Lack of voice may be a blessing in disguise for The Outer Worlds, as potential players may find it off-putting at first, but it will allow Obsidian Entertainment to put meaningful choices and better dialogues back in roleplaying games.
Some gamers might see going back to voiceless protagonists in RPGs as a step back, but the matter is not that simple.
The Outer Worlds' protagonist will be interacting with NPCs in an RPG world, and recording voice lines for every player character reply and inquiry can effectively double the voice recording time as well as costs due to the nature of dialogue - for each NPC voice line, the player character has to have one as well.
This is true in case we are talking about just one voice for the protagonist, either male or female. Having one voice for both will add even more time and costs.
When developers simply go for a voiceless protagonist, they just need to voice the NPCs, cutting costs and time requirements significantly.
In an ideal world, having more voices wouldn't be an issue, but game development is dictated by deadlines and limited budgets, so it is usually the player character voice that doesn't make the cut.
The best examples here are Dragon Age and Fallout series.
In Fallout's case, players were presented with virtually limitless immersion and the tales of how NPCs reacted differently to characters with low intelligence are still being retold today, over 20 years after the game's release.
This was just the tip of the immersive iceberg. The trend somewhat continued with Fallout New Vegas, where players could open up many different outcomes, depending on how they behave, their charisma, intelligence, luck and chosen perks.
Fallout 4 was stripped of those immersive elements, and the only upside were voiced protagonists. Despite the solid voice acting and slightly improved gunplay, many fans found themselves replaying Fallout 4 far less than the previous games.
The game had lost some of its replay value, on top of losing the potential for quest mods as it was nearly impossible to replicate the characters' voices, and it felt weird when they suddenly went completely silent.
Compared to New Vegas, where we had the likes of New Vegas Bounties quest mod series, Fallout 4 lost a major chunk of content players could enjoy, by limiting dialogue options for the sake of having voiced protagonists.
The Dragon Age franchise had a somewhat similar trajectory.
Dragon Age: Origins almost immediately put the franchise on top of the AAA gaming world and then Dragon Age 2 happened.
In Origins, deep dialogue options with extensive stories that allowed befriending companions and even pursuing romantic relationships with them. Some choices would cause them to vilify the player and leave the party, while others would lead to dramatic duels.
You could help out entire settlements and recruit them against the darkspawn, or you could annihilate them and recruit their enemies instead. In short, the world of Dragon Age: Origins was optimised for immersion, which made it a memorable modern RPG in the eyes of many.
Dragon Age 2 soon lumbered into view - it had a voiced Hawke and not enough time for proper immersion polish. Players felt they were just traipsing around recycled maps, had limited dialogue options and an overall lower quality RPG experience.
It was evident to everyone that Dragon Age 2 was pushed onto shelves way too early, with the revamped yet spotty art style and one of the worst ailments modern RPG design - a dialogue wheel.
The dreaded drum came to both franchises at the time when fans started noticing something is off with the games' roleplaying elements. The line between streamlining and dumbing down became blurry.
The dialogue wheel was a necessary evil though, as it allowed for the games to be developed faster than Star Citizen.
Fewer dialogue options meant fewer spoken lines and therefore less time and money spent recording. Still, a necessary evil is unwelcome regardless, and the bottom line question for RPG fans is whether voiced protagonists are worth losing so many immersive elements.
It seems like Obsidian Entertainment decided to completely forego this issue and return to the roots of roleplaying games with The Outer Worlds. The characters we were presented with so far, either through the trailer from Game Awards or subsequent gameplay, turned out to be colourful and interesting entities deserving of interactive pokes and prods.
The dialogue wheel is absent and the protagonist unvoiced. The Outer Worlds is touted as coming from the creators of the original Fallout, and even the trailer teases with different choices when Ellie tells the player to make one but adds they didn't have to shoot anyone later on.
Obsidian also stated that The Outer Worlds will not be as big as recent Fallout titles, which once again suggests they took the quality over quantity approach, and honestly, it sounds a lot better than the massive but barren Commonwealth in Fallout 4.
CD Projekt Red
One could argue that a game can have a voiced protagonist and be amazing, such as The Witcher 3, but there were several factors that caused this anomaly. For one, CD Projekt Red didn't have a publisher looming over their head with a deadline so they had all the time they needed to record any voice lines and develop a meaningful dialogue system. They are repeating this development method with Cyberpunk 2077.
The dialogue in Witcher 3 didn't need to branch out too much, as it had roots in a quite linear book series, so players were treated to a string of stories from Geralt's adventures instead. This contributed to having three layers of quality - from amazing detail even in tiny quests such as the one with the pan in White Orchard, over the tragic mid-sized stories such as Towerful of Mice, to the amazing main storyline.
It was essentially a bypass that allowed an immersive experience, without extensive dialogue options. On top of that, Geralt is a predefined character, so there was no need to record audio separately with a female voice.
Other developers have not amassed that much goodwill over the years and are not self-funded for the most part. Therefore, they do not have the luxury of saying "when it is finished", and this includes Obsidian Entertainment. Their publisher for The Outer Worlds is Private Division and the game already has a projected release window in 2019.