Outward is a funny old game, I don’t mean it makes you laugh, I mean there’s a strange love-hate relationship that develops when you play the game. The mechanics in Outward make the game so harsh and so unforgiving that you almost fear to play it.
My first impression, on hearing about Outward, was that it was another title that had been dumbed down because you cannot die, an RPG where you cannot die, that’s ridiculous what the price of failure?
Well, the price of failure is extremely high, in Outward, the cost of failing is your time. If you spent time, actually if you spent a lot of your time travelling across the map, on foot by the way because there are no mounts, and find yourself in a fight where you die, you will wake back in your village. Here you can cure your ills before making the long journey back to get your things, did I mention there is no fast travel!
Don’t think you will outsmart the system and just reload your save. Which is exactly what I tried only to discover that Outward is continuously autosaving your progress.
What that means for you and for me is that every time you make a decision, every time there’s a fight planned or unplanned, every time you start a journey, every time you buy equipment from a vendor, or upgrade your skills, in fact every time you do everything or anything in the game you need to carefully consider the consequences of your actions and be prepared for frustration.
It’s this very mechanic that makes the game fantastic and dreadful at the same time. Why would anyone want to play a game that was this harsh? Every time a fight started my heart would race, I would feel dread and an unwelcome and not very fun pressure to succeed.
Do you remember in the past playing early 90s platform games and the very first time you got to the boss fight only for it to be a lot harder than you thought?
That panic and fear you felt as you tried desperately to work out the boss pattern before you ultimately lost and had to go to the checkpoint at the beginning of the boss level.
Well that’s every decision and every fight in Outward in a nutshell.
Outward is a game I really like and really hate at the same time. There are some really good survival mechanics in the game and the magic system is fantastic but balance that with the mediocre graphics, not very impressive voice acting, the developers love of making you fail and overall Outward may be a little too much for most gamers.
Even when you feel safe things can go terribly wrong, for example, I went into a castle and spoke with the chief, everything was going swimmingly until he stole my belongings and put me in his dungeon.
Even as you start playing Outward the game punishes you. The first thing you need to do is get enough money to buy back your house, for some reason you owe money to the town leaders, so I’d read online that a good task to start with would be to get some unusual mushrooms from a cave and sell them to a collector. It turned out that on the way to the cave, on three separate occasions, that I would get into and lose a fight with two bandits, get killed by a trap and then killed by the bandits again. By the time I healed up, got my stuff back each time, and finally got the 150 silver coins I needed to repay the debt I owed way more than 150 silver. Suffice to say, I started over as I just wanted a bed to sleep in.
My biggest problem by far with the mechanics in outward and the choices made by the developers, was the lack of direction given to you when searching for quests. The directions you get to a quest will be vague at best, the map doesn’t show you where you are, there are no markers showing where you’re heading and as I already stated the autosave system means that every failure results in a huge waste of time.
As I alluded to previously the magic system is nothing short of fantastic, but again it comes at a price. For example your very first spell, which is of course the fireball, will first steal your time in that you’ll fail, probably more than once, to make your way to the centre of a mountain and then you have a choice to make, how much of your health and stamina are you willing to permanently sacrifice to be a more powerful mage?
If you go all in you will be physically very weak and your spells are not that good initially. So you will lose almost all the fights your in, actually, it’s not until you learn to combine spells that you can use them to their full effect. For example you need to stand in a magic circle, a spell that means you need to collect certain items before you can cast it, for your fireball spell that you sacrificed so much for to have any real effect.
This would have been good to know before I gave up all my stamina and health meaning I was a weaker fighter but also a terrible mage. Thanks, autosave, you were a real arsehole there.
The world itself is quite small, for an open world RPG at least, which, if I was a cynic could be the reason the game is so harsh and in truth, there isn’t that much going on. The NPC’s in the cities, for example, whilst numerous are for the most part just set dressing and there will only be a few you can actually talk to, these tend to be just the quest givers. As expected the voice acting is pretty poor and the writing is full of RPG cliches and bad English.
If you enjoy Outward there is a lot of game here for your money, you will be playing for hours and hours, but how many of those hours you’ll be replaying the same tasks over and over just to finally make it to the goal are anyone’s guess. Thankfully if you kill an NPC they at least stay dead for a good period of time meaning that you can often get back to where you died in a reasonable amount of time, provided you can make it back exactly the same way.
One of the good decisions the developers made was a co-op mode which was immediately followed by bad decision to allow only one of the people playing to gain quest progress. I only played for a short period of time in Co-op but it was nice at least to be able to revive each other instead of going through the tedious process of healing up and making your way back to the fight.
My lasting impression of Outward is that this is a good game which I hate. If you want to experience the whole game you need to play through several characters so that you can select and fully explore each of the eight skill trees. Whilst this makes your choices about what you learn and how you progress important it does mean that you can’t experience the full game with one character. This is a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. From my perspective, I feel that I cannot be bothered to put myself through the whole experience and frustration again.
Outward is a game I really enjoyed playing however I certainly will not be coming back. For me, the small victories, the triumphs, the jubilation from finally completing a quest didn’t outweigh the frustrations of having to repeat the same task over and over. I feel this game is going to score poorly and that won’t be a true reflection of how good it is but taking into account the graphics, the gameplay, the fun versus the frustration I would struggle to recommend this game to anybody who isn’t a hard-core RPG fan.