Outward by Nine Dots Studios is an interesting attempt at something new with roleplaying games. In RPGs you will often find yourself as a slighted or disenfranchised young person who then needs to rise up to “the challenge” and eventually save the world by unlocking hidden talents. Eventually you will become an all-powerful being capable of smiting foes and gods left and right. Outward aims to be the opposite; you are insignificant, you are not some all-powerful being touched by some holy light, you are not some super-warrior that simply needs to find their fitting. You are nobody. A nothing; a random person that wakes up and has to survive.
Now the premise sounds absolutely fantastic to me; I mean, I love my JRPGs, which are often full of tired tropes where a young man or woman’s childhood home is ransacked by the big bad demon king, a parent is often killed (occasionally a childhood friend) and on goes the story that starts as revenge and turns into a tale of saving mankind for the greater good. Seriously, I can think of a few dozen JRPGs that start that way and while I love each one, the opportunity to get into something new is always exciting, which is why Outward appealed to me so much.
Now, after spending plenty of time in game, I think that the game had so much potential, and while I have my own critiques for it, does live up to much of that. Where I would have personally gone a different route, was in the fact that magic exists in this world. Granted, the magic is interesting, based on a rune-like method where you can combine various glyphs to make some pretty spectacular booms, but it tends to be the default process everyone (including myself) tend to roll with because it simply gives you that uber-powerful feeling. That very fact is, in my mind, counter to the very concept that the great folks at Nine Dots Studios were trying to push. Maybe it is just me, but I would have certainly left magic to the wind and went straight survival on the topic. The magic is fun, but neither adds nor detracts from the overall gameplay; it simply exists and I struggled with immersion in the survival-esque world of Outward because of it.
One thing that was certainly promised was that it would be difficult, and difficult Outward most certainly is. Monsters, though limited in variation, are all extraordinarily strong and in many cases, will simply 1-hit you. This happens. A lot. I found that, because I would often forget to remove my backpack so I could better manage my stamina, I would try to roll out of the way from hits, which would then leave me running back to my corpse. Now you might think that sounds familiar, very Dark Souls, and you would be right, to a point.
Where in Souls games you can sword-and-board tank, hiding behind a tower shield and dodge only when necessary, that is so incredibly far from the reality in Outward. Regardless of what you are wearing or whether you have some magical enchantment, you will be squishy. But hey, at least you can work your way up to a sweet house, because you will spend a lot of time there, crafting, managing your inventory, and simply resting to get away from the stress of cave diving and exploring the ruins found dotted throughout the land.
While each individual aspect of Outward sounds great, from the survival-esque features to the regular roleplay features, they tend to be both outshone and tarnished by the world with which Outward is built. Stunning vistas, brilliant scenes, interesting caves, and wonderful ruins are devastatingly devoid of anything more interesting than a spawn point. Sure, there are a few interesting things like the blade dancers in a subterranean factory of some sort, or an ice witch and some cronies in a mountaintop cave, but those are few and far between.
In truth, Outward is empty and devoid of any real life, all with little real explanation. Survival games like State of Decay 2 tend to have more personality throughout the game due to the pockets of survivors simply trying to get by in a world gone mad. It almost seems like Nine Dots Studio was trying to do something similar … but forgot to add in the personality. Still, there is plenty to do within Outward, even if it does feel a bit meandering at times. Given the attention to player feedback that Nine Dots has shown, perhaps, over time, these things will change and when it does, I will revisit the game and maybe put out a new article; until then, Outward remains firmly in the “Make sure you pick this one up while it’s on sale” category.
Outward is a fun, challenging, if empty and slightly misguided, open-world roleplaying game where death is not only common, but guaranteed (do not be like me and accidentally drink the salt water; you will die … fast). Beautiful but hollow, Outward is an absolute must for those looking for something different, but be warned, you might bite off more than you can choose.Score: 6.75 / 10