I’m no stranger to The Outer Worlds. I reviewed the game on Xbox One last year and loved my time with the game so much that I continued to play it on PC after that review was done. The story, characters and settings were absolutely top notch and sucked me in in a way that many other games don’t. I was shocked when The Outer Worlds’ Switch port was announced and wondered how they could get a game that looked that good running on a Switch, even with its smaller open areas. After playing the game, I can confirm that the short answer to that is by making it an extremely flawed and compromised experience.
In The Outer Worlds you take control of Captain Hawthorne of The Unreliable, or more specifically, you assume the identity of Captain Hawthorne after he manages to accidentally kill himself when summoning your drop pod from orbit. You’ve been revived from cryo-sleep by a crack-pot scientist as a final roll of the dice to save your fellow popsicles from a slow death at the negligent hands of the corporations running the galaxy. Throughout your journey to save your shipmates, you’ll build a crew of new companions to fill out your party—or not if you’d prefer to go it alone—with a rag tag bunch of misfits and miscreants hellbent on doing whatever the hell it is you want them to do. The story is witty and humorous, something that games as a whole often struggle with, and the characters are incredibly well written and have significant depth to them that is uncovered as you delve into their histories and personalities. This is where The Outer Worlds is at its best; talking to the myriad characters you meet along the way and revelling in just how well the choices are implemented, both visible and hidden. If you’re looking for a well written story with amazing characters, The Outer Worlds is for you.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a game that is technically competent and runs at an acceptable level, The Outer Worlds is not for you. I came into this game with low expectations. I’ve played my fair share of games that run poorly on the Switch, but I wasn’t expecting just how poorly this game would run. From my first moment landing on the opening planet Terra-2 the game just never felt right. In docked mode, there are constant framerate drops, with the game quickly becoming a juddery mess whenever I entered into combat with more than a couple of enemies in a dense area. If it wasn’t for the game’s incredibly aggressive auto-aiming I wouldn’t have been able to hit targets as they jumped around like I was playing a multiplayer FPS with bad lag. If anything above absolutely basic lighting appears on screen, the framerate immediately tanks. On multiple occasions when I was sprinting in the game’s open areas and I came close to buildings, the game completely stopped and stuck a big spinning swirl on the screen as the world streaming tried to catch up. I was able to deliberately recreate this on multiple occasions on both Terra-2 and Monarch. I even had an occasion where I was seemingly blocked by an invisible wall for a second, only for an enemy that hadn’t loaded yet to suddenly appear out of thin air. In docked mode, The Outer Worlds’ Switch port is nearly unplayable.
The game fairs a little better in handheld mode, with less of the framerate drops and jitter, and the streaming issue happening significantly less frequently. All of those issues are still there, to be clear, they just occur a less frequently. As far as I can tell, the biggest reason for this is that the game is often a blurry, jagged mess when played in handheld mode. Unless you stand right next to an NPC they’re so blurry that you can’t make out their features. Textures and props pop in mere metres from you as you traverse the world, and if you enter any particularly complex areas it feels like the resolution nosedives. Still, as long as you’re willing to wade through some less than ideal graphical quality, The Outer World’s Switch is relatively playable in handheld mode.
As I myself waded through all of these technical issues, I lamented just how good The Outer Worlds could have been on Switch if not for them. When you’re not dealing with that blur in handheld mode—and often when you are dealing within framerate issues—the game actually looks quite good. It’s certainly not up to the quality of the original release or the games that Nintendo put out, but the solid art direction still shines through. Ground textures can be a bit muddy, but buildings, enemies and props are still fairly detailed, and the lighting and skyboxes are absolutely fantastic at points. At times it honestly feels like the developers of the port were so focused on making sure the game looked good, that they forgot to make sure it played well.
When I originally played The Outer Worlds, I talked about how much I enjoyed the combat of the game. It felt like a more layered and well-rounded version of a Fallout game from Besthesda. There’s the same style of first person shooting and melee combat as those games, but with the added layer of companions with special attacks that can be unleashed on command and a time dilation mechanic that feels less overpowered than Fallout’s V.A.T.S. There’s so much freedom to it as well, with stealth, melee, guns and just general combat avoidance all being perfectly viable options. That continues through to the very core of the game, with The Outer Worlds truly feeling like a game with player choice at its very core. Want to sweet talk your way out of prickly story situations? You can do it. Want to hack the security droids and make them friendly units? You can do it. Want to run into a swarm of enemies with nothing but a ‘space’ lacrosse stick? You should totally do it, it’s actually quite fun. There is so much here to love. It’s just hidden behind some awful technical issues.
I’ll be totally honest and say that I legitimately felt sad writing this review and diving into how I felt about the game. The Outer Worlds was just about my favourite game of 2019 and I was overjoyed at the prospect of more people getting to have the opportunity to experience it. All of the things that I loved about it are still there, from the witty writing to the incredible characters (Parvati especially), but they’re so obscured by technical issues that they simply can’t shine through. It hurts me to say this, but I simply cannot recommend buying The Outer Worlds’ Switch port at present. My suggestion is to wait the weeks or months it takes for the technical issues to be ironed out and play something else in the meantime.
The Outer Worlds was reviewed on a regular Nintendo Switch in both handheld and docked modes, with a review copy provided by Private Division.
- The story is witty and engaging - Freedom of choice is abundant - Parvati is still the best character
- Utterly atrocious technical issues - Frequent framerate drops and freezing issues that make the game nearly unplayable - Handheld mode turns the game into a blurry mess