Outward is a Demanding Action RPG That Seems Full of Promise

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It’s safe to say that me and Outward got off on the wrong foot.

After creating a character with what at the moment is a pretty limited tool, I dove into the game’s tutorial and was initially impressed. With all settings cranked up to max and running at 4K, Outward looks great, and also runs great on my Nvidia RTX 2070. It made learning about the game’s mechanics that bit more enjoyable, and everything seemed fairly logical. So then I started an actual game.

Things seemed pretty good. I started on a beach, a victim of a shipwreck. I picked up some items, explored a little; I was intrigued. After engaging in combat with a native creature and emerging victorious but wounded, I approached a makeshift camp. It turns out one of my friends was there, so I took a nap. And then I awoke in a town.

I have to admit I was a little bewildered, waking up in a new location only to then be scolded by a mob. I was to blame for the shipwreck, apparently, and people wanted to see me pay. I also needed to pay some actual money to keep my lighthouse, with only five days to acquire it. So with the mob gone, I set out on an adventure to earn some coin.

After picking up a quest to acquire a shield mushroom for a peculiar lady, I headed out of town. I had a weapon, some clothing, and some potions; I thought I was up to the task. It turns out I was wrong. Things started to look bad when I stumbled upon some adventurers not far from the town gates. I approached them and they turned hostile on sight. Ill-equipped and under-prepared, I managed to fend one of them off, but I succumbed to the other.

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But I didn’t die. I collapsed on the floor, but I didn’t die. You seemingly can’t die in Outward; you just collapse and get whisked away. Sometimes you’ll be rescued by a passing traveller, or like in my case, you’ll be captured by enemies and taken to their camp. Once again becoming conscious, you’ll pick yourself up off the ground, gather your things if they’re still with you, and carry on your adventure. Or at least, that’s how it should work.

Unfortunately, in my case getting defeated led to me “dying” at least another five times. Awakening in an unknown, isolated location each time with little health, it was never long before I once again stumbled upon an enemy that quickly made short work of me as I tried to get my bearings. Then, through sheer frustration, I turned the game off. I don’t very often do that. I’m known to have quite a lot of patience.

When I went back to the game the next day, I found myself dying again as soon as I got into it – this time from hunger. But now I was taken back to the inn in the town I began my adventure in. Which was great, because it gave me the chance to start again, this time better equipped and more prepared. Although my limited resources meant I couldn’t really be better equipped; I’d just have to settle for simply being more knowledgeable of the hostile tendencies of the locals this time around.

Thankfully, knowing that pretty anyone and anything outside the town walls is hostile helped a lot. I was able to locate the cave in which the shield mushroom is located by avoiding any conflict. Then, when inside, I fought off some strange attackers with a sword I found near the entrance and recovered the mushroom without any trouble.

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Returning to town, I claimed my reward. It wasn’t enough to keep my lighthouse just yet, but I thought I’d check in the person in charge of the town to let them know I was being proactive. Turns out I was too late. My many deaths had made me lose track of time – more than five days had passed, and my home was now forfeit. Though my adventure carried on. In fact, it was just starting.

At the moment, that’s the thing that has impressed me the most about Outward, an upcoming action RPG with survival elements developed by Nine Dots Studio: it’s very dynamic. Die and you never quite know what’s going to happen to you. Fail a quest and things seemingly carry on. My time with it up to now has reminded me of action RPGs like Risen; unpolished gems which absolutely enrapture some, while making others run a mile.

Outward is trying to be much more ambitious than games like Risen though. It wants to be them and more. And with its survival elements and unique approach to spell casting it really is, but they also make it so much more complicated. So to does the game’s autosave system, which prevents you from undoing any mistakes that you’ve made. You have to live with your actions and incompetencies in Outward – there’s no hitting that “load save” button to magically turn back time.

Speaking of time, it’s something that you really have to keep track of in Outward. You also have to keep an eye on your character’s hunger and thirst levels, as well as their temperature, too, which can be made tricky by the game’s dynamic weather. As such, each adventure requires preparation. You need to make sure you have enough food and water, and also maybe a light source for when it gets dark. Basically, you’re going to need a good backpack to carry lots of stuff in.

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More than any game I’ve played, backpacks are very important in Outward. Without one, you won’t survive very long because pockets don’t really hold many supplies. Like any action RPG though, fill it with too much stuff and you’ll find your movement hindered. Also, have you ever tried rolling with a backpack on? It’s not recommended. In order to keep any items in your backpack from getting damaged, it’s recommended that you put it down before engaging in combat if you want to dodge attacks.

Outward is a pretty serious game then. It takes no prisoners, even from the outset. And that’s the thing I’d like to see changed before the game releases on 26th March. Being hard is good, but at the moment, Outward simply feels unfair to newcomers. You can’t see where you are in the world when you bring up the game’s map, for example, which is a nightmare when you die and find yourself taken to a camp in the middle of nowhere to recuperate. And when you’ve just started the game, having it snow is a kick in the teeth for someone who can’t afford warm clothes.

Get past Outward‘s tricky first couple of hours, though, and you’re likely to find yourself warming to it. Its combat is pretty basic but it works; there’s a surprisingly easy-to-use crafting system in place; and its world seems wonderfully realised. Really, there’s plenty here to get excited about. Get yourself in a loop of death and gloom, however, and you’re likely to turn the game off and never go back. And trust me, that would be a real waste. I haven’t put a vast amount of time into Outward yet, but I can see that it’s full of potential. Hopefully between now and launch, Nine Dots Studio can really tap into that.

Outward is set for a PC release on 26th March