These first impressions are based on roughly ten hours of progress.
I long for the days when I had the time to do multiple playthroughs for a video game. One run would be dedicated to beating the game. I would do a side quest or two if I felt like the rewards were worth it, but the main purpose was finishing the game. The second playthrough would be all about exploring the world. I would wander the world map. I would still work on the main story, but after finishing the game, it was all about exploration.
Outward from from developer Nine Dots Studio captures the essence of being a random person. A role playing game with survival elements, Outward does not make you the chosen one. You do not come from a long line of heroes, are not destined to save the world, and do not warrant a second glance when walking through the village square. It seemed like someone had finally made a game specifically for me.
When first starting the game, it looks no different than many RPGs. The text and loading screens will be familiar. The scripting looks like something straight from a Divinity game. Loading up a playthrough, will lead to a character creation screen that will again make RPG fans very comfortable. The player is able to select their gender, race, and hair style. The options are limited compared to AAA games, but it is nothing game breaking. However, it is on this screen that a major problem for some gamers will become very noticeable.
Nine Dot is a small studio with a limited budget. Unsurprisingly, the graphics are very dated. What is surprising, is at times the game does not even look like an early PS4 game. Outward would look at home on the PS3. Early PS3. Faces look odd while landscapes are very unimpressive. Water effects, which have improved greatly over the years, look too game-y. There is some creative enemy design but this is not easy on the eyes.
Of course, none of this is a surprise. The developers made it very clear that the game was more about story and mechanics than about graphics. This makes perfect sense, especially when you are working with limited funds. Most people prefer how well the game plays over how good it looks.
Outward does not have the tight controls needed to overlook its graphics. Combat is very frustrating. First of all, there is a very serious lag problem. At first, I thought it was because I had forgotten to take my backpack off. I soon realized it was the same event without it. This was the case with different weapons. The delay issue only seem to become greater the further into the game I progressed. And even though Nine Dots is a small studio, there are way too many glitches.
The only thing that could save Outward was an amazing story. Ten hours into the game, I still have not found one. It definitely gets across its point you are just an average person. The first quest involving simply paying off a debt is actually a pretty clever start to a game about being regular. From there, it seems as it the game goes out of its way to prove just how not special you are. Everything in the game can kill you. Not making another power fantasy is an admirable idea; making a game constantly proving the weakness of the player seems pointless.
Oddly, Outward still manages to be fun. The combat mechanics are annoying, but since the game never reaches the rumored Dark Souls level of difficulty, it is still playable. Survival mechanics can take all the fun out of a game. Nine Dots managed to integrate a system that requires management, but never ruins the immersion. The world is surprisingly lifeless, but the story encourages and (eventually) rewards exploration. There is a lot of fun to be had, it just requires time and patience.
Outward is a very ambitious game. Taking tried and true RPGs elements and mixing them with survival management is a risky idea. Nine Dot Studios seems to have taken on a little more than they could handle. Still, the game will be very enjoyable to a niche audience with plenty of time.