The Outer Worlds, like the Fallout franchise before it, is heavily reliant on engaging characters and strong writing. And just like with its murky gray and brown older brother, players will spend roughly half their playtime chatting with companions and everyone else they come across throughout the voyage. This style of game has never been easy to pull off; later Mass Effect entries and Fallout 4 both stumbled when it came to creating characters with enough depth and intrigue to be worth talking to for dozens of hours.
Thankfully, Obsidian’s writer’s room hasn’t lost its touch in the slightest. Not only is the writing in The Outer Worlds some of the strongest of the year, but its approach to character-building is totally multifaceted. It weaves thoughtful dialogue, environmental storytelling, world-building elements, and even inter-party commentary together to create some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Quality Companion Time
Though there is a great deal of sequence-breaking possible in The Outer Worlds by design, the first companion every player will undoubtedly encounter is Parvati, a timid mechanic from the rundown outpost of Edgewater. She’s immediately likable — a soft, unsure voice used to being talked over, with convincing facial animation full of downward glances and faltering smiles, and a meek but determined attitude indicative of someone battered but not without hope.
The town offers a wealth a ways to learn more about her; once out of earshot of the outpost administrator, Parvati suggests getting a second opinion before carrying out the mission. Following up on this brings the player to the town church and vicar, triggering several insights into Parvati’s feelings on religion in the process. That goes for every shop in town; walk in, and Parvati will give a little tidbit of the shop itself, the people working there, or her relationship to it.
Then, there’s her house. Not only does Parvati offer something to eat when the player walks in, but every room elicits a new bit of commentary on her home and the wistful memories attached to it. Everything adds up, too; since Parvati doesn’t drink, there isn’t a drop of alcohol to be found. She’s so meek that when the player tries to steal something in her home, she confronts them but immediately backs down, ultimately allowing the theft.
If it wasn’t apparent already, companions get extra love and care in the character-building department. Each has a dedicated room on the ship littered with bits and bobs that reveal a bit more about their interests. They’ll even hang around and chat with each other both on board and when walking around and discovering new areas. The best part? It’s all in accordance with their personalities. Parvati typically tries to strike up a conversation, but a no-nonsense crewmate who takes himself far too seriously will either brush her off or lecture her on all manner of nonsense. Each pairing (players can take along only two party members at a time) yields different interactions, and it’s a wonderfully realistic way to get to know every side of who they are. It also makes much more sense than the utter silence we’ve all grown so accustomed to when walking around with a party.
First Impressions Are Everything
There’s nothing worse than a game that builds characters up only to have their reveal be critically underwhelming. Be it villians or important figures, how a character is introduced is vital to their believability.
The Outer Worlds tackles this issue from various angles. The game’s first “villain” is encountered with little pretext aside from the state of the town he runs. Instead, players can gradually learn more by walking around town and hearing people’s stories. How is everyone being treated? What’s expected of people living there? Why are so many citizens dying and running away? The more one snoops around, the clearer the picture becomes. Players that hack into terminals outside of town will come across shockingly heartless messages with this person’s byline. Speaking to more locals will result in hearing all manner of horror stories. The more a player learns after meeting this villain, the more they likely can’t wait to run into him again.
Then there’s the inverse of this strategy. Once I set course for the first major outpost outside of the starting area, Parvati pulled me aside and asked if we could stop to see its chief engineer —someone named Junlei Tennyson. She’d heard impressive things about Junlei back in Edgewater, and since Parvati was still getting acclimated to being a spaceship mechanic, she wanted to pick her brain for advice.
Upon landing and registering our ship, the processor at the docking bay informed us that Junlei was actually captain of the entire outpost in addition to being the chief engineer. A couple of traders chat about the ship’s busted radiator and how long Junlei’s been working on it; checking public terminals reveals different announcements she’s made; quest-givers breathe sighs of relief that she’s maintained the outpost as an independent port.
By the time I actually met Junlei, a legitimate aura of gravitas had been laid. Learning about her grit, extensive skill set, and love for her people simply by paying attention while walking through her ship had resulted in a feeling of awe once finally able to shake her hand. It wasn’t just strong writing that made the moment so impactful, but how it was delivered.
The Outer Worlds manages to succeed where to many have failed in making a writing-heavy game as captivating as a great novel. While an engaging story, combat system, and strong world-building are each paramount in their own right, it’s ultimately the characters that stick long after the credits finish rolling. If the first half of the game is any indication, Obsidian’s new space epic will stay with players for a long, long time.