[Preview] The Outer Worlds – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Obsidian Entertainment, Virtuos
  • Publisher: Private Division
  • Release Date: 05/06/2020
  • Price: £49.99 / $59.99
  • Review copy provided by Private Division

Introducing: The Outer Worlds Switch Preview

When it comes to The Outer Worlds on Nintendo Switch, multiple things are true at once. It’s a phenomenal game and a shoddy Switch port. This is the first game I’ve played in the past three years that has scratched my Breath of the Wild itch. From a pure gameplay perspective, I’m enamored with The Outer Worlds. However, I’m finding it difficult to become fully engaged in Obsidian’s universe. This is a function of the underwhelming transition from PS4/Xbox One to Switch – one that prioritizes performance to the extreme detriment of visual fidelity and immersion.

Port Pontificating

That latter point I want to touch on first. Once the elephant has been discussed and escorted out of the room, I can spend my time shouting the game’s praises from the rooftops. The game’s performance on Switch is going to be the largest point of contention for many, and likely the deciding factor when it comes to purchasing The Outer Worlds on Switch. It’s hard to pin the blame on Virtuos’ port job here. They decided – rightfully so – to ensure the game runs smoothly at the cost of its beauty. Ten out of ten times this is the right call in the case of The Outer Worlds. On the surface, the game is an nonlinear Western RPG, but at its core, The Outer Worlds is a first-person shooter. A consistent framerate is essential, and outside of the occasional hitch, Virtuos delivers that in both handheld and docked modes.

The Outer Worlds is infinitely playable, and outside of long (but not oppressively long) load times, the game is rock solid. From this standpoint, you aren’t making a sacrifice by choosing to play Obsidian’s epic on Switch. What you will be losing, though, is the sense of immersion evoked by atmosphere. The entire game appears as though its been smeared with Vaseline. The texture work is muddy, and the colors are dull. Everything is fairly low-poly, too, which does little to make the underlying geometry seem natural. The frequent pop-in does little to aid the realism, either. The locales in The Outer World should be breathtaking, but the air is too stale. Sure, the eccentric cities and landscapes register as impressive because of the game’s wonderful art direction and aesthetic. But, while I can recognize that, I can’t feel it acutely. The inadequacies of the port have placed a barrier between myself and the game’s ethos.

It is worth noting, though, that the game does look better in handheld mode. The smaller screen hides some of the rougher edges that are painfully apparent on my TV. Playing this game in bed with a good pair of headphones may just be the best way to lose yourself in The Outer Worlds – although this does open up its own issues that’ll vary from player to player. Since this game is a shooter at its core, the short travel of the Joy-Con sticks make aiming harder than it needs to be. Thankfully, as should be a staple in all Switch shooters, The Outer Worlds does offer gyro control. The gyro can even be set to only activate when aiming down sights, which is a nice feature. However, outside of Splatoon, motion aiming has never clicked with me. Still, the option to use gyro is much appreciated.

Compelling Conquests

If the discussion of technical nuts and bolts didn’t scare you away from The Outer Worlds, though, you’re in for a deeply rewarding and gripping adventure. At the time of writing, I’m about eight hours into the game -hours that have flown by staggeringly quickly. I suppose that’s a testament to how enjoyable The Outer Worlds is on a moment to moment basis.

As the game is a spacefaring RPG, the gameplay loop boils down to taking on quests, exploring alien locations, fighting various factions, and conversing with the countless inhabitants of the land. I’ll save my explanation of the game’s myriad systems for my full review. Instead, I want to bore into exactly why the game has hooked me. This is largely a function of its open-ended mission design. You truly do have the power to approach quests in the manner that you’d like. Some open world games tout the ability to mold the adventure to your liking but actually keep the player walking a tightrope. That isn’t the case here.

Exploration Examples

The Outer Worlds truly takes a laissez-faire approach to its mission design. It’s a principle best illustrated through example. I was asked to visit Stellar Bay on the planet Monarch. To do so, I was told that I needed to get a security key that would give me clearance to land. Initially, I protested and asked to simply land elsewhere and trek to Stellar Bay myself. I was informed by the quest giver that I couldn’t do that as it was far too dangerous. As such, I initially followed the intended path, finding the woman who could forge my clearance. I had to do a side mission to curry her favor, but upon returning, I made some key blunders in my conversation and the woman wouldn’t give the forged clearance. So, I simply returned to my ship, ignored the protesting of the quest giver, landed outside of Stellar Bay, and proceeded to slip into the city.

However, this wasn’t the only alternative approach I could’ve taken. I could’ve stealthily robbed the woman’s safe, stealing the security clearance I needed. Or, throwing subtlety out the window, I could’ve marched into her office, killed her and the others, taken the key from her corpse, and opened the safe. Had I done the latter; it would’ve been reminiscent of a previous quest I took on. I needed a power converter for my crashed ship. To acquire one, I was recruited by a local, power-hungry baron to divert power away from an adjacent town and back to him, thus freeing up a power converter for me to take. Well, upon entering the town that I was supposed to shut down, I learned about the baron’s oppressive ways and how he subjugated his people. So, I diverted power away from him instead. I returned to his town, vaporized him with my super cool plasma rifle (which I had stolen from a different town), took his power converter, and left. It’s just karma.

Emphasizing Agency

The function of these examples is to demonstrate the ways that The Outer Worlds truly prioritizes the player’s experience. Not only can you make these sorts of macro decisions, there are plenty of micro decisions to make as well. The game has a deep and nuanced progression system that can really influence your playstyle. Each of the game’s brilliantly written dialog exchanges is rife with opportunity to steer the course. Picking different dialog options result in truly impactful responses and leveraging different upgradable skills such as persuasion and deception further expand your options. To use a very in vogue phrase,  The Outer Worlds epitomizes the water-cooler game. It’s the sort of experience I’m dying to talk about with others and hear how they chose to approach particular quests.

As I mentioned at the outset, this is the first game that has scratched the itch left by Breath of the Wild. That game, too, offered a nearly unprecedented level of player agency. I felt as though every mark I left on Hyrule was mine, and every solution to a puzzle or combat encounter was a direct result of my intuition and personal approach to gameplay. For the first time in over three years, I’m feeling that again with The Outer Worlds. There is no higher praise I can offer the game than that.

Stay tuned to Nintendad for our full review of The Outer Worlds in the coming week!