Gaming

Outer Worlds’ lackluster DLC could be a bad omen for Elder Scrolls VI

What happens when a beloved RPG maker gets acquired by Microsoft?

When The Outer Worlds released last year, it met with quite a bit of fanfare. A huge swath of Fallout: New Vegas fans were thrilled to celebrate developer Obsidian’s return to the dystopian RPG formula it all but perfected 10 years ago. Many of those same fans were still stinging from the botched launch of Bethesda Game Studios’ Fallout 76, even while looking ahead to the far-off release of The Elder Scrolls VI, the studio’s other marquee franchise.

Outer Worlds benefitted from sticking to what had once been the Bethesda formula — narrative-driven, single-player experiences. But a whole lot has changed since the game first released. Both Obsidian and ZeniMax — the parent company of Bethesda Game Studios — have since been acquired by Microsoft. Fans and industry observers quickly spun themselves into fantasies of a possible collaboration between the two studios, imagining a union where Microsoft's big, deep pockets would smooth over logistic and creative differences that could otherwise keep two different — dare I say rival? — studios from collaborating elsewhere.

If we’re looking at the Peril on Gorgon DLC for clues about what to expect when a beloved RPG maker gets acquired by Microsoft, well... it’s not terribly encouraging.

There seems to be no discernible benefit from developing this DLC under the Microsoft umbrella, as Peril On Gorgon still suffers from the technical shortcomings of the main game. Sure, Microsoft has talked a lot about how the Outer Worlds is “an enduring franchise” and a studio tour from Eurogamer highlighted the newfound “safety net of Microsoft ownership and support.” But none of that celebrated support and commitment is on display here.

To be clear, Peril on Gorgon isn’t terrible. But this DLC is missing solutions for significant problems Obsidian received a pass on the first time around. They were an independent studio, after all, so enthusiastic fans — myself included — were patient regarding the ample loading screens, limited map size and anonymous NPCs. I had hoped the first DLC in Microsoft’s newest franchise would showcase all the vaunted resources of Xbox Game Studios.

That’s not what we have here.

I was struck by how last-gen everything seemed in Peril on Gorgon. The writing is solid, if derivative and predictable at times, but the polish and performance fall far short of what we expect from current-gen titles, nevermind what we’re all eagerly awaiting as the next-gen hurtles towards us like a throbbing, corrosive raptidon loogie. There are still so many loading screens in the Outer Worlds DLC, including the sneaky hidden ones where you inexplicably ride an elevator in a building that is all of four rooms.

'Elder Scrolls' fans could soon be returning to Tamriel.Bethesda Softworks

Nothing about the combat feels strategic or satisfying; increasing difficulty modes seems mainly to increase the bullet sponginess of your foes. Even the characters fall short, with interesting new locales populated by bland NPCs named things like “Bar Patron” who offer no dialogue options or flavor text.

I did enjoy Peril on Gorgon, but only up to a point. The strong main quest is peppered with the zany side missions that have become something of a hallmark for Obsidian. But none of the problems that make it feel like a last-gen release were solved. It’s simply average, where many of us had expected more.

Fans are expecting a lot more from Bethesda now too, especially after Fallout 76.

Fallout 76 failed for several reasons, but the common denominator was resources. Bethesda simply couldn’t execute on the promise of an MMO on the scale they had imagined, and those same kinds of issues plague the Outer Worlds DLC. You’re not getting bland NPCs and a deluge of loading screens because they were the best choices for the game. They represent the areas where Obsidian ran into limitations.

While the hype of a Microsoft acquisition implies there will be resources available to surpass a small studio’s limitations, the reality says otherwise. This is where the release of The Elder Scrolls VI enters the picture. Bethesda has long had a reputation for buggy games that attract devoted fans, who often make mods to fix those buggy games. The studio will overhaul its game engine for TES 6 and, although it appears Starfield will be the guinea pig for it, TES 6 will undoubtedly be designed to push that engine to new heights.

You’d expect Microsoft to catch Bethesda if it falls. But Peril on Gorgon may be a sign that there are some falls even a 7.5 billion-dollar safety net won’t catch.

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