The second and final slice of DLC for The Outer Worlds is a sci-fi noir murder mystery, but is it an appropriate way to end the game?
It’s almost impossible to remember what life in 2019 was like, when The Outer Worlds was originally released. What’s far easier to remember is that it was a smart, cynical take on conversation-orientated role-playing, that featured a clutch of whacky characters inhabiting an amusingly over-commercialised retro-futuristic star system that couldn’t help but remind you of the golden era of Fallout.
A great deal has changed in that year and a half, and the arrival of the The Outer Worlds’ second piece of DLC will take most players a little while to get into. A big part of that is the complexity of the game, with its attributes, perks, companions, and stat-based systems. You need the right number to be able to pick locks, hack computers, and avail yourself of conversation options beyond the vanilla choices.
Far from assuming that most of us will have spent the last year doing other things, the game instead drops you straight back in at the deep end, with no refresher course and a stark warning that to enjoy the DLC you’ll need a main character that’s at least level 30. If yours isn’t, that grind alone is going to take several hours and a lot of reference to online wikis just to figure out how everything works and which perks, mods, and companion characters are actually worth bothering with.
The good news is that the action is relatively straightforward, especially if you’re not playing on hard difficulty, and as long as your hero’s level is somewhere in the late 20s, you should be absolutely fine. In any case, once you’ve done your donkey work getting back up to speed and building up sufficient strength, it’s time to find out what Murder On Eridanos is all about.
Set on a new ringed planet, the story takes place on a set of floating islands high above its surface. They’re connected by a series of suspension bridges and kept aloft with suitably vast-looking rocket engines, the whole archipelago dominated by the Grand Colonial Hotel, an edifice resembling the Empire State Building. Naturally, your crew occupies the penthouse while you investigate the murder of an actress who plays Halcyon Helen, star of a long running noire-ish detective TV series.
The set-up is pure Outer Worlds, with Halcyon Helen having been hired to promote the launch of a dubious spirit brand that apparently tastes appalling and comes with a dormant parasite in the bottom of its bottle. Far from seeing her murder as a tragedy, the brand’s masters regard it as a potential PR disaster for their booze empire and hire your character to clear it up as fast as possible.
As you might expect from a detective story, the suspects arrive thick and fast, from Helen’s mercurial boyfriend who has also suspiciously disappeared, to the venal crime boss that runs the local spaceport, to the Prophet of Profitability – whom Helen openly mocked in recent press conferences. Everyone seems to have a motive for wanting her dead and it’s your job to unravel who exactly pulled the trigger.
You do that by following the green marker on your HUD and speaking to whoever you find there. As in the main game, conversations are both the game’s mainstay and primary focus, with each chat typically offering an impressive five responses for each reply. Those vary between serious and sassy, and many are gated behind stats for engineering ability, intelligence, lying, medical qualifications, and more.
As before, that’s not just about your character but the two companions you bring with you who add their stats to your hero’s. If you finished the main game you’ll have six available, each of which has different skills and talents to bring to the party and whom you can swap out as needs arise.
The problem you’ll have is knowing which ones to bring on each quest, because bafflingly you can’t swap them over on the fly and instead need to return to your hotel room to make the change, before travelling back to where you were. That’s a process that can involve as many as four lengthy load screens and often a long, boring walk across the game’s beautiful but largely empty world.
It feels like rank sadism on Obsidian’s part, the journey to and from your penthouse suite adding absolutely nothing to your enjoyment of the game, although it does pad out its five to six hour run time by a few minutes.
There’s also a bit of combat to spice up the moments between conversations, although the variety of enemies is pretty slim. There are two species of animal to fight, security droids, employees driven insane by the brain parasites they’ve been infected with, and at one point swarms of killer wasps, but it’s disappointing in its paucity.
Other distractions are equally lacklustre. Lock-picking involves simply holding down a button, provided you have sufficient skill in that area. If not, it’s impossible unless you painstaking go back to your room and swap companions. Computer hacking is the same, and usually only leads to sets of emails and text logs, very few of which are important to the game.
In the original, with its varied solar system, cast of weirdos, and refreshing anti-corporate bluster, it got away with its slightly boring mechanics by offering up myriad diversions and asides. With just one location, few side quests, and a relentlessly linear plot, all you’re left with is the dialogue and unfortunately this lacks the bite and cleverness of its parent game. There are still moments that might raise a smile, but the majority of the jokes fall flat and few of the characters are as charismatic as the cast of the original.
There’s a fun twist towards the end, and the quasi-1940s props and buildings are chunky, colourful, and easy on the eye, but it’s the clunkiness of the mechanics that you’ll remember. Firefights that are over in seconds, long and all too frequent load screens, and even selecting places to fast travel on the map is a hypertension-inducing exercise in frustration. Without the mordant dialogue there’s really not much left of the game’s former glory.
The Outer Worlds was a fun and resolutely old school take on space opera role-playing. By contrast, Murder On Eridanos is a pedestrian pot boiler whose lack of imagination lays bare mechanical shortcomings that just weren’t as noticeable in the original. 18 months is a long time in video games and between forgetting the controls and systems, and the comprehensive removal of what made the first game great, Murder On Eridanos is a bit of a let-down.
The Outer Worlds: Murder On Eridanos review summary
In Short: A brief and slightly dull detective mystery set in the colourful and conversation-heavy universe of The Outer Worlds, that lacks its parent’s variety, character, and joie de vivre.
Pros: Great looking world design, a wealth of options for each conversational response, and mercifully brief.
Cons: Few side quests and other distractions. Gunfights are quick and boring, conversation lacks sparkle, and despite its open world the plot is rigidly linear.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Publisher: Private Division
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date: 17th March 2021
Age Rating: 18
By Nick Gillett
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