The Outer Worlds for Nintendo Switch Review
Minimum viable product.
The Outer Worlds launched last October to strong reviews, but the Nintendo Switch port was no where to be seen. Turns out it wasn’t quite ready for the limelight, and developer Obsidian and port-partner Virtuos eventually revealed The Outer Worlds would drop on the Nintendo Switch in March of 2020. Then COVID-19 shut everything down, and the port was indefinitely delayed.
Here we are – finally at the end of the tunnel – and The Outer Worlds is out on the Switch. Does it reach the same lofty heights as Virtuos’ more recent ports, or was it pulled out of cryogenic storage too soon? Well, we didn’t write new reviews for either BioShock: The Collection, or the Borderlands Legendary Collection because we felt those ports lived up to their original releases, yet here we are . . . .
The Outer Wilds on Nintendo Switch is not the best choice, it’s the lesser choice.
Let’s get this out of the way out of the gate: Virtuos’ recent ports were of last-gen games with some current-gen upgrades, whereas The Outer Worlds is very much a modern game. Virtuos had their work cut out for them, though formerly “impossible” ports like The Witcher 3 on the Nintendo Switch proved a capable team could in fact make even the most visually lush and graphically demanding games work on Nintendo’s hybrid console without sacrificing every bell and whistle.
Sadly, The Outer Worlds does not join the board of excellent Switch ports. It’s barely capable of grabbing their coffee. It is a rough looking, mediocre performing addition to the Switch’s growing third-party library, though it’s clear Virtuos tried their damnedest to get this one over the line (so much so that much of what you’re going to read below had to be rewritten at the 11th hour thanks to a Day 1 patch that brought performance up from “terrible” to “mostly acceptable.” The joys of early code).
The work they put into making The Outer Worlds even playable on the Nintendo Switch is immediately obvious the moment you land in the Emerald Vale. Unless you haven’t played the game yet, it’s evident that the graphical adjustments made to The Outer Worlds are on the extreme end of the spectrum. Textures are even lower resolution than those found on PC at the lowest settings, lighting is washed out and what real-time shadows did survive the purge are lumpy messes, foliage and trees are missing by the forest, and on average the resolution is well below the “targeted” thresholds.
This was all in docked, mind you. Handheld fares far worse, with a dynamic resolution that is more often than not sitting at half the targeted 720p resolution. This is a muddy, ugly looking port when the game is able to reach peak resolution (usually when your indoors), but in play, out in the world, it’s like I’m playing a forgotten PlayStation 2 title.
The UI sticks to 1080p and 720p in both docked and handheld respectively, which is a boon considering how murky the overall image is. Even when standing directly in front of a Spacer’s Choice billboard the textures are low enough to render it nigh unreadable. That’s assuming they load of course, because even with the Day 1 HD textures most assets take upwards of thirty seconds to swap over to their more legible counterparts. Switch ports of modern games typically require many graphical nips and tucks to run on the system’s mobile hardware, but The Outer Worlds has had whole organs removed.
Even the game’s unique, stylized art design can’t overcome these vast reductions and removals. Everything in the game looks flat and lifeless, and because texture streaming takes an eon to cycle between “incredibly shitty textures” to “mostly shitty textures” the vast majority of assets in the port appear as if they’re placeholders from an alpha build. There were even times where I would physically outrun the rendering pipepline and either be stopped dead in my tracks as the game froze with a buffering icon, or find myself in an area where entire assets – such as characters, props, and static shadows – had yet to load.
If you don’t believe me then compare these two screenshots of the Botanical Labs outside Edgewater in the Emerald Vale – the first here is from the PC version running at the lowest settings available at 720p resolution:
And the second is from the Nintendo Switch port running as low as it can go in handheld mode:
Even The Witcher 3, which is arguably a more difficult game for the Switch to run, looks better than this. The culling of visual quality is so stark, and the resolution drops so extreme, that you’d hope the game could at least hold a stable 30 frames-per-second. Before the Day 1 patch that was no where near the case, but since the update it does come closer than it did before.
To give you an idea as to how bad performance was prior to the patch, here’s a snippet from the original draft of this review I wrote prior to this last minute Hail Mary: “the only time I held a stable 30 frames-per-second in The Outer Worlds for the Nintendo Switch was when I was indoors and had absolutely no one near me. The moment an enemy or NPC entered the scene the frame-rate started to drop into the mid to low twenties, and when in the middle of a firefight with alpha effects popping off it fell as low as the mid-teens.”
Thank the Board this isn’t the case any longer, because prior to the patch the performance was so bad I couldn’t soundly recommend this port to anyone. I mean . . . it’s still a hard port to recommend at its current price-point, but more on that in a bit. Needless to say there are still issues with performance, and combat out in the world continues to cause the frame-rate to drop; it’s simply tolerable now, as compared to unplayable.
To be blunt, if you have any other way to play The Outer Worlds then the Nintendo Switch port is a hard sell. If you only own a Switch then it’s passable, but it’ll cost you more to play it on Nintendo’s hybrid than any other platform (gotta love that “Switch Tax”). The port looks terrible, and performance is so middling that it’s hard to suggest it to anyone other than the faithful dying to take The Outer Worlds on the go. An ugly Switch port of a popular third-party title can usually justify its existence if, at a minimum, it runs well in handheld mode. The Outer Worlds barely clears that hurdle, and comes with a premium price-tag.
The Outer Worlds for the Nintendo Switch is selling for the full $60 retail price. Considering the quality of the port and how cheap the game can be purchased elsewhere this feels like a bit of an insult. If you have a budget PC or an Xbox you can play The Outer Worlds for less than $10 thanks to Xbox Game Pass. You can buy it for half-off at the time of this review on the PlayStation 4. Hell, you can find a physical release for either the Xbox or PlayStation sitting around $40 to $30 these days. There are so many superior ways to play The Outer Worlds that the full retail price here makes it all the harder to suggest the game.
I went into The Outer Worlds on Nintendo Switch with high hopes: if The Witcher 3 could find a home on the Switch, then so could Obsidian’s recent gem – especially if the savants behind the sublime Borderlands and BioShock ports were handling it. But reality is often cruel, and it likes to remind us nothing is certain. The Day 1 patch certainly came to the rescue, and it was enough to convince me that maybe, just maybe, the game will improve over time, but the quality at launch doesn’t hold much bang for your dollar.
The Outer Worlds for the Nintendo Switch is an admirable, yet mediocre port of an otherwise great game – end of story. It runs well enough to justify its existence, but at the current asking price you’re better off playing Obsidian’s latest elsewhere.
- This article was updated on:June 4th, 2020
The Outer Worlds
- Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
- Published By: Private Division
- Developed By: Obsidian Entertainment, Virtuos
- Genre: First-Person Role-Playing Game
- US Release Date: June 5th, 2020
- Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
- Quote: "The Outer Worlds for the Nintendo Switch is an admirable, yet mediocre port of an otherwise great game - end of story. It runs well enough to justify its existence, but at the current asking price you're better off playing Obsidian's latest elsewhere."