“Murder on Eridanos,” released on Wednesday, is the second story-based expansion following “Peril on Gorgon.” The DLC transports you and your party members to a luxurious hotel, the Grand Colonial, on the colorful planet of Eridanos. But this is no vacation: You’re here to investigate what happened after a star actress (Halcyon Helen) was murdered in cold blood. The result is an entertaining noir-style adventure about conspiracies and intrigue that constantly left me in stitches.
Walking through Eridanos can often feel like you’re touring the Wonka factory. I was constantly dazzled by the striking design, including a distillery housing glass pipes flowing with colorful, bubbling beverages and a purple-colored meadow on the outskirts. It’s glamour with a hint of unease, as something terrible brews behind the scenes.
“I think [the colorful aesthetic] juxtaposes really well with the darker, dangerous theme that’s going on behind the scenes,” said Megan Starks, game director on the DLC.
It’s a big step up from the previous story DLC, “Peril on Gorgon,” which took place on an aesthetically dull asteroid that was difficult to navigate without getting lost. Eridanos, in comparison, is a gas planet, with small slabs of rock and earth hovering in the air, connected by long bridges. Even the plant life looks like something straight out of a Dr. Seuss children’s book.
Despite centering around a murder, this DLC is ceaselessly funny, from the strange characters you meet (i.e. a dealer selling “alternative drugs” that are really just vitamin C or homeopathic remedies, in a world brainwashed by pharmaceutical corporations) to the bizarre enemies you encounter. It’s clear that something strange is afoot on Eridanos. Certain Rizzo employees, for example, have a purple parasite growing out of their necks and just can’t stop devilishly smiling. Uncovering why unravels a wacky, entertaining and occasionally dark story.
One of the standout characters, for example, is an actor named Spencer Woolrich, who lives in the shadow of Halcyon Helen’s success. But he’s still convinced he’s better than everyone.
“Even our designers made fun of him, because his signed autographed photos show up in trash cans all over the hotel area,” said Tim Cain, co-game director on the DLC.
Just like I felt sorry for Spencer, I also felt a tinge of remorse when gunning down crazed Rizzo employees on Eridanos, who clearly have little to no control over their behavior. But killing them is also … absolutely hilarious. They spew cotton-candy colored goo all over you, slowing you down temporarily during combat, all while exclaiming, “I just want to see you smile!” The encounters are so weird, I couldn’t help but laugh.
Combat isn’t too different from “The Outer Worlds” as a whole, but there are some small tweaks, including three new science weapons to find and use. Science weapons — which are special weapons that have a wacky function, like shrinking down an opponent — are entertaining, and one of the new ones is used mostly outside of combat. Called the discrepancy amplifier, this tool is “The Outer World’s” version of a technologically advanced magnifying glass that can perceive the past and future.
“It’s more like a science device, using mathematical equations to try and predict the outcome of the universe,” Starks said. “If there was a blood pool that existed and someone’s mopped it up and it’s no longer visible to the naked eye, you can actually look into the short-term past and see that it was there.”
The discrepancy amplifier can talk, and it guides you in a monotone, robotic voice, not unlike ADA (your spaceship’s sentient A.I.) or your robot party member S.A.M. It gives you baseline information, often in a comedically obvious fashion, such as, “This person is most definitely dead! But recently, they were still alive!” It’s also useful for collecting clues and following tracks. It introduces a new way to interact with the world, letting you analyze clues and collect data.
“The idea for [the tool] actually came from Nitai Poddar, who is my co-lead narrative designer on the project,” Starks said. “We were writing all these ideas on a whiteboard about the murder mystery and key suspects, and talking about the different ways you could role play as a detective. He was like, ‘we really need a magnifying glass.’”
Like “Outer Worlds” as a whole, the decisions you make have an impact on the story, characters and world around you. Though you may see small implications to your choices along the way, the biggest and most compelling consequences are found once you accuse someone of murder. Your success in discovering the culprit is based on a variety of factors, including how much side content you complete and how deeply you explore environments.
“You can accuse the wrong suspect or you can frame an innocent person,” Starks said. “You can learn part of the truth. Or if you dig around enough, you can learn the exact details of what happened.”
Starks cites 1974′s “Murder on the Orient Express,” along with other classic detective stories, as inspiration for the DLC. “Murder on Eridanos” feels like a playable murder mystery film, similar to the mission within “Hitman 3” where Agent 47 can solve a murder at a British manor. This newest DLC is dialogue heavy, and striking a balance between interrogating suspects and meaningful gameplay was challenging but important for Obsidian to get right.
“We had to make sure there were lots of opportunities for combat as you’re going from point A to B in your quest,” Starks said. “And then also accounting for players doing anything in a different order, we wanted to make sure that the DLC is highly reactive to that.”
Though much of “Murder on Eridanos” works well, there are certain moments that are stronger than others. Nearing the end, some of the conclusions can feel anti-climactic, but it really depends on what ending you receive. Another issue is the overwhelming amount of loot. The recommended level for playing “Murder on Eridanos” is 30, and a lot of players will likely have completed the game already, meaning they’ll already own lots of gear, loot and weapons. On many occasions, I just didn’t feel compelled to pick up loot.
“We had a lot of discussions even before the base game shipped, that especially among consumables, we had too much loot to track,” Cain said. “We tried to handle that through making most of it something we’re hoping people will consume, like mods, foods and drugs. But we always seem to run into that inflation with every RPG we make.”