Outward is coming to Xbox One, PS4, and Steam on March 26 from developer Ninedots and Deep Silver.
In the two hours I spent playing Outward, an upcoming open-world RPG from developer Ninedots, I got the feeling that this was the kind of fantasy game made just for me. It’s not outwardly accessible — no pun intended — but that cryptic charm is something that I tend to really appreciate about the games I want to really dive into. In addition, Outward is completely playable with a friend, in online or local cooperative multiplayer.
There are a number of things I like about Outward, mostly because I’m a huge fantasy nerd and love games that make you work for it, and that marriage is immediately evident in the opening hours. The premise of Outward is thus: rather than being The Chosen One, or The Inquisitor, or The Dovahkiin, you’re just a normal schlub.
There’s nothing inherently special about your customizable create-a-character outside the fact you’ve incurred the debt of your family, and now your tribe has given you five days to pay it off or you forfeit your family’s house and holdings. That’s your incentive to get out the walled safety of your township and take to the open road.
Once you’re out there, your destiny is yours to make. Literally. You don’t start the game as a fighter, or rogue, or mage, or cleric – you purchase skills from trainers in the direction you want to build your character. You can’t do everything, there are only so many skills and disciplines in which you can train, so you’ve got to make difficult decisions.
You need to balance the adventuring life with taking care of your basic human needs to survive long enough to adventure.
And that difficulty extends into Outward’s gameplay. At the risk of sounding cliche, Outward plays similarly to those Dark Souls-esque action RPGs. You lock on, you swing light and heavy attacks with an array of weapons, and you use skills to break an enemy’s guard in order to open them up to free damage. But in the same vein of being just a normal person rather than a fantasy superhero, you’re also very fragile, and charging headlong into a pack of wild animals (or even just two) can end in unceremonious death.
So Outward struck me as striving for preparedness. To over-analyze and strategize every encounter. To sneak up on enemies and ambush when they’re most vulnerable – which is easier said than done if you’re in a pitch-black dungeon surrounded by enemies and can’t use your torch or lantern because you’ll give away your position.
Everything is a give and a take in Outward.
You need to balance the adventuring life with taking care of your basic human needs to survive long enough to adventure. You need food and water regularly. You need sleep. But fulfilling these requirements means foraging, and eventually making camp on the open road. You can make an improvised bedroll if you have some animal hide, that’s enough to get some rest. But when you’re asleep, you’re vulnerable, so you’ve got a choice to make.
You can select how long you want to spend doing one of three activities over the course of a night: Sleep, Guard, and Repair. Sleeping heals your tiredness and recovers your max health and max stamina after a fight, but it also drains your maximum mana – which you only earn by sacrificing your maximum health and stamina for magical training. Guarding protects you against being ambushed in the night, and the longer you spend on guard duty, the lower the chance of an ambush. Finally, repairing is spent fixing the damage you did to your weapons and items during your adventure. It’s smart to spend a little time doing all of these things in order to have a well-balanced night.
But even the panacea of sleep comes with drawbacks. The more downtime you spend, the hungrier and thirstier you’ll be when you wake.
And in cooperative mode, if your partner is on death’s door but you’re fine, you can spend the entire night on guard duty protecting them while they get a full night’s sleep. Cooperation in Outward is more than just two people hacking at the same monster.
But even the panacea of sleep comes with drawbacks. The more downtime you spend, the hungrier and thirstier you’ll be when you wake, so you need to plan for it. And if you don’t sleep near a campfire, or in a tent, or in an inn, you could get too cold during the night. It’s a give and a take.
To recover health you’ll need to eat. Fortunately you have a hunk of meat from a hyena you killed earlier. But to eat it raw would risk disease, so you’ll need to cook it. That means you need to strip bark from a tree to make a one-time-use campfire, then you can roast meat or boil berries and vegetables, and then you can eat.
And finally, what I found really interesting (because I’m a hopeless completionist who has to pick up everything and carry it back to town to sell), Outward’s weight, value, and inventory system is surprisingly muted. You can carry a certain amount of weight on your character, but if you want to carry more, you’ll need to find or craft a backpack. Even that backpack can only carry slightly more than you can, but the kicker is when you’re wearing your backpack, you move and dodge more slowly, and you consume more stamina through actions.
Knowing what’s worth carrying is harder than it sounds, because you don’t automatically know the value of an item.
To combat this, you’re able to drop your backpack with the push of a button, and then once you’ve won, or retreated, you can go back and pick it up. But the catch is you’re essentially trading quick access to everything in your backpack for the sake of being more nimble, or vice versa. But knowing what’s worth carrying is harder than it sounds, because items you pick up don’t have values attached to them. You think that sword you looted is probably worth something, but it weighs 25 pounds, so is it worth more than 25-pounds of the other stuff you’ve already collected? The only way to know for sure is to see what a trader will give you for it. That’s pretty cool to me.
It’s those sorts of little design elements that I really appreciate in Outward – like the fact when you’re “killed” there are a number of different, dynamic outcomes that could happen to you (like your “killers” looting your body and leaving you for dead, as you awake hours later alone in the dark trying to get to safety).
I’m intrigued in what Outward seems to be. And it’s really delightful to see something like this come from a small, relatively unknown developer. I’m eagerly waiting to pull up a couch and jump in with a friend when it’s out in a few months.