“If you have Parvati, why do you need a new companion really?
'Outer Worlds' devs are "ready for people to get mad" about the new expansion
Lead narrative designer Nitai Poddar and director Tim Cain shed light on the character-driven approach that sits at the heart of the acclaimed action-RPG's latest DLC.
Murder is always interesting.
Just check Netflix. We’re all inherently fascinated with the prospect of killing, or being killed, or catching killers or killers on-the-loose. The latest DLC for Outer Worlds looks to combine all of that into a story expansion stuffed with the trademark humor that has made the 2019 action RPG such a hit with fans, particularly those who pine for the Fallout: New Vegas glory that developer Obsidian is best known for. Murder on Eridanos is a punchy, murder mystery set in a luxury hotel orbiting a gas giant.
Nitai Poddar, lead narrative designer for Murder on Eridanos, tells Inverse that the new expansion doubles down on the pulpy vibes of Outer Worlds to create a more story-focused experience.
“One of the reasons we went with a murder mystery is that it is, by its nature, character- driven,” Poddar explains. “We wanted something that was rooted in personalities and characters. A murder mystery involves interacting primarily with characters. That changed the development of this DLC into something that was very much NPC driven.”
Inverse spoke with Poddar and Outer Worlds director Tim Cain about bringing this thrilling mystery to life, the challenge of introducing new companions, and the shift to the character-driven approach at the heart of Murder on Eridanos.
Building a whodunit
While there are a litany of NPCs with dialogue options aplenty in Outer Worlds’ latest expansion, one of the most pivotal can’t actually talk to you — because she’s dead. Glitzy actress Halcyon Helen (a.k.a. Ruth Bellamy) appears in a riveting cutscene to start the story that ends with her untimely death. She was on Eridanos to promote a new line of Spectrum vodka for the Rizzo corporation, sparking rumors of corporate sabotage, jealous celebrities, and even a spurned lover. It also might have something to do with all the weird purple slugs hanging off people’s necks (and the massive six-foot ones spewing acid in the wilderness). Like any good gumshoe, you get pulled into the shenanigans because of your “reputation” for being an intergalactic fixer of sorts. It’s a very complicated case with a lot of ins, a lot of outs, and a lot of what-have-yous.
“The hotel and the surrounding area has one of the richest, most exciting, and diverse cast of characters we've ever put into one area,” Poddar says. “You have to guide it with a pretty firm hand to make sure people don't give away the entire game accidentally 30 minutes in.”
It’s a lot of strands to keep straight. Fortunately, there’s a nifty investigation board in your VIP hotel suite to help you keep track. You also get access to a handy new science weapon called the Discrepancy Analyzer, which scans for clues and alerts you when they’re nearby. Anyone expecting deep investigation mechanics with lots of fine detail will be disappointed, but the choice to make the Discrepancy Analyzer so foolproof was deliberate, explains Outer Worlds Co-Game Director Tim Cain.
“I didn't want this to turn into a pixel hunt where you go into a room and have to look at everything through this lens, hoping to find a clue behind the curtain,” he says. “We wanted any kind of player build to make it through the investigation storyline, whether you didn't have certain perks or skills, or were really dumb.”
The Discrepancy Analyzer is a pretty cool gadget, mostly because it has the same dry-but-sassy personality found in other AI in the game. Every investigation offers a variety of dialogue options and skill checks with predictably wry responses from the device reminding you that Outer Worlds is still a place where everything — and everyone — belongs to corporations. “It was supposed to just be a tool that showed you clues,” said Cain. “But the fact that it got created as a thing that interacts with you makes it that much cooler and that much more Outer Worlds-y.”
Thank you for being a friend
The Discrepancy Analyzer is as close as fans are going to get to a new companion in this DLC and — unless plans fundamentally change for Outer Worlds — in the game overall.
The reasons fans are clamoring for a new companion — there are six total in the game — are the same that make adding a new one so difficult. Companions don’t just mindlessly follow you around as pack mules and bullet sponges. Each has an intricate backstory, an array of perks and abilities (including ones that buff the player’s stats), and wholly unique reactions and dialogue for dozens of scenarios throughout the game.
“As you add DLC, the scope of a companion and the amount of work required to integrate that companion into your entire game just magnifies and magnifies. We wanted a game or a DLC that is broader, rather than just being about a companion,” Poddar explains.
Murder on Eridanos supplies plenty for your existing companions to do. Each will have unique dialogue at various points during the investigation. The team at Obsidian recommends multiple playthroughs to explore the different paths the story takes depending on who you have around you during key moments. So while players won’t be getting a new companion to fall in love with, they will get plenty of opportunities to do the things they love with the existing roster.
Of course, the team expects some fans might be angry at the news nonetheless.
“I am ready for people to get mad about it if they want,” Poddar said. “But then I will counter: if you have Parvati, why do you need a new companion really?”
Stories with character
Parvati, the first companion you meet in The Outer Worlds, has already become the game’s standout character. Maybe it’s her Kaylee Frye vibes, or because she got the story’s only romance subplot — either way, fans ate her up. Her popularity is a testament to how well the team at Obsidian develops characters, especially women, something a lot of games still struggle to do.
“We try very hard to make our characters believable in a way even if they exist in a completely absurd setting, and a completely dystopian setting. They are still human beings. I don't know that there is a secret recipe to writing any character well,” Poddar adds. “It’s always done with empathy and compassion for that character and a sense of treating them like actual people.”
Of course, just because Obsidian treats them like real people in the writer’s room doesn’t mean you have to in the game. Murder on Eridanos is full of treachery and trickery and threats. Your role as Inspector consistently puts you in the middle of competing constantly, and you have total control over how you treat the suspects, particularly if you’ve binged one too many true crime documentaries and want to take matters into your own hands.
“I mean, here's a hotel full of suspects. How can you have more fun than that?” said Cain. “And you can kill them! Instead of solving things you can just kill them.”
You can just kill them too when Murder on Eridanos releases later this month for Xbox, PlayStation and PC.