The Outer Worlds and Cyberpunk 2077: Two competing RPG views of the future at E3 2019

One is a space western, the other a dystopian techno-thriller. Both feel familiar, but only one is part of the Keanuaissance.

With games such as The Outer Worlds, Cyberpunk 2077, Doom Eternal, and the briefly spotted new Halo and Gears of War entries, E3 2019 tipped the scales toward dystopian sci-fi over fantasy or modern military games. Maybe it's because these games seem hardly more than small leaps from today. Or maybe because gritty neon hackerspeak futures are just the lingua franca of modern fiction .

Whatever the reason, the two games I've been asked about the most coming out of E3 are The Outer Worlds and Cyberpunk 2077, both different takes on the grandiose sci-fi RPG idea. They also happen to be two games I got to see extensive live gameplay demos of, so that worked out rather nicely.


The Outer Worlds

The Outer Worlds is Fallout reimagined as a space western. That's literally all you need to know about the game. If that idea appeals, then you're going to be all-in.

Set in the far reaches of a distant space colony, the game has the dialog trees, shifting alliances and stealth/actions/diplomacy options of Fallout and Elder Scrolls games. It's made by the same company that developed Fallout: New Vegas (among other role-playing games), and doesn't stray far from its roots.

On one hand, it has the slightly dated, under-detailed look of a Fallout game, but it also has that magical sandbox feel, where endless experimentation can be rewarded with unique experiences. And yes, you can slow down time, like in Fallout, to approach fights tactically.

That's enough for me to sign up, but I'm also not expecting anything shockingly new or genre-breaking.

CD Projekt Red

Cyberpunk 2077

Hugely hyped since last year based on little more than the name and a few pieces on concept art, this game has pulled off an impressive feat. It actually delivers on much of that hype, at least based on a guided hour-long live gameplay demo I witnessed behind closed doors.

It's basically Deus Ex by way of the TV series Mr. Robot. It's more ambitious than The Outer Worlds, and it shows. The environments are much more detailed, the character interactions vary beyond the Skyrim/Fallout carnival automaton model and the voice acting and dialog, while not fantastic, at least feel like everyone involved is doing more than just phoning it in.

Oddly, the most underwhelming part of the Cyberpunk 2077 demo, which involved playing a few factions off each other to gain the favor of an underworld boss, was Keanu himself. His supporting role is a cyber ghost of some kind, offering guidance and encouragement (you know, like in Topper), but in the few scenes I previewed, his performance didn't spark much excitement. More Ted "Theodore" Logan than John Wick. But that's just from a handful of lines, maybe he's more animated (no pun intended) in the rest of the game.

Also, I don't want to worry anyone, but he's got a metal arm, and his character's name is Johnny Silverhand. 

The dark themes, neon architecture and shady hacker types are all well-worn tropes, but the gritty world-building and excellent visuals (no doubt powered by a high-end PC in this demo session) are spot-on.

While these two games feel very different, it's interesting that both wrap their drama in themes of corrupt capitalism, exploited masses and the technological-industrial complex. While you're fighting The Man, just try not to dwell too much on the involvement of companies like Microsoft, Take-Two Interactive and other game biz giants. 

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