The vast majority of role-playing games (RPG) start the same way: You play as some sort of heroic figure or Chosen One that's destined to vanquish an evil tyrant, saving the realm from his or her oppression. There's nothing wrong with this, but the trope has gotten fairly stale over the years. Outward, an upcoming RPG expected on March 31, laughs in the face of this cliché. In this game, you're nothing more than a commoner. Your first big quest isn't to save people or to defeat a sorcerer, it's simply to pay off the debt you owe a group of people so your house isn't forcefully taken away from you.
This makes the game stand out from the crowd, and it also lays an excellent foundation for great roleplaying. In Outward, you start with nothing, but with enough training, patience, and tenacity, you can become anything. The world of Aurai will chew up a commoner like you, but only if you let it — for the opportunist, its many systems and challenges offer a chance to craft a personal, unique story.
From zero to hero
At its core, Outward is a game about progression. While you initially start with little more than some clothes on your back, you will slowly grow stronger and more capable through a variety of means. One of them is training. There are a plethora of different skill trainers spread throughout the world of Aurai, and each one of them offers new skills for you to learn and master that will become useful on your journey. Another way you progress is through learning from failure; being defeated in battle doesn't always mean death. Sometimes, enemies may capture you and try to force you to be their slave. While this puts you in a weakened state, it also presents you with a challenge, which is to break free. Doing so is far from easy, but if you manage, you'll walk away a stronger player.
There are several different ways you can overcome your problems, too. In traditional RPG fashion, you can win the hearts of others with words and deeds, strike down foes with blades, and even perform rituals to conjure magic. This is where the aforementioned skill training comes in handy, as learning how to execute feats that assist your chosen play-style is crucial.
Perhaps the most interesting system present within Outward is the way inventory management works. Instead of the same old carry-weight limit most games impose on you, Outward instead gives you a maximum of 10 inventory slots for the player. If you want more, you'll need a backpack, and each type of backpack comes with advantages and disadvantages. Some backpacks are huge and allow for storage of dozens of items, but will slow you down in combat. Others are smaller, but also lighter, which allows for more free movement. Learning what backpack you need for your style is important because a poor backpack choice can be just as dangerous as an enemy with a sword.
Speaking of enemies, combat in Outward is the only part of the game that is disappointing. It's balanced, but the feel of it is off. It doesn't feel right to run someone through with your spear only for it to slide in and out of their body with next to no noticeable resistance. It seems that the game's hit feedback needs improvement.
Generally speaking, Outward is a visually-pleasing game, though it isn't one of the best looking games around. The rich color palette makes the world feel lively and vibrant, though, and the variety of environments helps it feel diverse. Some of the animations are a little goofy, but they're far from bad. On the audio side of things, the musical score is absolutely gorgeous, and the team behind it should be commended for its immense talent.
When it comes to user interface, it's very clean and streamlined. It bears resemblance to what you would find in a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, including a hotkey bar. One big criticism I have, though, is the lack of a minimap. Having to open the full map every few minutes just to check if I'm on the right path to a town is incredibly annoying.
Final thoughts on Outward
Outward, despite its flaws, is one of the most interesting open-world RPGs I've played since Divinity: Original Sin 2. With some work to the way combat feels and the much-needed addition of a minimap, I think Outward has the potential to shine when it's released.
Outward is expected to launch on March 31, 2019. It should be available on PC, as well as on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
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