by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Learning the Ropes
Outward is simultaneously a game of incredible freedom and crushingly strict guidelines. Outward has rules. Outward has a ton of rules, actually. So many that I died a good many times before I really felt comfortable operating within them, despite having pumped a considerable number of hours into the game’s preview build a few months ago. It’s tough to carve out a niche in the open-world fantasy market with so many big dogs vying for people’s time and money, but, after spending some time with Outward, it becomes incredibly clear that this is much more of a survival game with fantasy elements than the other way around.
The glue that holds the whole game together is the logic that drives everything you need to do. Combat, crafting, and simple survival are all run in ways that just make sense once you learn what kinds of things you need to worry about, and much of it is interconnected. Need to rest? Cool, you’ll want something to sleep on. After a sleep, though, you’re going to be hungry and thirsty. Do you have the equipment to make a campfire to cook some food? Do you also have a cooking pot and some water in a waterskin? If so, cool, but you’d better make sure that your ingredients haven’t gone bad (and different ingredients do spoil at different rates) or you might get sick. Done all that? Well, a storm just rolled in, and unless you’ve got the clothing to deal with it you’re going to face the consequences of being cold and wet.
A Matter of Perspective
If that paragraph didn’t make it abundantly clear, let me do it here: your opinion about Outward is going to depend immensely on what you’re looking to get out of it. This is not a game I’d recommend to someone simply looking for a fun fantasy romp. It’s not relaxing, and it’s not empowering. At times, the game feels more like work than entertainment. Repeated defeat scenarios and constant fretting about inventory management are going to take up just as much of your time as enjoying vistas or savouring victory. It’s quite a process to cast spells. Combat is kind of floaty. There’s no fast travel. For some people this game is going to be absolute hell to play, but for others, those that welcome the constant and consistent challenge, this might just be one of the best games you play all year. To be fair, even after spending my time with Outward, I’m still not sure what category I fall into. While playing I’d constantly pinball between feelings of hate and adoration, though now, looking back at my experiences, I can’t help but feel like I’m going to continue spending time in the game for the foreseeable future.
Let me walk you through my first half hour or so playing my first load of the game. As the game opens, you’re caught in a shipwreck that leaves the fruits of your recent labor in ruins. After a brief bit of R&R, you awake back in your hometown where - surprise - you owe a bunch of money for something your mother did way back when. One of the town elders is able to buy you a few days by putting the town into a state of mourning for those that died in the wreck, but you absolutely must pay back your debt to the town by the time it’s over. So starts your journey.
Own Up to Your Mistakes
The thing is, you can’t be an idiot when you play Outward. I was an idiot. Right away my character got thirsty. There’s perfectly good drinking water right in the starting town, but I drank some salt water because... why not. I figured I’d just lose some hit points. I was wrong. Instead, drinking salt water gave me indigestion, meaning every time I ate food, which I had to do a lot, there was a 50 percent chance of throwing it up and negating its satiation. That meant I had to spend money on tea that would settle my indigestion. Not noticing it didn’t cure it right away, though, I ate a bunch of food and vomited it all up. That meant I needed to buy more food. So, there I was, 20 minutes into the game, further from my goal than when I started. I tried to leave the town with what I had, but I was ambushed by two angry men. They defeated me. I woke up in a dingy cave and was immediately killed by a wolf-like animal. Since I was still so close to the beginning, I elected to simply start over. I started over quite a few times.
What’s important to note is that even though I had a rough go at a lot of things, including my entire first try at a play-through, I always felt like it was my fault. I shouldn’t have drank saltwater. I shouldn’t have binged on food right after drinking my medicinal tea. If I would have saved that money and spent it on something productive, which I did next, I would have at least had a puncher’s chance at success. On that note, I want to give a shout-out to the game for having a really nice tutorial. A separate mode instead of the opening of the game, the tutorial walked me through everything I needed to know, from combat to user interface, to cooking, and beyond, in a way that was easy to understand and process. Given how much there is to know, that’s no easy task. Set up as a large building I had to walk through, you’re free to walk past any lessons you already know via built-in shortcuts. In an incredibly intuitive and natural system that’s honestly one of the better tutorials I’ve played.
Outward is a tough game to review because I know there are a ton of people that are going to pick this thing up and absolutely detest it, and, as I said, sometimes I felt that way myself. For the right kind of person, though, this game is going to scratch an itch that not many others can. Because of its relatively niche appeal, I don’t see Outward breaking any sales records, but it does seem like a game destined to be revered in the right circles for quite some time.
Deep survival elements, huge amounts of player freedom, high level of difficulty
Combat could be tighter