Anybody who’s had a chance to try Outward since its original release last year will likely be able to tell you the same thing, whether they enjoyed it or not: it’s not for everyone.
That’s not a knock on the game itself; more a disclaimer on what kind of game to expect going in. Outward – the third game by Nine Dots Studio of Quebec, Canada – is an immersive third-person RPG, one where survival skills like managing your body temperature and effective map-reading are just as important as what kind of weaponry and magic you’re wielding.
On their website, the developers behind Outward say they aim to make games for “various niche markets”, and I think Outward is a good example of this. For those of us who are now well-acclimated to the more linear, mainstream RPG experiences of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Outward’s focus on hands-off player exploration and harsh survival game mechanics can be a difficult pill to swallow if that’s not your bread-and-butter.
When exploring the vast world of Aurai, Outward doesn’t supply quest markers on your map or the ability to just grind out levels and skills in order to beat a particularly nasty creature. You’re expected to think for yourself and look after your bodily needs, whether that’s hunger, thirst, exhaustion, temperature and more.
You’ll need to carefully prepare for your journeys outside the safety of city gates; bringing along the right amount of bandages, healing potions, food, clean water and appropriate gear is an essential skill you’ll need to develop if you want to make much progress. If you’re heading out to Aurai’s desert area, for example, you’ll need to account for a lack of sources of water and how effective your armor is at keeping you cool.
It can be a rather punishing game as a result, especially given that your character’s prowess in combat is highly dependent on what weapons and armour you’ve managed to equip yourself with. Rather than simply killing enough hyenas or giant shrimp to raise your character level, surviving a fight comes down to the power of your equipment in addition to what skills you’ve trained in and your personal ability to dodge and return attacks.
Dropping your backpack at the beginning of a combat encounter is a key tactic, as its removal makes you much more agile in battle – and if you’re bested by the enemy, whatever loot you were carrying in there can be recovered once you return to wherever you left the bag. Anything left on your body is lost, which can set you back if you’re not careful.
There’s a certain charm to Outward that reminds me of early-2000s European RPG games like Risen and Gothic. It looks and runs well enough on my PC, but there’s a degree of clunkiness and jank to the presentation which will appeal to fans of those games – and possibly turn off more discerning fans of the genre.
Falling rain seems to pass through solid objects at times, the voice acting is mostly passable, the controls are a little convoluted and (although there’s a separate tutorial available from the main menu) it’s not always clear in how everything works. It’s not a highly-polished AAA title, but it was never aiming to be – Outward’s focus is on letting the player fail upwards in a hostile fantasy world.
So, how does this new expansion factor into the divisive nature of this game?
In all honesty, if Outward really didn’t click with you before, The Soroboreans is unlikely to win you over. That’s not to suggest it’s a poor addition to the game, though – it’s actually a rather decent amount of new content. In fact, for players who couldn’t get enough of the base game, I’d recommend it.
The expansion adds a brand new region to the game: the Antique Plateau. In order to reach this new area, you’ll simply need to hand over 200 silver and a couple of Travel Rations to an NPC in the original game’s starter city. It’s worth noting that if you want to fully engage with the DLC’s new faction and the quests they offer, you’ll either need to not belong to any faction with an existing character, or make a brand new character instead.
Once there, you’ll find yourself in the city of Harmattan – which is actually just the last remaining district of what was once a much larger and beautiful city.
At the heart of this district is Sorobor Academy, where the greatest minds, mages and soldiers of the region train their citizens in the wake of the devastating war against the Scourge. From here, you can pick up a variety of new quests, check out brand new gear and equipment from the town vendors and invest in skill trees like Hex Mage and The Speedster.
These are great opportunities to experiment with a different play style, especially against the new enemy types you’ll find roaming the landscape and lurking in dungeons.
The new locations in The Soroboreans are best left to the player to fully discover for themselves, seeing how integral to the experience of Outward that is. But you’ll have several new dungeons to bravely make your way through, in addition to areas like Old Harmattan which has been sealed off by the city guards in order to keep out the malevolent ghosts which have ravaged it.
There’s also the deadly Corruption to contend with, an element which litters the landscape of the Antique Plateau and behaves somewhat like a spectral radiation. It’s incredibly dangerous if you’re exposed to it for too long…but courageous players might just find a way to harness that power for their own use.
The new region is just as big as any of the others in the base game, so you’ll be able to pour plenty of time into seeing what’s awaiting you in darkened caves and ominously glowing temples.
The Soroboreans isn’t a grand overhaul of the original game for those who found its mechanics too punishing or obscure – but it never promised to be, and it shouldn’t be. Outward has found itself a dedicated fanbase of players who seek a very specific kind of experience, and despite being a little rough around the edges, it earnestly delivers that experience where it counts.
Even though it’s not quite my personal cup of tea, and I certainly faced quite a challenge throughout my time with it, I can see why this game has such appeal to its cult audience. The Soroboreans is a solid offering of new content that doesn’t compromise on the niche survival/RPG experience, and existing fans or those simply curious should consider picking it up.
Outward: The Soroboreans was reviewed for PC on Steam using a download code provided by Deep Silver.