The Outer Worlds: Spacer’s Choice Edition is, for now, an expensive downgrade
I didn’t want to write this article. I wanted to write an article with a headline along the lines of “With Starfield confirmed to be six months away, this Outer Worlds remaster will do very nicely to tide you over”. Or something. Because The Outer Worlds, Obsidian’s bold, space bound, and deliciously self-aware RPG that came out at the tail end of last-gen in late 2019, is a fantastic game.
It’s great. A sort of spiritual follow-up to Fallout: New Vegas that brings a brand new retro-futuristic scifi universe to the pantheon of Western RPGs, where stats actually matter, and speech checks are just as pivotal to the experience as having the biggest gun. I loved it at the time, was delighted when they issued a performance enhancing patch for current-gen consoles a year later, and I was even more delighted when they announced the sequel.
A remaster to give us Fans Of This Sort Of Thing something to enjoy while we wait for TOW2 (and Starfield, of course) seemed like such a surefire bet. The publisher generously provided PS5 code for us to test, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck back in.
Then I dared to move the right thumbstick while outside, and my heart sank: the framerate is, frankly, toilet. Generally this release falls far short of what you would want from a remaster, but at the very least, you would expect a last-gen game from four years ago to maintain a solid 60fps in what it ambitiously refers to as “performance mode”.
It does not. Now, we can only verify the PS5 situation first-hand, but reports abound of performance issues on all platforms. And, to the publisher’s credit, they have acknowledged these issues and promised a patch in due course (we’re not sure from this tweet if the actual patch is coming next week, or just the patch notes).
Our team is working on a patch for PC and consoles to address many of the visual and performance issues being reported by players. We appreciate your patience greatly and will be able to share this and the full list of patch notes with you before the end of next week. https://t.co/xXiMqpiDyX
— Private Division (@PrivateDivision) March 9, 2023
What’s causing the woefully inconsistent framerate is anyone’s guess. Shader compilation issues have been mooted as a possible reason, but something has gone terribly wrong if you’re having that problem on consoles. I hope they can fix it, because right now it’s basically unplayable if incessant stuttering bothers you. Which it should. Especially if you own a VRR capably TV, which I do, and unfortunately it’s a feature that goes completely unutilised in the current build, even with the override turned on in the PS5’s display options.
Whether or not you’re bothered by stuttering, what isn’t up for debate is the fact that this is not a good look for the publisher. This remaster project was already raising eyebrows for its tight-fisted pricing: a £10 paid upgrade option is available for those who already own the full original game and both pieces of DLC. For the many of us who played the original via Gamepass, and bought the DLC on top, this doesn’t qualify. Outside of the paid upgrade, this is a full-price release at £49.99 (not quite the full-full price of a £70 title, but full price enough by most people’s standards I’d wager). To be charging through the nose for a version that doesn’t even run as well as the existing version just compounds the piss-take.
Were it not for the performance issues, which might not be a factor soon, this would still be hard to recommend from what we’ve seen so far in the opening hours of the game. That’s not to say that the art changes are bad across the board, but a lot of them seem poorly considered.
Firstly, the good. Sort of. The most striking change is the lighting: in the Spacer’s Choice edition, it’s warmer, less flat, and more contrasty. Textures are generally a bit sharper too, and there is a surprising amount of geometry that’s very different to the original: entire rock formations now exist where they didn’t before. There’s a lot more foliage, and less harsher transitions between dirt paths and the grass either side. When we’re talking landscapes, the remaster looks a lot nicer in A/B comparisons.
Islands in the distance look a lot less lo-fi now, and the sea stretches convincingly into the horizon rather than becoming a patchwork of uniform water tiles, as seas in older games tend to do. Man-made structures are looking a little spruced up too, with crisper texturing and more pronounced shadowing adding dramatic flair to buildings and spaceships alike.
Unfortunately this new direction with the lighting doesn’t do faces any justice at all. And that’s a big problem for a game in which you spend a lot of time chatting to people. A lot of character models have been tweaked and their texturing redone in order to add more detail to people’s faces and their clothes, but in more than a few situations, the new lighting model cast their faces awkwardly in shadow, obscuring their eyes and making the conversation system frankly less appealing to interact with.The Outer Worlds has a lot of great digital acting for an RPG, with expressive faces and lifelike eyes, and it’s a pity that the zealous overhaul of the game’s lighting has a habit of obscuring it, or worse, lighting it incredibly unattractively.
This is evident with the very first NPC you meet in the game proper, and the worrying thing about this is that he is sat in well-lit cave. Indoors. Where the lighting on his face is not subject to the mercy of a day/light cycle. The developers have complete control over how clear and readable his face is, and yet, Guard Pelham is cast in such an unflattering light here – with his face split in half by a harsh glare, and his eyes melting into the dark – that this encounter simply doesn’t play as well as it did in 2019. Empathy is projected through the eyes, and this character is supposed to be having a crisis. Now, it’s not nearly as clear – and the player will feel absolutely nothing when they eventually unnecessarily shoot him in the head and take all of his stuff.
The look of this remaster veers dangerously close to the kind of silliness that happens when someone with little sense of art direction starts adding loads of “realistic” mods to Skyrim. You know the sort of thing. 4K photo-scanned texture packs that don’t quite slot-in with the original style. Lighting and weather mods that boast of their GPU-busting realism but are just thoroughly unpleasant when compared to the expert-designed systems they’re replacing. Sacrificing coherence and nuance on the altar of superficial, technical improvements.
It’s not quite as bad as that, don’t get me wrong, but the changes on display do exhibit the same casual disregard for the artistic choices made in the original work. And it’s a shame, because the enhanced landscaping does look quite nice. But the cost is too high, especially with the dismal performance issues factored in.
It also, rather disappointingly for PS5 owners, makes absolutely no discernible use of the DualSense’s feature set. There’s the odd vibration when something explodes, sure, but it’s very one-note. There’s nothing going on here that an N64 rumble pak couldn’t have achieved just as convincingly.
In short: the Spacer’s Choice edition is a spectacular fail in its current state, and while there is a performance patch on the way, I’d still recommend sticking with the original, whether you’re new to the game or not. We’ll issue an update in the coming weeks once the fix is live.