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Fallout 76 Rant: The Impact of Legacy Removal

Posted in botch, business, video game, video game design by commorancy on January 25, 2023

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While Pipe might be life in Fallout 76, the Legacy removal might actually mean the death of Fallout 76. While some gamers are praising the removal of Legacy weapons from Fallout 76, those who are impacted by this change might actually have the power to sink the Fallout series, and possibly even Bethesda itself. Let’s explore.

Misguided Maneuver

It’s clear that Bethesda is horribly misguided internally. On the one hand, I get Bethesda’s rationale behind the removal of these “illegal” mods from Legacy weapons. On the other hand, Bethesda’s rationale is entirely misguided and fails to take into account the real damage that has now been inflicted on the game and, ultimately, the game’s player base. The real question now is not whether the game is better, but whether Fallout 76, ironically a survival game, can survive this change.

One thing is certain, some players are reeling from this change and rightly so. Bethesda itself also doesn’t seem to fundamentally understand the player base which has been born out of these legacy weapons having been included in the game for literal years.

What is a Legacy Weapon? A Legacy weapon is any weapon that was formerly in the game and could be obtained through loot drops, but was removed from the loot drop list by Bethesda Fallout 76 devs in the game’s early years (loot drops removed around 2018-2019). This meant there was no way to obtain these weapons after the loot drops stopped… until Legendary Modules were introduced when Nuclear Winter began in 2019. Once these legendary modules were added, for a short time it may have been possible to craft such weapons on a crafting bench until the crafting of these weapons was also patched. Since then, these weapons have been unavailable.

Which Weapons were Removed?

The “Legacy” weapons to which this article refers are any legendary energy or plasma weapon with an explosive attachment. These explosive attachments have now been deemed “illegal” by Bethesda even though they were perfectly legal when they originally dropped. Such weapons could be obtained earlier in the game’s life legitimately, but today are no longer obtainable and are now marked as “illegal” by Bethesda’s Fallout 76 team. Weapons which have now been removed include:

  • Explosive Gatling Plasma
  • Explosive Laser Pistol
  • Explosive Laser Rifle
  • Explosive Gatling Laser
  • Explosive Flamer
  • Explosive Gauss Rifle
  • Explosive Gauss Shotgun
  • Explosive Gauss Minigun
  • Explosive Gauss Pistol
  • Explosive Tesla Rifle

All of the above weapons have had their explosive attachment removed by the Fallout 76 devs, turning many 3 star Legendary weapons into 2 star weapons.

Note, I won’t even get into the severe bugs introduced as a result of the removal of these Legacy weapons… bugs which have heavily impacted many rogues in addition to the Legacy removals. It’s not pretty for Bethesda or Fallout 76 right now.

Righting Wrongs

Once Bethesda knew these weapons shouldn’t have been included in the game back in 2018-2019, a patch should have been swiftly crafted and implemented then to remove these “illegal” weapons. This would have saved Bethesda this headache today. Instead, Bethesda waited and let this situation fester for going on nearly 5 years now. Not only did it fester, it actually born a whole new type of gamer in Fallout 76… a type of gamer willing to spend real cash money to not only obtain and own these “illegal” weapons, but who were also willing to pay Bethesda for Fallout 1st and pay Bethesda for Atoms to buy the Atomic Shop’s literal valueless junk.

Yes, this new type of gamer is the one who is literally propping up Bethesda’s Fallout 76 game. These are the gamers who are paying Bethesda’s bills, keeping Bethesda’s lights on and ensuring their staff remain employed.

Removing these weapons is literally a situation of “biting the hand that feeds you!”

Fallout 76 Gamer Types

When Fallout 4 began and also when Fallout 76 began, the primary type of gamers that Bethesda had hoped for were those interested in playing the game firmly on their “golden path”. In programming, a “golden path” is the path that most users will take when using any piece of software. This path is the path the engineers design the game for users to find and use. I dub these types of users the “golden” users. The vast majority of software users fall into “golden” users. Video game software users take a different route.

Gamers are somewhat different for this “golden path” approach for a number of reasons. The primary reason gamers are different is that video games entice children to play. By the very nature of this product being a video game, children are naturally one of the video game industry’s primary demographics… regardless of the game’s rating.

Let’s define children. Children include ages 8-17, with the primary age of most children playing ranging from 12-14. Because children don’t have a lot of life experience, their minds aren’t constrained by “adult” thinking. Children play games in ways that suit their fancy, which means children do not always remain on the golden path. In fact, in most cases, children stray from the golden path frequently in video games. Children actively try to poke holes in, find problems with and generally do things that an adult gamer might never think to try.

Children aren’t the only players doing this, however. Many adults can maintain this childlike poke and prod thought process well into their 30s. This leads to the next type of gamer I dub the “rogue” gamer.

Rogues vs Golden

Rogue gamers don’t follow the golden path laid out by the developers. These gamers intentionally and actively seek to find bugs, exploit holes and obtain “rare” objects in a game, including weapons. Almost every “rogue” gamer seeks to one-up their fellow player by finding something that their friend doesn’t have, whether that be a way to build under the map, go out of bounds or obtain a weapon that few other players have.

Rogue players don’t play the game as intended and are unwilling to follow EULA rules. They’re so flippant in the way they play the game, they actually don’t really care if their account gets banned or if Sony shuts their PlayStation down by disabling their PSN account, for example. In the gaming world, Rogues don’t care about the rules or abiding by them. With that said, they do care about finding the latest rare thing to have in the game.

The thing is, many of these rogue gamers come from well-to-do, dare I say wealthy families. This means they are willing to pay and pay and pay. They will pay for Fallout 1st. They will pay for Atoms in the atomic shop. They will even pay other players real cash money on places like eBay to buy rare in-game items.

In short, many rogue gamers keep Bethesda’s (and by extension, Microsoft’s) bills paid and the lights on. That’s not to say that every rogue gamer is wealthy enough to do this, but many are. At this point, I think you might understand where this is heading.

One thing that rogues typically don’t care about is the game itself or even the game’s story. They’re not playing the game because it’s Fallout and they’re not playing it because it has interesting lore or interesting quest lines, they’re playing the game because it’s an MMO, because it has multiplayer, because it has combat and because they can find and exploit heavy guns that no one else has. Rogues will only follow down a quest line because it unlocks their character to have or use something unique or better than someone else, not because of interest in the RPG aspect or the story.

Golden players, on the other hand, play the game by the rules using weapons considered legal within the game. These are also players who typically respect the Fallout canon, who are genuinely interested in the story being told, who play by the rules, who choose to play using guns the game provides and who don’t stray outside of the bounds simply because they find a loophole. These are dedicated Fallout players who’ve likely played many previous Fallout games, if not all of them.

Mixing The Two

These player types are not hard walled into two groups. Some players remain mostly golden, but go occasionally rogue when they deem appropriate. For example, some of Bethesda’s rigid game rules go too far. Some players become rogue when it’s necessary to bypass some of these Bethesda rigid rules, simply to save time, to cut weight down or for other reasons that help them play the game better.

Bethesda doesn’t get its player base

One thing is certain, Bethesda does NOT fundamentally understand who’s actually playing Fallout 76 and who is actually paying their bills. It goes even deeper than this.

Because there was a whole separate black market for these high powered “illegal” weapons, Bethesda completely overlooked this aspect of its game. Instead of taking advantage of these payers and bilking them for money, they decided to remove the weapons from the game.

It’s clear, you can either benefit from these players by making real money off of them or you can alienate them… and alienation is exactly where we are now.

Black Tuesday

On Tuesday January 24th, 2023, rogue players had to say goodbye to their “illegal” weapons. Bethesda removed weapon modules from the game, which during the 2018-2019 years were perfectly legal to own and use. This change sends not only a mixed message to players, it sends an exceedingly bad message.

It says that Bethesda really doesn’t give one crap about a huge segment of its very player base who are paying its bills, keeping its staff employed and keeping the game from going under.

This change is likely to be the beginning of the end for Fallout 76. Why?

Perplexed

Rogues are as perplexed and mystified by this late change now as anyone. For years these weapons were in the game and remained so. However, it’s just now that Bethesda decides to rid the game of these weapons?

Because these rogue players comprise a substantial portion of the revenue given to Bethesda for Fallout 1st and other pay-for-play features, it’s surprising Bethesda was so willing to risk losing that revenue and possibly even the entire game over this silly change.

Rogue players must now make a choice. They can either stay and play a hobbled version of the game using no special weapons or they can go find a new game where they can, once again, feel special and own special weapons. This is the actual real danger to Fallout 76. Rogues are fickle players. They only stay and play where they can find their “specialness”. If they can’t find and remain special, then the game is done and they leave it.

That’s exactly the crossroads at which Bethesda now finds itself. The question is, are there enough newbie players to keep the lights on and the staff employed? The answer to this question comes in how Bethesda chooses to respond.

High Levels and Endgame

After playing any game, not only have you amassed levels for your character, you have unlocked perks and skills. The problem is, once the quests have ended, what do you do with these skills? That’s fundamentally the problem with most games. You spend your time playing through the quest lines leveling up your player only to find that when you reach the end, all of that leveling up and those perks were for nothing… as there’s no endgame content.

Many gamers find little to no endgame content to utilize that high level skill. That means, you reach the end and you go find a new game to play.

Fallout 76 is only different in its endgame because it offers Events (and Legacy weapons). After the quests are done and there’s no more quest lines to follow, the Events and Daily quests are what’s left. These are repetitive activities that offer a slight chance for rare loot rewards. It also offers the chance to try out a new overpowered weapon.

Leveling up in Fallout 76, unfortunately, is mostly worthless. Because guns cap out at level 45 or 50, that essentially means your player is capped out at level 45 or 50, regardless of the level number your player may actually achieve. The only benefit to leveling up is to max out the Legendary perk cards, an addition that gives higher level players a tiny bit of an incentive to stay with the game.

Once a player reaches level 650-700, that player can easily have maxed out the Legendary Perk cards.  Max leveling these Legendary Perk cards sees a tiny bit more damage out of weapons, if utilized correctly. So then, what’s left after this? Not much, other than going Rogue and trying to find unobtainable, but overpowered weapons which formerly existed in the game.

While these weapons were once in the game circa 2019, they have since stopped dropping as loot long, long ago. That means that new players can’t easily obtain these overpowered weapons unless they monetarily buy them from another player. Hence, a player economy is born.

Initially, caps were the answer to this economy. Unfortunately, caps became mostly pointless as a currency in the game when Bethesda moved to bullion, scrip and stamps offering up the newest, most rare items. This is when players moved to selling these highly prized and overpowered weapons for real cash money, as in USD. Internet forums and trading boards came to exist to list and sell these weapons for real money.

In one fell swoop, Bethesda shut all of this down… the trading, the sales, the weapons, all of it. Without these weapons in the game, there are no more sales of them. You can’t sell what’s no longer in the game.

It goes way deeper than that. Not only did it kill third party sales of in-game weapons, it is poised to see a massive number of high level players abandon Fallout 76 and cancel their Fallout 1st subscriptions. Why play a game when there’s nothing special left?

Endgame content is firmly limited to Events. Unfortunately, in retaliation for these high powered weapons being in the game, Bethesda ramped up these events to be likewise overpowered. Without these weapons in the game, the events are STILL way overpowered…. to the point where these events are likely to FAIL the vast majority of the time when using standard weapons. Bethesda retaliated against the players by removing the weapons, but failed to reduce the overpowered nature of the events back to a level where standard weapons can be successful. Right now, these “golden” level 45 and 50 level weapons are not enough against these highly overpowered event enemies.

It gets worse, as players dwindle from the game due to natural attrition and now because Legacies have been removed, new players will be hard pressed to find enough higher level players on a server to take on the Scorchbeast Queen, the Titan or even Earle. These events are now so overpowered because Bethesda souped them up against Legacies, it’s near impossible to win these events with non-Legacy weapons, especially if a server has maybe 10 players on it.

Bethesda is definitely at a cross roads.

Microsoft

Now that Microsoft owns Bethesda, Bethesda is most definitely playing with fire. In fact, Bethesda’s choices surrounding Fallout 76 have always been questionable. Legacy removal is probably one of THE most questionable changes Bethesda has ever made for Fallout 76, considering when the problem actually started. Why does Microsoft matter? We’ll come to that answer in a bit.

For now, Fallout 76 is on the cusp. We don’t yet know the fallout (ha) from Bethesda’s meddling with Legacies. The point is, we cannot know how the rogue players will respond or how much financial damage these players who abandon the game can literally do to Bethesda.

It’s clear, without these Legacy weapons in the game, rogues who were playing Fallout 76 solely because these weapons existed will evaporate… and along with that, so will the income from Fallout 1st and all other income that keeps Fallout 76 afloat. Are the rogues a big enough population to make a dent in Bethesda’s income stream? My personal guess is, yes… at least for the longevity of Fallout 76. Without the rogues, Fallout 76 may be hard pressed to remain a viable entity, let alone Fallout as a franchise.

Does Fallout keep Bethesda afloat? It most certainly isn’t the only game that Bethesda publishes. However, Fallout 76 is currently the only Fallout franchise title available. In short, probably not.

Obsidian, another developer, was purchased by Microsoft in 2018, the same year that Fallout 76 released. Obsidian contains the remnants of Black Isle Studios, the original studio who developed the Fallout franchise. Because Microsoft now owns both Bethesda and Obsidian, it’s possible that someone at Microsoft could easily mandate the transition of the Fallout IP and franchise from Bethesda back over to Obsidian to handle.

Bethesda is clearly out of their depths with Fallout and they clearly don’t understand the franchise. Worse, they don’t even understand multiplayer systems in relation to Fallout. This first multiplayer Fallout game is probably the worst implementation that could have possibly been imagined. Partly this is due to its design goals, but partly it’s due to the inept team who couldn’t actually build a workable product… and here we are today. Because the Fallout 76 team failed to build a workable product, they’re now forced to remove a feature from the game that shouldn’t have been in it in the first place. Yet, that feature remained for nearly 5 years, solidifying them as legitimate in the game.

What Bethesda has done is tantamount to yanking a baby bottle from a baby after that baby has already begun to drink. If you didn’t want to give the baby bottle to the baby, it’s simpler not to do it up front than yanking it away after you’ve already given it to the baby. Heartless.

Can Fallout 76 tank Bethesda?

At this point, maybe not. What the loss of Fallout 76 will do is sour future gamers towards Bethesda games.

“Once bitten, twice shy.”

Few will step up to the plate again knowing the disaster that befell Fallout 76, especially once it disappears. Believe me, Fallout 76 WILL end. The question isn’t if, it’s when. After this Legacy removal, I believe Fallout 76’s end days are here. It’s just a matter of time before the remaining high level players (many of whom are now rogues) walk away and find a new game.

Gamers are fickle and these kinds of stupid maneuvers are ripe for rage quitting. Some die hard gamers will remain and play, but only for a short time until they become frustrated with the crappy standard weapons and find a new game to play. At a minimum, I’d certainly expect to see a rash of Fallout 1st subscriptions cancelled in the next 30 days.

The answer is that, alone, Fallout 76 likely can’t tank Bethesda. However, Fallout 76’s demise can most certainly make a big enough dent that someone at Microsoft (Phil Spencer?) retaliates against Bethesda through layoffs (Buh Bye Todd Howard), closures and by handing over various game IP to better equipped and better managed studios.

It’s clear, the current developers are ill equipped to understand what Fallout 76 should be. Let’s understand why…

Rogues, Games and Marketing

Rogues, whether a game studio likes them or not, are a market force. These are players who have money and are willing to spend it. A game studio can either embrace this fact, or go bankrupt trying to eliminate these gamers from the game. As they say, “Get woke, Go Broke!”

Bethesda is firmly in this latter camp. I don’t know what impetus is driving Bethesda’s management team and devs to take this “woke” approach, but clearly it’s not about trying to make money. Clearly, rogues represent real money sales. If a single player is willing to pay $20 or $50 or $150 real cash money for a single over powered weapon in the game, then Bethesda clearly isn’t actually trying make money. Who leaves money on the table?

Leaving an untapped market on the table is not only stupid, it’s probably one of the stupidest things I’ve seen Bethesda (or in general, a game developer) do.

Pay for Play

As much as gamers harp on the pay for play scheme, it’s a real thing, it exists and it needs to exist. Yes, buying an in-game weapon for real cash money is considered pay for play. You can’t deny that. Whether pay for play is good or bad thing is entirely debatable. One thing is certain. Pay for play makes money… and that’s exactly why game developers are in business, to make money.

In fact, pay for play already exists in Fallout 76 with Fallout 1st and Scrap Kits and Repair Kits and the list goes on. Even foodstuffs like Perfect Bubblegum and Lunch Boxes are forms of pay for play. Selling overpowered rifles for real cash money is just the next logical step.

At this point, Fallout 76 is almost 5 years old. When a game is brand new, perhaps pay for play isn’t something that’s needed. However, 5 years later with 95% of players at endgame, then pay for play is perfectly fine and, dare I say, necessary. It extends the life of a game. Anything that extends the life of a game I consider a good thing. It allows new players to step in and know their time won’t be wasted because the game must close down due to lack of players. It allows rogues and endgame players a means of keeping the game interesting and keep them coming back for more play. Anything that keeps players playing is a good thing. That alone continues to make money for Bethesda. I’d say that’s win-win-win all around. Everyone wins.

High Level Players, Veterans and a New Map

One thing that Bethesda has failed to take into account, in among Fallout 76’s many failures, is the failure of planning for high level players reaching the endgame. In The Elder Scrolls Online, this game’s devs seemed to properly plan for endgame high level players. In fact, ESO devs went so far as to convert level 100+ players into then new “Veteran” levels. For example, for every 100 levels, you got 1 Veteran level. A level 300 player would convert into Veteran level 3. These new Veteran levels were denoted by a Veteran symbol next to the player’s new rank, just above their head. This distinguishes Veteran players from low level players of a similar number.

In addition to being converted into Veteran levels, this change also unlocked the game to be played from the beginning using a new harder Veteran challenge level. Eventually, the devs even opened up a new Veteran level territory that required teaming up with other Veterans to handle this new difficult area. This area was so challenging, in fact, there was simply no way to solo it. The hordes were so difficult, you were forced to go in with a team even as a high Veteran level. While the lower level territories remained trivially easy for a Veteran, the Veteran territories were intensely challenging. Even group dungeons were incredibly challenging.

Likening this to Fallout 76, there is no way to liken this. While Fallout 76 devs are busy introducing silly and bugged out territories like Nuka World and slapping high level players on the wrist by removing legacies, the ESO devs (at about this same time in ESO’s lifecycle) were treating high level players like valued players and giving them more challenges. Effectively, the Fallout 76 devs are treating high level players like a nuisance when they should be celebrating players who’ve made it to level 600 or 800 or 1200 or 2000. This celebration should include rewarding these players, not chastising them.

If a player has given up a year or two of their life to play Bethesda’s Fallout 76 game and reached level 1000 (and who continues to actively play it), that’s a celebratory moment. Bethesda devs should be celebrating long standing players who continue to play the game instead of slapping these players on the wrist and saying, “Bad”.

ESO celebrated high level players the right way. Fallout 76 devs treat high level players like nothing more than a mere annoyance.

Here you have one team at Bethesda who fully understands and embraces their entire player base. On the other hand, you have an inept team who hasn’t the faintest clue of who their player base even is. I shake my head at this incredible disparity within the same corporation. It simply makes no sense.

Inept Developers

You’d think that if anything, The Elder Scrolls Online would have taught the Fallout 76 team some valuable lessons. Unfortunately, you thought wrong. It seems that these two MMO system teams do not at all communicate their valuable lessons from one team to the other.

The reality, which has become incredibly apparent, is that the Fallout 76 development team is wholly and completely inept; not just from a development perspective, but from a money making perspective. They don’t seem to understand the value of keeping ALL of the players happy and, most importantly, paying.

A game studio makes money by keeping people playing the game WHILE spending money. You don’t make money when you chase away your paying players. It’s pretty simple. Removing legacies from the game is a seminal chase-away-players moment. It’s also quite clear that the Fallout 76 developers and even the management team don’t get the real danger here.

Instead of embracing the legacies and the whole real money economy that’s grown up around these weapons’ accidental existence, Bethesda turns its back on the players by removing the weapons from the game. Not only has this shut down that entire real world economic situation (which Bethesda could have tapped), players who wanted these items have no reason to stay, pay and play the game any longer.

This means some walk away from Fallout 76 immediately and others leave slowly over time as they lose interest, “because it’s boring”. Some players, specifically rogues, must make their own fun in a game. Legacies were the rogue’s way of making that fun and cutting the boredom. Without the legacies, there’s honestly no reason for these players to remain playing the game… let alone spend any more money on it.

Business Lessons

While I hadn’t intended this article to become a business lesson, it’s moving quickly in this direction. Let me take this section to discuss this aspect of business operations.

Every college student should be required to take at least one or two business classes. What I mean here is that it’s vitally important for students learning software development to understand how their work impacts the bottom line of the company. Not all software features are good for business. There is no more clear illustration of that here than the removal of the Legacy weapons from Fallout 76. Adding new features can help out users. Removing features can easily cause people to walk away from your product.

This is where business classes come into play. Business classes teach students to have the smarts enough to realize that, “Hey, this feature that I’m being tasked to implement has a high chance of losing 70% of our PAYING clients!” Businesses must empower all employees to speak up when they see problems like this.

While software architects come up with ideas, they may not be privy to exactly how many people might actually be using a given feature. Before implementation of any feature that impacts the userbase, someone needs to put on the brakes and say, “Let’s pull the numbers of how many people are actually using this feature before rolling it out!” Sanity must always prevail in any software business. You can’t simply roll out a feature without understanding exactly how it might impact your existing bottom line.

This is why business classes, and more importantly, business intelligence and reporting is important. Blindly making changes without understanding the business impact can easily tank a business. Case in point, Musk’s incredibly poor handling of Twitter. Now we have yet another poor business case, Bethesda’s shitty handling of Legacy removals in Fallout 76.

Too Late

This article is written after-the-fact. Unfortunately, removing these weapons is more or less a done deal. What I mean here is that knowing the way that Fallout 76’s code is written, there’s no way to undo this change. Meaning, it’s easier to stop a code rollout before it happens than it is to undo a change already made. In many cases, it’s actually impossible to undo code changes due to the nature of the way it was rolled out.

At this point, Bethesda is stuck with this change, for better or worse. At this point, unfortunately, we’re probably at the “or worse” point. As I said above, we’re nearly 5 years into this game’s lifecycle. Instead of Bethesda celebrating high level player achievements, these players are being chastised and chased off by removing weapons these players relied on.

The point in becoming a high level player is to take the benefits that go along with that high level, which includes high damage weapons. That’s an expected staple of any game that supports having high level players. If level 1000 players are reduced to using weapons at the same level as a level 50 player, what’s the point in playing Fallout 76? In fact, what’s the point in leveling up beyond level 50?

Not only does this Legacy removal impact high level players, it impacts low level players because they know they can’t get these weapons in the future. That means that players who might have hung around to level their character up to level 1000 for the chance of getting one of these weapons might now get to level 100, quit and go buy something else. That drastically reduces the income of Bethesda… and by extension Microsoft.

When the Fallout 76 team could have embraced these weapons and monetarily leveraged the external market by retooling them to be legitimate and finding legitimate ways to sell and use them, the Fallout 76 team’s lack of business intelligence and foresight prevailed.

It’s anyone’s guess if Fallout 76 can recover from this change. My guess is that this Legacy removal will be the last major thing the Fallout 76 team does before the plug gets pulled on Fallout 76 by Microsoft. Bethesda, prove me wrong.

Compensating Controls

This final thought is yet another failure of business intelligence on the part of Bethesda management regarding the legacy removals. One idea that many game developers employ to soften the blow of any negative change is introduce a compensating positive change. For example, when something gets removed from a player’s inventory because of a policy change, the developer will offer up some kind of freebie for all of those players who are impacted. This can include free currency, a free new weapon, a freebie in the game store or something similar. This freebie offsets that player’s item loss in compensation.

Unfortunately, with this Legacy removal, Bethesda offered players no form of any kind of compensation for the loss of their weapon. They still had their weapon, yes, but severely altered. Bethesda might as well have removed the weapon as the weapon that remained is pretty much worthless. It’s surprising that Bethesda has offered up no compensation at all, but here we are.

For all of the above reasons, the rogues are likely to abandon this game entirely… perhaps even the franchise itself… said as if rogues even care about Fallout as a franchise. That leaves the golden players left to carry the weight, but unfortunately there are likely not enough of these golden players willing to shell out for Fallout 1st in the numbers needed to keep the game afloat. Thus, this change is likely to be Fallout 76’s death knell.

Way to go, Todd! Phil, if you’re reading this, you probably need to have a sit down with Todd to figure out what the hell is going on with the Fallout 76 development team.

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Game Review: The Outer Worlds

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on October 29, 2019

The Outer Worlds_20191024235517[Updated Dec 2019] While I hadn’t specifically heard that Obsidian was building “The Outer Worlds”, I was certain that this studio must have something in the works. I only came to find out about The Outer Worlds a week before its release. Due to other commitments, I hadn’t actually been keeping up with game releases for 2019. Let’s explore this game.

The Engine

Let’s start with the brightest star of this game. Unlike other RPG game studios that will remain nam… oh, that’s never gonna work. Bethesda. Ok, I said it. Bethesda… Happy now? Anyway, as I was saying, unlike other RPG game studios like Bethesda, Obsidian’s engine driving this game is rock stable. By “rock stable”, I mean nary a crash, glitch, frame rate drop or any other odd artifact have I run into while playing this game. The engine delivers a solid, fully functional, fully realized gaming system that seems free of major bugs or defects. Definitely a welcome change in the game development industry. That doesn’t mean this game is “bug free”… oh, no no no, my friends, but it does mean that unlike Bethesda, Obsidian seems to actually employ real game testers and a real QA team who do their jobs correctly. The bugs you are likely to run into are small, super edge cases you’re almost never likely to run into. The bugs you’ll find are also not at all likely to be showstoppers. Inconvenient occasionally, yes, but we can all live with an occasional minor bug.

What that means in this game is a poster child and a shining example to pretty much every other bug laden studio out there. The Outer Worlds proves that, yes, games CAN be written without glitching and crashing every 30 minutes. Obsidian definitely shows us and the industry that this level of software development is, in fact, possible. No, you don’t have to rely on your users to beta test your games and file bug reports. You can, instead, employ actual teams designed to locate, spot and eliminate these bugs before players ever venture into your story or your game world.

However, while this reliability and stability is a shining spot in The Outer Worlds, let’s talk about the features of this game including what it is and what isn’t… and believe me, there’s a lot to talk about here.

Role Playing Game?

The Outer Worlds_20191029024841

The Outer Worlds_20191029043959While The Outer Worlds does employ a number of role playing elements, it isn’t really a role playing game in the truest sense. In effect, The Outer Worlds is a party/team-based first person shooter. Sure, there’s looting, skill-building and limited workbench activities, but that’s really where the “Role Playing” ends. It has about as much a role playing in the game as the Resident Evil series.

A “role” playing game usually indicates that there are, in fact, multiple role types available. In Skyrim, for example, you could choose your race and your class. These features are typical in role playing systems. In Skyrim, you could make your character a Khajit Magic User or a Breton Warrior. It was up to you how you set up your character. If you set your character up as a warrior, this would increase certain “warrior” attributes up front and decrease others. This meant you had certain types of attacks which were very strong and certain attacks that were very weak. That’s the point in an RPG. Setting up your character to perform a certain way in specific combat situations.

In The Outer Worlds, there are no classes or character types. You are who you are and what you are. In this case, you’re human and you’re a colonist on a failed transport mission. It is now your mission to free your fellow colonists still stuck in the transport. That’s the pretext. The rest of the game is about leveling up your character, learning about the enemies and foes, negotiating with them (yeah, we’ll talk about this shortly) and sometimes killing them.

Anyone classifying this game as a true role playing game doesn’t fundamentally understand what an RPG is. It is, in fact, a first person shooter containing limited RPG elements. I liken it to Mass Effect in this way.

Space Epic

Here’s another area where it’s difficult to quantify this game. It purports to be a space epic, yet it has almost nothing to indicate it even takes place in space. Sure, you’re aboard a “space ship”, but not once do we get to see any space battles, scenes of landing on planets, no cut scenes, nothing to indicate the ship is, in fact, space faring.

The Outer Worlds_20191029035434All we get is a small galaxy map that when your ship travels, a tiny little sprite representation moves across the map and then, bam, you’re there. No space scenes. No faster than light travel scenes. No cut scenes. No waiting on travel. One second you’re in one location and the next you’re in another.

It’s entirely disappointing that being a space epic, you have absolutely no space flying scenes at all. Not a single one. The only cut scene that indicates space travel is the very first one that opens the story. After that, nothing.

Dialog

The Outer Worlds_20191028235233Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), within The Outer Worlds the dialog abounds… and boy does it ever! If you love having random conversations with random NPCs, this is your game. The amount of dialog in this game is astounding. You can have several multi-minute long conversations about nothing in particular with an NPC that really makes no difference to the outcome of the story. Sure, it might make a difference to your “charisma” with that specific character, but the dialog is shallow and pointless.

For the same reason that Bethesda expects you to spend minutes tooling around listening to pointless holotapes full of “lore”, Obsidian expects you to tool around for minutes in dialog with pointless NPCs. Worse, too much of the dialog is dry and really doesn’t do anything specific.

The only reason to even converse with random NPCs is to, hopefully, receive a new quest so you can get loot and gain more experience. Not that that’s really required as you can get loot and experience simply by joining random skirmishes in the landscape.

If you’re really happy about seeing tons of dialog throughout a game, well then this is your game! For me, there’s a tipping point to too much dialog. Dialog should be equally nestled into a solid gaming experience. Dialog should only be used to advance the story, but never to sidetrack the player into pointless dialog experiences. Unfortunately, The Outer Worlds falls far into the “too much dialog” trap.

Voice Actors

While there are a few solid voice actors in the roster of characters within The Outer Worlds, there are a number of voices that are outright bad. There’s nothing worse than trying to dig through dialog choices when the voice actor is so bad you have to cringe. It only makes the dialog experience worse. If you’re going to rely so heavily on dialog in a game, you should also make darn sure that your voice actors are up to that task.

Visuals

The Outer Worlds_20191029035151Here’s where this game gets rough. I’m not talking about stability here, I’m talking about lighting, textures and stylistic design. What I mean here is that the game’s visuals are problematic. First, there’s an odd choice of heavily relying on chromatic aberration over the entire screen without the option to turn it off. Not only is this effect hard on the eyes, it’s tiresome to look at constantly, it dulls the image and makes the image muddy. It’s fine to put a screen effect on as long as it can be disabled in a setting. If I don’t want chromatic aberration on the screen, let me turn it off.

Night scenes with low lighting fare even worse with this effect. The textures don’t read, become lower res and generally look bad. This is a rendering issue in the chosen engine. This game isn’t very realistic as it is, but certain lighting conditions look particularly bad. The above Stellar Bay image looks reasonably okay, but clicking to enlarge that image will show off the chromatic aberration problem.

Second, the game adds an odd color hue filter over the screen to not only give the world a color cast, it also dulls the scene by reducing contrast. Instead of the visuals popping because of contrasts, it all remains a similar monotonous contrast range.

Third, the game is chock full of “fake” product placements. In fact, that’s part of the story. These products are strewn all over the world on tables, in containers, in vending machines and so on. You can buy them, you can find them and you can even steal them. There are so many food and drink items in this game, it’s almost confusing what’s available. It’s just the opposite of Fallout, where you basically have only Nuka Cola and Blamco Mac and Cheese. The rest of the food’s labels are so degraded, the maker has been lost. In The Outer Worlds, there are at least 4 different vending machine types selling at least 4 different types of “branded” products. You can find these items strewn all over the world in containers, but you can also buy them.

On the one hand, I appreciate all of the “brand” artwork that was built to make this world seem (and is the key word here) grounded, but too many branded products means overkill… and in this game, there’s plenty of overkill.. but not for the…

Combat

Here’s where the game gets really weak. The combat system in this game is completely last gen. While it does offer a tactical time dilation (TTD — time slowing) gimmick, unfortunately that gimmick just isn’t very useful. It doesn’t increase damage output. It doesn’t help you aim. It doesn’t provide auto-aim. In fact, the only thing it does is slow down movement… and not even for very long. Yes, it might help you target the enemy’s head better, but that’s about where the benefit of TTD ends. It’s a “wannabe” VATs, but fails to work like VATs on just about every level.

As for straight up combat, it’s average. It’s no better than just about any other shooter and it relies heavily on the player’s ability to use the controller to aim. If you’re good with movement and aiming, you’ll do fine in combat. If you aren’t good at aiming, your character will die often and you’ll need to employ other strategies to win. Also, the combat is repetitive, but not in the way you might be thinking. It’s repetitive because the skirmish locations are entirely predictable, coupled with always being manned with the same exact enemies in the same quantities and strength. It’s simply monotonous after the first skirmish.

Perks and Skills

As with any modern first person shooter, the game wouldn’t be complete without some form of leveling system. To that end, the game offers you both perk and skill points. Perks offer your character an ability that enhances your character or your companion(s) in some way. For example, you can apply a perk that increases your carry weight, increases TTD duration, decreases cool downs, allows you to fast travel while overencumbered and so on. There are many perks that can enhance your play experience. However, you are limited to one perk point every few levels. This means these perk points take a very long time to achieve.

The second way to get perk points is by the game finding “flaws”. For example, if you’re hit too many times by energy weapons, the game might find a flaw that makes you more vulnerable to this type of weapon. If you accept the flaw, your character’s damage resistance to that type of weapon will be reduced by up to 25% in exchange for giving you a new “perk” point. Let me say right here that this is absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the worst, most ridiculous game mechanics (and ideas) included in a video game in a very long time. Why the hell would anyone intentionally hobble their hero character simply to get a new perk point? Why would you do it multiple times over and over? Yeah, it’s a very dumb idea. Extra perk points? Fine. But, not at the expense of intentionally hobbling my character.

Skill points, on the other hand, enhance your character’s attributes, such as persuasion, lying and dialog. It can also help your melee skills, your ranged weapon skills and others. However, until level 50, you can only apply skill points by section. This then applies one point per each item in that section. Once skill points reach 50 in a section, you can then apply points individually to specific skills. Skill points are issued at every single level up where perk points are only issued every now and then.

Additionally, you can also find wearable items that can enhance your character’s skills without the need to add points or wait for a level up. For example, a pair of goggles might add +5 to sneak or tech.

Crafting

The Outer Worlds_20191029053258Here’s another place where the game is extremely light. There is a single workbench in the game. This workbench allows you to modify, break down, repair and enhance existing weapons and armor. This is as far as crafting in this game goes. You can’t actually craft anything in this game, you can only fix, modify, destroy or upgrade existing items that you find. Destroying something only returns components which are needed to repair items, which wear down.

Weapons and Armor both wear down rapidly in this game. Without perks equipped which reduce the speed of damage, you’ll find yourself at a workbench after one or two skirmishes to repair your gear. This means you’ll need to break down lots of stuff to have enough components to perform these repairs. This means grinding and lots and lots of looting. Don’t pass dead enemies or containers by without checking. You’ll need to do this to progress in this game.

Unfortunately, while the planets team with plant life, you can use none the plant life to create potions, foods or healing serums. Expect that you’ll need to loot or buy your health items at vendors. I found this lack of health item crafting a huge miss for this game (and, in general, a miss for a modern RPG style game). There also aren’t specific health containers in this shooter. You’ll have to open buildings and loot kitchens for items. Even then, you will more than likely need to buy health inhalers and such from vending machines… so expect to grind, loot and then sell, sell, sell to get enough bits to buy this stuff. Same for armor.

Assigning Weapons and Health

You can assign weapons to 4 slots and toggle through them one at a time. You can also assign health items to slots which can then be used when you press the “emergency medical inhaler” key. You’ve got to manually remember to go assign these, though. If you forget, you’re going to be doing this in the heat of battle.

Autosave and Character Death

The game offers only a limited Autosave feature, it only saves when you exit certain buildings. There’s no way to trigger an autosave manually. These only trigger under specific limited conditions.

When your character dies, there is no “respawning”. This is a game where character death means “game over”. This means you need to reload a previous save from the saved games area. The game doesn’t automatically reload from that save. Instead, you are forced to stop what you are doing, open the save game area and reload… waiting for the game to reload the whole area again.

This is much more than a mere inconvenience. I also consider this a huge miss in game design. Most modern games are designed with at least minimal respawn capabilities. How hard is it to hold a save location somewhere in reserve, then use it to automatically reload the game after a player character’s death? We’ll come to why this is important shortly.

Quests and Currency

Many game designers seem to think that putting up a huge hurdle to overcome at the beginning of the game is a smart choice. It’s not. However, Obsidian decided to use this idea and run with it. Within the first four main questlines, your character is required to come up with 18,000 bits (in-game credits) to buy two mostly nonsensical items. Let’s understand why this is such a bad idea and such a miss.

In a game where your character is just barely getting its footing with armor and weapons, the game throws two main quests at you basically forcing you to gather 18,000 bits (in addition to the bits you’re going to need to buy weapons, armor and health). Being new to the game, you have to make a choice. Do you hold all of your bits and not spend any so you can get through these quests or do you spend your bits and upgrade your character properly? That the designers forced gamers into making this choice very early in the game, it means that those who want to progress the main quest must leave their characters and companions weak until past these quests.

This type of quest shouldn’t have appeared in this game until at least halfway through when, by sheer volume of questing alone, you will already have amassed that many bits organically rather than being forced to do so. It makes absolutely no sense to throw these “reach for the stars” kinds of quests at the gamer 3 and 4 quests into the game. This is not only a huge miss, it’s a poorly designed quest choice.

Modern Video Game Design

The Outer Worlds_20191029035555The Outer Worlds seems as if it had begun its design phase back when the Xbox 360 was an active current console. It seems that this game was designed to operate on a lesser console platform like the Xbox 360. A console with lower res graphics, limited audio, lower res textures, lesser speed CPUs, lesser ram and so on.

This game doesn’t in any way seem or feel modern. It feels like The Elder Scrolls Oblivion (or more aptly) Fallout New Vegas in look and feel. These latter games were designed to operate on the Xbox 360’s limited constraints with none of the “modern conveniences” being designed into today’s bigger, bolder and brighter games. The Outer Worlds seems to have been designed using the same creative mindset as Oblivion and New Vegas.

Instead, The Outer Worlds is a lightly designed game with a light operational framework offering few modern conveniences. It’s like thinking you’re buying a Tesla only to find that you really bought a bare bones Toyota Camry. Sure, both are cars, both get you from point A to B, but instead of that cool innovative touch screen LCD computer panel to guide you on your way, you are disappointed to find an antiquated illuminated speedometer with a needle. Not exactly what you were expecting… and, thus, this is The Outer Worlds in a nutshell. That doesn’t make The Outer Worlds bad, but it does make The Outer Worlds a less than modern gaming experience.

Missing Modern Conveniences

Unlike many recent games which have sought to solidify and define both the PS4’s and the Xbox One’s next gen gaming standards, The Outer Worlds seems intent to break many of these existing standards and revert back to older days. For example, on the PS4, this game’s control scheme is upended. Whether this was intentional by Obsidian or simply ignorance, I don’t know. Back when a game like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was published, such button control standards were only just becoming defined.

Today, controller standards are well defined. Placing “back” onto the O button and “interact” on X is as natural as tying your shoelaces. When a developer comes along and moves the Interact function to a button where it doesn’t belong or places jump onto the X button, it seems well out of place. And, out of place it is. Even switching to the alternative predefined controller maps on the PS4 doesn’t completely solve this problem. For example, the more or less useless and single purpose Tactical Time Dilation is oddly placed onto the X button when using the “Modern” or “Legacy” remapping. This odd choice of button placement gives me pause to consider Obsidian’s gaming ideals. Why would they choose to NOT map interact onto X in at least one controller mapping when this is pretty much the industry standard today? It’s a small peeve, but it is a concern for this game.

Another questionable choice is the lack of a manual Quicksave feature. Instead of spending time hopping through multiple layers of menus simply to save a game, you could press “Quicksave” at the top of the Save Game menu. You could then perform a quicksave and be on your way. You don’t need to stop everything you’re doing, then press “Save Game” and go through a bunch of dialog boxes simply to save a game. Additionally, on character death, you are summarily thrown to the “Load Game” screen. You are then forced to navigate through your saved games and load one of them. You have no choice. It’s an odd play. The convenience of Quicksaves in games like these is both readily apparent and a necessary modern convenience. That this convenience is inexplicably missing from this game is, again, an odd play.

For this reason, this is why I continually feel that this game must have be begun its development roots back sometime between 2005 and 2011 when this project was, for some reason, shelved. It seems like this game was then pulled off of a shelf by Obsidian, polished and released in 2019. It feels every bit like a game designed over a decade ago, spit polished to look somewhat modern. Even the liquidy-looking health and TTD UI elements hearken back to games from day’s past, though I can’t recall which exact game used a similar UI element.

As another example, when you press the pause button, the entire screen blacks out to a small menu. This is something that would have been used back in the days of the Xbox 360. Today, game designers use much more modern, sophisticated approaches to drawing a menu screen. For example, most developers use depth of field to blur the game imagery and then place a menu over the top of a blurred and darkened screen. It’s a modern approach to this screen. Not only does it make the game look more polished, it shows that the developers are aware of the importance of continuing to show the game imagery. When you black a screen out, you can’t see at all where your characters are, where the camera is or anything else about the game. You must exit the pause screen to see anything. A blurred version of the screen is much more informative than having nothing at all. It is an innovation and convenience that has helped retain the action of the game. That it’s not here is yet another odd play.

The “Inventory” screen also has its fair share of problems. For example, it doesn’t remember where you were when you last left it. When you enter the inventory screen, it always throws you back into “Inventory”. If you were formerly on the map screen and you exit the screen, then reenter it, you are back on “Inventory”. It doesn’t remember which tab you were on. This is yet another convenience that’s missing. These kinds of UI problems existed in games back in 2006, but haven’t existed in modern games since about 2013 (when the PS4 launched). That this game has reverted back to the days of 2006 seems odd.

Additionally, the use of hand drawn icons in the inventory instead of rendering an actual 3D model is something games back in 2006 would also have used, back when memory was short and showing 3D models in small places wasn’t something that was easy to do. Today, showing 3D models all over the screen is a common and regular occurrence. That Obsidian opted for hand drawn art in the inventory screen seems antiquated and, again, odd. It is also another indicator that this game may have begun its development lifecycle back in 2006.

Innovation (or Lack thereof)

Not using modern conveniences is actually only half the problem in The Outer Worlds. The other half is the lack of adding any modern innovation to the game. Other than TTD (which isn’t very modern nor innovative), that’s the extent of the gimmicks I’ve so far found. For example, there is lack of innovation in the dialog system. It’s straight forward and simplistic. Not only does the game zoom in for a bust shot of the other character, it locks the camera to a fixed position. Games haven’t done this for many years. In most modern games, when you’re taking to an NPC character, you can continue to walk around and talk to them so long as you don’t wander too far off. As long as you remain in the talk circle, you can continue to converse with them without the screen being locked into a fixed position.

Additionally to this, most games now voice the main character as a modern standard. This means that when the main character asks a question, you get to hear the main character say the words audibly. Then, the NPC character responds with their words. This mechanic makes the game more genuine, conversational and realistic. In The Outer Worlds, the protagonist is not voiced at all. In fact, the only thing you get to choose is the text in a menu of dialog. Again, an odd choice. Yes, some people complained that Fallout 4’s main character’s acting and wasn’t great. But, it did add to the experience of the overall game. That this is missing in The Outer Worlds makes it seem like Obsidian cut more than a few corners.

Other innovations that were missed included the use of individual armor pieces (left arm, right arm, left leg, right leg, chest and helmet). Instead, armor is full body and helmet only. Again, oddly not innovative.

Cutting Corners

In fact, let’s jump right into the heart of the issue with this game. The corner cutting in this game is palpable. These cut corners make The Outer Worlds seem less than a modern gaming experience. Indeed, the lack of being able to change much of the appearance of the main character is odd, though you do get limited customization. Worse, there seem to be a total of about 4 to 6 each male and female character models in the game. What this means is that the game uses and reuses these models with all NPCs. In fact, several character models are overused so many times, it’s almost like talking to clones all over this universe. It’s, once again, an odd play. Modern games typically utilize custom models for primary characters to avoid this “clone” problem. Yet, here we are.

Nothing makes a game seem less realistic than continually reusing the same 3D character models over and over on main story characters.

Space Scenes

Let’s talk about space scenes. Earlier, I discussed that this is a space epic. How can this be a space epic when there are no space scenes at all? It’s a space ship, yet the only places of interest are planets? What about space battles? What about other space ships? Again, it seems that Obsidian may have cut corners here to get this game produced. Instead of focusing on space scenes, the game focuses on ground play and combat. In fact, there are pretty much two things that this game heavily relies on… dialog and ground skirmishes. Fetch quests are obviously part of the reason for the ground skirmishes, after all there’s no point in running all over the terrain without a reason. Hence, fetch quests.

Simplistic Quests

With questing, there seem to be even more corners cut. Most of the quests are simplistic at best. Get quest from A, go to B and get thing, return to A and tell of success (ABA). The vast majority the quests given in this game are of the ABA variety. There are very few extra steps, options or things to do along the way (other than skirmish). These are not in any way deep, thoughtful quests. They are, instead, simplistic and straightforward. Even then, when skirmishing, the skirmishes are predictable, simplistic and straightforward.

Is it fun?

Well, that entirely depends on your idea of fun. If running around doing another NPC’s bidding is fun, then maybe. The difficulty with the quests in this game is that they are simplistic, short and somewhat nonsensical. For example, Udom on the Groundbreaker has you run over to a shop just mere steps from where he is sitting and has you spend 8000 of your own bits (in-game currency) to retrieve his “stamp”… a task which I am quite sure he not only has bits to handle, but one that he can walk over himself and resolve. Why is the “hero” the one who has to go gather said bits and spend them on another NPC’s behalf? This is but one example of similarly poorly written quests. Another is getting “auntie-biotics” for a guy. When you exit the shop, a nosy ne’er-do-well eavesdrops on your conversation who also wants these “auntie-biotics” for her own purposes. As cliché a quest setup as I’ve ever seen. And yet, also a very simplistic ABA quest.

Lack of Multiplayer

With all of that said above, the game also doesn’t sport a multiplayer mode. It’s still early in this game’s lifecycle, so there is a possibility for DLC to add this feature (and other multiplayer features). However, in this first release, there is no multiplayer anything this game. It is as single player as a single player game gets.

Overall

For as relatively antiquated as this first person shooter game seems, its rock stable engine helps this one along tremendously. We’ve ALL grown tired of having games crash every few minutes, particularly Bethesda’s games. The Outer Worlds’ stability is definitely a welcome relief from this level of bugginess and is a step in the right direction. Yet, there is so much unfulfilled potential in this antiquated game, it’s really hard to rate this one.

What I will say about The Outer Worlds is to be cautious when considering a purchase. If you like the simplistic nature of earlier Xbox 360 RPGs and significant amounts of dialog, you might like The Outer Worlds. If you’re looking for more complex questing, complex combat situations, unique space combat or a useful crafting system, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

[December 2019 Update]

I have completed this game fully and can, without a doubt, say this is definitely an Xbox 360 throwback game. It is a game that should have existed on a lesser platform with more strict graphics and RAM limitations. In fact, with only slight alterations to support touch, this game would play just fine on an iPad of any size. This is why I firmly believe this game may have begun its development life back when the Xbox 360 was still an active console. It may have even begun its development around the same time as Mass Effect (the first game). As a result of Mass Effect and because of Mass Effect’s similar play style, Obsidian might have shelved this title until 2019 to avoid any unnecessary comparisons to Mass Effect… when it seems that in 2019 it pulled this game from its code vault and began the work to complete it.

While I could be entirely wrong on this, this is the way the whole game feels. Regardless of its origins, it’s definitely a throwback game. It’s definitely not a game I would have expected to see on a Next Gen gaming platform in 2019. It has none of the Next Gen eye candy I would have expected to see in a modern Next Gen game.

Worse, the close of this game is a very  l o n g  montage outro consisting of a bunch of still images which cut from one to the next, narrated by a less than stellar voice over providing a very matter-of-fact and bland reading. The closing narrative strings together what your play through accomplished and how your shipmates fared after the story ended. Ultimately, this outro is a complete and utter letdown for a game that had a throwback-ish, but promising start.

In among the incredibly weak outro, it’s unfortunate that the close of this game is also bittersweet. That may have to do with story choices, but I can’t see how. Ultimately, Halcyon must fall and the beginnings of that fall had nothing whatever to do with game’s hero. The hero may have played a part in ushering along that fall faster, but it would have fallen regardless of the hero’s involvement. Ultimately, Halcyon has to fall based on the final narrative on Tartarus. It’s like the game is trying to blame the hero for all of the colony’s woes, yet the narrative can’t exactly do this because the hero had only just awoken from the Hope but a short time ago.

The story also brings up unnecessary information, such as the loss of communication with Earth and the loss of a large space vessel with many thousands of troops on the way to Earth. There’s no follow-up after the game ends to understand if this claim is even true. Perhaps the game is setting itself up for DLC or possibly for The Outer Worlds 2? This game feels like it was intended to be episodic in nature, but fails to solidify that this game is but one episode in a series. If you’re planning on creating a game as a series, at least disclose that it’s a series somewhere along the way. I believe this information may be left open for DLC because there are still 4 planets left locked on the star chart map. It is assumed these 4 unvisited planets will make their appearance in possibly upcoming DLC. Though, if DLC is coming, where is the season pass?

The additional trouble with the Earth communication loss information (and loss of a ship en route to Earth) is that this information comes solely from Adjutant Akande, a person who has proven herself (and the rest of the Board) to be an unreliable source of information. That Welles believes Akande wholeheartedly means Welles is incredibly gullible or simply woefully stupid. The game has given us no reason to believe the truthfulness of anyone on the Board, let alone Akande. If anything, Akande was, as the hero stated, a psychopath… and she probably was. The rest of the Board wasn’t much better in this regard. They were all at least sociopathic liars, treating the colony as nothing more than nuisances who spend money. The Board even had no trouble putting people of Byzantium to death just because (the retiree quest line). How can you trust a Board of people who are that subversive and uncaring about its very own population?

Worse, when the hero does put an end to the Board, the game summarily ends. There’s no more playing the game. You can’t walk the streets and see what all of your hard work has accomplished. Instead, we’re treated to that still image montage voice over. Obsidian, at least put just a little bit more work into the closing montage. Seriously, how about a cinematic with characters actually moving around and doing things? How about having some of the characters voice their lines? Oh well, it is what it is… a letdown.

Graphics: 5 out of 10 (decent, but chromatic aberration is hard on the eyes)
Gameplay: 6 out of 10 (fair, game is predictable, all planets look the same, no crafting)
Voice Acting: 5 out of 10 (ranges from very good to very bad)
Music: 8 out of 10
Combat: 5 out of 10 (too much of the same thing every time)
Stability: 9.5 out of 10
Story: 5 out of 10
Ending: 1.5 out of 10

Overall: 6 out of 10 (wait for a sale or rent… $60 is too pricey for what amounts to an Xbox 360 throwback with such a lame ending.)

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