It’s hard for a port of The Outer Worlds to be disappointing. But even though the Nintendo Switch version of one of 2019’s best gaming experiences should be celebrated simply for existing, there’s no denying that this conversion has many flaws.
By flaws, ultimately I mean that it highlights just how difficult a task it can be porting such a large, memory-hungry game to the Nintendo Switch. It’s not like it can’t be done; titles like Diablo 3 and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus have impressively made the move over to the hybrid console with forgivable compromises. The recent Nintendo version of Borderlands: Legendary Collection also slides along smoothly.
The Outer Worlds, a galactic riff of Fallout that’s every bit as good as Obsidian Entertainment’s beloved New Vegas, can be downright ugly at times. The environmental assets, character models and overall build looks like a N64 game at its very worst moments, even going so far as to think in-game loading and frequent pop-in effects would be in any way acceptable in this day and age.
Luckily, the visuals flaws are easy to get used to when you have gameplay and a story this absorbing. Think of it as the perfect metaphor for the age-old “do graphics or gameplay matter more?” argument. This is clearly evidence for the latter, but the other half of the argument puts up a good fight.
Do Bad Graphics Effect Gameplay?
Exploration is key in such a beautifully realised RPG-action game. The Outer Worlds has been lovingly created with vastly different worlds, fun side-missions and well-written NPCs. This makes it a game inextricably tied to its atmosphere, which doesn’t bode well for the Switch version.
While a lot of the foliage has, understandably, been removed all together to make this port function, the worlds now feel barren and empty. What on PS4 would feel like dense tropical jungles, here presents itself as vast and dull landscapes almost similar to a desert map. It’s depressing at times, and really sucks you out of the original universe that was built so meticulously for this story.
Character models are bad enough, especially from a distance, but environmental texture resolution can be atrocious in what should be richer settings. It’s bad enough that the framerate is unstable, barely staying at 30fps during the quieter moments. Then there’s the glaring issue of pop-in assets, encroaching on gameplay in the thick of things.
This isn’t really an issue when you’re indoors, but when you’re out in the overworld, particularly while running, the sudden appearance of assets can take you by surprise and completely break the fluidity.
For example, I was running through a small town on one of the most first “big battle” missions and a group of five enemies didn’t actually pop into the game until I was literally standing in the middle of them. They immediately piled on and I almost died. Rarely do performance issues effect gameplay that much, but they do here.
It’s unforgivable enough that blurry textures make long-distance combat much more difficult, but even when you’re up close in places like the Botanical Lab, the dim lighting and dull rendering can make it hard to actually navigate.
This isn’t to say The Outer Worlds is completely unplayable. It would take a hell of a lot to break the otherwise fantastic gameplay. Nothing about the story or how it unfolds has been changed here, so even if handheld mode performs poorly, being able to play through this while on the go is a feat itself. The fact that the Nintendo Switch is even running a game like this is impressive.
Loading times are similarly unimpressive. It’s not uncommon to be waiting around 30 seconds just to transition into another map, or to respawn. There were times I avoided combat out of fear of dying, not because of the dying per se, but because I just didn’t want to have that load time suck me out of the game.
Sure, there were always going to be hefty compromises to make The Outer Worlds work on the Nintendo Switch. And all things considered, this is a worthy job and the entire game is as addictive as ever. Besides, it’s as buggy and choppy as Fallout 3 and New Vegas were on the PS3, and the graphics play within that class as well. If you enjoyed those games, you’ll be able to tolerate this.
But there is something as too much compromise. And The Outer Worlds for Switch certainly crosses that line more often than not.
It’s hard to recommended this if you have other consoles to play on, but since The Outer Worlds is still one of the best action-RPGs released in the past few years, those who only have a Switch would be foolish to pass on this.
You can check out our full 4.5 star review of the Xbox One X version HERE.
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Still the same outstanding, award-winning game; portable play is valuable for time-consuming titles like this.
Lowlights: Frame rate terribly unstable; pop-ins are common and annoying; unacceptable load times; clumsy visual compromises; atmosphere has been largely destroyed.
Developer: Private Division
Publisher: Nintendo Switch / also available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One
Review based on retail code supplied by the publisher.