Cowardice Is A Viable Strategy

April 3, 2019 by Tim

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I feel like Outward is getting criminally little attention, but I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it. It’s a survival fantasy RPG with co-op, and I love the harshness of the world. You’re not the offspring of a dragon, or part of a long lost lineage of heroes… you’re not “the one.” You’re just a person. And you set out for adventure to see what you can make of yourself.

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I really enjoy the consideration that playing takes. Before you head off on a journey, you have to think about a number of things like am I bringing appropriate clothing for the climate, do I have food and water, do I have any potions or teas I might need, do I have enough travel rations for the journey, or should I bring some salt to make some along the way? Because inventory space is at a premium, deciding what to bring and what to leave home is just as important as the weapon you’re carrying.

The game reminds me of a Souls game or Dragon’s Dogma, and not solely because the combat relies on careful maneuvering and you can die easily if you don’t plan your encounters. Outward does very little hand-holding. In fact, you don’t even show up on your map. There’s no magic little blip showing you exactly where you are. You need to use surrounding landmarks to orient yourself, and your compass to navigate.

There are tons of skills to learn throughout the world, and even more recipes for crafting, but you have to seek them out. You have to talk to NPCs and find out what they can teach you. There’s no breadcrumb trail, no waypoints, and often, a lot of things NPCs ask you to do, don’t even go into your quest log.

Speaking of quests, there are a lot of them; there’s a whole main storyline that begins by asking you to ally yourself with one of three Kingdoms, and once you pick one, the other two (and their questline) become unavailable. Which means that it is impossible to see all of Outward in one playthrough.

But you can’t take your quests for granted, either. If someone asks you to find a friend of theirs lost in the desert, if you don’t find him within a number of days, that fucker will die. The prince of my kingdom was murdered, and I started tracking down clues to find the killer. One clue led me to kingdom one zone over, and I didn’t feel like making the trek, so I said “eh, I’ll get to it.” By the time I was ready to make the trip, any evidence at that location had vanished. I failed the quest, and that was that.

Outward is a game where not only do your decisions matter, but you have to live with them. The game is constantly saving over its save slot, so there is no save-scumming, no reloading to try a different dialogue option. I confronted a bandit leader that I really wanted to kill, because he had a cool sword and I hoped he might drop it for me. He plead his case for why he was doing the shit he was doing, and just to assuage my conscience, I told him to turn himself in. I fully expected him to balk at the suggestion and then we’d fight, but to my surprise… he agreed. He surrendered to face justice and literally everyone (myself most of all), was shocked that I managed to resolve the confrontation with dialogue.

Combat is interesting; it’s methodical, and the hitboxes are serious business, so you have to have a plan. Backpacks tend to hinder your dodge, so it’s common practice to shrug off your pack before a swordfight. This alone can be harrowing, because if you die, or you have to flee, you risk leaving it behind and having to find it again.

I opted to play a melee character, but magic is an option if you decide to take an early pilgrimage to a magic mountain. There you’ll be able to decide how much of your Health and Stamina to trade in exchange for mana. Do you want a little mana pool, just to dabble with, or do you want to be a spell-chucking beast made of paper? It’s up to you.

Spells are cast by activating combinations of runes, which is very cool. You actually have to learn your spells. You can’t simply hit a button and chuck a fireball. No, you need to remember that it’s red rune, red rune, yellow run (or whatever it is) to launch that badboy. It’s a very cool system that feels right at home in the game.

While I do carry a large sword, I have found myself relying more and more on traps to overcome the various encounters I come across. Combat can be so very deadly, especially with enemies you don’t know, that I prefer to just stack the odds in my favor whenever possible. I’ll creep in, and lay down a literal field’s worth of tripwires or pressure plates, before stepping back and luring my prey in with a well-placed arrow. I can pick up any traps that don’t get triggered, so I’m not at risk of losing my supplies, and I often clear whole dungeons this way, breaking down my enemy’s weapons and armor into scrap, which I can use to build more traps to kill more of their friends.

Outward is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and while I don’t think it’s ugly, no one will accuse it of being next-gen. It’s got a charm to it, though, a certain nostalgia almost like it’s a game that belongs in a past generation (and yet with some fresh ideas and trends we only have now.)

The fact that you can bring a buddy (or stranger) into your world (or hop into theirs) is just delicious icing on a yummy cake. You can play co-op via internet, or via split-screen on the same TV, and that alone earns Outward a huge award in my book. We don’t have nearly enough co-op titles these days, nevermind a sprawling, challenging RPG like this one. Story progress only advances for the host, however, so while you can help out in other people’s games, get loot and skills to take back to your game, your world remains your own, in stasis while you’re off traversing someone else’s game.

Like I said, I’m having a lot of fun with the game, and if it sounds like something that would scratch an itch you have, I highly recommend it.

In other news, I dabbled with a couple of ideas for some shirts featuring characters from The Campaign that I wanted to see if there was any interest in. I’ve got Groff and Flizwit, and if it looks like there’s demand, I’ll go ahead and design shirts for Tobyn and Cake, and we’ll get them made. So sound off in the comments if these shirts are something you’d buy.

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