Obsidian's The Outer Worlds was very well received when it originally launched back in October of 2019; it's a satirical and darkly humorous RPG that takes the first-person Fallout experience and blasts it into orbit. However, as much as it has in common with the Fallout games, it's also very much its own distinct affair; a remarkably streamlined and breezy offering that eschews its nearest inspiration's enormous open-worlds for bite-sized areas made up of a wonderfully vibrant selection of alien planets and a campaign that can be rampaged through in about twenty hours.
When it was first announced that the game would be coming to Switch we were honestly quite doubtful about just how well this big ol' slice of Saturday morning sci-fi action would make the jump to less powerful hardware but, once again, port master Virtuos is on hand with another very solid conversion to add to its resume.
In The Outer Worlds, you assume the role of the Stranger, freshly dethawed from a sixty-year cryo-slumber aboard the colonising ship Hope by the rather mad scientist Phineas Welles – a sort of Dr Emmett Brown in space. Welles informs you that Halcyon, the colony you were en route to before your ship got lost for over half a century, is now on the verge of complete collapse due to the incompetence of the various megacorporations, known collectively as "The Board", who run it. You must therefore set out to gather the components required to revive the rest of the crew of the Hope – the best and brightest of the colonisers – in order to save Halcyon from certain doom.
Once you've spent a little time in the game's comprehensive character creation suite you'll be whipped off to the colourful environs of Emerald Vale where your first task is to secure a power regulator for the spaceship you'll use to traverse the game's galaxy map, and it's in this very first mission where you'll get a good feeling for the ebb and flow of how the rest of The Outer Worlds plays out.
You'll need to head off to the local town of Edgewater to speak to the head of the Saltuna Cannnery, the eminently untrustworthy Reed Tobson, at which point you'll be faced with the moral dilemma of whether to shut down this failing town's power supply in order to complete your objective or to instead switch the power off at a nearby botanical gardens where a bunch of deserters have set up camp to escape a harrowing life of mindlessly canning tuna. It's a mission that's brought brilliantly to life by witty dialogue peppered with dark humour and punctuated with plenty of the game's often hilariously violent combat, and it's one that genuinely made us pause for quite a bit of time before deciding which way we'd let the power continue to flow.
It's also a mission where you'll pick up the first of six possible companions who'll join you aboard your ship, the Unreliable, as you dart around Halcyon running errands, taking sides against various factions and hacking, sneaking, shooting, looting and stealing your way to one of the game's three endings. These various companions that you'll meet on your travels not only provide some genuinely entertaining company – Parvati might be our favourite video game sidekick of all time – they'll also lend you a hand in combat, providing support and enabling you to make use of various special attacks and skills in order to successfully navigate the space beasties and bad guys you'll bump into as you wander around far flung planets.
The combat in The Outer Worlds shares much in common, in terms of how it looks and feels, with the Fallout games, but it also stands up well as its own unique thing. The VATS system is removed here and replaced by a time dilation effect – enabled with a push of the R button – which temporarily enables you to slow down proceedings in order to give you a fighting chance against packs of foes. It's a satisfying (if not exactly original) mechanic that improves as you unlock perks that enable you to slow time for longer periods as well as do targeted damage to distinct body parts – blinding an enemy by shooting them in the face, for example.
The removal of VATS makes the whole thing feel like it plays out at a much zippier tempo than Fallout, and although it's still a quite recognisably scrappy affair, it generally works well. Enemy types don't really excite all that much – you've got your ranged attackers, rushers and armoured goons – but there's a fun selection of weapons: everything from six-shooter pistols, swords, sniper rifles and machine guns to a bunch of special collectible "science weapons" including a shrink ray gun and a Mandibular Rearranger – which is every bit as awful as it sounds. Most of these weapons can also be augmented with various elemental properties so you can set fire to foes or do a little toxic or electric damage for good measure. Add to all of this the surprisingly powerful special moves you can trigger for your ever-ready companions and you've got a pretty flexible combat system that never really grows stale.
On top of your selection of firearms and companions you'll also hoover up all manner of different types of armour, weapon attachments and parts which can be equipped, repaired, broken down and upgraded at workbenches. Planets and ships that you land on are also generously decked out with handy vending machines where you can grab food, tonics and potions that give you temporary combat boons, as well as ammo and attachments for your guns. XP gained by fighting and completing missions nets you SP to spend on your character's skill tree and enables you to develop your strengths in quite a few different directions.
We pumped most of our points into stealth and conversational skills in order to avoid combat whenever we fancied a change of pace – and to enjoy some deep sales at the local merchants – but you could also fire your XP into making yourself a rather socially inept but robust tank who can soak up a ton of damage and deal out massive amounts of hilariously brutal death. We'd also advise pumping your points into your 'inspiration' stat early doors as you need to raise this above 20 in order to gain access to those sweet companion attacks we mentioned earlier.
Everything here, then, is pretty much standard RPG fare, but it all feels rather refreshingly streamlined. The world, as we mentioned, isn't some great big open one that you'll never find time to see every corner of, and each location here is easily digested. You’ll usually find a smattering of inhabited areas, some open spaces with majestic alien vistas and a handful of buildings to fight through in each location, and there’s always a handful of side quests, collectibles and loot to hoover up.
The story also nips along at a refreshingly quick and breezy pace, and ignoring side quests and just sticking to the main objective could see you through this one in about fifteen hours. We would, however, recommend you take your time as Obsidian really has created a wonderful slice of space filled with genuinely entertaining characters and excellent writing that injects the often bog-standard side-quests and errand missions with a level of wit and charm that's all too often missing in the genre. There's always multiple ways to complete these missions too, whether you go in all guns blazing or choose to hack, sneak and pick your way around, and different outcomes based on your conversational decisions mean there's definitely a fair amount of replayability on offer.
In terms of this Switch port, Virtuos has done an excellent job of keeping to its target 30fps for the majority of the experience. We didn't notice any real bumps in the framerate in portable, although in docked mode there is the odd stutter which seems to occur when the game is autosaving or loading into a new area. In combat, amazingly, no matter how heated things get, we didn't notice any slowdown at all in handheld; the game feels smooth and compares favourably to other versions in this respect.
Of course, in order to keep that framerate steady, the graphics have taken a pretty major knock in places. This is a spectacular-looking game on PC and console, with lots of fancy volumetric effects and good use of chromatic aberration as you jaunt around its wonderfully colourful environs. On Switch, you lose pretty much all of these fancy effects, and across the board, this one is quite obviously running at its lowest graphical settings. For the most part, it still looks surprisingly good, however, with just the odd location – such as Monarch in the daytime – really laying bare just how far Virtuos has had to go in order to get this one running well on Nintendo's hybrid system.
In larger outdoor areas and when playing in handheld mode, there's quite a lot of blur in the background and we reckon we noticed some pretty heavy use of dynamic resolution here in order to keep the fps steady. However, once you step into a building or smaller space, things improve considerably. The Outer Worlds is still hugely enjoyable and highly playable on Switch and in many ways reminds us of our experience with the Nintendo version of The Witcher 3. In docked mode, things are a little rougher and, with graphical downgrades stretched across a bigger screen, things like textures on guns loading in and distant objects suddenly popping into view are much more noticeable. The game definitely looks quite a bit jankier when played on the TV, and feels like it's struggling just a little more to maintain that 30fps goal. It's also worth noting that load times are pretty painful, even when compared to the already-pretty-long times seen on the other versions of the game.
Of course, these are all pretty much expected sacrifices in bringing a game of this nature to Switch at this point and, especially in handheld mode, it really is quite surprising just how well The Outer Worlds looks and feels to play; there are virtually no framerate issues even in the most chaotic battles or wide-open spaces and, even though the graphics have been hugely dialled down, there's still plenty of detail in environments and NPCs look almost as good here as they do on other platforms.
It's worth noting that this version of the game also includes HD Rumble support, text which can be increased or decreased in size depending on your needs and gyroscopic controls are included for fine-tuning your shots. We also quite liked how the gyro controls can be set to kick in only when aiming down the barrel of your weapon, as we actually prefer to have them off whilst wandering around and exploring.
Overall, it's hard to knock this port of The Outer Worlds; we enjoyed blasting through this adventure on Switch just as much as we did when it released on PC. The strength of the game easily overcomes any of the cutbacks or technical issues present, and ultimately this is a hugely enjoyable slice of pulpy sci-fi action.
The Outer Worlds is a hugely entertaining "Fallout-in-space"-style RPG adventure filled with wonderfully vibrant locations, excellent companions, zippy and hilariously brutal combat and a ton of well-written characters to meet as you attempt to save the colony of Halcyon. Virtuos has made the expected tweaks to graphics in order to keep things as smooth as possible with this Switch port and, although things can look and feel a little rough in docked mode, in handheld this is a supremely enjoyable experience that's entertained us just as much this time around as when we played it at launch, and comes highly recommended to fans of the genre.