Outward official artwork showing the logo

Outward is an exploration-focused RPG that doesn't treat your character like they're anyone truly special. Instead, it just shows you the door to a wide-open world, gives you a pat on the back as you leave in search of treasure, and then laughs while you get devoured by a pack of hyenas. A ruthless experience to be sure, and one that many will not be able to stomach, but it's certainly a captivating one once you realize that all of the tools needed to survive are right there - you just need to figure out how to make the best use of them.

So if you're curious about what exactly Outward has to offer, as well as how it compares to the rest of the RPG genre, allow me to share my thoughts after a rather lengthy and eventful playthrough.

Video version of the review (~16 min)

While their gameplay styles and approaches to storytelling may differ, Outward is remarkably similar to games like Gothic, Risen, or the more recent ELEX. Much like them, Outward tries to include an absolutely staggering amount of features and systems, but due to either inexperience or a lack of budget, it all ends up being a bit of a mess. An enjoyable mess, mind you, but a mess nonetheless. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Outward's survival aspects. You need to ensure that you have a steady supply of food and water in order to continue chugging along, get plenty of sleep so you don't collapse out of exhaustion in the middle of a battle, as well as keep a close eye on your temperature given that freezing and overheating are real issues. This goes doubly so if you're a melee-focused character given that you'll spend most of your time inside a portable oven, or plate armor as some people call it.

There's a ton of systems here that all interact together to create a remarkably interesting survival experience, far deeper than one might expect from a simple RPG. However, despite all the complexity these systems might have, they are so deeply flawed that even a brand new player is likely to quickly realize just how trivial it all is.

You can find food pretty much everywhere so carrying travel rations is irrelevant, you can boil sea water and immediately get perfectly drinkable water, you can create an infinite amount of campfires to make cold weather a joke, and the list goes on. No matter what sort of survival problem Outward puts in front of you, there will always be at least two different ways you can bypass it without spending any noticeable amount of resources. A real shame since the core idea of trying to survive in an extremely hostile land is genuinely solid. It's just that Outward lacks the necessary polish to make it all work in unison.

Outward screenshot of the character hunting a hyena

Hunting aggressive animals is fun, but often completely unnecessary.

Thankfully, this sort of focus on depth and complexity fares much better in the other aspects of Outward, most notably in the crafting system. If you're willing to do a little bit of experimentation, or just collect a whole bunch of blueprints, you can use the crafting system to create pretty much anything you want. You can craft powerful armor, weapons that are far better than what you will find in the wilderness, food that will keep you healthy and warm for ages, as well as potions that range from mildly helpful to hilariously overpowered. 

Given the amount of potent items you can craft you might start thinking that Outward is a really easy game, which would be your first and last mistake. I've put in more than 200 hours into every single Dark Souls game so I'm no slouch when it comes to challenge, but Outward absolutely demolished me throughout the first dozen hours! It is absolutely relentless and if you pick a fight you're not prepared for, you're going to get hammered straight into the ground. And that's exactly what happened to me, because I was too proud and too stupid to admit defeat and start 'cheating' by using anything more than my trusty mace and shield combo.

However, once I finally started experimenting with crafting traps, potions, stat-buffing food and poisons, I quickly realized that Outward has my favorite style of balance - it's completely and utterly unfair in both directions! There are some enemies that hit so hard you can pretty much get stunlocked to death, but you can also give them a taste of their own medicine by luring them into a trap and then pinning them to the floor over and over again. Is it a bit cheap to resort to such tactics? Absolutely, but I would be lying if I said it didn't also feel immensely satisfying to overcome all of the nonsense Outward is capable of doing to you!

Outward screenshot of potions in the inventory system

If you aren't a fan of dying, make sure to stock up on potions!

While there are dozens upon dozens of effects you can utilize during combat, the actual process of fighting enemies is remarkably simple. If we ignore magic for a second, all you can do is single or combo attacks, roll around to avoid enemy blows, as well as block with your weapon or shield. Things do get a bit more complex once you consider how limited your stamina is, but outside of that, melee combat is a fairly straightforward affair.

Once again, however, simple does not mean easy. Pretty much every enemy deals a large amount of damage, has a hefty amount of stamina you will need to burn trough, and unfortunately for you, usually has friends that will jump in and try to help them. Combine this with the somewhat janky animations and controls that will occasionally fight you for dominance, and you've combat system that will likely take you quite a few hours to get comfortable with, and even then you'll probably find yourself dying just because you made a mistake or two.

Whether all of this makes the melee combat good or bad, that is a difficult question to answer. I've had moments where I died in such stupid and unfair ways that I just rage-quit out of frustration, though I also had periods where I've expertly navigated through ghost-riddled ruins and escaped almost completely unscarred, which as you might imagine, felt pretty darn good! So while there were some moments where I felt like my failures were the result of some sort of bug, I can't help but admit that I've got a bit of a soft spot for Outward's combat. It may be janky, but its one of the rare few combat systems where every single item serves an actual purpose!

Outward screenshot of the character fighting two troglodytes

Even so, fighting two or more enemies at once is a tricky business.

When it comes to magic, I'm no expert as I've only used some of the introductory spells, but the concept is rather intriguing. Before you even begin your career as a spellslinger, you will first need to climb a giant mountain and delve through its monster-infested tunnels in order to bind yourself to a magical leyline. Not only is the process of reaching the leyline a challenging one, but if you want to be able to actually cast spells you will need to permanently sacrifice both your health and stamina in order to expand your mana reserves! 

Being a mage in Outward isn't an easy task to say the least, and it doesn't get any easier from here! Most of the spells are comically weak on their own, but become monstrously powerful when combined in certain ways. As such, you will need to do a bit of research in order to figure out what to do, as well as collect a whole bunch of magical reagents that are required to cast some of the stronger spells. Additionally, you will need a ton of mana to make use of all these spells, so do be prepared to carry an entire pantry of mana-increasing food and potions wherever you go!

While this might sound tedious to the extreme, it's actually a pretty nice system since the reward is comparable to the effort required. You'll need to spend a large amount of time getting ready to actually cast any spells, but once you've done the initial leg work you'll be able to blast through pretty much any encounter with ease. Doing so costs a considerable amount of reagents so I never relied on magic too heavily, but it was definitely nice to have a couple of high-powered spells in my back pocket as a reserve.

Outward screenshot of the layline mountain

If you want magic, you'll have to climb to the top of that mountain!

Speaking of pockets, the inventory system is one of the most unique and flavorful aspects of Outward. Instead of simply stuffing broadswords down your pants, most of the stuff you loot will go straight into your oversized backpack. The more you loot, the heavier the backpack will be, until eventually it starts slowing you down due to its sheer weight. Since this isn't exactly ideal during combat, Outward allows you to simply chuck your backpack to the floor at a moments notice, thus freeing you of all your burdens and allowing you to fight at full speed.

This is such a small feature in the grand scheme of things, but as someone that loves collecting tons of loot, it is one that has significantly improved my overall experience! That said, you still don't want to loot everything in Outward as there are only a couple of vendors in each map, while most of the valuable items tend to also be on the heavy side of things. If you're like me this might annoy you at the very beginning since leaving items behind feels terrible, but given that Outward's item pricing is rather sensible, it's much better to go for a couple of quality items over an entire pile of garbage. After all, what would a town merchant rather buy: two quality shields or a couple of spears made out of smelly mushrooms?

Another reason you might want to avoid looting 'all the things' is the surprisingly lengthy distance between landmarks. Running from one side of the map to another might take you five to ten minutes, so unless you really have to, you're better off just exploring the nearby wilderness instead of returning to the town. While certainly a bit brutal, I'm actually a big fan of this sort of world design as it promotes the idea of careful planning, as well as raises the stakes by having you slowly run out of resources while out in hostile territory. This is also why I find the survival mechanics so disappointing, because if there weren't easy answers to all of your needs, travel would be a cool little mini-game on its own.

Outward screenshot of the character fighting two skeleton ghosts

It's possible to fight with your backpack on, though only if you don't care about speed.

When it comes to the locations themselves, Outward is once again a bit of a mixed bag. Some are nothing more than pointless filler, just a couple of generic ruins with nothing of any real interest within them. On the other hand, there are also landmarks that are absolutely massive in size, as well as filled to the brim with danger, interesting stories, and most importantly, loot. 

One of my favorite examples of this is a tower that tries to trick you by offering a treasure chest at the very entrance, all the while hiding an entire dungeon behind a nearby secret door! It's fairly obvious from the beginning that something is not exactly right with this tower, but it's up to you and your deduction skills to figure out what's actually happening, and that is the sort of exploration-based gameplay that I love to see.

The problem is that you're never really sure what you're going to find, so in order to get the full Outward experience you're pretty much going to have to explore the whole map. Given the large map size and the somewhat slow movement speed, this is likely going to take you a very long time. I personally didn't mind spending over forty hours completing Outward, but I do feel it's worth mentioning that if you decide to undertake this journey, it's going to be one that will take a great deal of time and resolve to see through to the end.

Outward screenshot of a giant head carved into the mountain

Some of the locations you'll encounter are quite the sight to behold!

As for the story, it's pretty much the worst aspect of Outward and barely worth a mention. While the overall lore seems to be interesting, the stuff you can participate in is pretty much all generic RPG quests. Things do get a little bit more intriguing towards the end, but between the terrible voice acting and the low amount of story-focused quests, I slowly found myself not caring about any of it - I was just there to explore the world and see what sort of mysteries I can uncover!

Much like the story, the visuals are somewhat basic. Outward has a rather pleasing art style that combines elements from numerous cultures, especially when it comes to the main factions, but the actual graphical fidelity is an entire generation in the past. I still wouldn't call Outward ugly as there is a certain charm to its visuals, but you can definitely see its mid-budget indie origins throughout the entire journey.

The last and definitely not least is the music. Unlike the visuals and story which both have their own share of problems, the music in Outward is actually phenomenal! It's hard to describe through words alone, but it feels like the music was specifically designed to be listened to while talking a long walk across an unknown land. It's often upbeat and cheery, though it can also descend into a more atmospheric and foreboding variant if you ever find yourself in a particularly dangerous location. So while Outward may be flawed in numerous ways, the soundtrack is thankfully not one of them!

Outward RPG screenshot of the Cierzo city at dawn

Closing Thoughts

Outward is not a game for everyone. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that Outward is an incredibly niche RPG. It has an immense difficulty curve, there are minor and major issues pretty much everywhere, you'll need a great deal of patience and stubbornness in order to succeed, and doing just about anything takes a decent amount of time as the world is absolutely massive. 

However, if you enjoy a challenge and none of the above actually scares you, Outward might be worth a closer look as it really does deliver on the idea of exploring an unknown and ruthless world with nothing but your own wits to aid you. After all, the greater the challenge, the better it feels when you finally overcome it!

That said, I would still recommend waiting a little while before potentially grabbing Outward as it sure could benefit from a couple of patches, as well as a small discount given that the €40 price tag is a bit too spicy in my eyes.

Outward screenshot of a campfire in winter