Locks, mini-games and The Outer Worlds

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.”

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.

18 thoughts on “Locks, mini-games and The Outer Worlds

  1. I feel that security bypassing mechanics need to be entertaining on their own to be in a game. I never found the lockpicking in Skyrim to be that much fun. Dead Space 2 & 3 have some interesting minigames/mechanics for bypassing systems. Bioshock also has that nice hacking minigame that’s like a piping puzzle. I find those are much more enjoyable ’cause they’re logic puzzles or just puzzles in their own right, and well, you know I love a good puzzle


    • I really liked the lockpicking in Skyrim – but I think that might have something to do with what Katie said. If I wasn’t as good at it then there’s a chance I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much! ha ha

      I’d much rather have a mini-game than not, I think. It’s a change of pace from the usual gameplay and means that something as important as lockpicking isn’t reduced to a passing incident.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I could take it or leave it to be honest! I think I would have to agree with what Rob said – I usually enjoy it for the first hour or so of playing, when it offers some challenge. But once I’ve got the hang of it, having to do it over and over feels tedious. Overall, I haven’t missed it whilst playing The Outer Worlds.


    • I definitely think I’m in the minority here ha ha! I’ve watched my other-half play The Outer Worlds a couple of times since writing this post and it feels weird that there’s no lockpicking mini-game. Maybe developers should consider implementing a setting where you can select whether you want them in your game or not… but would that result in most players turning them off? 🤔


      • That wouldn’t be a bad idea! Or they could even work it so that you start off having to do it, and then either by perks, a not-too-high level threshold, or something similar, you actually become skilled enough to be able to skip to minigame and get straight down to business!


        • That sounds like a perfect solution! Like, you’ve become so amazingly awesome through all the experience gained that you can just look at the lock and they unpick themselves. 😆


  3. The lack of lock picking hasn’t actually crossed my mind. For me, so far the lack of any exciting storyline is the thing I’m more concerned about!

    I don’t think I’m too far in, I’ve explored 3 different ‘worlds/environments’ but the whole “capitalism is bad” angle that seems to influence every conversation and mission is getting really tiresome 😭.

    Its a beautiful looking game. The design of the title screen with the scewed logo and buildup of music always makes me excited to jump back in… until I jump back in.

    Hoping things change up soon!


    • My other-half hasn’t finished the game yet so I haven’t seen the story for myself, but a few friends have said similar things about the story. It’s a shame because I’d really like a nice RPG to get caught up in over the Christmas break.

      I love the ship on the title screen! It makes me think of Red Dwarf for some reason. 😆


  4. Most lockpicking minigames are tedious and unrealistic. Still, whatever class I play, be it an almighty mage or a fearless warrior, the first thing I always max out are my thievery skills (lockpicking, sneaking, talking, etc). Therefore, I kind of like the deliberate step of taking me out of whatever I’m “supposed” to do.

    What if developers just included the option not to have those minigames? Just tick a box in the gameplay options. I don’t believe that it could be very hard to program. So people who like them get all the minigames, and people who just want the action can play through the game “frictionless”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m in a similar boat, though after doing these tasks a few times I’d rather not. The idea of having the option to enable or disable them at will though…there’s some merit to that me thinks.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I mean, we have all kind of options nowadays. Story-modes with harmless enemies, explicit content cut out, and various other assists (you probably know Mark Brown’s videos about that).

        Come to think of it, a lot of games already have the option to “auto-attempt” certain gameplay modes. So I see no reason why there shouldn’t be an option to say “Nah, I don’t want this kind of stuff any longer”.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I still enjoy the lock picking in Fallout 4 but I didn’t miss it in The Outer Worlds, or Far Cry 5… I appreciated the shorter than usual length of The Outer Worlds. Omg I can’t believe you fell asleep!


    • Yeah… sorry about that… there just wasn’t enough happening in terms of the story to keep me awake. I did like the character of Parvati though – although that could be because she’s voiced by Ashly Burch!


  6. I like lock-picking mini-games, but I don’t play many super long RPGs so maybe they could get tedious after a while. Put me in the camp that would rather have them than not though.


    • Awesome, another vote for lockpicking ha ha! It just seems like there’s something missing from The Outer Worlds whenever I’ve watched my other-half play it.


    • I was discussing the possibility of making lockpicking in games optional with hobbitsofhyrule above, so those who enjoy them can do the mini-games and those who don’t (or feel like they’ve played too many!) can turn them off. It seems like that might be a good way to go for developers!


  7. Pingback: Around the Network | MoeGamer

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