encounter any performance issues, bugs, or other system-level problems. Dare I say it, for the most part, Obsidian managed to build a polished game.

Should you buy The Outer Worlds?

The Outer Worlds is a tremendous RPG that feels like the culmination of Obsidian's efforts with similar franchises over the years. As a fan of classic Bioware and Bethesda RPGs, The Outer Worlds not only scratches the itch, but exceeds the legacy of the titles it draws inspiration from in some ways.

With an intriguing world ripe for expansion, tight combat, and a meticulous focus on world-building, The Outer Worlds is an instant classic well worthy of any RPG fan's time.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!