The Outer Worlds DLC Investigates “Peril On Gorgon”

The Outer Worlds was one of GameSpot’s Best Games of 2019, an Obsidian RPG with a spacefaring setting and a distinct outlook on corporate power and politics. Obsidian finished the year with a vague promise of more to come, but now we’ve finally received more details. During Microsoft’s Xbox Series X event, Obsidian showed off the first major expansion, Peril on Gorgon. It’s coming to PC, PS4, and Xbox One on September 9.

The expansion takes you to the Gorgon asteroid, an abandoned Halcyon research site that has been taken over by marauders. A wealthy recluse named Minnie Ambrose asks you to find answers about what happened to the project director, her mother Dr. Olivia Ambrose, starting the gumshoe-style mystery. Obsidian promises new characters and enemies, three new science weapons like the melee Pest Extermination Tool (PET), and more character customization with an increased level cap and more perks and flaws to unlock.

For more insight about Peril on Gorgon, GameSpot spoke with game director Carrie Patel and art director Matt Hansen. They talked about where this content fits into the main narrative, how it looks to appeal to Outer Worlds veterans with new specialized skills, and the way Gorgon can impact the main campaign’s ending. You can read the full interview below.

What’s the quick, elevator pitch for Peril on Gorgon?

Carrie Patel: So Peril On Gorgon is a pulp-noir take on the Outer Worlds. It’s set on the Gorgon asteroid, which is the site of a now-defunct Spacers Choice facility where Adrena-Time was manufactured and developed. As a player, you’re going to be exploring that location to uncover the mystery of what happened with this project and why it was canceled so suddenly–and in classic Obsidian fashion, making some pretty important choices along the way that are going to have big impacts for life on Halcyon.

You called it pulp-noir, and the title evokes that. How does that come through in the narrative and how does the art direction express that idea?

Matt Hansen: I think one of the things that sells pulp so well is the idea of heavy contrasts. But within those contrasts, also having a sense of moral and spatial ambiguity, which is a really tricky thing to pull off. And we’ve tried to do that with the spaces themselves. They’re very drastic landscapes, very drastic and powerful dungeon spaces that despite their drama, tell a very nuanced story that I think helps really pull the player in and make them feel like they’re a part of this grander scheme.

Patel: I think a big trope of noir and one thing that there’s so much fun to play with is the idea that the story is always bigger than what you see on the surface. And so both with the player’s introduction, their narrative introduction to Gorgon and also what they are in the process of uncovering. I think we’ve nested several layers of intrigue and mystery and questionable motivations that I think play very well with a lot of the core themes of the outer world space game as a place that is run by these corporations that don’t have people’s best interests at heart. And that kind of a complicated bureaucratic nest of the chairman and other characters who were really just looking out for their own interests.

Hansen: It’s funny, Carrie you mentioned there’s something more beneath the surface. And that is very literally the case with a lot of our areas as well. As you’re exploring the Gorgon asteroid, you see these facades of these facilities, they’re all built into the mountainsides. And when you go in, they open up into these massive dungeons.

When you call it noir, it sounds as if there’s a central mystery, like you’re a gumshoe. A big part of Outer Worlds’ appeal is you can play it the way that you want to play it. So how do you approach a mystery with that level of player choice?

Patel: I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a story that you’re sent to uncover and you were introduced to the DLC by a character who very much fits that recognizable trope of the noir private eye. And so you’re brought in to help somebody uncover a very personal story. And in the course of exploring that personal story, that’s when you get enmeshed in something bigger, as that noir trope goes.

So that allowed us to nest a larger corporate story of something that affects the entire colony within something that is very deeply personal. And it is driven by personal character-focused motivations.

Hansen: One of the critical goals of Obsidian is to allow players to play games the way they want to play them. “Our worlds, their way,” that’s our motto. And that is something that we did a really good job with on the base game of Outer Worlds. And it’s something that we wanted to perpetuate in the DLC, but one of the fantasies that a lot of players got really excited about, but didn’t necessarily feel like they got to fully flesh out, was this idea of a Han Solo type, a system-hopping spacer.

And so through the DLC we’ve created a playground for that fantasy to exist while also preserving all of those other really enjoyable pieces that players have. You can still be the charismatic corporate sleazeball if you want, you can still be the righteous person of the people and you can absolutely still be a psychopathic murderer going on through and killing everyone that you meet.

The Outer Worlds was certainly coming from a perspective, with a view of corporations and how they had influenced the future. Is that something that we’re going to see further explored in this?

Patel: The fact is, in the world of Halcyon, the corporations have intentionally or unintentionally ended up dictating the way people’s lives progress throughout the colony. And one of the things that I think is very interesting about the world is just the idea that the terrible things that happen are not even always the result of deliberate choices.

Nobody in the corporation set out and said, “Yes, let’s utterly ruin this place, that sounds fun.” But you have a lot of people who are motivated by greed and self-interest and not held accountable for anything. And the consequences then are that people look out for themselves and take actions that benefit them in the short-term and pay little attention to the long-term consequences. And that is absolutely something that we’ll see in Peril On Gorgon.

In the Outer Worlds campaign, a lot of people remarked about the conflict on the very first planet. It seemed so obvious at first that the corporation was in the wrong, but it surprised players that it was more complex than that. How do you write around that idea and continuously surprise the player?

Patel: So some of it, I think, is just about recognizing the complexity of a situation like that. And a lot of it actually comes down to character motives. Part of the reason that situation is so fraught is because you’re not just deciding what is good or bad on principle, you’re also thinking about, “But how is this actually going to affect more people? And how complicit or not complicit are those people in the situation that they’re in? What do I have the responsibility to do on principle? What responsibility do I have to just help as many people as I can?”

Is this post-campaign content or mid-campaign. Could it be either, is it flexible in that way?

Hansen: It’s pretty mid-campaign content. Once the player has completed the Monarch critical path quest, the next time they try to travel somewhere, the DLC will trigger and they’ll have access to that DLC content all the way up through the point-of-no-return save where you go to Tartarus. So it’s slotted pretty seamlessly into the game. And at any point you can go in and out of that expansion content as well. You can start your experience on Gorgon, decide a couple of quests through that you want to go figure out what’s going on elsewhere and come back to it later. And of course, you have the choice of never completing it. You get partway through and say, “All right, well, let’s see what happens in the end if I ignore all of this.” There’s a payoff for that as well.

So you can actually just leave it unfinished and that’ll play into the campaign ending?

Hansen: Yes.

Some people coming to this will have finished the campaign. When you have people that are obviously going to be very high-level and very proficient at a certain kind of build, does that present any design challenges?

Hansen: Certainly. And thankfully, it’s a challenge that encourages some creative solutions and those solutions have manifested in ways that I think players will really enjoy. So it’s high-level content, the game is intended to be played by players of level 25 or higher. Enterprising folks can definitely attempt it at an earlier level if they wish, but it’ll be a severe challenge. But in doing that, we also wanted to, like you said, increase the opportunities for players that have specced themselves out in a specific way.

So we’ve increased the level cap by three levels, introduced a number of new perks and flaws and also some really cool new skill unlocks that allow you to be a master of the thing that you’ve really invested in. So if you’re really good with handguns, you can invest that much more into it and suddenly unlock some pretty wild gameplay options.

You mentioned master-level perks. Was that thought from the beginning when you were first developing the game throughout? You knew eventually you wanted to make these next level-ups or was it something new that you had to conceptualize?

Hansen: I would say, we knew out of the gate, if we were going to be increasing the level cap, we’d need to be increasing options that are available to players during that. Because if you’re playing a generalist, it’s very easy to find what you want to do with those extra levels. If you’re playing a really specific place style, it would feel bad if you’re like, “Okay, I’ve got these extra skill points, I guess I’ll put them in this other thing that I never use.”

How that stuff manifested was absolutely an investigative and trial-and-error process and had a lot of back and forth with the QA team to make sure the stuff is functional and playing well while also trying to find really creative outlets to make you feel superhuman at that point with some of those abilities. So I’d say it was always a goal to provide that stuff, but how it manifested has been an ongoing exploration.

What is the actual asteroid setting like, on Gorgon?

Patel: So it’s a canyon environment. One of the things that from a gameplay perspective we’re pretty excited about, is playing more with the verticality and the design of this space. You’ve got spots where you narrow into this more focused tunnel area and then spots that really opened up into larger player arenas.

And we’ve got areas where you can obviously see a facility or a housing block or something has really been built up and then abandoned. And then obviously all the different operations that were going on Gorgon. You can find shortcuts and routes through some of these spaces, but playing with that verticality and using the natural design of a Canyon to allow us to reveal points of interest and tease them for the player to draw them forward in gameplay, was one of the things that we played a lot with and that I think was definitely a success from the close collaboration of the art team and the design team.

Hansen: One of the things that was extremely important for us with this because it goes to the place in a giant asteroid was to make sure that the player doesn’t get lost in that space. It’s a bit of a labyrinthine level and has opportunities to create sub-biomes within it. It still feels like it’s an asteroid, but it’s got a theme to it. You might turn a corner and see toxic sludge pools and things like that and fauna that matches and know that, “Oh, I’m near a chemical facility.” That sort of thing. We wanted to really make the space feel obviously, like a desolate asteroid, but also really interesting and really navigable through those means.

How long has this been in the works?

Hansen: We knew in January of last year [2019] that we wanted DLC. We didn’t know what it was going to be, but we had begun the process of figuring that out. We had started on something that we were pretty excited about, but once the base game released and we saw just how much fans were resonating with it and the ways in which they were resonating with it, we decided that we needed to go bigger. And so we pivoted at that point. right around the end of last year. And started investigating, how can we scale this up and give something to players that will really hit home for them and the ways that the base game did.

Post-release, there was actually a trailer that just basically said, “DLC is coming.” And it didn’t really tell us anything else.

Hansen: Absolutely. And the reason there wasn’t more detail at that time was because we had decided, okay, we’ve got to give fans more than what we were originally planning.

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