My mom is one of the most hardworking and inspiring people I know. Over the years, she’s had a variety of jobs — from taking care of the elderly, to cleaning after college students— and despite the taxing nature of these jobs, I’ve never once heard her complain.
Going to school and having a career already places a gulf between my life experience and hers, but that divide feels especially prominent when I play games. For the most part, video games ignore working-class experiences. But The Outer Worlds, the latest RPG by Obsidian, is explicitly about class divides in a world controlled by corporate overlords. This is evident from the moment you boot the game up.
Early on when creating a character, you must choose “Aptitudes” which can grant you small bonuses depending on the background. I was surprised to find that most of the options available to the player were fairly grounded in a way I’m not used to seeing in a AAA video game.
You can be a bartender if you’d like. Or, if you want some shock resistance, it’s worth considering the electrician aptitude. If you pick janitor, you take less corrosion damage. Hell, one of the options is “dirt farmer,” which feels like a far cry from the typical super soldiers or warriors we often play in games like these.
I was surprised to find myself considering the cashier background, because it gives you a +1 to persuasion — and I’m playing a smooth-talking smart ass. For the most part, a cashier job is treated like a punch line in media, where the work is presented as a starting option for teenagers or the result of poor life choices. Instead of feeling like I was “relegated” to being a cashier, I found the option exciting. Who knows how the job might affect my gameplay experiences? What new options would I have now? It’s cool to see a video game recognize that everyday jobs have value and can teach you real skills.
Really, the entirety of the character-building The Outer Worlds experience felt outstanding. When distributing attribute points, the game gives you real-time feedback on what type of character you’re building. Place some points into Charm, for instance, and you’ll be asked if you’ve ever considered a movie career. Buff your Intelligence stat, and the mad scientist bringing you out of cryostasis remarks that he’s thrilled to finally have someone to talk to.
Small details like these don’t just help you understand what the stats mean, they also make it evident that Obsidian sweats the small stuff. It didn’t need to record a bunch of voice lines for a part of the game that is usually done in silence ... except that it did. This attention to detail is pervasive throughout the game. Tiny flourishes add up to make a big difference.
I’m making my way through Edgewater right now, and it’s impressive to see all the different ways Obsidian tries to account for the type of character I’m playing. But The Outer Worlds didn’t even let me take a step before it showed me what it truly values.
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