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What do you get when you combine an open-world action-RPG with survival elements and then sprinkle a bunch of crafting on top? Well, in theory, you get my least favorite kind of game. However, after watching some promotional trailers for Nine Dots Studio's Outward that promised memorable adventures in a dazzling yet deadly fantasy world, I was intrigued. And when I got a chance to check out an early preview version of the game, I immediately jumped on that opportunity.
And since the game is now less than two months away from its March 26, 2019 release date, let's see what it's all about, shall we?
To Boldly Go
Outward puts you in the shoes of an unfortunate individual who has to make regular payments to their tribe as punishment for some transgressions of their ancestors. To make matters worse, right before the game starts, your character catches a lucky break and earns a small fortune overseas, but then on the way back, a shipwreck sends all that hard-earned money to the bottom of the sea. Which means that you start the game with nothing but a pair of shorts and a family lighthouse that's going to get taken away if you don't come up with a hefty sum of silver within the next few days.
In order to do so, you'll have to “borrow” whatever basic gear your fellow villagers have lying around, or alternatively drape yourself in makeshift garbage, and then venture outside the relative safety of the village walls.
The immediate area around your village is packed with bandit camps, hostile settlements, ancient ruins, and mysterious caves, with the main attraction being a giant magic mountain right in the middle. Looking at the map of your home region, you'll probably notice that your character is not on it. You get a compass, some occasional signposts, a series of landmarks, and that's that. If you want to get anywhere in Outward, you will need to actually follow the directions the game's NPCs give you.
You will also need to be prepared for anything, as pretty much everything in Outward is out to get you. Forget bandits, skeletons, and giant lightning-spitting shrimp, even the game's oversized chickens are brimming with bloodlust. And if you're not careful, the chickens will get you.
And if they don't, then it will be the heat. Or the cold. Or the lack of food and water. So, not only will you need to be on the constant lookout for monsters, you'll also have to forage and hunt for food and collect water wherever you can. On top of that, the longer you stay awake, the shorter your stamina bar gets, forcing you to rest from time to time.
Once you process all that and get a few coins to your name, you buy a proper backpack from a village trader and start chanting, “failure to plan is a plan to fail” like a mantra. You pack a change of clothes, some firewood, a cooking pot, a few waterskins, a bedroll or a tent, a lantern, an alchemy set, a bunch of food that won't spoil for a while, and maybe some potions. And then you try walking and find yourself overburdened already. You make some adjustments and it dawns on you that inventory management is one of Outward's most prominent features.
Even the game's survival elements aren't there to annoy you with having to eat and drink every five seconds. Instead, they simply force you to allocate some inventory space for food and water. And seeing how different meals provide you with different buffs, you will also want to account for that. Every item in Outward has weight, even money, so you'll need to be very careful with how you prepare for your journeys and what you pick up along the way.
Your inventory is divided between a modestly-sized pouch and a backpack where you carry most of your stuff. The backpack is understandably quite bulky and as a result slows down your combat rolls. So, when there's a fight on the horizon and you plan to be rolling a lot, you'll be wise to drop the backpack and then come back for it later.
Personally, I love inventory management in games, and it being such a major part of the overall Outward experience made me enjoy the game much more than had it just been a hiking simulator where you walked across mountains, going, “Ha!” upon spotting peculiarly arranged skeletons.
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