One of the most ambitious role-playing games of the year offers split-screen co-op and a challenging mix of Dark Souls and DayZ.
Outward is a game some people are going to absolutely love. Viewed objectively, it has flaws so obvious we dont think even the most ardent fan would deny them, but it also has ambition and heart, and sometimes that can be enough.
Whereas many role-playing games focus on combat or storytelling, Outward is all about exploration. While its would-be peers often seem to be in a rush to switch on fast travel and get you where they want you to be Outward is the very opposite. Its an open world role-player with a heavy emphasis on survival style gameplay but also co-op play – to the point where it has a split-screen option for two players to journey together.
Thats extremely rare for a role-playing game, or indeed any game nowadays, but rather than the ropey combat or forgettable storytelling its the companionship of playing through the game with a friend which is its main appeal. Outward is never going to be regarded as a classic and yet were certain many people will end up having very fond memories of playing it; depending, that is, on who exactly they play it with.
Beyond the co-op, one of our favourite things about Outward is that you your character is not a chosen one, lost prince, magical being, or any other familiar trope. You play only as an ordinary adventurer, trying to survive and explore the games open world environment. Youre also not trying to save the world or rescue a princess, youre attempting to pay off a debt. Which is the perfect goal for a game where the most common obstacles are not magical monsters but the lack of food in your belly.
One of the many reasons that Outward is not going to be for everyone is that its an incredibly harsh and unforgiving game. There are comparisons to be made with Dark Souls – especially since almost every hostile animal, monster, and person you come across seems to be considerably more powerful than you – but the completely different approaches to world design mean the similarities are fairly superficial. Survival games such as DayZ are a better comparison, especially given how dangerous the elements can be and how easy it is to get sick and die simply from the cold or an infection.
All of this is very purposeful, with the game offering no manual save options and no fast travel of any kind. If you want to go somewhere you have to walk there and if it takes forever, or you die a few metres from your destination, then thats just your bad luck. Especially when youre revived with no idea of where you are and no easy way to identify where on the map you might be now. Outward also doesnt believe in quest makers, so the lack of hand-holding will seem aggressively unfriendly to some people.
But that whats why its so vital to have someone else playing along with you, ideally side-by-side in split-screen mode or at least via the online co-op option. Although another reason is that the barren, ugly open world is really rather dull and empty. And while on the one hand its a relief not to be constantly accosted by monsters it can get very lonely and very boring on its own. (Its also very glitchy, with some painfully long load times.)
Were sure therell be a certain number of people wholl be reading all this with an increasing sense of relish. But theres an important distinction to be made here between Outwards intentions and its achievements. Trying to persevere in such an unforgiving world is a fascinating challenge but, even with someone else along for the ride, its still not very much fun to play. Or at least not in the traditional sense.
The combat is absolutely dreadful: horribly imprecise and with very little sense of feedback. As you flail around impotently enemies can you cut you down in just one or two hits, and unlike Dark Souls theres never any sense of mastering a challenge but rather cheesing your way past it. There is magic in the game but its extremely complex and not the sort of thing you can use in a hurry. So instead you slowly realise that the ideal tactic is to try and catch enemies out with traps youve crafted, take advantage of their terrible artificial intelligence, or simply try to avoid combat entirely.