Outward was a highly anticipated survival RPG within the German RPG niche, so we take a look at Outwards biggest strengths. Since its ascendancy in 00’s this unique genre of RPG has been on the decline with underwhelming releases in recent years. Remember Gothic 4? Blergh.
So Fans of the Gothic, Risen and Elex were closely following the news of Nine Dots Studio’s progress. Hoping for a vehicle to take the German’s RPG back into its golden years.
Undoubtedly, the purpose of Outward’s strawman story is to have the player walk the furthest possible distance in order to experience Outward’s main feature, it’s world.
You start the game washed up on a beach after a raid has gone wrong. You eventually find yourself deposited in the nearest town of Cierzo. Here you are thrown straight in the deep end and told to find 150 silver to pay off the debt to the town, or you will lose your house. Losing your house is extremely inconvenient and can have a serious negative impact on the first 10+ hours of the game.
And so begins your journey. If you’re looking for an immersive storyline like The Witcher then this won’t deliver. But to be fair to Outward, this was never its goal.
The story line takes you from point A to point B, asks you to join a faction, make alliances and defeat a cult. And in between you make your own story, which is one of Outwards biggest strengths. The game relies on spontaneity and survival to tell your own story in the world.
Games like Outward trigger interest because of their alternative approach to an RPG. Their picturesque, quaint and sparsely populated worlds always trigger a sense of survival in the player.
European style RPGs always emphasise methodical preparation over god like ability unlocks and character customisation which is usually the driving force in most triple A RPGs. You’re just a regular guy.
Outward is no different, in fact it’s Nine Dot’s unique selling point for the game. If you pick this game up don’t expect much hand holding. I won’t go as far as saying it’s on the level of Dark Souls in terms of difficulty, but you will certainly experience more than your fair share of hair pulling moments until you master the combat mechanics.
At least Dark Souls follows a linear model. Outward drops you in a free roam world and tells you to make something of yourself. If you find yourself without a supply of water, a flint, winter clothing, and repaired gear then you’ll find yourself up the creek without a paddle.
Your bag is effectively what Outward revolves around. It’s your best friend and lifeline, but also your biggest weakness. There are different types for size, weight and awkwardness.
Perhaps you’d prefer to venture the outside world for days at a time, in which case pack your 100kg sack, or if you’re looking for a quick cave skirmish then take your lightweight 25kg bag with the bare minimum to survive but allows you to fight with it on. Each have their own advantages.
Combat is swing, shoot and dodge. Repeat. Nothing complex or ground breaking here. Except this time you have a 180lb bag on your back. A feature that actually makes the game more stimulating. You can find yourself caught off guard frequently, dodging and weaving until you get a chance to drop your bag and get stuck in.
Fighting more than one comparable opponent at a time is a realistic challenge. A fact that most players will find out the hard way, myself included.
In traditional German RPG fashion you don’t start off with the ability to use magic. You have to unlock the pre-requisites piece by piece. A charming feature as long as the magic pays dividends, which in most cases it does, eventually.
Not much to report here, as there’s more customisation in your back pack than your character. You learn new abilities and skills through the game, ranging from melee and ranged combat and magic. The abilities are unique to each weapon, so you can learn axe, sword, mace, staff, bow, 2handed skills that does add some diversity. Finding the trainers is the hardest part, as masters as scattered around the world in different locations.
This is Outward’s best selling point in my opinion. Although the game is fun single player, it’s on a different level with a friend. There’s something magical about a co-op RPG.
Watching your buddy under equipped and limping through the snow brings an element of hilarity when you’re kitted out in full winter kit.
The game will adjust its difficulty with two players making team work not just necessary, but fulfilling when you bring that giant down.
Only downside is you can’t progress your story when in a friends game. If you hop in and spend 4 hours advancing their main quest, or completing side missions this won’t roll over in to your game. So your friend, if he’s feeling kind, has to return the favour. You are effectively there in the capacity of a meat shield and loot fiend.
One of Outwards biggest strengths is it’s world. It’s not graphically demanding, nor will it be remembered as a PC blockbuster. Its colourful and charming surroundings do resonate with players with enough content to keep you engaged and looking for more.
Again don’t expect a heavily populated world, this is a survival game after all. But when you do cross paths with a cave, hut, abandoned fort or wondering NPC it is often for a reason and can result in an immersive investigation or exchange.
Building on the survival theme. Each zone has its own theme. Desert, marshland, plains and woodland. With its own unique weather system. The weather and temperature changes are a challenging way of always keeping you alert when enemy NPCs are sparse.
At the beginning of the game you will shortly find yourself in winter where a lack of preparation around suitable clothing, potions, flint and wood for fire will result in a sequence of panic sprinting whilst you try and get back to the nearest town as quickly as possible. Stopping every 100 metres to build a new fire and warm up.
To counter Outwards biggest strengths we need to look at the bad. The bugs in this game are usually infrequent, but they can be soul destroying. The worst of them all is losing your bag in a co-op game.
This happened to me twice. After hopping into a game with my brother to bail him out of a prison, in the ensuing chaos that followed I died and my bag disappeared. Now I know how to get it back (link to admin mode to load old save here), however at the time I lost all my supplies, money and unique items.
After about 30 hours of playing this game I can say it was fun, but once the initial novelty of survival, travel and exploration has worn off the lack of story becomes more of an issue as you seek more depth instead. The co-op is one of Outwards biggest strengths. Without a buddy to share the experience of Outward I feel I would have grown bored far sooner.