It took years of stagnation and mediocrity, but people are finally getting sick of Bethesda.  It seems FALLOUT 76 was the last straw, and both consumers and the media have finally stopped enabling them. As if on cue, a new contender has approached to challenge Bethesda’s dominance. Enter THE OUTER WORLDS, an upcoming RPG that aims to beat Bethesda at its own game.

Developed by Obsidian, THE OUTER WORLDS is an upcoming title that combines the style of a Bethesda game with the substance of a classic RPG.

In other words, it sounds like my perfect game.

Obsidian makes solid games, but they’ve never had the budget to compete with Bethesda. But backed by both Take-Two and Microsoft, the sky’s the limit for this treasured studio.

But can THE OUTER WORLDS really beat Bethesda at their own game? What are they doing differently? Why should we care? Well, let’s take a look!

What Is THE OUTER WORLDS?

THE OUTER WORLDS is being developed by Obsidian, a company that’s worked with Bethesda in the past. In fact, they developed what is arguably Bethesda’s best RPG to date: FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS. On top of that, the team is led by the original creators of the FALLOUT franchise. These guys know what they’re doing.

Just like NEW VEGAS, THE OUTER WORLDS is a first-person, action-RPG that prioritizes choice, variety, and role-play.

As the name implies, it takes place in the far reaches of space. Known as Halcyon System, this place used to be the wild frontier, but corporations have long since taken over, turning this lawless backwater into a commercial dystopia.

The art style is both colorful and stylized. Imagine if NO MAN’S SKY had a baby with the 1900’s, and you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about. The world has a retro-futuristic feel, similar to FALLOUT.  The colorful designs of 70s sci-fi mesh surprisingly well with a turn-of-the-century aesthetic. It’s oddly endearing and adds to the charm and personality of the world.

THE OUTER WORLDS
I love this art style. Image courtesy of Obsidian.

You play as a colonist who recently woke up from cryo-sleep. Turns out you overslept and arrived at your destination 70 years late. What you do from there is up to you, and early choices can change the way the story plays out.

According to co-director Leonard Boyarsky, the game is pretty open-ended, something we’ve come to expect from Obsidian. You can be a hero, a mercenary, a psychotic killer, and everything in between.

In essence, THE OUTER WORLDS is like FALLOUT crossed with MASS EFFECT, with the tone and setting of FIREFLY.

What Sets THE OUTER WORLDS Apart?

But what exactly does THE OUTER WORLDS do differently from a Bethesda game? Well, it starts with the core design.

According to Obsidian, every quest in THE OUTER WORLDS is built from the ground up with different playstyles in mind. Depending on your strategy, quests can play out in radically different ways.

This was sorely missing in both SKYRIM and FALLOUT 4. Sure, both games let you play in different ways, but these choices tend to be shallow and unresponsive. Whether you’re pelting bandits with fireballs, arrows, or slashing them with your sword, you don’t really face unique challenges or reach alternate paths based on the way you play. And you can forget about non-lethal or persuasion-based playthroughs. Almost every quest devolves into a dungeon crawl and a killing spree, regardless of your actions.

In OUTER WORLDS, entire quests can change based on your approach. According to Obsidian, most quests will have options for combat, stealth, and dialogue, each with their own obstacles and branching paths.

This approach is part of a larger design philosophy. THE OUTER WORLDS places an emphasis on choice, consequence, and player expression, and this mindset is what sets it apart from the competition.

Expressing Yourself

For example, THE OUTER WORLDS will make frequent use of skill checks, a common but invaluable feature in many RPGs.

Put simply, skill checks are additional choices or dialogue lines that are unlocked based on your character’s skills and abilities.  They allow you to flesh out your personality and give you additional ways to solve problems and express yourself.

With skill checks, an intelligent character will behave intelligently, and people will acknowledge your scientific skill. A strong person can intimidate people with brute force or bash open barriers. If a game has a medical skill, you can actually cure sick people, who may reward you for your services. In some games, your skill checks entirely change the way your character speaks based on your charisma, intelligence, and other factors.

We haven’t seen many skill checks for THE OUTER WORLDS, but we know there are various choices based on your character’s abilities or even a lack thereof. Like classic FALLOUT games, having a low intelligence can unlock unique dialogue, often to comedic effect.

Skill checks were severely underdeveloped in FALLOUT 4 and completely absent in SKYRIM, but they’re an essential part of many RPGs.

THE OUTER WORLDS
This is how dialogue should work in an RPG. Image courtesy of Obsidian.

Skill checks take immersion to the next level, giving you a deeper connection to both your character and the world. They provide the player with countless options and branching paths. In many games, the right skill checks can radically alter quests, leading to entirely different results.

Bringing Role-Play Back

All these features share the same goal: to enhance the role-play experience. Bethesda places so much importance on big, complicated worlds, but what good is an open world if you can’t immerse yourself? What good is choice without consequence? Why play a Role-Playing Game if you can’t role-play?

That’s the problem with Bethesda games. They build beautiful worlds with incredible backstories; they design solid mechanics worth building upon… and they stop there. With THE OUTER WORLDS, Obsidian aims to finish Bethesda’s job, taking their unique formula to the next level.

Building A Better Wheel

But none of this is new. I’ve talked about this before, but things like skill checks and branching paths are age-old features commonly found in smaller budget RPGs. For whatever reason, these isometric titles provide a much deeper experience than their 3D counterparts.

So if these features are so common, why don’t we see them in Bethesda games? Because this is Bethesda we’re talking about. If we’ve learned anything from this company over the past decade it’s that they have no incentive to improve.

Bethesda offers a completely unique style of RPG, one that resonates with a lot of people. They make “Sandbox RPGs;” games where you can go where you want, do what you want, and to some extent, be who you want, all in a very accessible and open-ended manner. They see no reason to innovate because they have no need.

Until Now

THE OUTER WORLDS is the first game to actively compete with Bethesda. Sure, you could argue THE WITCHER or DIVINITY are better games, but they don’t fill the same niche.

Meanwhile, THE OUTER WORLDS feels like a Bethesda game from an alternate reality. One where, instead of making FALLOUT 76, they improved on their tired formula and created this:

Intentional or not, Obsidian is coming directly for Bethesda’s audience. They’ve taken their core formula and combined it with the depth and variety of an old-school RPG.

Sure, we still don’t know if the game will succeed. I can easily see THE OUTER WORLDS being unpolished, unbalanced, or just plain bad.

But given their track record, I’m pretty optimistic. FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS is my favorite RPG of all time. It’s the only 3D RPG I’ve played that even approaches the depth and immersion of the isometric classics. If any studio can pull this off, it’s Obsidian.

So, what happens if OUTER WORLDS is actually good? What happens when Bethesda’s fans realize they can have the best of both worlds?

If this game succeeds, if they can bridge the gap between sandbox gameplay and immersive role-play, how can Bethesda compete?

A Small World After All

But even if OUTER WORLDS is a complete success, Bethesda still has an ace up its sleeve: its massive, open worlds.

According to Kotaku, THE OUTER WORLDS will be closer in scale to KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC than FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS. In other words, the game will feature plenty of large, interconnected zones, but we won’t see a giant, seamless open world.

This may be a disappointment for some. I mean, for all my complaints about Bethesda, I have nothing but praise for their huge, detailed worlds.

Sure, it’s en vogue these days to hate on big worlds, especially when those worlds feel empty. To some extent, I can understand this. The market is saturated with repetitive open world games, and people are starting to get sick of them.

The Importance Of Scale

But I still see the value in a larger than life environment, full of things to do and people to see. For me, an RPG loses something when it’s world feels too small. I want to lose myself in another world, to explore every nook and cranny, to live a life in a virtual space.

I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who feels this way. Regardless of what skeptics say, open world games are still wildly popular. People want both quality and quantity. They want depth and volume.

THE OUTER WORLDS
It’s a rare combination, but when you find it there’s no going back. Image courtesy of Rockstar Games.

Now, not every game can provide that, but in a title that clearly draws inspiration from Bethesda, it’s hard not to expect it.

A sense of scale can better immerse you into the experience, and if a world is dense enough, you’ll never run out of things to do in it. As of now, this is an area where Bethesda still excels, and I can’t see anyone beating them anytime soon.

Check out THE ART OF FALLOUT 4 on Comixology!

Now, none of this will hurt my enjoyment of THE OUTER WORLDS, but in the future, I really hope they can expand the scope of the game without sacrificing the quality of the experience.

Why This Matters

But even with its smaller scale, I’m excited for THE OUTER WORLDS. If Obsidian can pull this off, then imagine what they can do in the future, especially with the backing of Microsoft. If they play their cards right, Obsidian can be an industry leader. They can bring choice, freedom, and depth back to the mainstream.

I’ve been saying this for years: it’s only a matter of time until someone beats Bethesda at their own game. But if THE OUTER WORLDS is a success, I think this could be good for both studios.

I want to see a future where Obsidian and Bethesda fight for market dominance, each studio trying to out do the other. Sometimes, inspiration can come from adversity. Sometimes a market rivalry is all it takes to get a stagnant studio back on track.

This sort of competition can only be good for consumers. Hopefully, other studios will join in as well. The industry deserves more RPGs, and hopefully, THE OUTER WORLDS is the start of a new trend.

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