It does seem like I tend to spend my year-end holidays playing open world RPGs. In 2015, it was Fallout 4, which kept me occupied for two to three weeks. In 2019, it was The Outer Worlds, which I played non-stop for two weeks. Most recently, Cyberpunk 2077 has taken over my life, and it’s still incredibly fun more than a month later.
Fallout 4 did not give me the same satisfaction as The Outer Worlds, but both of them can’t hold up to the immersion and enjoyment I got from Cyberpunk 2077. While it still pales in comparison to the depth and sophistication of Fallout: New Vegas, it’s obvious that Cyberpunk 2077 has something that those other two games don’t.
But I would like to focus more on comparing Cyberpunk 2077 with The Outer Worlds as they have many thematic similarities. Fallout 4 does come into the equation later, but that requires a different set of criteria altogether.
Cyberpunk 2077 and The Outer Worlds
After seven years of hype, Cyberpunk 2077 was prematurely released, with its major parts already finished but the overall package still fairly unpolished. CD Projekt RED didn’t add any DRM to it, which was fortunate as it was already quite unoptimized on its own. Denuvo would’ve made it even more sluggish.
Fourteen months earlier, Obsidian Entertainment released The Outer Worlds to some fanfare. It was their answer to how Bethesda screwed them over a decade earlier upon the release of Fallout: New Vegas.
And now, Bethesda and Obsidian are owned by the same parent company. Funny how things work out. Here’s to hoping for Fallout: New Vegas 2.
The Outer Worlds was their own world, with its own themes and ideas. It had the same feel as Fallout in terms of the 1950s-style product advertising, but turned up to 11 to create a whole star system that has been beset by late-stage capitalism.
Both games are first-person role-playing games in settings that are experiencing “late-stage capitalism”—a term that describes the absurdity brought on by the chasm between rich and poor and corporations overtaking every aspect of life.
Both are not to be taken as completely serious, but it’s worth noting that the cyberpunk genre was meant to do so from the ground up. It shows with the advancement of technology, big business takes over and generate massive wealth while workers are paid pennies with little to no possibility of ascending the ladder.
I’m at risk of sounding leftist or otherwise by talking about this theme shared by these two games, so I’ll preface this by stating that I’m not that well-read in both Marxist and capitalist literature. I only started digging more into them in 2020 because… 2020.
If I get anything wrong, you may correct me in the comments.
I can’t take Cyberpunk 2077 too seriously as a commentary on 21st century capitalism since it’s adaptation of a tabletop role-playing game that was written back in the 80s, which takes a lot of its ideas from the work of William Gibson, particularly his magnum opus Neuromancer.
While the themes do hint parallels to current times, it’s still a 30-year-old tabletop game stuck in its past vision of the future.
Back then, it did look like Japan was going to take over the world economically as it grew to become a technological behemoth. But then, the bubble burst and they haven’t fully recovered since. China then had a meteoric rise and here we are.
If Cyberpunk 2077 were to depict the real world’s most probable future, it’s more likely to be Kang Tao at the center of Night City instead of Arasaka.
The Outer Worlds takes it to a different level, reminding me of titles like Gundam and Red Faction. The dystopian capitalist nightmare is turned up, albeit with some caricature, while adding in the element of the Halcyon system being a presumably abandoned space colony.
They haven’t heard from Earth in three years, leaving them alone to the brutal economic vampires of the Board. Compared to Arasaka Corporation in Cyberpunk 2077, the Board is more of a vague big baddie corporate overlord with invisible tentacles and puppet strings.
Here’s a quote from a friend of mine who has been playing Cyberpunk 2077 and The Outer Worlds:
“The Outer Worlds better conveys how good people just look the other way or that the work culture of their companies bleed into their daily lives.
Cyberpunk 2077 better depicts the power structure of massive corporations like Arasaka.”
Cyberpunk 2077 is based on source material that’s a story set in a future now past. I don’t think it was meant to be an accurate prediction of how the world would be over 30 years after the first edition of Cyberpunk 2020 was created by Mike Pondsmith and published by R. Talsorian Games. It was meant to be flavor and atmosphere for a game that took from how people imagined the future at the time.
And in turn, people now look to the 80s for aesthetic inspiration as the past vision of the future has become somewhat in vogue.
Meanwhile, The Outer Worlds was a setting created by the makers of Fallout: New Vegas to have something to call entirely their own almost a decade after they were screwed over by Bethesda. They created a superior Fallout game, and they benefited from that reputation to sell their own dystopian setting.
It’s not a nuclear war that’s putting an end to Halcyon, but the slow and steady draining of its population through indentured servitude and malnutrition.
There are many gameplay similarities between them, both being products of the evolution of open world role-playing games thus far. They both have similar weapons, consumable items, time slow mechanics, and so on.
I won’t cover everything here since this blog post is getting pretty long at this point, so I’ll list the stuff I can recall from the top of my head as I write this.
FIRST-PERSON MELEE COMBAT
They’re both first-person role-playing games with guns and melee. One of the best weapons in The Outer Worlds is a unique melee weapon called the Prismatic Hammer, which had random elemental damage. Melee combat there feels like the typical fare in The Elder Scrolls series, which makes me wish for a third person mode.
Meanwhile, Cyberpunk 2077 has melee combat that looks more like that of new Shadow Warrior games, which means katanas. You can even wear fedoras and trench coats to complete the m’lady experience. The only things missing are being able to declare “Nothing personnel, kid” before combat and tip your hat after every kill.
WORLD DESIGN AND EXPLORATION
Perhaps the biggest difference is how Cyberpunk 2077 has one open world, while The Outer Worlds isn’t really a true open world with its different planets. The former has vehicles and fast travel points to speed up traversal, while the latter only has fast travel back to your ship in order to travel to another planet.
I found traversal in Night City much more fun than in Halcyon. Not only are there less steps to trudge through in getting from one place to another, but things actually happen in Night City. The various locations in Halcyon are interesting at first, but they’re just holding areas for merchants and quest-giving NPCs.
Also, I found exploring Night City more interesting than the whole of Halcyon. Let’s put it this way—The Outer Worlds is something you’ll likely finish once or twice, while Cyberpunk 2077 is best finished at least four times.
CHARACTER PROGRESSION AND ENEMY DIFFICULTY
On the other hand, character progression for each game has strengths and weaknesses. Cyberpunk 2077 looks interesting at first with its skills and perks, and you can make your character incredibly overpowered. But even if you don’t have any points in blades, for example, you can still fight with blades pretty well as long as you have enough points in reflexes.
The Outer Worlds is a bit better in emphasizing your weaknesses. If you didn’t put points in attributes for certain weapons or skills, you can’t be successful with them at all. In Cyberpunk 2077, unless it’s hacking or crafting, you can still do those things and level them up to get extra perk points.
That’s not actually a bad thing, but it’s just different in how you can exploit them to make your character even more overpowered. Leveling up other skills for perk points you’ll allocate to your main skills is a great way to both incentivize more grinding and build a character that can one-hit kill everything in sight.
To that end, The Outer Worlds is more challenging for a lot longer. Even at higher levels, there are ways for enemies to kill you. I find how enemies are leveled in different zones to be better done compared to Cyberpunk 2077, where most enemies become cannon fodder when you reach a high enough level.
Which One Do I Like More?
As of this writing, I haven’t touched Cyberpunk 2077 for two weeks. I don’t know how it will be if I stay away from it for much longer, but I still remember a lot of moments in that game.
In contrast, I barely remember anything in The Outer Worlds. I couldn’t get enough of it while I still played it in late 2019, but I can’t get myself to get back to it just yet, and I feel like a fish out of water now when I think about creating a new character.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare an adaptation of a tabletop role-playing game with an original IP as the former has about 30 years of writing and development already behind it. While The Outer Worlds does take a lot from other games and science fiction, it can still use some filling out.
After the release of Peril on Gorgon, further updates have been sparse. Many players have reported the story and in-game world being forgettable, and I share this opinion. Despite how much fun I had playing it for 80+ hours, it now seems underwhelming.
While it remains to be seen if I’ll think more fondly of my Cyberpunk 2077 experience, I can tell right now that there’s a lot more to latch onto with that game compared to The Outer Worlds. Maybe sequels or expansions will add more to TOW, but that still remains to be seen.
Comparing Both Games to Fallout 4
I watched this video by Many a True Nerd on Fallout 4 that reminded me of the positive aspects of that game I played five years ago.
“Charisma 1, Speech 100”
That quote on its own does make the old Fallout system seem ridiculous, and it indeed is for many reasons. The role of intelligence directly affecting how many skill points you gain for each level up makes that attribute overpowered as a result.
I do understand that it tries to convey how having high enough intelligence can help you understand how to curtail and cope with your weaknesses enough to turn them into strengths. However, I find it rather simplistic as it doesn’t account for how humans are supposed to master skills, especially those they aren’t biologically prepared for.
For instance, with having high charisma being a prerequisite for having good speech, the gift of gab doesn’t just give you a headstart like how it’s shown in the old Fallout games. Having that kind of talent is also about being able to articulate words, knowing how to tell stories interestingly, having the knack to capture people’s attention, being able to read a room, understanding which details to either include or omit, and so on.
Yes, you can master those skills with enough deliberate practice, but you can’t expect most people to be able to hone them without having an affinity and either the conscious desire or the subconscious inclination to practice in the first place. I know that as a pro wrestling commentator who has to painstakingly learn how to be more spontaneous while not having the talent for it.
It’s like how someone with a visual impairment or a congenital defect with their hands can’t get good with guns without serious obstacles along the way. Perhaps someone like that can find ways to help them work around their disadvantages, like wearing glasses and prosthetics, using special equipment, and so on. But figuring all that out is in itself an arduous process onto itself.
It’s not as easy as adding more points to that skill with each level up. If these games are really about roleplaying, then that alone doesn’t do that process enough justice.
We do live in a world full of people with handicaps who have become masters of crafts they seem destined to be poor at, like BrolyLegs being an amazing fighting game player with two non-functional hands or Jean Jacques Machado being a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu master with missing fingers on his left hand.
However, the process of overcoming those challenges is a lot more complicated than just adding more points to those skills. I do think the old Fallout system ultimately fails to properly communicate that, as good as the old Fallout games were and still are.
Comparing Crafting Systems
In terms of crafting systems, here is a simple breakdown of how these games compare.
Fallout 4 > The Outer Worlds > Cyberpunk 2077
Yes, Fallout 4 has a way better crafting system than Cyberpunk 2077, not to mention that you can build your own base as well.
There are many flaws in Fallout 4. I only played it for 120 hours before I couldn’t find myself to play any more of it. But I do have fond memories of that game, the hype for which compelled me to build a new computer five years ago. While its writing and dialogue system were crap, its gameplay systems weren’t.
I’d even posit that Fallout 4 improves upon the systems of the previous Fallout games, including the originals by Interplay. Yes, I know a lot of people may object to that statement.
I don’t feel none of them can boast a superior character progression system, but merely different flavors that lend to (what to me are) addictive gameplay loops. But with their crafting systems, Fallout 4’s crafting stands out.
The Outer Worlds hits sort of in between Fallout 4’s need for a workbench to disassemble components and upgrade equipment and Cyberpunk 2077 giving the player the ability to both craft and upgrade. However, The Outer Worlds doesn’t let you make your own weapons and armor, and Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t go into customization—both unlike Fallout 4.
After 115 hours of playing Cyberpunk 2077 (as of this writing), I know exactly where to get the best weapons. Meanwhile, I still remember where to get some of the best weapons in The Outer Worlds, including the unique Ol’ Reliable light machine gun that’s pretty much the best starter weapon in that game.
But in Fallout 4, there’s no such thing as a “perfect weapon,” but merely the best configuration of a powerful weapon that fits your build and playstyle. I can think of a few ways to make that crafting system even better and more sophisticated, but at least what’s actually there is interesting enough to really sink your teeth in.
In Fallout 4, it’s not just generating a weapon or armor into existence, but actually putting components together to make it, and you can modify it later if you wish.
You can even rename a weapon to make it more your own. I remember naming pipe guns as parodies of homemade guns used for robbery here in the Philippines. Such a customization option can actually add a lot to the enjoyment.
The legendary system in Fallout 4 made hunting legendary enemies a lot more interesting and rewarding as their challenge is equaled with the loot they drop. Bethesda took what Borderlands started and put it in a Fallout game.
In The Outer Worlds and Cyberpunk 2077, getting the best guns on your next playthrough boils down to memorizing where they are. There’s nothing wrong with going old school, but it does make it a bit less interesting than Fallout 4.
Not to mention that since you can’t customize clothes in Cyberpunk 2077, wearing the best armor usually ends up with your character looking like a fashion victim.
Good Mechanics Are Not Enough
But that doesn’t change the fact that I haven’t found a reason yet to go back to Fallout 4, not even to play the DLCs. I just watched let’s plays and Oxhorn videos to fill me in on that additional content. Maybe I’ll get back to them someday, but it may not be anytime soon.
Perhaps I’m being unfair to Fallout 4 since it does have pretty good crafting and base building systems. Then again, No Man’s Sky already scratched that itch for me last year.
Meanwhile, it has been well over a month since Cyberpunk 2077 came out, and I’m still addicted to it. I’m also thinking of jumping back into The Outer Worlds to refresh my memory, as well as experience the Peril on Gorgon DLC for the first time with a fresh character.
A good gameplay system is not enough to hold a game up, even if it’s a game. Just look at what happened to Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. The system may be alright, but what that game suffered proves that it’s the aesthetics and flavor that keep players interested.
Games with sufficient mechanics bolstered by a good story, immersive setting, and interesting characters are usually better than games with amazing mechanics with a weak story, a setting that doesn’t pull you in, and stale characters.
At least, that’s if we’re talking about singleplayer games. Things are different with multiplayer games, which are bolstered by being multiplayer.
Fallout 4 was failed by its weak writing and dialogue system. Meanwhile, people are still singing praises to Fallout: New Vegas more than a decade later. Perhaps that’s why Bethesda screwed Obsidian Entertainment over, which resulted in The Outer Worlds in the first place.
Perhaps I like Cyberpunk 2077 more than The Outer Worlds due to its cyberpunk flavor. I understand that it’s an adaptation of Cyberpunk 2020, which comes off as a parody and bastardization of the works of William Gibson. But since it doesn’t look like we’ll get a modern video game adaptation of Neuromancer anytime soon, Cyberpunk 2077 is the best we got.
The only glaring fault it has that I can wholeheartedly criticize it for is that it’s not a Shadowrun game. I really should get back to those isometric games to get my fill. After all, if we have to go crazy with “high tech and low life,” we might as well go all out with orcs, elves, and magic to go with the dingy cyberspace aesthetic.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have on the comment section below.
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