Outward is the 3rd game to be developed by Nine Dots Studio, a 10 man game development studio, as a loving remembrance of old school RPGs. Combining elements of Two Worlds, The Elder Scrolls and slight Diablo tones, Outward is a beautiful mash of RPG design. Playing as an almost common person, you will have the option of following 1 of 3 paths as you work to make a name for yourself, save the world or simply keep your tribe alive in a harsh world.
The game starts off slightly similar to TES3 or Path of Exile, with your character crashing with your boat on a beach as the local lighthouse went out during your voyage on the seas. The captain missing, crew mostly dead and supplies scattered you quickly make your way to the closest campfire, to sleep off the harsh landing. Waking up in your house, the town is furious with you, even more so that you have a family debt to pay and you’re late on the monthly payment. 150 Silver to cough up, out of luck and out of gear you must scratch some loot together to appease your clan.
From here it is up to you what to do, pay off the debt and follow along with the story or run out of time and have the lighthouse taken from you. Regardless, you will soon be given the option to join either your clan leader, your friend or your captain Yzan. Each choice will set you on a path in the game that cannot be changed, leading into your final story mission. Once you have completed a story you will either have to join a friend’s game to experience the other stories or make a new character to see other sides.
Completing the main story will take you around 20-30 hours for each story, ending at around 60+ hours depending on how you proceed with the 3 separate sides. Aside from the story sides that you can take, there are several dungeons, side-areas, crafting and side-quests to undertake, alongside some treasure hunts here and there. A lot of your time will mostly be travelling the world, as the main stories will force you to enter each map zone, which there are 4 of, several times. Traversal makes up a good 50% of your playtime, if not more.
Outward plays very similar to Two Worlds, or most other 3rd person RPGs, moving around with WASD, attacking with the left mouse button or guarding with the right. You can dodge roll out of attacks, and with a distinct lack of a parry, aside from weapon skills, you will rely more on dodging than anything. You can choose between using several weapon types, from two-handed, sword and shield, bow, gun or magic, each type having varying weapons or styles to use.
As you are set up as a common villager, Outward is very hard to start off as well as staying consistently difficulty throughout. You will die in around 5 hits if you’re not heavily armoured, with foes being able to withstand a heavy beating. Your character doesn’t start with any magic either, you will need to unlock that by visiting a magical leyline or paying 500 silver to get a trainer to increase your stats. Even after amassing higher stats and gear, enemies will be a constant threat if you do not prepare and play cautiously.
After completing missions, defeating enemies and selling off loot you will be able to stock up on Silver, the currency of the game. While money isn’t as important in other RPGs, becoming easy to obtain or just for some items to help in your journey, money in Outward is leagues more important and scarce. You will need to spend silver to learn new skills and improve your character, as well as aid in your crafting of new gear. Silver isn’t easy to amass either, barely able to get some of the end-game gear after the 1st story. This is made even more difficult since you can only take so much gear with you due to the encumbrance system.
In a rather unique decision, Outward features a mechanic of dropping your backpack similarly to Kenshi. When you drop your backpack you become lighter as well as removing any roll penalties the backpacks impart. This system adds to the realism as well as the tactics when it comes to battle, as you will need to manage your weight correctly, leaving some potions in your pockets as if they are in the backpack you will not be able to access them until you retrieve your backpack.
Another unique decision is that of the magic casting system in place, while other game let you assign a single spell to a hotkey or have a set spell list, Outward instead goes another direction. Starting off you can use rune magic, where you essentially spell out the magic that you wish to cast, there are also elemental stones you can lay down to increase the effect of similar elemental spells to increase or change their effects. There are some minor buffs against elements, weather and overall statistics, but these boons can also lead you into other skills and activation abilities that use up the boon for an even stronger attack.
One of the most disappointing parts of the game is its soundtrack alongside the distinct lack of looping tracks. I found that the music would die off for minutes at a time, to leave me to the ambient sounds of roars or combat. When the music does kick in it is a delight, though some areas have much higher quality music attached to them than others. With a wider soundtrack, longer songs and a bigger emphasis put into the OST, I would have had a much better experience for my ears.
While Outward is a difficult game overall it does feature quite a few difficulty spikes. There are some bosses who can easily 1 or 2 shot you after countless foes who need up to 5 hits to end your life. If you play in single player once you are down you are down, but with Co-Op that is eased up a lot more when the ally can pick you up. Whenever you are downed you will have a roll of the dice determine the outcome, from the safe options of being taken to the closest town to the worst of losing all your gear and being captured. With a lack of manual saving, you will have to live with any outcome, some destroying your fun while others are just a small setback. Some gamers will love this ironman style of difficulty, whereas others would prefer it to be an option.
With no disrespect to the team, being only a 10-man group, Outward suffers heavily from bugs that are prevalent in many other open world games. It can crash, players get stuck in terrain, models will A-pose, ragdolls will go crazy, de-sync issues occur often in Co-Op, items will disappear from inventories and much more. Some can be forgiven due to the small scale of the developer but with the multitude of bugs it does hamper on the experience a bit.
Plenty of conversations or choices are also somewhat broken in their flow or give very little information behind what will happen. The most prominent is when you are talking with bandits and saying you’ll help will put you in their custody with your gear taken away whilst saying you’re gonna leave will have them attack you. Either through losing meaning in translation or just poor script writing, plenty of decisions are not explained well enough or have the proper follow through.
Co-Op partners may feel a tad left out during their time in the game, as when you join a friend you will not be gaining any story progression or skills. Instead, you’ll only be getting any equipment or silver you share with the main player. This helps when you swap to the other’s world to do another side of the story, but with a disincentive to Co-Op some players will feel put off from helping a friend.
Overall, Outward gets a 7/10, it is an amazing experience full of fun encounters, short puzzles alongside a lengthy story that can be replayed 3 times. Co-Op systems may put some off from approaching the game, as progress is very skewed toward the main player, but playing with a friend improves the experience several times. The world is rather big, but quests force you to backtrack way too often. Combat is tactful if a bit underdeveloped in places with the overall game feeling very challenging throughout. With some more polish, an updated script along with some balancing work, Outward could be an amazing game, but right now it is an unpolished gem waiting to shine in the spotlight.