Recently released on consoles and PC, Outward is the debut role-playing game from Nine Dot Studio. It happily wears its inspirations on its sleeves as it features a blend of the classic PC RPGs of yesteryear with survival mechanics. As such, it’s a unique combination of two of the most obtuse and difficult to parse genres.
Outward's Console Ports Are an AfterthoughtMy first impression of Outward was a rough one as I could barely read the game’s text on my television without nearing closer to the screen. Clearly designed for PC first and foremost, the console versions feel like an afterthought in every way. From enemy corpses that glitch out and can’t be looted to a controller layout that makes it way too easy to accidentally lose your backpack (by pressing up on the directional pad) and only notice 30 minutes later, there are problems that make it a frustrating experience.
In fact, my opening six hours of the game were mostly spent replaying the opening portion as it’s on a time limit, and after realizing I had made mistakes, I figured it’d be easier to restart than to regain everything that I had lost. This stipulation is actually quite easy to beat once you know what you’re doing, but the poor map and tutorial do a terrible job of getting new players up to speed. This is very much a title where players learn from failure, and in Outward’s case that means getting killed by wolves while you adjust to the clunky combat system or dying of poison.
However, the more I put into Outward, the more I found reason to like it. While the story and dialogue weren’t anything special, the actual world design was quite gorgeous at times. Some of my favorite moments were spent just exploring. I’d spot a purple field, go check it out, battle a few bandits, and then find myself climbing up a huge mountain. At the top, I found some great gear that was guarded by a dangerous creature, but I was able to loot it before it could kill me and then I ran my under-leveled character away as fast as I could. It’s these small moments that make the game feel really special.
Outward Takes a Great Deal of PatienceHowever, for as much as I enjoyed certain points of Outward, it became an incredible test of patience. Putting in multiple hours of mundane and aggravating play just so I could have one cool experience or make my way to a new area just wasn’t worth the time investment. Perhaps its due to being overambitious or needing to be streamlined, but there are far too many issues to ignore here. In its current form, Nine Dot Studio has made a game that is far more frustrating than fun.
The biggest issues stem from the aforementioned combat system and an inventory system that is cumbersome to navigate on a controller. There’s a lot of customization possible for combat, as you can select different weapon types and choose to either try to dodge attacks or try to use a shield to deflect them. However, none of the weapons actually feel good to use as the lock-on system rarely feels good. All of the prioritized animations look terrible even when you’re connecting and dealing damage.
Since combat is such a key component of any RPG, players are left with every enemy encounter being an annoyance rather than fun. I wasn’t worried about combat due to getting a wound or poisoned, just upset that I’d have to engage with its worst gameplay system. This core flaw impacts every moment of the game, one which is already painfully slow to progress in.
Outward has a lot of promise and there are moments when it delivers on its initial premise. However, these memorable experiences are few and far between. Unless you’re willing to put in dozens of hours just so you can enjoy a handful of them, it’s difficult to recommend.
TechRaptor covered Outward on PS4 using a copy provided by Deep Silver.