Is Outward Good?

Is Outward Good?
While big studios tend to lead the future of game design, it's often smaller and less appreciated ones that push boundaries.

Outward is an action-adventure open-world RPG by Nine Dots Studio. It became popular back in 2018 for its innovative approach to survival and exploration, as well as its captivating and complex magic system. While the title has its flaws and is definitely polarizing, it has already established itself as a cult classic. With the Definitive Edition out to correct many of its initial rough edges, Outward has many hours of unique quality content to offer. Today we will take a (relatively) spoiler-free critical look at some of its central components to see what you can expect in your first play-through.

10. Soundtrack

The soundtrack in Outward is rich in its number of tracks and one of the game’s endearing qualities.

From the first town you spawn in, the music fits the scene and sets the tone for an authentic fantasy experience. Out in the wild, the tracks seamlessly flow to inspire the feeling of adventure and exploration.

Overall, the soundtrack is great and, surprisingly, does not get old quickly due to its uniqueness. If you hear similar-sounding tunes on the radio, you’ll definitely go, “Oh, this is Outward-core!”


9. Story

The story world in Outward has potential but, unfortunately, is not the title’s strong suit.

In the introduction, you learn that your character owes a “blood price.” Once you pay it off, you can head out and join one of the three factions, which all have different views of politics, blood prices, and way of life. These factions are not very well-developed, or at least don’t do a good job of presenting their values in-depth.

Factions are part of the main storyline, which in theory, gives the game more replay value. But at the end of the day, their quest lines consist of just a few missions ending practically the same way.

Despite this, the world itself is built with a lot of attention to detail and utilizes environmental storytelling to shape a much more natural narrative. NPCs you meet in the world have simple but realistic motivations, leaving you with a sense of accomplishment for helping or hindering them.

So despite the lackluster story, the world feels consistent in its themes and lore.


8. Beastiary (Enemy Variety)

Enemy types in Outward: Definitive Edition are motley, jaw-dropping to discover, and challenging to learn to defeat.

Every geographical zone has its own unique mobs. Of course, you will see some reskinned enemies with similar mechanics, but Nine Dots Studio has made sure to add significant variety even then.

Most enemies don’t follow the same combat patterns. In effect, once you get over your excitement of how cool they look, you might find yourself actually struggling to stay alive long enough to figure out their moves.

Besides attack patterns, virtually all hostile NPCs have a weakness - a specific hitbox or (more often) a natural element to which they’re susceptible(e.g., fire, ice, ethereal, decay, etc.) Shifting your combat style and equipment depending on the enemy forces your playstyle to be dynamic and intentional, leading to much more satisfying victories and stories of survival.


7. Combat

Combat in Outward is very challenging, especially at first. The game doesn’t give you a good introduction to its mechanics. But once you master it, fighting becomes a very satisfying aspect of the game which can be unique to each player.

There’s no set pattern to win a battle, as it most often depends on the enemy type and your weapon of choice. But more ofthen than not, you’ll find yourself rolling, blocking, and attacking. That is if you’re not using the breathtaking and complex magic system, which we’ll cover in a bit. However, combat requires a lot more thought than that, and it starts before the actual fight.

The crafting system and world drops provide countless resources for you to use in hostile encounters - and with good reason. Sometimes you will rely on what’s at your disposal. Some games don’t reward you for using your potions, which leads to incessant hoarding. 

Outward makes sure to place diverse challenges before you to force you to make relevant and smart decisions; will you cover your blade with flames or ice? Should you eat the proper food and drink the correct potion? How long do you have to use these effects, and what will you do should they run out? On top of everything, you’ll often have to drop 90% of your inventory to avoid hindering your movement in battle (via the hotkey that drops your backpack on the ground. Immersive, right?).

Combat is very nuanced in Outward if you use the entirety of your arsenal. However, since AI can sometimes be silly, you can find ways to exploit it. I personally like winning impossible battles because I tricked the enemy using my resources, timing, and surroundings. So if you’re into thoughtful fights, Outward is definitely for you.


6. Classes & Magic

I’ll be straight - Outward: Definitive Edition’s classes range from boring to groundbreaking and ridiculously fun.

Most of your warrior and thief-type classes don’t really bring anything new to the RPG table. Where the game truly shines is its magic systems.

In order to learn magic, you must go to a place of magic called a Ley Line and sacrifice some of your health and stamina for mana. This decision is permanent.

Most spells don’t really do anything on their own. But combined, they can have powerful effects that are up to you to discover. For example - the first spell you’ll learn is Spark. This spell sucks. It lights campfires and deals next to no damage.

But if you lay a circle of fire on the ground and cast a spark from within its center, you’ll cast a fireball. You can also cast Spark on a lantern and set your enemies on fire.

Runes are another fun magic system; a player can learn up to 4 runes. None of them do anything if cast on their own, but depending on the order in which you cast them, they can have aggressive, defensive, and even utility-based effects.

That’s just scratching the surface. Magic is very complex but rewarding to master. And best of all, classes can be mixed and experimented with to create a unique playstyle that fits you.


5. Multiplayer

Multiplayer in Outward: Definitive Edition is executed masterfully and makes the sense of exploration even more exhilarating.

Outward struggles with balancing, but the multiplayer mode (which can be either played remotely or on split-screen) makes the game somehow feel… more balanced? Yes, you’ll find yourself being one-shot by enemies more often. However, you’ll have to strategize your fights way more, shifting agro, choosing a tank, or perhaps even finding your unique co-op style.

Your exploits, losses, discoveries, and hardships feel so thrilling when shared with a friend that it feels like the game is designed for a multiplayer experience, even though, at times, it’s poorly optimized in terms of gameplay - like how only the host receives quest rewards and solely learns certain skills.

But as you can combine spell effects, work together to navigate the map, help each other to survive, and explore the harsh environments of the world - Nine Dots deserves praise for pulling it off the way they did.


4. Progression

Progression in Outward is clunky, but perhaps it is by design. No wonder this title is so polarizing.

Starting in the world, you get almost no instructions. The game punishes you for mistakes without telling you what they are.

It’s tough. Sometimes, it’s too tough.

Then you start to start to talk to NPCs. You learn new skills, visit new towns, acquire new crafting recipes, and start adapting to the combat and survival mechanics. Slowly but surely, you begin to know your way around the wilderness, and it’s… So. Damn. Fun.

Combat will always be challenging because enemies don’t level up. The same gang of bandits can beat you up in the end-game if you’re not careful. It plays great because your powerful new gear makes you feel stronger, but you never let your guard down, keeping the dangerous fantasy world of Outward more realistic and unforgiving.

Overall, the progression system in Outward will be different depending on what type of player you are. It takes a lot of time and effort to master the small intricacies and complex mechanics, but if you’re prepared to learn them, you’re in for a rewarding and memorable time.


3. Art Direction

The artistic direction in Outward is distinctive and memorable, greatly developing the fantasy world setting in a charming way.

The colors have a lot of contrast, the visual assets are unique, and the game is just a pleasure to look at. Lighting plays a big role, especially in darker areas like the marshes or dungeons. Like Elex, it plays with neon lighting without overdoing it.

Cities have their distinctive personality, and so do different biomes. If you show me a frame from the game, I’ll probably guess where it is, unlike certain homogenous worlds like that of Genshin Impact. Weapons and armor, especially high-level ones, look epically badass, which is exactly how they should in order to make you feel unconquerable.

The devs have gone above and beyond to construct a visual identity for every aspect of the game, and it’s frankly admirable. The only piece that is lacking is the character creation. Faces are downright weird, with not a lot of room for customization. I don’t doubt that mods will be able to fix this. Though having such poor facial choices at the start of the game, it’s no wonder a lot of players leave the game prematurely.


2. Survival & Crafting

The marketing for the game refers to Outward as “The Adventurer Life Sim.” It’s very accurate - perhaps even taking it one step further to show the everyday chores of a real adventurer - cooking food, brewing tea, concocting potions. Before anything else, Outward is a survival game.

Some common survival game elements are there - taking care of hunger and thirst. You’ll likely never die from malnourishment, but you will benefit greatly from quality food and drink. The game also introduces “burnt stats” - the more you use your health, mana, or stamina, the more some of it becomes locked, unable to regenerate further. You can fix this through sleeping or drinking tea (trust me, you’ll be loading up on a lot of tea.

On top of this, you’ll have to think about heat and cold, dressing for the occasion, or using the right consumables to maintain a stable body temperature.

Most of this sounds repetitive and boring; luckily, Outward has removed a lot of the redundant aspects of farming for materials. A better way to look at it is that you have a lot of use cases for items and materials you’re bound to pick up while exploring - rarely finding yourself running around to farm materials.

There is a lot of depth to Outward’s survival mechanics - they’re worth learning and utilizing to their full potential. And most importantly - it’s never actually boring, something a lot of survival games struggle with.


1. Exploration & World Design

The winning factor. The exploration in Outward, the sense of mystery and discovery, is the strongest point of this game.

Combined with the survival mechanics, exploration is an unparalleled joy in Outward. The level design and world-building are rich - dungeons, hidden chests, puzzles, and interesting and unexpected boss fights. As you discover more, you learn about the world and its hidden dynamics. There are special loot and legendary armor sets that make you feel like a force to be reckoned with - and most often, they’re gate-kept by epic and unforgettable bosses.

In Outward, you can’t fast travel and don’t see your position on the map. This means you must figure out your location using geographical locations and natural landmarks. These two factors force you to engage with your surroundings and find out the secrets that the devs have attentively placed with their own hands.

You’ll be in a constant thrill of discovery because everything you find is unexpected and new. As this is a highly experimental game and world, I still recommend enjoying the ride with a friend so that you can savor the moments of adventurous joy in one another’s company.

The world is massive and beautiful, and as much as I’d like to give you spoilers - do yourself a favor and enjoy it yourself. Just prepare to die. A lot.


Final Verdict

Outward is an ambitious title by an AA studio. It’s flawed, true, but also a diamond in the rough. It does what it sets out to do extremely well, and if you’re ready to look past its faults, you’ll discover a game that isn’t afraid to break boundaries set in stone by its genre - and successfully doing so in most cases.

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No stealth archers policy. Adrian is a prolific writer, inspired by stories and popular culture.
Gamer Since: 2009
Favorite Genre: RPG
Currently Playing: Outward
Top 3 Favorite Games:Mount & Blade: Warband, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

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