Outward & Upward?
Survival games are still very popular, so it’s no surprise to see that the latest hybrid title mixes up the genre with a sprawling open-world RPG. But can two genres renowned for their jank fit together without falling apart at the seams?
Outward throws you straight into things, with the revelation that you were part of a terrible shipping accident. Unfortunately, as one of the few survivors, you end up with a huge bounty, or ‘blood-price’ on your head, and you end up having to try and pay it off, despite no longer having a job. Failure to succeed in 5 days will have you lose your house. Regardless of whether you end up homeless or not, you soon get caught up in a wider set of events, as numerous friends from your town are called to distant cities – at this point the game really opens up and allows you to progress your objectives in pretty much any order, and the story starts to take more of a back seat. There’s not a huge amount of writing, and what is there isn’t of the best quality.
It’s the gameplay, and uniqueness of Outward that will draw you to it anyway, rather that the fairly generic narrative. The game blends elements of survival games with open-world RPGs and Dark Souls-esque difficulty. This is not a “survival-lite” game like Kingdom Come, which was primarily a traditional RPG. No, instead I would classify Outward as primarily a survival game with some RPG elements. You don’t even level up, instead you’re reliant upon getting better gear and learning new skills to increase your power level. The game is brutal, especially at the beginning. As soon as I left town I was mauled by a Hyena, then crushed by some electricity-spewing monster.
Death though, unlike the Souls series, isn’t quite such a setback. You’ll need to find your backpack, but this is rarely too far away from you. Instead, depending one where and how you died, you’ll respawn in a different area, perhaps having to face even more enemies in a weakened state, or perhaps even receiving a boon from a stranger in the form of new armour or skills. You’ll need to sleep, eat, fight of cold and disease, all whilst not being able to carry very much for your troubles until you upgrade your backpack to carry more. Progress will be painstaking for the first few hours. There is a tutorial, but despite it being lengthy, I don’t feel like it really prepared me for the difficulty of the game.
This is mostly because combat has the same level of difficulty of a Souls game, but with none of the finesse or feeling that death was your fault. Controller input is slow, hit-boxes seem sporadic at best, and the whole thing feels rather unfair in melee. However, over time you’ll learn magic, build bows, and be able to set traps. Outside of close combat, things don’t feel quite as dreadful, and there is a certain satisfaction to planning out a scenario like it’s an old-school Rainbow 6 game. Other areas are really frustrating. The map is poor, and you never see your location on it. I also had numerous bugs with the map picture being incorrect, which required a restart of the whole game to fix, as well as couple of crashes, and numerous quest rewards not being allocated to my bag. These bugs were particularly frustrating because sometimes they would set story progress back.
There’s also no save-scumming, the game autosaves very frequently and you can’t load old games, so you have a choice of accepting the crap the game deals you or starting again from scratch.
Outward has an awful lot to see and do, and assuming you can put up with the combat and the way it looks, I can see a small but hardcore audience of die-hard fans emerging. The game has a lot of soul and charm. Some of it seems laughably amateur for a game published by one of the major players, but it also kept me playing, even when I was tempted to toss the controller.
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