The Outer Worlds on Switch Got a Radical Visual Makeover
When Obsidian’s seminal RPG The Outer Worlds first launched on the Nintendo Switch earlier this year, I happily played through its 30+ hours of energetic space adventuring for a second time…though I did so with gritted teeth. The game was rough, and in my review I called it the worst way to play a great game.
The visuals were a smeary mess, looking like they had been performance- tuned by automated machine systems rather than by human developers. Performance would be fine one moment and drop in half the next for no apparent reason. Some graphical features that were integral to the game’s visual makeup were entirely missing, and other demanding high- performance features were inexplicably still enabled in spite of pushing the limits of the Switch’s mobile video hardware.
Now, ahead of the still-undated launch of the Peril on Gorgon DLC on Nintendo’s handheld, the game has received a huge patch (view the official notes here). This update tweaks the graphics dramatically. It adds in several new effects, while also being better optimized for the unique aspects of the Switch hardware. The result is an awesome combo of better visuals that run at a higher frame rate.
I’ve played the first few hours of the game over again to check it out, and the most immediately noticeable upgrades are the delightful volumetric clouds and the use of screen space ambient occlusion. The gentle, pillow-like clouds are a huge part of the visual style of the game’s many different otherworldly locations, and they all felt almost naked without them in the original build. The SSAO offers a subtle layer of increased shading and lighting detail to the game’s environments and characters, preventing them from having the flat, bland look they suffered from before.
Performance is also much better across both combat and exploration in my early experience, thanks to a clever mix of rebuilt normal maps, re-optimized models, and the reduction of a few graphics settings. That’s right, they actually cut some stuff out. Characters no longer use subsurface scattering for enhanced skin detail, though they were rendered at a low enough resolution to begin with that this was hard to notice and did little but sap performance. Similarly, screen space reflections have been mostly replaced with Unreal Engine 4’s “Spherical capture” baked reflections model (read more about UE4’s reflection techniques here). The result is that the reflections in the game aren’t as precisely detailed, but they appear in more places now, they run faster, and they can persist in some cases even when reflected objects aren’t on-screen.
And, although characters lost some of their surface detail, they gained back some polygons in their outfits that help prevent their clothes from clipping through their shoulders. Also, background depth-of-field is now fully active during conversations, giving the dialogue sequences an extra heaping of visual pop that they were sorely missing before.
Across the first couple hours of the game, I’ve noticed none of the dramatic performance drops that I saw during my original playthrough, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing the return of the clouds and the new lighting effects. The game still isn’t as technically impressive as its showings on other hardware, of course. It maintains a slightly soft look overall due to its lower rendering and texture resolutions, and every music file in the game is still presented in poorly-compressed mono sound that doesn’t do the game’s excellent score justice.
Still, the Nintendo Switch version of The Outer Worlds is now a much better way to play the game than it used to be. It’s not as close of a port to the original version as other big Switch RPG efforts like The Witcher 3 or Skyrim, but it’s in the state now that it probably should have been in when it first released. If this build had come out back in June, reviews would have been much kinder, I’d wager. It now feels like it received some proper care and coding attention to play to the Nintendo Switch’s strengths, whereas before it felt like algorithms had just randomly cut stuff until the game booted.
I’d still heartily recommend playing the game on a PC, Xbox, or PlayStation system if you have access to those platforms, but if you’re a Switch-first gamer looking for a big RPG, this is now within the realm of technical acceptability. In fact, the upgrade is big enough that I’m now eager to take one more thirty hour run through the game.