REVIEW: Outward

So far, 2019 has been a very generous year for gamers when we talk about RPGs. Especially for Xbox players, who had the opportunity to try some franchises which have been exclusive to other platforms. At LifeisXbox, we reviewed a good number of them like Kingdom Hearts 3, Tales of Vesperia, Evoland and Alvastia Chronicles, just to name a few. And there’s much more to come. For me, as a HUGE fan of the genre, it couldn’t be better! But in a way I wasn’t expecting that the Canadian studio Nine Dots managed to surprise me with a title that has been out of my radar.

Published by Deep Silver, Outward is a title that swings between RPG and Survival game, pushing the boundaries of these two genres and blending them into an original experience, so necessary in the industry nowadays. Prepare your survival kit, weapons and equipment to explore a world full of perils and adventure like you have never done before! But first, come check our opinion about this impressive game. Shall we?

Things are about to get hot!
  • Surviving at any cost: You start your adventure in Outward as a survivor from a shipwreck. But the survival part of this game goes far beyond that. Your character will feel hungry, thirsty, tired and you will need to deal with it. Hunt for food, look for water, put on some heavy clothes to protect from cold or light clothes to deal with the hot weather. The survival aspect of the game has a lot of implications and deployment and this is remarkable! Feeling thirsty? Better find some clean water to drink. And what if there’s only dirty water around you? We’ll need to boil it before drinking not to contract some infection. Feeling hungry? So, let’s look for something to eat. If you find some berries, good for you. Enjoy it! Otherwise, you will need to fish or to hunt for some meat? But you better cook it before eating not to get any food poisoning. They really thought about everything in their survival system!
  • Managing your stamina: Be it in combat or when exploring the world, you have always to pay attention to your health, your mana and your stamina gauges. Like in the games of the Souls-series, this last one has a very important role: as it empties, you will be able to do fewer actions up to the point it fully depletes and you can barely walk. And by ‘actions’ consider running, attacking, defending yourself or carrying weight. You can always drink some potions or eat some food to help to recover it, but consider these two tips: sleeping, be it on an improvised bed or in an inn is always the best option to recover your health and stamina (plus, sleeping in comfortable beds gives a temporary boost to your stamina). Stay sharp and stay healthy to survive in these wild lands!
  • Visuals: The world of Outward is very rich and detailed. The 3D scenarios and landscapes are very good and exhibit a great day and night cycle, with climate changes included throughout the world of Aurai. The visual effects of snow covering the grass, for instance, is very good! I can almost feel the cold playing on my sofa! You will venture through green plains, mountains, caves, marshes, deserts and more, all rich environments with unique fauna and flora. The visual effects for your spells are a little timid, but animations from characters and enemies are very decent. Cities are rich in details (take Monsoon, for instance, a beautiful city created over the marshes) and feel very authentic. But we will talk about them later.
  • Local Co-op: Outwards allows you to play your adventure alone or in co-op, be it online or local. And the implementation of local co-op in a game of this size is, at least, amazing! It’s possible to drop-in or out at any time (keeping independent saves for each character), allowing the progression of each character separately. Playing with a friend by your side does a HUGE difference: by coordinating your attacks with a friend, enemies will be no match for you! Or, at least, a little easier…
  • Did I die? Outward doesn’t use a common save system that allows you to reload the game every time you die. Instead, whenever you fall, be it in combat, exploring the wilds of when you contract a deadly disease, a different situation will trigger: either an NPC will find you and take you to the closest city to receive treatment (more likely to happen when you perish close to a city), or you will be captured by enemies and thrown into a jail (more likely to happen when you die in combat) and many more. And this amazingly original! Just remember the world won’t stop or you won’t be able to do some backtrack: characters will continue with their lives and pre-determined events will happen with or without you. But this is still great!
  • Sound: Audiophiles will enjoy their time in the world of Aurai! The game presents some very good music for you. Cities and dungeons present some very good music that builds the perfect atmosphere for the game. I lost the count of how many times the music had me really tense while trying to flee from a combat I wasn’t prepared to. Sound effects are very good (I simply love the sound of swords colliding!), making your adventure much more immersive. Key characters and NPCs also have a good voice acting performance, although their lines inexplicably don’t follow the text present in dialog boxes. I really don’t get it, but strangeness apart, the audio department of the studio did a very good job! Kudos, guys!
  • What about the RPG elements? Yes, they are here. At least, some of them. Your characters can equip a great variety of items from between protection to the feet, body and head and weapons, each one with their status and characteristics (and different visuals, too). Your character can learn new spells and abilities from master throughout the game. Different from other RPGs, there’s no leveling up in here or experience points. You improve your character status by buying status upgrades from special NPCs. Very different from what we are used to seeing in other games from the genre.
Friends are more than welcome for a couch co-op aventure!
  • City of ghosts: Although vast and beautiful, cities in Outward feel very soulless: there is a small number of NPCs walking around and characters to interact with. Except for a couple of shopkeepers, gate guards and innkeepers, you will only interact with a few other characters (mainly quest-related ones) to talk to. Other NPCs will just take care of their business (even though it’s plowing the soil endlessly), totally ignoring you. I hardly feel so lonely in a game. Can anybody here give me a hug?
  • Quo vadis? It took me a while to discover, but yes, you do have a map to help you in your navigation (by pressing right in the d-pad). But this navigation is far from easy. You have a map for cities and the world map that only show roads and a few points of interest. But the map doesn’t show your location, what makes localizing your position and tracing a route to your destination really tough! You can add different markers on the map to help you, but as they aren’t shown in your compass, they had little to none use to me. You can say that this is the way explorers work, with a map, a compass and just by observing your surroundings, but for some players like our editor Maui, who can barely distinguish left from right, this is gonna be very difficult. Poor Maui =(
What a beautiful view!
  • Co-op problems: Unfortunately, life is not a bed of roses when playing co-op: while reviewing the game, we had some annoying problem. Here are some of the bugs, glitches and issues we found:
    • Where’s everyone? Sometimes when entering a new area, my co-op partner couldn’t see things around her, like there was a black curtain covering the scenario. After restarting the game, the problem disappeared… just to show up again sometime soon. Yes, we could always restart the game to solve the problem, but it totally broke the immersion.
    • Where are my skills? Whenever the second player entered the game, her skills mapped in the quick slots were gone, needing to be re-mapped. And let’s ignore the fact that some of them will simply disappear from your menu when loading the game…
    • Table for one… and story too: Another problem is related to the story of the game not being ready for more than one player: to enter a dungeon or to leave a city to the world map, both players are needed. But to accept our resume quests, not: only one of them is needed. It creates some unfair situations, like in your first mission at the city of Cierzo. To be allowed out of the city gates, you will need a series of equipment (not that hard to get). But you and your partner can’t be sharing this equipment: they must all be in possession of only one of the players. But this is not all: as a result of this mission, the gatekeeper of the city teaches a skill for the player who talked to him. BUT FOR ONLY ONE OF THE PLAYERS, what’s totally unfair! C’mon guys, I’m sure you can sort it out to make it fair for both players. I’m ok with only one rare item as a prize, but not being taught a skill does a huge difference in the game.
  • Visual glitches: During my time reviewing the game, I’ve seen some laughable visual bugs. The most notorious was the ‘walking heads’ (as I gently call them): characters whose body hasn’t fully loaded and were walking around with only heads, weapons and shoes. Other bugs were related to invisible NPCs I stumbled on and the curious case of the vendor who was wearing The Lord of the Rings Frodo’s cloak of invisibility. Funny bugs aside, none of these glitches were game breaking (like the one in co-op), but they just break your immersion in the game.
Don’t forget your sunscreen when exploring the deserts

CONCLUSION

Score: 76%
Nine Dots Studio states in their mission that they aim to develop games that will drive the industry forward. So, I want to congratulate you guys because you just managed to deliver what you proposed! Outward is an astonishing game that tries to innovate in each aspect of the RPG and Survival genres, making them more meaningful in its own world. It’s a game that gives you the option to choose your own path, forging your own story. And after you finish it, you’ll be eager to do it all again! It has some bugs (some game-breaking ones, unfortunately), but as long as they are committed to improve the game and correct these bugs and glitches, they will surely create a faithful base of fans, who (like me!) are already looking forward to their next project!

Developer:  Nine Dots Studio  Publisher:  Deep Silver
Played on: Xbox One X Also available on: Steam and PS4
Time to beat: A wild guess of something between 40 and 50 hours 
Achievement difficulty for 1000 Gamerscore: Tough. Especially the ‘Finish a quest line without ever being defeated’ achievement
Perfect for: RPG and adventure/survival enthusiasts. 
Xbox Game Store link: Click here

Written by Rafael

Writer for LifeisXbox

Between an Excel spreadsheet and trying to conquer the world (one game at a time), he’s ready to share his experiences about every title he plays. Be it to praise a game or to bash it, you will always find an honest opinion in his texts.