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Outward's combat system is clearly inspired by Dark Souls, but it does put its own spin on a few things. You still have stamina-draining light and heavy attacks, but you can combo them together for different outcomes. Your enemies also have a visible stability bar that determines their resistance to being interrupted or knocked down.
On top of the regular attacks, you also have access to a wide selection of skills. Now, why does a game that already has a stamina bar that stops you from spamming attacks feels the need to put cooldowns on its skills is beyond me, but that's how Outward does things, and I can't say that I'm a huge fan of this design decision.
There's also magic. In order to learn it, you'll need to go through a dungeon first, and then sacrifice some of your life and stamina. After that, you'll be able to cast spells or become a spellblade of sorts and infuse your weapons with various elements. And because nothing is ever that simple with Outward, most of its spells require not only mana but also expendable reagents.
Now, it's good to have such variety when it comes to combat, because Outward is far from a tripple-A game and its animations are nowhere near smooth and precise enough to carry the combat system, especially since the game's enemies don't telegraph their attacks all that well.
In fact, the best thing about Outward's combat isn't the part where you're actually fighting, it's all the preparations that happen before the battle even begins. Eating the right food, enchanting or poisoning your weapons, setting up traps and snares, sneaking around your enemies to get a few free hits – all these things make the awkward flailing that happens afterwards way more enjoyable.
And if at some point you end up losing a fight or succumbing to the elements, you'll discover that your character can't actually die. Which is quite a bold choice for a survival game if you ask me. Instead, you will get what the developers call a “defeat scenario.” During such a scenario, your screen goes black for a moment, and then your character wakes up in an unfamiliar place with a terrible headache, usually some unpleasant status effect, and no recollection of the past hours or even days. Some of these scenarios result in your character being robbed, captured, or dragged into some dark lair. Others can actually help you out and transport you to safety.
And that's the problem with these defeat scenarios – if you find yourself stuck, you can just start jumping on swords in the hopes of eventually getting saved. Alternatively, if you lose a tough fight a couple of times, you may find yourself on the other side of the map with no quick way to attempt the fight again and learn from your mistakes. And seeing how the game constantly autosaves with no manual save option, you will just have to deal with it.
Another thing I should mention here is the fact that Outward doesn't have classes or levels, and so improving your character boils down to finding better gear and learning new active and passive skills from NPCs. Because of that, if you're someone who likes their games to feature robust roleplaying systems, Outward may disappoint you with what it has to offer.
Story and Presentation
Unlike most other survival games, Outward has an actual story spread out across several factions. Once you pay off your initial debt, you can continue to work for your village, run off to join a holy monster-fighting order, or become a mercenary hero of a far-away land. This translates into a variety of quests, most of which have you delving into various set-piece dungeons, retrieving ancient artifacts or sometimes even dealing with a bit of political intrigue.
Though admittedly, the game's writing can be safely described as merely functional. It gets the point across and sends you on your way, but doesn't really make you invested into what's going on. The voice acting doesn't help either. More often than not it doesn't exist at all, but when it does, it usually consists of a few words vaguely related to the text you're seeing on your screen. Honestly, whatever the voice acting budget the developers had, it would have been better spent elsewhere.
Still, it's nice to have some incentive to explore and have clear goals when doing so, instead of aimlessly meandering for no good reason. And since the game also offers a good number of, usually repeatable, side quests, you'll always have something to do.