Outward is a survival fantasy RPG with a clear mission. Made by the indie company Nine Dots Studio, the focus becomes very obvious from the get-go. There is this new, foreign fantasy world that you get thrown into, but this time, you are not the hero. You are not some promised figure that is going to save the realm from the dark forces of the world. What you are, is an average adventurer. There is literally nothing special about you. There are no magical abilities or stats that you can enhance and raise as you level up. The only thing you can do is work hard, prepare yourself, and be careful as you walk outside and try to delve into Outward’s world.
Outward is pretty adamant about this approach. Not only is everything out there trying to kill you, but you will also have to take care of your needs at all times. Make sure you have enough supplies with you. Food, a waterskin to quench your thirst, and a bedroll are absolute necessities. Sometimes you can prepare yourself accordingly, but sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where resources are low. In such cases, speed is going to be of the essence, because the consequences of negligence are going to be harsh.
Or worse, a fight can leave you with a nasty wound that will need quick bandaging or a crippling injury that is going to slow you down greatly. The world is a dangerous place, and especially harsh towards self-proclaimed heroes who take preparation lightly.
Depending on where you are in the world, you will need to factor in the climate as well. Temperatures could quickly drop if it starts raining or slowing, forcing you to either frequently take breaks at fires, wear warmer clothes, or brew yourself a herbal tea that should keep you warm. Or you might find yourself around a desert where the scorching heat will warrant different kinds of clothes suitable for the weather and a constant supply of water to keep you cool.
Need for sleep
Fatigue is not just a stat that grows as you stay awake. Much like in real life, it is more the absence of stats. Run around enough and your maximum stamina is going to decrease, just as your maximum health might take a hit if you fight often and take too much damage. The only way to stop this decline is by taking breaks. However, you can’t just camp out in the wilderness without thinking about safety. Sure, inside a city you can safely sleep for as long as you want, but the outside world is dangerous. Consequently, you will have to allocate a sufficient amount of time to keep watch in case somebody or something will try to ambush you. Besides, your gear might need repairing as well and that too is gonna cost you additional precious resting time.
Set up camp together and chill out for a bit.
The most crucial part of your inventory is going to be your backpack. It’s effectively a “second” inventory, where you can store items, equipment, and supplies or maybe hang your lantern. The drawback is, that your movement is going to be slower, forcing you to regularly drop it before you enter any situation where quick movement is required. Essentially, your “first” inventory (everything that’s on your body) is going to be where you store the most essential items like potions and bandages that you want to use quickly, while your backpack is going to be a small storage.
All of these elements are not just needs that need to be fulfilled for the sake of stats (like the maximum stamina). If you fail to tend to the needs of your character, things might become quickly more dangerous. Ignoring the temperatures for too long or eating the wrong food might result in a steadily worsening cold or indigestion respectively. On the other hand, Outward makes taking care of yourself worth your while, since fulfilled needs also mean extra bonuses.
Combat and character progression
As I have hinted above, the character you play is not a special hero that grows in power as you play. There is no way of leveling up or raise your stats. The key to success is proper preparation and the right equipment. Find the right materials to craft good weapons and armors, cook the right foods and teas, and have potions and bandages with you at all times and you will be golden. However, there are certain skills that you can learn from trainers around the world for a handsome sum. These will indeed be useful and increase your power, but the backbone of your ability will always be your equipment.
The combat in Outward is pretty much a continuation of these principles. Watch your enemy closely and be patient as you fight. Your stamina is going to be your most important resource and any hasty decision might leave you staggered or inflicted with a serious wound. Careful not to lose your patience too quickly or you will just as quickly hit the ground. It is hard and unforgiving, but also fair. If you prepare well and have the right tools at your disposal, you will be fine. That is not to say that it cannot be frustrating at times.
Outward’s combat system is definitely engaging
That being said, dying in Outward is an interesting concept. If you are not playing the hardcore mode dying means just falling unconscious. Depending on where and how you die, the consequences might be different. There is a huge variety in so-called Defeat Scenarios. You might wake up imprisoned and stripped of your gear if you lose against bandits, or maybe some good spirited wanderer saves you and you will wake up at a warm fire and on a comfortable bedroll. Being knocked out sometimes will mean losing your backpack and having to search for it (altough you will never lose it permanently).
However, the above-mentioned hardcore mode doesn’t automatically mean perma-death. It’s just a chance that a defeat will actually kill you and end the game (the chance is 20%).
Even though I said that you are not a powerful hero, there is still magic in this game. Except that you do not start out with it and you will have to embark on a dangerous adventure to perform a ritual that is going to unlock magical powers for your character. As with many games, magic is going to be potentially very powerful, but with Outward, it is going to have some serious drawbacks. To unleash your magical power and gain mana, you will have to sacrifice your maximum health to increase your magical powers.
The spell system is just as unique, with different types of spells that work together if you properly prepare them. I don’t want to spoil too much about that though. All I want to say is that Outward makes the sacrifice potentially worth it.
I will keep the story short, as there is not too much to say. The story in Outward is kinda weak and frankly just not the point. There is no voice acting except for the first sentence, which probably was a budget decision. NPCs and dialogue are generally just not the strength of Outward. The story feels lackluster and not very engaging.
The only exception is the beginning of the story, where you find yourself heavily in debt and need to quickly raise a large amount of money to keep your families house. It’s a cool quest that sets the setting with a sense of urgency and gives you the right push. I felt the urge to get money as quickly as possible and it really fired me up.
However, the atmosphere is okay-ish. I am phrasing it this way because all of these survival elements make for a great feel. Sitting at your camp next to a warm fire and cooking a meal truly enhances the atmosphere of the game. Just as the constant need for the right temperature, drink, and food is pretty much perfectly balanced between complete irrelevance and boring tediousness. It is just something that you need to keep thinking of as part of the gameplay, and not a forced addition that’s there to make your life miserable. In addition, the landscape is very beautiful and each area has it’s own flavor.
The problems Outward has is how the world sometimes feels a little bit too empty. There are plenty of enemies you find as you travel, but unfortunately, they do not alleviate this feeling of emptiness you get as you keep traveling and traveling. The world is just a little bit too barren. Monsters or bandits are placed here and there, but there is barely anything in between. I don’t think this is a gigantic issue, as there is still plenty to do in the world. It’s just that I sometimes get the feeling that the game is not quite as finished as the developers would like it to be. Like they were forced to release it prematurely and had bigger plans for it, and generally, that is something that evokes sadness in me.
Unfortunately, the above-mentioned weaknesses with the NPCs, the story, and the dialogue add to that feeling of emptiness. As a matter of fact, cities in Outward remind me of cities in old MMORPGs, where there are a bunch of important NPCs and a couple of no-names and that’s it.
The landscapes are surely beautiful
The Co-op mode that Outward has to offer is pretty decent and definitely mentionable. Everything that I have mentioned up to this point can be done in a team as well, and pretty much every aspect of this game will be enhanced by it. The two players can and will now split the daily tasks between the two of them. Having each-others backs in such a harsh environment is just gigantic fun. I might find myself short of bandages while being wounded and my buddy can help me out. One of us may be focused on having various herbs and potions with them, while the other will make sure to have enough food and craftable materials. There’s also a split-screen version which is rare on PC games but works really well.
The Co-op has a couple of weaknesses though. For example, only the host will be able to advance through quests and the story. The coop player will be ported inside the “hosts world” similarly to games like Dark Souls. That means that everything that can be found inside the world, can only be found once. Especially in the beginning, this might be an issue, as some of the items you find are crucial at first (e.g. a water skin).
Still, this game was clearly intended to be played in Co-op and I strongly advise you to seek out a friend and play it together.
Is Outward worth it?
Outward is an interesting game. The heavy focus on survival with its multiple facets can be very refreshing. The game is very difficult at times and will also require some patience, but I’d say the change of pace from other typical RPG titles is well worth it.
As to whether it is worth playing, I am going to have to go with an unsatisfying “it depends“. If you consider yourself an impatient gamer or a player who has a strong focus on lore and atmosphere, this game might be too shallow for you. However, if you like a challenge and enjoy squaring off against nature and all its perils, Outward might just be the right fit.
Weaknesses or not, it can’t be denied that Outward’s approach is very unique and it is clearly something different in the genre. That alone is in my opinion intriguing enough to warrant a shot at it. As a matter of fact, it is what lead me to try it out myself and write this article. Even though I did not play through the whole game, I enjoyed my time inside the world of Outward and found it to be worth the try.
Disclaimer: The game has received a new DLC called The Soroboreans that is not included in this review. The game might have improved on its weaknesses with this DLC.
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