Overview – developed by Nine Dots Studio and published by Deep Silver, Outward is a survival focused, open-world RPG where the environment can be just as deadly as its inhabitants. This title features single player, local multiplayer through split screen and online multiplayer in all versions, available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. There is an expansion available for PC out now, with the console release coming soon (at the time of writing), I will be covering the game experience and the DLC expansion in this review, with links to all versions at the bottom of the review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank the rep for Deep Silver who provided the copy of Outward and the expansion used for this article. The provision of both the game and its expansion has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.
With the introductions out of the way, I will be covering the base game and overall experience, then move onto the new content before moving to my final thoughts. Now, let’s get into Outward and the Soroboreans expansion.
Outward – Base Game
Story – the player is a citizen of the tribal city of Cierzo, a society that follows systems that some deem unfair, the worst being the Blood Price, a debt levied against the entire bloodline of a family or clan. The player has inherited such a debt due to the actions of their ancestors, and while on a voyage to pay it off, tragedy strikes and the ship is sunk and many lives are lost. Now the leader of the tribe has given five days for their debt to be paid and save their home, fail to do so and the home and all possessions within become forfeit.
After the initial questing, additional branching storylines begin to unfold, the player may only access one branch per character. The base game only has three branches, with the expansion which will be discussed further below adding an additional branch for players to experience.
Gameplay – Outward is a Survival focused open-world RPG, with crafting, challenging combat and deadly environmental effects. As the player must brave the world outside their home city, the ability to manage resources well is necessary in order to succeed. Players start off with a basic kit that is collected in the home, this kit provides some essential items to survive, such as clothing, a lantern, bedroll and a pack. While exploring the home town, other items such as weapons and gear can be collected by the player, including a waterskin, fishing harpoon and mining pickaxe.
The player can also craft various tools, equipment and food while on their travels, with a set of basic recipes available from the start, including simple food and equipment. Additional recipes can be collected from enemy drops, chests and merchants, but be warned that carrying too many ingredients will slow down the player, as there is a weight system in Outward. The weight system will affect the player by slowing them down, preventing them from running and slowly draining their stamina, making it harder to battle enemies and escape harm.
During excursions into the wild, the player will encounter the various inhabitants of the land of Aurai and almost everything wants to kill them. The most common enemies during the initial exploration are Bandits, Hyenas and Pearlbirds, these enemies will attack the player when they enter the line of sight, chasing them until they get far enough away or engage in battle. If the player takes enough damage to kill them, they will fall unconscious and suffer a defeat scenario, because in Outward death isn’t final and a digital dice roll will determine the fate of the player when knocked unconscious.
In the beginning, the player only has access to the two vital attributes of Health and Stamina, with the ability to unlock Mana later in the game by completing a side quest. If the player wants to learn magic, then they must sacrifice health and stamina points in order to channel that energy into mana, this is entirely optional and is not needed if the player simply wants to hack and slash their way across the land. Some of the losses from activating Mana can be recouped by training, some characters in the world will train the player to strengthen both health and stamina but at a cost.
While travelling the world, the player must keep track of their needs, hunger, thirst, temperature and sleep, failing to do so will give the player negative de-buffs that significantly hurt the player over time. If the player is knocked out, has a vital need fall to zero they will enter a defeat scenario, suffering burns to their Health, Stamina and Mana (if active), this is negated if the player is returned to an Inn, having all needs taken care of. If the player wishes to take care of their vital needs, they must drink water, eat food and sleep in a bedroll or tent, however there are additional hazards present.
When resting, eating food and drinking water there are dangers present. During rest periods, the player can sleep and repair gear, however the chance of an ambush occurs, this risk can be reduced if the player chooses to guard, but the time needed to recover is greatly increased. A secondary risk is disease and infection possible, infections can be caused by taking damage or consuming poorly prepared food/drink. When the player becomes sick they must take yet more time to recover or risk falling unconscious, the best way to prevent this is to sleep in an Inn, however it can be expensive to do so.
I will go into detail about defeat scenarios when discussing the difficulty, before I reach that point I want to talk a little about one last aspect of the game, the combat system. Combat in Outward can be compared to games like Dark Souls, with timed dodges, traps and intense challenging sword and sorcery gameplay. During combat it is very likely that the player will be surrounded, with enemies attacking the player with unrelenting murderous intent, miss a dodge or block and death will come quickly, this is due to the stun locking of attacks and swarming of the player.
The worst thing about the whole experience for myself was the tutorial, while providing detailed information on how the game works, there is no real challenge as the enemies are easy to defeat compared to the game proper. This lead to an overestimation of the skill that I believed I had in battle, because as soon as the city gates were opened to me, death quickly came for me in the form of a horde of bandits. This didn’t get any better as I continued to play, when one enemy was taken down, I had very little time to prepare to battle another.
After several hours of constant ganking and defeat, I resorted to looking into the outward community, learning effective ways to survive in the world, which the tutorial sadly didn’t provide information about. There is also a multiplayer aspect to this title, however I was unable to try it out during the time I was playing the game. Now with all of the gameplay aspects that I want to talk about covered, I will be moving onto the other aspect of the main game before moving onto the detail of the expansion.
Difficulty – there is a brutally punishing difficulty curve to Outward, the starter weapons deal low damage, armor is scarce at the beginning and money takes a long time to build up. During initial exploration, defeat will occur quite often, with the defeat scenarios leading the player to either a safe haven, dropping them at the gate of the town or captured by bandits. Defeat also comes with additional penalties, increasing the chances of the player suffering further defeat, losing resources and even permanent defeat in Hardcore mode.
The punishment of defeat is made worse by the chance of being stranded far away from home, this is made worse by the struggles of navigating the world. When trying to find my way from point to point, it was hard to know if I was going the right way, this is because of the lack of map markers or quest markers. The only way I could find my way around the land was to memorize the landmarks, find signs using the compass to follow the roads or drop my bag at the town gate, using it as the only beacon to get back home. Outward is extremely tough and requires a lot of time and effort to succeed.
Controls – there is a twin control method for this title, a combination mouse and keyboard method, and full controller support. I can’t really comment on the native PC controls as I spent very little time using them, I did however spend a lot of time using a Nintendo Switch Pro-Controller. The plug and play controls are comfortable, with combat skills comfortable on the face buttons, hotkeys that are a combination of trigger/face buttons and defensive skills being easily mapped. All inputs are smooth, there is zero lag and the controller support is implemented well.
Presentation – the games performance and framerate worked well, however I did have to lower the graphical quality in order for the game to work on the hardware I have. From video footage provided by the developers the world of Aurai is lush and vibrant, with a pleasing fantasy aesthetic and all the character/weapon models are aesthetically pleasing. I am happy that the game has adjustable graphical settings, allowing for a wider range of players to be able to experience this title for themselves.
The music fits the tone of the game world, with melancholic orchestral sounds, gentle fantasy compositions and tense battle themes. The only downside of the sound was the limited voice acting, with repeated voice lines from NPCs and story dialogue having only half of a phrase voiced before silence. This breaks the immersion and narrative flow of the game, on a personal note I would have preferred to either have full narrative voicing or none at all, having only part of the dialogue being acted is jarring and pulled me out of the experience.
Now with the base game details covered, I want to take a moment to discuss the Soroboreans expansion before adding my final thoughts and score.
Outward – The Soroboreans expansion
Overview – The Soroboreans is the first major expansion for Outward, introducing a new region to explore, an additional quest line and brand new gameplay features. I will be talking briefly about each aspect of the expansion, including the additional quest-line, the new mechanics and the region itself. Now, let’s get into the Soroboreans expansion.
New Region – the Soroboreans expansion takes place in the Antique Plateau, a new region which is home to the Sorobor Academy. The Academy is an academic institution located in the city of Harmattan, they are the highest authority in the land, connected to commerce in the region. The institution is a key factor to the safety of the city using knowledge as a resource as they seek to expand across the Antique Plateau. The player can access the new region through merchant in one of the major cities, allowing them to travel with them for a cost, but this requirement is easily fulfilled.
New Quests – when reaching the new land, the player can choose to join the academy, siding with the Academy faction and working with them in order to help them obtain their goals. When taking on this storyline, the player will have the option to purchase a home and become a citizen of the city, giving a permanent home to the player. While in the city of Harmattan, the player has the ability to aid those who manage the market, filling out requests in return for obtaining rewards and resources for success.
New Content – in the expansion, the player has access new gear, including items that are exclusive to the Antique Plateau region. Exclusive to the expansion is a new weapon type, unique learnable skills and brand new recipes to be learned, also introduced through the expansion is a new weapon quality, but I won’t add any spoilers. Alongside the new equipment is the ability to enchant gear, giving the pieces additional qualities, making them unique to that character but it must be noted that gear can only be enchanted once, so be careful when choosing what to enchant.
Impressions – I spent a lot of time playing the expansion as well as the base game, and here are my musings on it. During exploration of the vast desert that is the Antique Plateau, I encountered many enemies that were devastating in battle, I suffered many defeats and ended up getting lost many times. The new region feels desolate and oppressive, adding to the overall survival experience, with corruption areas of effect, slowly poisoning the player. The “poison”, combined with its deadly inhabitants makes this new region an even greater challenge.
Now with my thoughts on the expansion and the base game covered, I will now summarize my thoughts on the package as a whole.
I have mixed feelings about both Outward and the Soroboreans expansion. I didn’t enjoy the experience during my initial playtime, however, after spending some time looking into the game and its community, I was able to get used to the challenge of the game better. Towards the end of my time playing the game I started to enjoy the experience much more, learning how to employ traps, craft items and use the environment to its maximum potential became very rewarding. The difficulty of this title is unlike anything that I have experienced in recent times, the defeat scenario system is unique and can wipe out all the progress that was made during play, even possible perma-death in the Hardcore mode.
I do recommend this title to those who enjoy open-world RPGs, survival experiences and Dark Souls style games. This game is really tough and the level of difficulty may be a deal breaker to some players. The combat is tough, the resource management is complex and survival systems are stressful, which makes keeping your character alive very tense, this is because a single instance of poor judgement has the potential to result in a loss of time at best, and full player death at worst.
In the end, I give Outward and the Sororboreans expansion a score of 3.5/5. The game is challenging and rewarding, however the difficulty is punishing to the point that it could completely ruin the experience for the player. The expansion is a nice addition to the game, giving a new choice to players who have already experienced the existing stories that the base game has to offer, while adding enough new content to justify purchasing it.
If you have any interest in purchasing the game or the DLC expansion, links to the game pages where the base game and expansion can be found (console expansion isn’t available yet at the time of writing) are below.
Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)
Link to Xbox One version (HERE)
Link to Steam version (HERE)
Link to G.O.G version (HERE)