Who Does Role Playing Games Better?
At first glance, The Outer Worlds looks a lot like Fallout: New Vegas but in space. It may have something to do with the art style, the engine, or the fact that the same developer made both games. In fact, Obsidian is largely responsible for the creation of the Fallout series, long ago when they were under the Interplay corporate umbrella. Either way, the resemblance is more than superficial. Both games are modern RPGs with very similar leveling and combat mechanics. They’re even based around the same broad theme, though they take very different approaches to presenting it.
Given that recent Fallout games have clearly diverged from Obsidian’s approach to RPGs (or from Bethesda’s own RPG formula for that matter), it may be worth looking at their differences. If nothing else, it could give a clearer picture as to why Bethesda’s development philosophies appear to have done a complete 180 degree turn overnight. Either that or we can see whether or not Obsidian has what it takes to be a real threat in the modern market.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, Obsidian and Bethesda's games are roughly equal. The Outer Worlds has marginally better quest diversity, but Bethesda’s Fallout games have better miscellaneous tasks. Admittedly, being able to build your own settlement is largely pointless from a practical standpoint, but it is a legitimate time waster that lets you use your creativity to make something wholly of your own design. Everything else, from the sneaking to the shooting, is basically the same in terms of quality. The Bethesda era of Fallout games has a lot more diversity when it comes to loot though.
The quality of the writing is less equal. In this regard, The Outer Worlds is superior. Every character, from companion to villain, is very well written. No one is evil for the sake of being evil, and you can certainly see the rationale behind some of the antagonists' decisions. You might even agree with them, if you let them explain their dastardly plans. However, it should be noted that Obsidian had the benefit of time. Fallout 4 came out five years ago and it’s been an entire decade since New Vegas came out. It would be a real surprise if Obsidian wasn’t taking notes the whole time. To be fair to Bethesda, it’s presumably a lot easier to write a story with a non-vocal protagonist in a new universe than it is to work with a pre-established setting.
Strangely enough, The Outer World’s companion quests are largely not as in depth as one may expect. One companion is a robot and thus apparently doesn’t have enough of a personality to deserve a companion quest. Two of the earlier companions have decently long quests that provide significant character progression. The rest basically boil down to completing unexpectedly simple tasks or running around the entire solar system to shoot someone in the face. It feels a little rushed, at least compared to Fallout 4’s companion quests. If you consider how Fallout 4 has almost twice as many companions as The Outer Worlds has, then the gap widens even more.
When you look at how each game tackles leveling and skills, things get one sided once again. Of the two games, The Outer Worlds has a decidedly more traditional system with just a touch of modern convenience. You level up, get points, and put points into skills that you like. Skill checks exists, giving you a chance to talk or science your way out of encounters. Fortunately, the combat based skills don't directly affect the damage you do with specific weapons, so you're free to use whatever gun you want. Overall, it's a very robust system that gives players a lot of leeway. The Fallout 4/Fallout 76 leveling system is practically archaic by comparison. That your character's skills have a flat and direct impact on weapon damage is enough to consider it outdated.
On paper, it definitely seems like The Outer Worlds can go toe to toe with the Fallout series. The most important features of The Outer Worlds, like the story and the basic mechanics, are excellent and have indeed surpassed the quality of their spiritual predecessor. The former also has more room to expand in any potential future games, but that's usually the case with new IPs. In practice, Obsidian's largest hurdle will be brand recognition. Fortunately enough for Obsidian, the disaster that is Fallout 76 has done no small amount of damage to the Fallout name. In their rush to capitalize on one of their flagship franchises, Bethesda flew too close to the sun. The time is right for a new RPG series to claim the throne, and all Obsidian has to do is seize it.