New best friends.
Obsidian's upcoming RPG The Outer Worlds will be familiar to fans of the genre. It's pretty much a refinement of all the best things about the developer's past games, like Alpha Protocol and Fallout: New Vegas. It puts a major emphasis on an expansive conversation system and carries plenty of consequences for your actions. It utilizes its turn-of-the-century aesthetic perfectly to create the game's expansive, funny send-up of capitalism and corporate culture. And it provides you with a band of companion characters who react to the story and situations as they unfold, and who make the game a lot more interesting with their presence.
Obsidian recently gave GameSpot a chance to get hands-on with The Outer Worlds, providing roughly two hours to dig into one of the game's locations, a lawless and hostile world called Monarch. As Obsidian has detailed in the past, you play a character of your own creation, with the game reacting heavily to your choices as you decide whether to be good, evil, or something in between. Instead of venturing straight out in a random direction to tangle with various creatures, I spun around to speak with the other two major characters of the demo: your companions, Nyoka and Parvati.
"They have opinions of their own and they're reacting to the choices you've made."
Companion characters are a big part of The Outer Worlds, as they have been in other, similar Obsidian RPGs, like New Vegas. You can have two in tow at any given time once they've joined up with you, and of course, they help in combat with whatever weapons you decide to equip them with. They're also a major component of your story in The Outer Worlds.
"We wanted to integrate companions quite a bit more, so each of the companions has a backstory and a companion quest," lead designer Chris Staples said during an interview at the press event. "Talking to them along the way opens up those companion quests and you can do things for them. But also, how those companion quests play out influences what they think of you. Your decisions and how you treat various factions also plays into that."
"For example, a companion might not like the Board [the corporate overlords of The Outer Worlds] at all, and if you start helping them, they'll have issues with that," he continued. "They'll bring that up and say, 'Hey, I don't like what you're doing, if you keep doing this, we can't work together.' We wanted to make sure that there was a lot of--I mean part of the space fantasy is, you know, building your crew and flying through space and having adventures with your crew. And that is sort of what we're going for, to try to make sure they are involved along the way. They have opinions of their own and they're reacting to the choices you've made."
With no quests on the docket, we were free to wander into a nearby outpost and talk to its denizens or go tromping across Monarch's monster-filled fields to see what we might find. As it turned out, though, our demo had a companion quest ready to go from Nyoka, a character who has been living on Monarch, working as a hunter and general monster killer. Talking to her triggered a conversation that gave the backstory for her companion quest. She told a story about her former crew, several of whom had been killed during a monster attack and hastily buried or, worse, left behind. Nyoka asked for help in retrieving some mementos from the burial sites in order to properly honor the team--and take some sweet revenge on the giant alien mantiqueen that murdered them. If you accept, things get altogether more complicated than that.
The first part of the mission sends you running across the fields of Monarch in search of the gravesite of one of Nyoka's friends. Getting there isn't exactly easy since the area is populated by groups of bandits (who also have alien attack dogs) and families of vicious aliens that can spray you down with swarms of bugs they exude from their abdomens.
Luckily, you're pretty proficient in combat, too. Your backstory is that you were frozen in cryostasis for decades while Monarch and its counterpart planet, Terra-2, were colonized. Now that you've awoken, your experience has given you the strange capacity to slow down time, allowing you to line up shots or melee strikes on specific parts of enemies' bodies. The Outer Worlds packs a variety of weapons, from blades that poison to sniper rifles and giant mini-guns, and in our demo, we had a variety of different tools for blasting away at enemies.
Combat felt strong during our demo, especially compared to New Vegas, which The Outer Worlds draws inspiration from. But it's your companions who give the whole experience a fast-paced, strategic feel. Each companion has a special ability move, Staples said, which comes with a cooldown timer. You can activate it on the fly with one button, ordering your teammate to use it on whoever you're targeting. Doing so triggers a brief cutscene as the character executes their move--Nyoka unloads a torrent of armor-shredding ammo from a mini-gun, while Parvati winds up for a big, stunning strike with an electricity infused melee weapon. Both moves were essential to victory in battles, as teammates could stun some enemies briefly while weakening others.
You also have a few squad commands. Similar to what you might expect from a Mass Effect game, you can order your teammates to specific locations or to focus fire on a particular enemy. Mostly, though, you'll let your teammates handle their own fights, but you can dictate their behaviors from The Outer Worlds character menus. The game provides all sorts of options, allowing you to set how aggressive a character is, from what ranges they'll attack, and a lot more. You can even set one of your companions to function as the squad leader, shouldering the burden of commanding the team. They'll still follow you around, but if you're a person who's not great in combat situations, letting another character lead can make things a bit easier.
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Bantering It Up
Nyoka's mission involved picking up a decaying necklace from the grave of one of her friends and then looking to enlist some help to find the cave where the rest were killed. That meant finding two members of the team who'd left Monarch, which required the help of a local hermit with access to some communications gear. We found him on top of a nearby mountain, which was surrounded by mercenaries who'd basically taken the place over.
Nearby, we found a team of mercenaries who had been contracted by the facility's owner to protect the place. Their contract stipulated that they had to stop attackers coming from a nearby cave--since it didn't mention anyone marching up the mountain pass the way my squad did, the mercenaries ignored the attackers. In order to talk them into doing their jobs (and therefore putting them into the line of fire, instead of us), we had to venture into the cave and help their missing commanding officer
Working our way across Monarch gave Nyoka and Parvati a few chances to swap stories. Mostly, those became opportunities for more of The Outer Worlds' humor to creep in. Despite comments from Obsidian about how the game doesn't take a political stance, it's clearly a pretty hilarious send-up of capitalism. At one point, Nyoka mentioned that her life on Monarch wasn't so bad because she at least got weekends--a concept completely foreign to Parvati, a resident of the completely corporate Terra-2.
Which companion you bring with you will matter beyond the banter you're likely to hear on missions. Staples said that having the right character with you can change how a mission plays out.
"Sometimes you'll talk to a quest-giver and they'll mention it, or like Nyoka has a history with some of the other characters on Monarch," he explained. "So she can chime in and say certain things that might open up either different paths of a quest, where if you didn't have her, that option wouldn't be available."
Each character has one main companion quest, Staples said, plus the ability to interject and influence a lot of other quests, as well. It'll be up to you to pay attention to the characters, talk to them, and learn about them, to find out where, when, and with whom they're most likely to have an impact.
I wasn't able to finish the mission in the demo--although I did talk a local corporate mercenary gang into fighting the bandits for me--The Outer Worlds did give a taste of how a lot of its systems will work, most notably its companion characters. Staples said a big priority for Obsidian is making the game feel highly reactive to you and your choices, and that means presenting different options based on your chosen character traits and the personality you flesh out through conversations. And that goes for which characters you have with you, too.
From our short time getting hands-on with The Outer Worlds, spending some time with your companions seemed to be the best part. Combat works well, but it's better with your AI buddies. The same goes for exploring the world and trying to talk your way out of all the trouble you're liable to get up to on various planets. While Obsidian's dumb, hyper-capitalist sci-fi world is fun on its own, it's the characters you hang around with that really make it feel real. And it seems like spending time to get to know your companions will pay off, not just in what it adds to the story, but in the gameplay capabilities and options they offer to help you accomplish your goals in The Outer Worlds--whatever they might be.