Outer Worlds on Switch: A monumental, messy conversion on weak hardware

Patrick

Eight months after its launch on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, The Outer Worlds remains an easy recommendation for a Fallout-caliber single-player adventure (and it’s still part of an Xbox Game Pass subscription). But let’s say you haven’t grabbed the game yet, either because you don’t own those consoles or because you’re waiting for its premiere on PC storefronts like Steam (coming no earlier than this October). Or maybe you just want a portable version.

In that case, is Friday’s launch of a Nintendo Switch port (Amazon, Nintendo eShop) right for you? In our incomplete testing of the Switch version, the answer to that question is fuzzy—about as fuzzy as the port’s resolution and presentation.

Content, frames, and motion controls

In good news, the entire game appears to have been ported with zero cuts to content or apparent changes to level layouts. The opening planet is a good test of the larger game’s sales pitch. You’ll eventually hop from one planet to the next, each with giant fields to traverse, monsters to fight, and citizen-filled towns to contend with. And right from the jump, the game remains the same mechanically. You’ll see a ship’s wreckage in the distance, run a ways to reach it, and find it littered with loot, dead bodies, and dangerous monsters. Then you’ll reach a town full of chatty NPCs, and if you decide to take Obsidian Entertainment up on the devs’ promise of playing however you like and attack the townspeople, the locals will react by running around and fighting back.

Like the other console versions, Outer Worlds on Switch has a 30 frames per second cap, but unlike more powerful consoles, Switch can’t lock to that frame rate at all times. The apparent frame rate chugs as low as 20fps for unpredictable reasons: turning your gaze toward an open field, rotating your view at a high speed (which emphasizes the Switch port’s unbecoming motion blur system), or even walking into a new, tiny room. The latter is a particularly confusing case, and it may point to Unreal Engine 4 loading a new interior chunk of geometry while also juggling objects on the other sides of walls in system RAM.

But you’ll still enjoy 30fps gameplay on the regular, and the exceptions are tolerable enough, even during frenetic combat. To some degree, that’s because Outer Worlds, like its Fallout inspirations, has always been a serviceable combat game, not a precise one. You can customize your hero to have superior abilities in stealth, dodging, melee, or out-of-combat dialogue options, which can all lead to less fighting. Or you can pump up your gun-related stats and take advantage of a “time dilation” ability to focus fire on enemies’ specific body parts (cripple a leg, blind their eyes, etc). You’ll eventually amass quite the weapon arsenal, and the combat on platforms like PC does feel satisfying with keyboard and mouse—but we’re not talking about Quake III Arena here. Controller auto-aim is generous, should you leave the option enabled.

Speaking of: Outer Worlds is one of the growing number of Switch ports to implement motion-based aiming support. This wholly optional toggle works pretty well in action, complete with adjustable sensitivity options. Whether you play the game in “handheld” mode or dock the system and use a pair of Joy-Cons or a Switch Pro Controller, you can toggle two types of motion-based view control: at all times, or only when you hold down the “aim through sights” button.

I am a fan of the latter, as it lets me nudge my hands to line up a precise shot against a foe’s weak point. In either case, this option currently conflicts with auto-aim; whenever your view auto-attaches to a foe, motion control will turn off until you push your right joystick away from the foe. Since this gets in the way of fine-tuning your shots’ aim, we hope the issue gets patched soon.

Lower res, lesser textures, freaky NPCs

But the real crux of the Switch port is that a lot had to give to get this game anywhere near a 30fps refresh. The gallery at the top of the article is damning stuff.

Last year’s Witcher 3 port on Switch was a masterwork in optimization, designed to preserve as many polygons, as much lighting, and as high of texture quality as possible—with its major concession coming from a reduced resolution across the board. The Outer Worlds, in comparison, takes a sledgehammer to the game’s visual quality, with the most obvious downgrade coming from texture quality. In massive outdoor scenes, the game’s presentation borders on N64 levels in terms of fuzzy, low-res textures all over rocks, trees, and foliage.

Even with higher-res assets, the game’s aggressive level of detail (LoD) system turns anything outside of a six-foot radius into a smeary mess. (Should you need help abiding by CDC guidance about safe distances during the COVID-19 era, this game’s blur threshold could prove educational, at least.) While some signs and logos are clear and readable once you get close enough to them—and thank goodness, since the game’s personality is rooted in these artistic touches—many others suffer from unmistakable resolution downgrades.

One particular bummer is that the textures applied to human faces originally split the difference between realistic and exaggerated, particularly in pock-marking the cheeks and jawlines of those who live in the game’s corporate-run dystopia. This port, handled by the international studio Virtuos, is a brute-force downgrade of the original assets, and that’s not great news for the hundreds of tight zooms on NPCs’ faces during conversations. The results are tolerable at best and gross at worst. On top of that, real-time light bounces and shadows are disappointingly low-res throughout the entire adventure.

At least the audio’s good

Had Switch ports for Witcher 3 and Doom not already showed us how Nintendo’s underpowered hardware could be maximized for “impossible” ports, I might have come away more impressed by a fully playable, hobbled version of Outer Worlds. And if this is your only way to play the game, you can look forward to solid action, a massive, explorable world, lots of compelling decisions, and an enjoyable script—meaning, Switch now has its best Fallout-like game yet. Plus, in very good Switch news, Outer Worlds‘ hours of spoken dialogue do not suffer from botched audio compression. This isn’t like Switch’s Dark Souls port, in terms of tinny compression making weapons and voices sound like trash.

But even the “great for portable play” sales pitch suffers from a big issue: Obsidian has opted not to include any form of cloud-save support. You can’t transfer your progress from the Switch version to any other console or PC version, or vice versa. (This pales in comparison to cloud-save support for the likes of Witcher 3 and Divinity: Original Sin 2.) And that makes the visual downgrades much tougher to suggest for anyone who owns other ways to play this game at home.

Listing image by Obsidian Entertainment

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