Outward Definitive Edition is the new console re-release of Outward, containing a number of gameplay amendments, quality of life improvements and all of the DLC for the original game, released in 2019. Knowing very little about what it even was, I fired it up and was greeted by a character creator preset to ‘Jim’.
So I’m assuming either light on fantasy or a tongue-in-cheek RPG. Jim sets off, basically nude near a shore, and picks up a torch. I’m still not completely sure what sort of game this is. Outward crashes, I’m going to pick it up a bit later I decide. The next day, I get a message from a random person – they saw me playing Outward and wanted to know if I fancied buddying up for some co-op. What on earth kind of game is this?
Well, it’s a game with a fairly active and dedicated community. In actuality, Outward is a fantasy role-playing game and an open-world survival game. From your awakening on the beach, you have 5 days to raise enough money to pay off your family’s debt, or it’s bad times for you. Off you trot!
Outward is very much a combination of a massive amount of gameplay ideas all plugged into the same package. Classic survival mechanics are at play – if you die, you just wake up somewhere else but all your stuff is gone, and you’ll need to heal up and recover your gear. Dying and restarting can be annoying, but the Souls-esque element here is amplified by sometimes your recovery being in a prison, to which you need to escape. Dying becomes then more than a setback, it can be frustration or an annoyance, but this is deliberate by decision and not necessarily a criticism of the game (although it may depend if you’re someone with limited patience for grind-type games).
The RPG element comes into play as you meet various NPCs and start managing encumbrance. Store too much stuff? Hit a button, and Jim (or your Jim equivalent) will throw their backpack off to move untethered. Nice feature. There’s a magic system too, which is a lot more complex than I’ve seen in previous games. Take using a fireball – rather than just pressing and firing, you need to prime the spell with an igniter and a spark to ignite it. I’d never really considered this when I’ve thought about magic spells before, and as such, I’ve cancelled my application to Hogwarts.
I mentioned co-op before, and sadly I haven’t yet been able to try it, but you can play with folks online or even split-screen. This can be helpful given a general lack of quest markers and map displays, requiring some careful investigation of maps and location call outs to find where you’re going sometimes to complete objectives. Time sensitivity can also be a factor for some missions, which can make the times when you die and wake up somewhere else particularly frustrating. A constant autosave ups the ante too, where mistakes are costly and then recorded.
So what we have here, is a fairly punishing fantasy RPG that sounds fantastic on paper. What’s the downside? Well, for all of its ideas and grand design, Outward really fumbles the landing rather badly. It’s a fairly ugly baby, that is made worse in motion. The animation is janky and stutters – really surprising when playing on PS5. In fact, I was expecting the current-gen definitive edition to be packing a punch and running a few years old game pretty smoothly, especially when the sales pitch is the visual upgrade. This is particularly jarring when you have the likes of Horizon running at a smooth 60.
Combat doesn’t get any better and just further adds to this clunky, clumsy vibe. But despite these flaws, it feels like maybe Outward is just creaking under the weight of its own ambition. Clearly, there’s a lot to love here – the community is thriving, and dedicated. And as long as you enjoy it, what does all of this really matter anyway?
If you can look past the flaws, and enjoy the essence, Outward will provide you with an enjoyable RPG that’s a little bit different from what you may have played before.
Reviewed on PS5