Inwardly Craving Outward

Welp, I did it. For the first time in forever, I went ahead and bought another game super near to its launch at full price.

I think the last time I did that was Unavowed (cheap, prior good reputation) and Monster Hunter World (much less cheap, solid reputation with prior games in its genre) and maybe Evolve way back when.

This from someone -still- waiting for Rimworld and Factorio because I just haven’t found time or desire to invest many hours into complex strategy yet and hoping for a teeny tiny discount one day (because I’m just as stubborn as the devs who say no discount.)

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For Outward though, I think it is a case of right time, right place.

With my new super widescreen monitor, I’m craving for something that looks good (passable, anyway) and feels immersive. For something that simulates being in a different world and having an adventure.

Here Outward comes along and promises just that. No minimaps, no arrow on a big map nicely situating you and automapping for you, just a big map of the surrounding region and you locate your own landmarks and navigate. Hope you paid attention to the NPCs telling you directions. Oldschool style.

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Where travel takes time and the in-betweens (including getting lost) become significant.

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And did we mention night is dark in the oldschool sense of the word?

Outward is not without controversy. It is as janky as one might expect from a game made by merely ten devs. The graphics are not next-gen and harken back to a decade ago or so. Not every NPC in town can be conversed with, many doors are just wallpapered scenery and not all buildings can be entered, much of the open world is apparently devoid of NPC encounters beyond aggressive mob spawns.

It is voiced intermittedly, with partial sentences and mostly bolstered by text. This does not bother me, being more of a textual information gatherer and happily used to playing old games like Torment and Shadowrun with reams of text; but I’ve seen a few streamers driven absolute nuts by the abrupt break of convention (full text or full voice, wat is this bizarro in-between?)

The combat is apparently love-it-or-hate-it. Mobs are tough – 1 on 1 is what you should attempt most times, and 2 on 1 is scary.

Proper preparation is supposedly important – have the right resistances, good inventory management to not be encumbered, knowledge of enemy weaknesses, set traps if needed, animation locks for weapon swings so that you need to wait or evade enemy attacks before returning them and so on.

But what it does also have is great ideas and systems that interact with each other.

Case in point, death penalties. Or rather, death “adventures.” If you die in Outward, and you will, a loading screen describes how your enemies treated your unconscious body and dumped you off… somewhere.

It is somewhat reminiscent of tabletop RPG GM shenanigans if they don’t exactly want to TPK everybody and force everyone to roll up new characters. Instead, you might wake up from unconsciousness somewhere – in a jail, on a trash heap of dumped bodies, sold into slavery, and your new adventure begins as you struggle your way out of the predicament you’re now in.

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So far I’ve had one death in the troglodyte filled Blister caverns and ‘lucked’ into waking up deeper inside its warrens.

The chagrin at having dropped my backpack satchel (with the quest item I dearly needed/wanted) to attempt fighting off the trog that killed me and thus potentially losing it (could I even remember where I dropped it, and would I be able to find my way back to it?) was punishment enough.

I had to scavenge a conveniently left around weapon, murdered two trogs one-at-a-time in essentially my skivvies (sort of a toga/loincloth affair), found a bonus treasure and wandered in circles until I found a recognizable cavern and struggled to retrace my steps until…. yes! That blue glow was the satchel I had dropped!

There were very much still trogs left alive deeper in the caverns, but at 1/5 of my health remaining, I decided cowardice to be the better part of valor and made a break for the exit… with an additional terrifying detour of nearly walking in half-dead into a two trog cavern and a hasty u-turn in the opposite direction.

As for the other systems, it pulls from both survival games and oldschool RPGs/MMO to create a simulationist sort of game. There is a mild hunger/thirst meter. Warmth/cold meters allow for the possibility of overheating in deserts and near hot lava, and freezing one’s arse off in snowy climes.

Encumbrance and inventory management is a very real thing. Practically every stream I watched was full of bag UI. While this would not normally send me into bliss and pulling out wads of cash from my wallet (much the contrary, really) the rules and boundaries of the system do work to force meaningful decisions from the player. You cannot loot -everything- and then race back to sell it all ad nauseam.

Everything has weight. It is the reason why small valuable gems are super-desirable and trying to cart around 10,000 silver coins would be pretty nuts. What stuff is most valuable to vendor? What can be left behind? How should one juggle being prepared with equipment for dangerous situations, and still have room to bring back a profitable haul?

There is survival style crafting. Wood can be gathered, metal veins can be mined, plants harvested, excess items broken down into salvaged materials, to be recombined in new, hopefully useful ways with discoverable recipes.

Dungeons are Outward’s strong point. All that impactful travel has to go somewhere, and from the streams I’ve seen, it has no shortage of interesting to explore dungeons with monsters, puzzles and loot.

I think the best short description of Outward so far is Morrowind + survival, as made by only ten people or so.

It’s no Skyrim. It doesn’t have that kind of cinematic production values, with tons of quests and voiced NPCs. But it does have some of the older nostalgic charm of Morrowind, with more gaps where things like lore, NPCs and interactable objects are concerned, mixed with an extra helping of light survival simulation elements on top.

It perplexed me for a long while, trying to decide if I wanted to buy it now or later.

On the one hand, janky games are a little disappointing technical quality-wise, and might go on discount sooner than later. I’m a patient gamer for almost everything.

On the other hand, buying a game at launch price sends a message. We want this. We want more of this. We support this. Make more games like this.

And what I didn’t quite realize I wanted until I saw it… I want an oldschool, nostalgic open-world MMORPG… and all the potential adventures wandering around an Everquest-like world, in single-player mode.

Black Desert Online looked super-cool in its open world, crafting and harvesting and gathering and horse breeding and ship building and sailing systems. Then toss in questionable payment models and the ability for any player to engage in PvP with you whenever they wish (karma penalties not withstanding) and I nope right out.

To me these days, I’m of the increasing mind that other players ruin the immersion inherent in a world. What purpose do they serve, really? (Beyond sating socializers’ needs – they have the entire universe of social media at their fingertips these days, are games really the appropriate medium here?)

95% of the time, they are out of character and will yank you right out of a setting with their real world talk and possibly toxic behavior. They run around like frenzied ants at best, without verisimilitude of movement.

The best thing they could do for you is to help you out and speed your progress past potential roadblocks, but then you run into the issues of having cheapened the inherent challenge (if besting challenge is a significant motivator) or just super-speeding through all available progression (and there sure do seem to be a lot of achievement motivated players who lose interest after that.)

In singleplayer, the world exists for you, without a hundred other strangers pillaging it at the same time.

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And the road goes ever on and on.

P.S. In all fairness, Outward does support cooperative gameplay in a duo. It even has split screen. The mode is also reportedly a little buggy and janky. But others also report having a great time playing. One’s mileage may vary.

Please also do prior research. Outward is not quite a full open world and has only four main region/biome maps (for now.) But it sure appears to pack quite a number of dungeons and potential dungeon-crawling / walking travel adventure within those four regions.

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