Spoiler Alert: I did die too much…
Outward is an open-world action RPG which absolutely has its priorities in order. It’s clear from the outset that, although this game does have more than enough combat to warrant the “action” in its genre title, it’s much more a game about about surviving the harsh world of Aurai. The game environment itself is really quite something to be a part of, the fantasy landscapes stretching into the distance with tremendous peaks dotting the vista as you traverse it as efficiently as possible. Daytime is visually impressive, but it’s the arrival of the night that truly marks the most testing aspect of the game. At this point, unless you have a lantern, it’s basically a blindness simulator except rather than hazards like cars and other vehicles, you have giant bugs and mythical creatures to deal with instead.
And if you’re thinking that you can just go and stock up on everything before you head out, I’ve got news for ya. For the first few hours at least, you will find that resources are scarce and your ability to buy the items you need to accommodate lanterns and the like is non-existent – you’re just going to have to wait. That makes the initial experience feel very much like the player-character is a novice, trying to find his way in a big world that is more than happy to chew him up and vomit him back out again. This angle makes a lot of sense to me, and offers an experience which I haven’t come across too often in games of this kind. It is absolutely the survival elements which bring the game into it’s own. And they don’t stop there.
As in real life *shudder*, you will be a slave to your basic needs as an organic being, with food, water and rest a top priority if you don’t want to become just another adventurer condemned to a premature death (when I say death, I don’t mean it in the traditional sense – more on that later). But it goes deeper than that. The environment is deeply hazardous in its own right, with scorching deserts and colder zones burning and freezing our brave adventurer in equal measure. Diseases are common, with each nerfing the character in a different way, either worsening their combat skills or survivability. It comes packaged as a mash-up between Skyrim and a game like The Forest – and it works.
So, you may ask, what were you talking about when you alluded to some death based shenanigans, you cryptic legend? Well, in Outward the player can’t really die in the most traditional sense of the word and there’s a good reason for this. You losing in combat or “dying” to the elements actually manifests as being knocked unconscious. Then, when you awake, you will find yourself somewhere else. Where you recover seems to be dependent on where you die and often results in being knocked back to the beginning of a particular area. This is where Outward’s saving system works in tandem with the death mechanic, as the game itself auto-saves persistently, not allowing the player to save just before a fight and reload until successful. For me, at least, this is a bit of a masterstroke on the part of the developer as it massively adds to the intense nature of adventuring as a profession. It makes decisions feel final and adds that little voice in the back of your head going “is this actually the best idea, yes I have just found a dagger but that is Godzilla so maybe I should leave this one”. And that’s nice.
The game also offers a co-op mode which allows you to bomb about with a buddy, adding a whole new element of enjoyment to the experience. It is here that the game really comes into its own, putting pay to the traditionally solo experience of open-world RPG grinding. Plus hilarity, as you abandon your “friend” to his fate, instead choosing to sprint into the distance as he’s set upon by wolves (this didn’t happen, promise). The most obvious comparison I can actually draw is to the early levels of Dungeons and Dragons, arguing about the best way to go about things, whilst firm in the knowledge that at any point an Ochre Jelly could drop from the ceiling and snuff out your life like a twisted version of the Kids Choice Awards (that’s a green goo joke).
All in all I have to recommend that you give Outward a try, particularly if you have a willing friend to jump online with. Equally if you live with a potential gaming partner, the title offers local co-op for an experience that is often missing in modern games. Of course, this is very much of its type, but if its a genre you normally enjoy, it’s a very good example of what can be achieved.
(Review copy provided courtesy of the developer and publisher)