One of the things that I hope never disappears from gaming is split-screen. My first experiences with the concept were, of course, playing Goldeneye on the N64, but local co-op holds a large place in my heart. Whether it’s classics or modern indie hits, the ability to sit down with Christina, my player 2, and play a game together is nothing short of amazing.
Outward, a new open-world RPG from Nine Dots Studio, promises to bring full split-screen cooperative play, classic mechanics, and a no-holds barred approach to the RPG concept. It’s a tall order, but after venturing out into this expansive world with Christina, I’m ready to talk about what this ambitious RPG has to offer. Let’s find out if Outward inspires you to go out and buy a copy, or if this concept buckles under the weight of its own ambition.
Ambition Meets Reality
The concept of Outward immediately grabbed my attention. It’s not hard to find a game on the PS4 that offers RPG mechanics, a vast world, and survival elements, but it is hard to find one the clings to rigid self-made rules and offers support for local co-op.
In this regard, Outward stands out as an RPG that doesn’t hold your hand, doesn’t apologize, but does allow you to experience it with friends both in person and online. From a story perspective, Outward does offer some guidance in the early hours, and a main questline to follow, but you’re going to find yourself busy with trying to get yourself off the ground before you worry about any of that.
The concept here is interesting, because your character is not a great hero. You’re not legendary in any capacity, and the only people who know your name are those who hate you or want your money. In fact, your family name is associated with an ongoing Blood Price that hangs over your head in the opening hours.
You start with practically nothing, and you’re informed that if you can’t pay restitution for your missed payments, your home will be taken from you. Despite it being a fantasy world, this hopeless beginning and crushing debt felt a lot like real life to me.
One thing I really enjoyed about Outward was the tutorial, which I know sounds insane, but it is incredibly well done. We’re talking about a game where you need to cook, store clean water, find safe places to sleep, and even cast magic using complex rituals. Nothing about Outward is simple, but the tutorial structure makes it easy to digest.
You walk through a dungeon of sorts, stopping at various stations to learn about game mechanics and test them out. It manages to boil down everything into bite-sized pieces that made the actual game feel less daunting when you were thrown into it.
Once you’re into the world, you'll probably scramble and flounder for a time while you try to make your payment and establish equipment of your own. Once you’ve gotten past the growing pains, you’ll find that Outward is pretty intuitive in its mechanics.
For example, the crafting menu makes things pretty easy to understand, and the ability to build a fire without a ton of ingredients lets you get to cooking pretty fast. Making simple armor and finding weapons also comes pretty easy. The game doesn’t have survival meters on the main HUD, but it does notify you when you’re hungry, thirsty, diseased, cold, hot, or sleepy. You can check the exact numbers in your stats menu, but I found this to be a fair balance. You’ll also need to wear the proper clothing for your environment.
The less clutter you have on the HUD, the better in my opinion. Inventory structure does offer a unique take, allowing you to place items in your pockets or in a backpack. Even money itself has a real weight, so you’ll need to take that into account. If you’re looking to remain nimble in combat, you can actually drop your backpack with a single button press and pick it back up after fighting.
Speaking of combat, it’s going to serve you a large slice of humble pie. My first several fights that didn’t involve a small animal ended very badly. Now, the combat itself is good, in theory, but in practice it feels a little too unresponsive. You have a standard attack and a strong attack. Multiple combos become available when you implement a strong attack later in the string.
It works fine, but even the lightest of weapons have a lethargic swing, and the dodge roll doesn’t trigger fast enough to clear space when you’re fighting larger enemies. As a result, you’re going to die a lot. I suspect the developers knew this because the game over comes in different flavors each time.
Once death brought me to a strange creature who seemingly saved me from death, while another had me dragged back to my hometown by a mysterious individual. I liked this variety, but Outward certainly requires some patience and time to truly come into its own.
This would be fine, if not for the number of bugs and oddities I ran into during these early hours. For example, while playing local co-op, we often came across bonuses or items for only one player. As an example, in the very beginning, you’re given some clothes from a character. Only one of us got clothes, the other had to find their own.
While this was annoying, we found ways to get around it and find crucial items like a water sack for the second player. At one point, as we left the starting town, one character received a bonus skill, and for the other? Nothing.
It seemed odd that, for a game that champions local co-op, that such quality of life elements were left out. Beyond this, there were also a number of visual bugs and glitches that we’ll talk about in the next section.
From a gameplay perspective, Outward does a lot of things right. The combat is perhaps the weakest element, but the survival, crafting, and exploration are all very exciting. While the local co-op could be improved with some quality of life changes, the fact that it’s included is a great aspect of this experience.
A Mixed Bag
Outward is a beautiful game at times. The environments and regions are varied and massive, while the use of bold colors makes everything stand out on the screen. Characters leave a lot to be desired, however, as they look very clunky and undetailed up close.
During my time I also ran into some pretty jarring visual glitches, such as one that happened when I exited a city into the open world. The sky flickered constantly as I walked around, and a gray wall slid back and forth through the environment like some kind of abstract art piece.
It didn’t stop until I reset my game, and it’s glitches like that which hurt the overall experience for me. Not only do they break immersion, but they make the game feel unstable at times. Thankfully, modern gaming does allow for patches, and I’m confident we will see some of these issues resolved in time.
While it does buckle somewhat under the massive ambition of it’s developers, Outward is still a remarkable RPG that manages to do a lot with a smaller budget than most. With some time and updates to iron out the wrinkles, this will be a game you’ll want to spend a hundred hours within, possibly even more. As it stands, Outward is most certainly worth a look if you have the patience to deal with some of its rougher edges.
Final Score: 7.0/10
A copy of Outward was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 4/23/19