Obsidian Commits to the Bit (and you should too!)
In comedy, you come across a pretty common mantra: Commit to the bit. Obsidian does this in spades with its most recently RPG, The Outer Worlds. The studio skewers unchecked capitalism with its absurd depictions of corporate greed, all while bringing every joke to fruition. Yet, the comedic charms of playing a dumb character elevates The Outer Worlds to hilarious heights. I firmly believe everyone deserves the privilege of experiencing a dumb player character. Not only is it entertaining, but it also deconstructs the Hero archetype that we’re all so used to experiencing in video games.
Every [Dumb] dialog option floored me, and more importantly, it floored my companions and everyone I talked to. My stupidity knew no bounds, and I became the butt of every social situation. It was glorious. Across the 30–40 hours I spent in Halcyon, I wasn’t playing a typical hero. I wasn’t playing an atypical anti-hero either. I played the literal fool who miraculously stumbled their way through intense political and social issues, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
The Outer Worlds: Deconstructing the Hero
The Outer Worlds lets you play as all sorts of archetypes thanks to its robust character creation tool. This tool alone justifies multiple playthroughs in Halcyon. You can be the smartest person in the universe, or you can play an absolute idiot who swings hammer good. A lower intelligence stat makes your crits do less damage, but the penalty is worth the reward.
“Words are hard. Thinking no good. Dumb dialog options unlocked.”
That low intelligence gave me more room to pump points into strength and charisma, and the journey of Stones Cojones, captain of the Unreliable, began.
By allowing you to play a dumb character, the typical Hero archetype gets turned on its head. Often, whenever we experience a story about a hero, there are basic assumptions we take for granted. Whoever that hero is, they have at least some semblance of competence and intelligence. They know how to deal with threats, and they question suspicious characters. Even at their lowest point in Act 2, they can figure out what to do to save the day in Act 3. Look at Uncharted, the Arkham series, or even the flawed protagonists of Grand Theft Auto V.
A dumb player character in The Outer Worlds throws all those assumptions out the window. They rarely understand the gravitas of any dire situation. They brush off any sense of danger, not out of bravery or determination—traits we normally admire in heroes—but because they don’t register the danger in the first place.
Normally, the role of the fool goes to someone other than the player character. After all, video games let you live out a power fantasy, and rarely does being a buffoon fall under that. Obsidian, instead, puts that choice in players’ hands. Of course, your importance in Halcyon will always be the driving force of The Outer Worlds. You’re still the protagonist, after all.
However, the world reacts to your stupidity. Allies will try to cover for your misunderstandings. NPCs will criticize your lack of awareness. Tense situations either rapidly escalate because you’re too dumb to defuse them, or they comically deflate because you’re too dumb to notice the tension. People have taken pity on me, while others have been annoyed with me. That doesn’t happen to heroes, but that won’t stop you from saving Halcyon.
The Beauty of Stupidity Affecting Gameplay
In fact, being dumb might actually help you save Halcyon. The clever writing in The Outer Worlds works around your low intelligence, and some things just happen to work out, as if this were a comedy. Without spoiling anything major, you’ll come across a side character later in the story who just might be as dumb as you. Regardless, Huxley looks at life with a positive attitude as she explores the wilderness, no matter how many times she accidentally hurts herself or gets lost.
You need to find out where one of her friends is hiding out. Unfortunately, Huxley’s fiercely loyal, so you’ll need to take some drastic actions to get her to talk. The speech checks are high, and the cost to bribe her is fairly steep. Yet, just by being dumb, I got what I needed.
I didn’t need to pass a high skill check, and I didn’t need to lose my bits. Being dumb actually brought me one step closer to accomplishing a task, much in the same way combat or a high persuasion check would.
Of course, at the same time, being dumb hindered me. The more serious NPCs often talk down to me, and it actually got me in trouble at one point. I was in a room full of heavily armed mercenaries. Their leader, a threatening, gruff man, asked why he should let me walk away alive. I could have persuaded him to let me go. Instead, I picked the [Dumb] option, where my character pointed out that dead people can’t walk, so clearly only people who are alive can walk away from the situation.
He didn’t like that.
In terms of game design, I “failed” that interaction. I couldn’t talk my way out, so my punishment was a somewhat difficult combat encounter. However, that incompetence led to something far more enjoyable than simply passing the skill check: a reason to laugh. By swapping a sense of accomplishment for a sense of humor, even failure becomes fun.
The Outer Worlds Commits to the Bit
Comedy lies at the center of The Outer Worlds, but the dumb character experience puts it on a pedestal. Clearly, Obsidian committed to the bit, so the least you can do is say “yes, and.” Every time a dialog option was tagged with [Dumb], I picked it, regardless of what the others said. This made the moment-to-moment dialog hilarious. Beyond that, Obsidian lets pivotal story beats be dictated by those [Dumb] tags. In other words, there are real consequences for your idiocy, both good and bad.
Obsidian doesn’t let the gas off the pedal just because some narrative moment is happening. Clearly, they never asked, “What if the player character’s stupidity ruins our super serious narrative we’re trying to tell?” Instead, that stupidity becomes a part of who you are and the story itself, both when it matters and when it doesn’t. You ask stupid questions to NPCs you’ll never see again, and you make game-changing decisions based on inane reasoning.
Even the final dialog choice you make can have the [Dumb] tag attached to it. You can kick off the credits by saying something absolutely stupid. I won’t spoil it, of course, but you can rest assured that Obsidian will reward you for committing to the bit. Sure, it’s played for comedic purposes. Yet, it’s in these moments that Obsidian reminds you that you’re playing a role-playing game. The Outer Worlds encourages you to fully dive into the character you’ve made, regardless of how stupid it is.
Are you playing The Outer Worlds? What kind of character are you playing? Let us know in the comments below!