Welcome to Aurai
In a videogame landscape now full of excessively similar titles that try to adapt to the fashions and standards of the moment, fortunately it is still possible to find some small gems, a voice out of the chorus who is not afraid to go against the tide; this is the case of Outward, the RPG action developed by Nine Dots Studios and available from 26 March 2019 on all platforms.
After creating our character (with a rather limited menu, to be honest) we are greeted by a brief narrative introduction. We are members of a ruined clan, forced to pay the consequences of our grandmother's actions: in an attempt to pay off our debts we embark on an expedition that ends with the sinking of our ship, and once brought back to the village of Cierzo, our hometown, we have to pay the "Price of Blood". This is how our adventure in the lands of Aurai begins.
A complex gameplay
The game interface is really simple and intuitive: we have, first of all, eight total slots to which it is possible to assign objects for rapid use or abilities that we unlock (distinct in active, passive and aesthetic) and a bar of health, stamina and mana. By accessing the menu, we have various sections in which to navigate, including inventory, parameter interface, equipment, and a special section of crafting for objects and materials. Present a system of maximum load, which leads us to always be attentive to what we are bringing with us; in this regard the bags, which we can find or create, help us to transport more cargo. It is also possible to interact with various NPCs including merchants, blacksmiths and various alchemists, from whom to purchase new equipment or have it created using the collected materials.
From the beginning it is possible to notice how the narrative component, in reality, remains in the background. We have indeed wide freedom of approach, perhaps even excessive: the diary section lists the main and secondary quests currently active, but we are exploring to outline our path, choosing to go to a particular place or talking to a character rather than another. Moreover there is almost no may one way to complete a mission, and the player is given the freedom to experiment all possible ways. The adventure can develop on three "main paths", guaranteeing one really high replay value.
Another peculiarity of the title is that one never dies. Obviously this does not mean that we have unlimited health, indeed. Running out of life points, However, equivalent to fainting and find each other, after a brief textual description that explains what happened, at a random point on the map. Fortunately, in these cases we do not lose the objects accumulated up to that point. The experience points are also absent: the currency of the game is the main tool through which we can improve our character, also thanks to the possibility of training ourselves with special NPCs which can teach us new skills upon payment.
"Survival" is the key word
The distinctive feature of Outward is the survival component, predominant within the game. In fact we must constantly pay attention to keeping ourselves on acceptable levels of four fundamental parameters: satiety, hydration, sleep and body temperature, and this is possible by procuring food and water, finding places to rest and bringing with us the most suitable clothes for the situation in which we meet. Also present effects, or active and passive bonuses / malus.
The goatskin for transporting water, sleeping bags, and lining to light fires near which to cook or camp is therefore particularly useful in our adventure; then a torch or a lantern is essential if we find ourselves outdoors in the dark hours. The fact is present day / night cycle, strongly complementary to the other game mechanics: for example, resting in unsafe areas at night, could expose us to unwanted ambushes by bandits. Not paying attention to eating, drinking and sleeping progressively reduces the health and stamina bar, making it all the more difficult. Fortunately, in the crafting section, we can create a variety of essential items for our survival, bandages and travel rations above all.
The combat system is really addictive and fun, even if at times woody. It is possible to engage the enemy, launch light, heavy attacks or even chain them appropriately to create unique combos, which vary according to the weapon in use. It is possible to dodge the attacks by rolling, even if we have to be careful about the equipment: in fact, bags make this possibility of evasion really clumsy and not very functional. Clashes with enemies, ranging from local wildlife to other human beings, prove rewarding but equally demanding; underestimating who we are facing can cost us dearly, especially in the early stages of the game.
The paraphernalia at our disposal is quite diversified: it includes light weapons, which allow us to equip a secondary object in the free hand, heavy weapons, decidedly more lethal, but also bows with which to attack from a distance, without forgetting the shields, useful to defend ourselves from the enemy attacks. The combat phases therefore contribute to the difficulty of the game, which due to the very way in which it was thought proposes a fairly high level of challenge. The magic and the spells deserve a separate discussion, since they are difficult to master fully: they can be acquired only at a later time, they need a certain application to be properly exploited. To cast certain spells we must in fact select spells that would be ineffective by themselves, and it is up to us players to correctly memorize all the sequences.
Yes but ... where am I?
In Outward our journey sees us engaged in long journeys, since we have to explore an extremely vast continent: the game map is really extensive, with numerous areas and dungeons to be addressed. However the interface through which to orient oneself is really unintuitive, not showing our current position and making it difficult to move around the playing area; nothing particularly serious even though, although I am aware that this is a choice of the developers, I would have appreciated a trick in this regard.
Not everything that glitters is gold
Let's now analyze the technical component of the title. Unfortunately, this is where Outward shows his Achilles heel: the enemies do not shine certain by wit or particular fighting techniques, limiting themselves to attack us or follow us in the event we were to move away and thus showing a artificial intelligence that leaves something to be desired. Graphically the game is not particularly taken care of: the low definition of many textures and characters they make it look like a title from the last generation, rather than the current one.
The animations are done discreetly, but it can often happen to witness interpenetration with elements of the scenario, and see enemies and characters get stuck in certain positions. The OSTs, among other things really well made and impactful, get stuck and start up again in the middle of the fighting, significantly lowering the level of involvement.
Two are better than one
Really welcome and particular cooperative mode in shared screen, which allows us to face the hostile gaming environment with a friend. This device which, it is natural to say, has been almost completely abandoned nowadays, offers so many funny moments. In fact, I have often overlooked game missions only to explore dungeons in the company and try to get out of them without a scratch. A mechanic that is unfortunately absent in the vast majority of current games, and that instead is a pleasant added value for Outward.
The GDR which was lacking, but not for everyone
Outward presents itself as a RPG with survival elements and a philosophy of its own, which contributes to making it a very special title. Slow to take off, it presents some defects that can be summarized in a technical sector that could be better cared for and in a difficulty that could frighten less experienced players, leading them to abandon the title already in the initial stages. However, the care and willingness of the Nine Dots boys is undeniable. If you are a fan of the genre the purchase is practically obligatory, especially at the price of 39,99 €, that the offered contents absolutely justify.