by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
They Can Take Your Life, but They Can’t Take Your Freedom
It’s been a while since I’ve really felt free in a game. It’s been even longer since I’ve felt so free in a relatively modest, non-AAA experience. Sure, you can’t swing a stick nowadays without hitting an open-world title, but they seem more and more inclined to tell you their story than let you stumble through your own. Don’t get me wrong, Outward has rules. Outward has a ton of rules, actually- so many that I died a good many times before I really felt comfortable operating within them. It’s tough to carve out a niche in the open-world fantasy market with so many big dogs vying for people’s time and money, but, after spending some time with Outward, I’m optimistic that it’s going to deserving of your attention.
The glue that holds the whole game together is the logic that drives everything you need to do. Combat, crafting, and simple survival are all run in ways that just make sense once you learn what kinds of things you need to worry about, and much of it is interconnected. Need to rest? Cool, you’ll want something to sleep on. After a sleep, though, you’re going to be hungry and thirsty. Do you have the equipment to make a campfire to cook some food? Do you also have a cooking pot and some water in a waterskin? If so, cool, but you’d better make sure that your ingredients haven’t gone bad (and different ingredients to spoil at different rates) or you might get sick. Done all that? Well, a storm just rolled in, and unless you’ve got the clothing to deal with it you’re going to face the consequences of being cold and wet.
Outward is also a very unforgiving game, as I learned very early my first playthrough. Let me walk you through my first half hour or so playing. As the game opens, you’re caught in a shipwreck that leaves the fruits of your recent labor in ruins. After a brief bit of r&r, you awake back in your hometown where- surprise- you owe a bunch of money for something your mother did way back when. One of the town elders is able to buy you a few days by putting the town into a state of mourning for this that died in the wreck, but you absolutely must pay back your debt to the town by the time it’s over. So starts your journey.
The thing is, you can’t be an idiot when you play Outward. I was an idiot. Right my character got thirsty. There’s perfectly good drinking water right in the starting town, but I drank some salt water because... why not. I figured I’d just lose some hit points. I was wrong. Instead, drinking salt water gave me indigestion, meaning every time I ate food, which I had to do a lot, there was a 50 percent chance of throwing it up and negating its satiation. That meant I had to spend money on tea that would settle my indigestion. Not noticing it didn’t cure it right away, though, I ate a bunch of food and vomited it all up. That meant I needed to buy more food. So, there I was, 20 minutes into the game, further from my goal than when I started. I tried to leave town with what I had, but I was ambushed by two angry men. They defeated me. I woke up in a dingy cave and was immediately killed by a wolf-like animal. Since I was still so close to the beginning, I elected to simply start over.
Own Up to Your Mistakes
What’s important to note is that even though I had a rough go at a lot of things, including my entire first try at a play-through, I always felt like it was my fault. I shouldn’t have drank saltwater. I shouldn’t have binged on food right after drinking my medicinal tea. If I would have saved that money and spent it on something productive, which I did next, I would have at least had a puncher’s chance at success. On that note, I want to give a shout-out to the game for having a really nice tutorial. A separate mode instead of the opening of the game, the tutorial walked me through everything I needed to know, from combat to user interface, to cooking, and beyond, in a way that was easy to understand and process. Given how much there is to know, that’s no easy task. Set up as a large building I had to walk through, you’re free to walk past any lessons you already know via built-in shortcuts. In an incredibly intuitive and natural system that’s honestly one of the better tutorials I’ve played.
We’re about two months out from Outward’s March 26th release date, meaning that what I was able to play will likely be pretty darned close to what’s out at release. While the game isn’t perfect- I do think combat is a bit janky and could use a bit of smoothing- it is one that I’m excited to keep playing for longer than I was able to for this preview.