The Outer Worlds: Curation vs Exploration

The final four months of this year are pretty packed when it comes to video game releases. I’m almost dreading figuring out what to spend my time with, and then having to cobble together a list of ten for the Best of Year with only a few months to prepare by trying all these games.

One of the titles on my radar is The Outer Worlds. The newest game from Obsidian Entertainment, the trailers caught everyone’s eye right away. Being directed by Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, the minds behind the original Fallout games, as well as the New Vegas of the modern iteration of the series, the pedigree is there to attract the eye.

In so much early coverage of the game, there is a lot of industry shorthand being used, and people are mistakenly referring to the game as being from Bethesda. While the DNA is certainly there for this to be seen as a “Bethesda style” video game, the developers assure everyone that this is not necessarily going to be the case.

The Outer Worlds: Curation vs Exploration
The Outer Worlds

It’s difficult to deny there are some deep shades of Fallout present in this game. Consequently, many people made a number of very specific assumptions about what The Outer Worlds is going to be. Obsidian are saying that, unlike Fallout, this game is going to be a more compact experience, telling a tighter story in a more condensed time frame.

Predictably, some people are biting back at the game after this announcement. Personally though, I’m happy to hear this is the game for this new game. There are certainly pros and cons to making a sprawling, open ended experience in a game like Fallout or the Elder Scrolls series.

The comparisons are going to be inevitable, despite the connection between the franchises being tenuous at best. But everyone is going to be making it, so I might as well go there too. Because honestly, there are two very different approaches to this kind of game, and taking a more reserved approach here might actually benefit the more expanse style of the alternative.

The Outer Worlds: Curation vs Exploration
Fallout 4

So, Fallout. What’s it’s appeal. Personally, I find myself drawn to them because of their sandbox nature. Fallout is a wide open playground, full of narrative experiences, interesting characters and other weird little quirks just waiting to be explored. It’s a franchise of explorative systems coming together with a focus on allowing the player to experience the game in their own way.

They’re pointedly “power to the player” games. They provide the tools and allow for their fans to create their own stories. Chatting to other people about games such as Skyrim and Fallout, the stories we tell one another aren’t about the game’s pre-written narrative. The things we remember are the strange little collision of systems, when things go wrong in just the right way. Something no developer ever could have planned for.

It’s why we think back on them so fondly and why people still play Skyrim all these years later. The potential for a new experience every time the game is loaded is almost a guarantee. So you might be asking; if these experiences are so unique and fantastic, why would I be happy that Obsidian are scaling things back for their new game.

The Outer Worlds: Curation vs Exploration
100% what Skyrim is like

Aside from the fact that the back-end of this year is already packed with high profile releases, there is an inherent doubled edged sword that comes with the classic “Bethesda” style open world game such as Fallout or Elder Scrolls. With so many intelligent systems working in unison, all having to function at the same time, there are inevitably times where they break down.

While I personally still enjoying Fallout 4, for many it was a breaking point. Critics expect a higher standard from their video games, especially the storied franchises such as this. The fact that developers over-reached and put out janky-ass games that that still had potential to break themselves or bomb their own frame rate is something we need to get past.

There certainly is some level of charm that comes with the broken parts of these games that I can appreciate. But at a certainly point, we really do need to hold these developers to a higher standard. If The Outer Worlds really is a Fallout in everything but name, the more condensed scope means that the developers have far greater control over their own world and clamp down on the wayward clashing of mechanics.

The Outer Worlds: Curation vs Exploration
The Outer Worlds is out October 25th

A need to continuously up the ante makes it difficult for developers to do something like this; scale things back and get their fundamentals correct. While the open, explorative experience of discovering my own story in a Bethesda style RPG is always appealing, the things I enjoy about those games from a narrative perspective are generally few and far between.

Very few people actually finish the mainline story quests that kicks off their adventure. Endless distractions and side adventures make it so many players probably never realise these games actually have an end. Probably because the main line stories are often the least interesting aspects of these games.

A strong narrative focus can exponentially increase the quality of a game, at least in my eyes. If Obsidian can use this fresh slate to blend a stronger, more driven narrative with the open world exploration aspects of the games they were previously known for. The Outer Worlds could potentially be the first in a new level of quality in these kinds of games, something I’m sure Bethesda themselves will be keeping a very close eye on.

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