The Outer Worlds For Nintendo Switch Review - Cosmic Haze

  • First Released Oct 25, 2019
  • NS

Obsidian's spacefaring RPG is full of great characters and layered questlines, but technical limitations make combat suffer on the Switch.

In my original review of The Outer Worlds, one of my takeaways was that it had strong worldbuilding which was enhanced by its audiovisual direction. That was based on dozens of hours with the PC version of the game. The game now has a port on Nintendo Switch, and being able to play a title as expansive as The Outer Worlds on the system is impressive. But naturally, the big compromise that it makes in order to run on the relatively less powerful console is in the visual splendour of its world.

As I've come to expect in Switch ports of graphically-intensive games, the concessions most noticeably come in the form of a very low level of detail, significantly reduced environmental objects, and the absence of many ambient and post-processing visual effects, among other things. The result is a fuzzy, watercolour-like image of a barren world, and you certainly lose a lot of the awe that comes with seeing the game's large, lush open areas and intricately detailed cities. But more importantly, the low visual fidelity makes it more difficult to spot enemy characters--especially at mid-to-long-range, and especially using the Switch's handheld mode; they tend to blend together, often sharing the same muted colour palettes.

Screenshots from the Nintendo Switch version, docked (left) and the PC version (right)

A number of times I would be surprised by an enemy directly in front of me, not noticing them until I saw their awareness icon pop up (UI and HUD elements remain sharp and distinct). The game also runs at a sub-30 frames-per-second rate, with heavier stuttering during frenetic situations and when moving through areas quickly. In the latter case, the game will sometimes pause completely to load the environment while you're sprinting through the world.

For a game that allows for a number of different approaches when tackling its quests and encounters, this means that some avenues of play are a lot more difficult than they should be. I started the Switch version with the intention of focussing on a long guns build, which relies on distance, accuracy, and a lot of movement. But because it was so hard to parse the action due to the aforementioned visual issues, I found that I had to quickly switch to a slower-paced, closer-ranged stealth approach, as well as bring the difficulty back down to Regular to avoid letting myself boil over in frustration. Likewise, I settled into focusing on my character's Charm statistics in order to settle more quests through dialogue, despite wanting to try a different way at the onset, because I found myself wanting to avoid combat as much as I could.

But you can't completely avoid combat in The Outer Worlds, and though spotting your enemy can be an issue, the Switch version of the game introduces a couple of new accessibility features to allay some of the difficulties--optional gyro controls let you fine-tune your crosshairs and the camera while using Joy-Cons or a Pro Controller, and an aim-assist option can auto-lock your crosshairs to an enemy's head or torso when you aim down sights. The game's existing Tactical-Time Dilation mechanic, which lets you slow down time to crawl in order to let you line up pin-point shots and apply status effects, also helps out a great deal here--which make the perks that buff this ability definitely higher on the list of must-have skills for the Switch version.

But all of that only helps get combat to a serviceable state. In my original review, I remarked on how there was a "hectic and fast-paced fluidity" to the combat in The Outer Worlds. I still remember the joys of jumping head-first into a pack of enemies, dashing through the air, spinning around, using TTD to slow time and crippling a pack of bandits in seconds, living out my best goofy space cowboy fantasies. I don't get that same sense of fluidity in the Switch version. I can't run into a bandit outpost with guns blazing, because when a dozen enemies come charging at me the game's performance is going to tank, and it's going to be much harder to make my shots.

Screenshots from the Nintendo Switch version, docked (left) and the PC version (right)

In my original review, I also remarked that the default difficulty made combat a bit too easy, and didn't push you to explore a number of adjacent mechanics that were in service of making combat more interesting--things like elemental damage, equipment modding, companion synergies, and the special effects allowed by consumables. These things come into play a lot more in higher difficulties, but in the Switch version, there are already far more challenges that make combat tougher and stop me from being able to excel in the same way that I can on other platforms. Simply put, the combat in the Switch version of The Outer Worlds can never reach the same highs.

Combat performance, visual grandeur, and longer load times aside, however, this is still the same game as it exists on other platforms. The memorable characters who inhabit the world and their interesting stories of living under a bizarre dystopia of corporate oppression are still here. The companions you pick up along the way are still as endearing and fleshed out as they are in other versions. The game's layered, branching, and interweaving questlines are still intact, and are a fascinating thing to slowly pull apart as you continue your journey. The beauty of The Outer Worlds is that you don't need to be the galaxy's most competent gunslinger in order to get the most out of it. If you have the means to play it on another platform, do so. But if you don't, there's still a great, modern RPG underneath the exterior.

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The Good

  • Excellent writing through and through
  • Strong, multi-dimensional characters are well-portrayed
  • Consistently interesting and layered quest design

The Bad

  • Low visual fidelity and bad technical performance suck the awe out of the world and make combat arduous

About the Author

In October 2019, Edmond finished his original run of The Outer Worlds on PC in 30 hours on Regular difficulty, using a speech/handgun build and completing all the sidequests he stumbled on. He then got most of the way through a melee/low intelligence playthrough on Supernova difficulty. In June 2020, he put roughly 8 hours into the Switch version in both docked and handheld modes. Code was provided by the publisher.