My other-half had been eagerly awaiting the release of The Outer Worlds for weeks before it came out. All the talk online referring to it as Fallout 5 had reignited my stepson’s obsession, and the pair of them could frequently be found together discussing news about the game.
I was the odd one out in our family. I may have had a vague curiosity about what Obsidian Entertainment’s RPG would be like but it was nowhere near the level shown by Pete and Ethan. Since the release of Fallout 76 and Red Dead Redemption 2 last year, I’ve become extremely aware of how hype around new big-budget titles reaches ridiculous heights; and even though the attention surrounding The Outer Worlds wasn’t as crazy, it was enough to put me off and make me steer clear of reading anything about the game.
It didn’t stop me from watching Pete play it for a while though. When he asked if he could take over the living-room television one Saturday evening, I saw it as a good opportunity to get in some backseat-gaming while lounging on the sofa with a bar of chocolate. But although I could appreciate how pretty the game was, and how much effort the artists had put into its design, it just wasn’t holding my attention in the same way it did with my husband – I ended up dozing off after a couple of hours while he continued on.
There was one thing I remember being surprised by before falling asleep however. Very early on in the title, Pete approached an abandoned box in the hope it contained something valuable to aid him on his journey. When putting it in focus, he was offered the opportunity to lockpick – but rather than being presented with the sort of mini-game we’ve all come to expect from RPGs when selecting to do so, the crate simply opened. No challenge, no pressure – just an open lid.
Why had the developers made this decision? I came across an article published on Polygon recently that may hold the answer. As author Patricia Hernandez wrote last month: “The Outer Worlds seems to do everything in its power to remove friction from the experience, instead opting to get me back into the action as quickly and as smoothly as possible.” It’s all part of a ‘pragmatic philosophy’ built into the title’s design, so it isn’t weighed down with filler content to increase gameplay length unnecessarily.
But removing lockpicking though, a standard part of most RPG releases? I wondered how players felt about mini-games for these situations and out of 14 responses to my tweet, they were a complete mix of opinions. Anthony from Videogame Crosstalk said: “Actually, ya! A quick break from the usual gameplay and makes it a bit more immersive, even if the minigame itself is unrealistic.” But Cameron from Dragon In The Castle felt the opposite and told me: “Not in the slightest. Fiddly bloody things.”
Do you enjoy hacking / lock-picking mini-games in your RPGs? 🤔 https://t.co/fsey8G0BF1—
Later Levels (@LaterLevels) October 26, 2019
So what it is that people don’t like about these mechanics? I think Rob from I Played The Game! may have hit on something when he said: “Like with so many mini-games, I like them until I’ve worked out how to ‘solve’ them. Then they’re just a chore you need to get through.” Katie from The Gaming Diaries said: “Depends on if I can do them!” And Shelby from Falcon Game Reviews even picked up on the inspiration for this post: “Honestly, while playing The Outer Worlds, I’ve grown to love not needing them.”
I can understand these points and the decision to leave out the mini-games does fit in with that ‘pragmatic philosophy’ Hernandez referred to in the article mentioned above. The older we get, the more adult responsibilities come our way and these all result in a reduction in the number of spare hours we’re able to devote to gaming. When we do get a chance to play, we don’t want to spend it on a mechanic that seems unnecessarily – or even worse, one that lessens our enjoyment of the overall gaming experience.
Personally though, I feel a little sad that the designers made the choice to not include lockpicking mini-games in The Outer Worlds. It’s one of the aspects I enjoy about The Elder Scrolls Online: those moments when you find a chest hidden from plain sight and have to complete the challenge before the timer runs out. It’s even more thrilling when you discover one that’s a ‘Master’ and another player is right behind you; can you get this difficult box open and claim the loot inside, or will you fail and give your follower the opportunity to jump in?
It just feels strange that something as complex – and in certain respects, dangerous – in real-life as lockpicking can be reduced to a single button-press. The absence of a challenge you participate in seems to make the event less important somehow. Now, as described by Hernandez: “If you have a high enough stat, or if you have the right tools, you just press and hold a button for a couple of seconds and voila: you did the thing. That’s it. That’s the whole idea.”
But then video games are a way of escaping reality, and busy players don’t want to spend their time fiddling with hair-pins. I’m still torn though. Have you played The Outer Worlds and how do you feel about its lack of lockpicking mini-games? I’d be interested in hearing your opinion.