Review by Ethan Baron
Outward, developed with only a small team of 10 from Nine Dots Studio is a harsh Survival RPG that tries keeping you humble. You aren’t some heroic legend, just a villager thrown into adventuring to clear a debt. Outward doesn’t play nice either. You make a mistake, prepare to live with the consequences, there’s no quick save or fast travel so expect a lot of hiking. That’s okay though because Outward rewards you with some beautiful environments to explore and a hint of Nostalgia.
You start Outward washed up on shore of what turns out to be your homeland after a shipwreck. However, after passing out from exhaustion, you awake to realise you aren’t getting that warm welcome and thanks to months of debt, you have 5 days to pay back 150 silver or have your house repossessed. It’s actually a really nice house so I couldn’t let them take it from me.
There isn’t any quest guide, or anything that points you in the suggested direction. Instead you need to talk to everyone you can and they drop hints about who to talk to or where to go next, but don’t actively show you. I like this, It’s a small detail that adds a different type of immersion that comes from exploring and not having the game hold your hand.
Backpacks are the real MVP of the game They’re essential to your survival, coming in different sizes and types. Some have plenty of storage space, but are so bulky that they slow your agility down to a stop, some are lightweight, losing inventory space for increased agility. Finding a good backpack to fit your play style is important. In fact it’s so important that there’s a dedicated “drop backpack” button. You do this so you can have full movement during combat, it’s a handy feature. When you drop it, your compass points towards its last known location. Even your character doesn’t even show up on the in-game map and neither do quest objectives.
Outward is structured closer to standard RPG’s, with home areas, NPC’s handing out quests, and progressing your character. But misses out features you come to expect like experience and levels and replaces them with survival aspects. However the survival in Outward is where the game currently shines, and is also where it may lose players. You need to eat and sleep, but you can and will catch diseases, and there are a myriad of them. You need to plan each adventure too. In fact everything you do needs to be planned first, making sure runes for spell you may use are already in place before a fight is the difference between losing and winning. Are you heading to a low temperature zone? You need something warm, and vice versa, you need something light if you are travelling through a hot area. Carefully planning your inventory before setting out can seem like a ball ache but the system is incredibly detailed and easy to use and after a couple hours it feels like second nature and a real accomplishment when you do it well for the first time.
The combat still needs to some tweaking and
extra padding out. While the game is suitably hard, small things like the
targeting being clunky and movement and attacks not feeling as responsive as
they should make it feel like more work putting in than being given out, and this
is doubly true when fighting multiple enemies. But thankfully when that
inevitable death comes, it is never quite the end in Outward. Rather you pass
out and sometimes you are rescued, other times kidnapped, it makes each fight
mean something and each fail forces you to re-evaluate your tactics and try it
again from another angle.
After 30 seconds on the game I was disappointed with how dated the graphics were, Despite being reminiscent of the PS2 era, with everything from the UI to the tiny details being heavily pixilated, its was surprising to see how Outward still manages to have the most obscenely colourful and beautiful environments. The game world feels alive and vibrant. It was a welcome surprise and I’m still in awe.
Outward is a fantastic game built by and incredibly small team which shows even more how dedicated they were when building this world. However it wont be for everyone
The main reason, I think, is it’s just a niche game. Not everyone is going to enjoy things like the aspect of backpacks realistically weighing down your agility, or having to pay taxes. At times it can even feel like an inventory management simulation. But for players that don’t mind or those that can give it the chance, it will be a hidden gem to sink away long hours into.