How could anyone smile with an eight-inch parasitic slug gnawing on their jugular?
That’s The Outer Worlds for you, ever committed to the bit. Even hapless NPCs are in on it. Obsidian’s 2019 action RPG is defined by its narrative excesses. Strip away the pithy dialogue, scorching anti-capitalist satire and heaps of hysterical flavor text and you’d be left with a generic first-person sandbox experience. The combat is not particularly thrilling, the mechanics not especially inventive, and the maps not very big. Instead, it’s got enough personality to pass any charisma check.
It’s a game predicated on meticulous world-building. NPCs aren’t just signposting quests, they heighten the atmosphere. Parasitic slugs aren’t that out of place and your resulting dialogue options convey everything from disgust to concern to cynicism to <Attack>. For better or worse (mostly better) this latest and final bit of DLC, Murder on Eridanos, drills down into that core for an expansion that offers a compelling reason to take your crew of companions on one last spin aboard The Unreliable. For there is a murderer afoot!
A sprawling whodunit
The plot of Murder on Eridanos begins simply enough — solve a murder. An intergalactic starlet named Halcyon Helen dies mysteriously at a posh hotel on Eridanos while promoting a new line of vodka called Rizzo’s Spectrum Brown. This leaves no shortage of suspects: her spurned ex-lover, a jealous co-star, a shady gangster at odds with her corporate sponsors, and any of the people with slugs on their necks who get “too happy” and start killing. (The slugs are the secret ingredient in Spectrum Brown, hence their prevalence on Eridanos.) A bigshot corporate administrator hires you to be the lead Inspector based on your “reputation.” New players can’t just waltz into the DLC, it’s level capped at 20 and requires a handful of main story quests to be completed first.
There are also a handful of bizarre sidequests scattered across Eridanos. Obsidian keeps a dark edge running through the writing, so the moment things approach the precipice of cartoonish something grim pulls them back. Often it’s the death of an NPC. Predictably, a DLC with “murder” in the title has a high body count.
Unfortunately, all of this intricate branching leads to few outcomes at the end. I was satisfied with the ending and the twists it threw my way, but I would’ve appreciated more late-game consequences. For example, after officially accusing a suspect in my final report, nothing had changed when we spoke again. They gave me the same stock line they did when I exhausted the dialogue options during my investigation. That I was excited to run to them in the first place is a testament to how well the game builds characters, but that little bit extra just wasn’t there at the end.
Story over gunplay
You’ll conduct your investigation through conversations with NPCs and by deciphering clues uncovered by a tool called the Discrepancy Analyzer. The devs have a good explanation for why they made investigations so foolproof, but in a game that delights in hidden jokes and found narrative the Discrepancy Analyzer doesn’t do anything extra. You can’t point it at random objects and get rewarded with zingers. It tells you when clues are near and you look for them. That’s about all.
The saving grace is that the Discrepancy Analyzer AI is quite funny. It has a personality similar to ADA, the AI onboard The Unreliable. A range of dialogue options gives you incentive to replay scenes. This is true of your companions too. All of them tend to have something unique and interesting to say during key moments, so it's worth switching out your squad to see what everyone's thinking.
You’ll also want access to the range of buffs each companion provides — there are a lot of skill checks in this DLC. This delighted me, but if you get debilitated by analysis paralysis and obsess over what you may have missed, this expansion will try your patience. (I’d recommend investing in Science, Hacking, Medical, Engineering, and Lockpicking.)
You needn’t worry too much about gunplay here. Combat never was Outer Worlds’ strong suit, and there’s more of the same in this DLC. You have a huge arsenal at your disposal, especially if you’ve finished the main game, but there’s no need to go diving into the minutiae. Most enemies are slug-hosting humans or human-sized slugs, and don’t require any tactics or precision. Upping the difficulty makes enemies stronger, not smarter, so that’s not much help either. The final boss fight is basically one big bullet sponge.
If you’re here for story-driven gameplay, then there’s a lot to enjoy. If you have your sights set on epic gun fights, you’d best aim elsewhere.
Murder on Eridanos is the nicest this game has looked, hands down. The wide-open, inviting, breathtaking landscape punctuated by purples and pinks and huge rolling clouds. The map itself is divided into a few key areas connected by massive skybridges. This is a nice departure from the onerous loading screens that plagued the main game. All of the interior spaces have an art deco vibe, with supremely polished marble and glistening brass fixtures. Take the time to look around, especially in the distillery, which houses a museum of sorts.
The quality of the NPCs and overall background dialogue has improved over the last DLC. There are quite a few unique characters to talk to, and each one adds a bit more color to the story and the world.
Murder On Eridanos delivers on its promise of an intriguing mystery tale set in an exotic locale. Talking to the rich cast of characters is a lot of fun and the plot will keep you guessing until the very end — and likely fool you, too. Some unresolved story threads, paint-by-waypoints investigation, and dull-as-dishwater combat undercut the experience, but if you’ve already made it through the 10+ hours of main game content to get there, odds are you’ll find Murder on Eridanos a murder most fair, indeed. 7/10
Murder on Eridanos is available March 17 for PC, PlayStation and Xbox consoles. No release date for Nintendo Switch has been announced.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)