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Now, you may have noticed that when my character was defeated, the action didn't end there. That's because Outward constantly autosaves your progress and instead of game overs, it uses these so-called “defeat scenarios.” Sometimes they take you back to safety, occasionally, they strand your character naked in some dungeon. It's a curious system that doesn't exactly work, since by losing again and again, you will eventually find yourself back in the safety of the nearest town. And when bugs are not involved, you don't lose any of your belongings in the process.
The game's progression system is fairly unique as well. Instead of levels or skillpoints, there are trainers all over the world who can teach you new active and passive skills. This encourages you to go out and explore, which is Outward's strong suit. And while many of the trainers just offer you a skill or two, eight of them have entire skill trees that can be considered Outward's classes. Each character starts the game with three Breakthrough points, which are required to learn those class-specific skills. Because of that, you can combine up to three classes when building your characters.
Aside from those Breakthrough points, skills cost silver, the game's currency, and seeing how there's no experience points, this makes earning silver the main form of Outward's progression.
The other way to improve your character is to find better gear. And in Outward's case, it's one of the game's better features. Instead of randomized MMO-like stats or some linear gear progression, there are various materials all with their special characteristics, plus some unique items on top of that. You can craft most of the gear yourself, but there are some items you can only find during your travels, while some special armor sets have to be commissioned from the various blacksmiths. As such, finding new gear in Outward is always a lot of fun.
Aside from gear, you'll be able to cook food that fills your stomach and gives you useful bonuses. You'll also brew teas and potions and craft various arcane reagents.
You'll need all those skills and items to fight whatever creatures the game throws at you. Outward's combat system can be described as Dark Souls with worse animations and a few twists. The active skills are one of those twists and when writing my preview I was puzzled as to why those skills had cooldowns when the game already limited what you could do by giving you a stamina bar.
As it turns out, those cooldowns are there because Outward's active skills go a bit deeper than it initially appears. Some of the skills grant you certain boons you have to have active to use other skills. And on top of that, certain other powerful skills expend those boons as their additional resource. As a result, you're not only managing health and stamina, but are also juggling boons. I can't say I'm a huge fan of how this works in the game, but at least now I can see where the developers were going with this system.
Content-wise, an average playthrough should take you about 20-30 hours. If you rush and know what you're doing, you can probably beat the game in a few hours, while seeing everything it has to offer may take you around 60-80. Moreover, during your playthrough you can leave certain items in the so-called legacy chests and then use them on subsequent runs as a form of the popular these days New Game+ mode.
During my preview I noted that Outward had frequent frame drops and some stuttering issues, and unfortunately these issues were still present in the release version. Looking into it, I discovered that these issues were not at all universal, however I saw plenty of mentions of crashes and co-op related problems, which in turn was something I didn't encounter, so when it comes to stability in Outward, your experience may vary, as they say.
Also, as should be obvious from my example above, the game uses a Dark Souls-style constant autosave system, but it doesn't do a very good job. So, I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that you shouldn't experiment with unusual save systems unless you're sure you can make them work.
The game's visuals, while somewhat outdated, are propped up by its fantastic art direction. Its sound design is not far behind, both when it comes to music and the miscellaneous sound effects.
Outward is an ambitious game. Perhaps too ambitious for the small studio that developed it. Yet even despite all of the game's shortcomings and technical limitations I had fun playing it. The things it does well, it does really well, and that was good enough for me.
Now, if in a few years, Nine Dots Studio releases Outward 2, and this time around manages to craft a more engaging story and puts together a sandbox world similar to Space Rangers or Mount & Blade, I will recommend it to any and all RPG enthusiast.
As it stands, you should set your sights on Outward only if you're ready to deal with some frustrations and are interested in a refreshing exploration-rich experience that doesn't coddle you too much, or at all, really.
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