There's a certain thrill in the idea of crafting a silver-tongued character in an RPG, someone who in a world of violent aliens and hostile factions can talk themselves out of trouble while leaving their laser pistol holstered.
I played through The Outer Worlds (opens in new tab) attempting to do just that, pumping all of my skill points into the Dialog skill, and only the Dialog skill, every time I leveled up. It didn't mean I could avoid combat—there's still tons of it—but only putting points into Dialog didn't exactly hurt me on the battlefield because those Dialog skills not only give you more options while in conversations, allowing you to lie, persuade, and intimidate, they also give you effective abilities in combat, too.
Here's how it all worked. (And I won't spoil specifics about any quests below, don't worry.)
I created my character, Sly Vester, entirely with speech in mind. For his attributes, I gave him a Very High score in Intelligence (which governs, among other things, the Persuade skill), Temperament (which governs Lie), and Charm (Persuade, Lie, and Intimidate). This required lowering his other three attributes (Strength, Dexterity, and Perception) to below average. That feels a bit scary, but on the plus side, I gave him some very stylish eyebrows above his piercing blue eyes. I'm already feeling pretty persuasive.
You're given two skill points to spend at the start, which unfortunately can't both be put into Sly Vester's mouth. I put one into Dialog (raising Persuade and Lie to 40 and Intimidate to 25) and one into Leadership, which bumps up my Inspiration skill, allowing me to command my companions to use special attacks—very important because I'm not going to be much of a combat powerhouse otherwise. It also raises Determination, which gives companions a higher crit chance.
Finally, I chose my Aptitude—it's sort of like the job you had before being frozen in the hull of a spaceship for 70 years—and there's only a single Aptitude to pick from that improves Dialog skills. If I play as a Cashier, I get a +1 to my Persuade skill. Cashier it is, then.
As I worked through the first few quests, leveled up a few times, and explored the starting planet of the game, I was able to talk my way through a few situations with my already raised (and rising) Dialog skills. There are tons of conversations in The Outer Worlds, and lots of speech checks to enjoy if you've spent the points. Within the first few hours I persuaded my way into getting extra pay for jobs, intimidated tough guys into not attacking me, and even talked my way into a secure area that otherwise would have required buying a holographic disguise or using stealth, lockpicking, or violence. I just opened my mouth and the security guard was basically like, "Okay, come on through, but don't touch anything."
Sucker. I touched everything. Even if you don't put all your points into Dialog, you should definitely put a lot of points into it. Having all those extra dialogue options available isn't just more fun, it's economical: it saves you the money you'd have to spend bribing people.
You can acquire the first two (of a possible six) Outer Worlds companions (opens in new tab) in the first real town you visit, and having them at my command, ready to unleash their special attacks with a simple tap of a key, helped soften up enemies (or kill them outright) letting me keep my distance with my less-than-effective traditional combat skills. Luckily, I've got some non-traditional combat skills to add to the mix.
Like I said, my heightened Dialog contributes to combat. As you increase your Persuade skill, you gain the ability to terrify human enemies. At a skill of 20, you have a 20% chance of cowering any human you shoot. They'll crouch and tremble for a few seconds, plenty of time for you or your companions to finish them off. With Persuade at 40, they'll cower for a full seven seconds more, an eternity in combat. Raise Persuade higher and you'll improve the chances of cowering humans, lower a cowering target's armor by 50%, and improve your own armor rating while an enemy is cowering. Your bullets are super persuasive, apparently.
Your Lie skill affects mechanical enemies. At 20, there's a 15% chance a robot will "scramble" and attack someone else. At 100, meanwhile, there's a 55% chance of scrambling them: that's huge. Your Intimidate skill means you have a chance of terrifying alien creatures when you shoot them, which causes them to flee. Each milestone increases the ability with an expanded area of effect, movement penalties for the creatures, and increased critical damage. See, speech skills aren't just for your mouth. They also fly out of the barrel of your gun.
The Outer Worlds' perks (opens in new tab), on the other hand, are a bit lacking when it comes to speech. You get a new perk every two levels, but nearly all of them have something to do with health, encumbrance, speed, damage, and Tactical Time Dilation (bullet time). So, I tried to pick the few that at least felt like they have something to do with speech, like better vendor pricing or better vendor stock. Companions, at least, have a few perks that help with speech. My robot companion SAM has a perk that adds to my intimidation when he's with me (he's huge, metal, and sprays a hose of acid on people, so it makes sense), and another follower, Felix, gave me a boost to Persuade, though I hardly needed it. Just at level 3, my Lie and Persuade were already at 50 and my Intimidate was at 40.
I kept dumping points into Dialog, and at level 7 my Intimidate and Persuade were at 65 and 70, adjusted to 81 and 83 thanks to my Cashier aptitude, a +5 Silver Tongue Kit mod I installed in my armor, a helmet that adds another +3, and buffs from my companions. By level 9, my Intimidate was already soaring at an adjusted 104. At level 15, my Lie and Intimidate Dialog skills were at a modified 100, and Persuade was a natural 100. There were no longer any speech checks I could fail and I was barely halfway through the game.
And I did run into several speech checks that demanded a 100, which let me negate entire battles. I intimidated a violent gang into simply giving up and leaving town, and avoided another major skirmish by responding to a verbal death threat with, essentially, "Nuh-uh." Words are weapons, sharper than knives.
Much as I loved winning over people with my mouth and bullets, there were a few times where I was at a disadvantage. With little in the way of traditional stealth skills like hacking and lockpicking, I was often out of luck when it came to helping myself to extra loot or opening locked doors. There's almost always another way in The Outer Worlds, of course—there's armor that can boost your other skills, mods that can be added to that armor to boost them more, consumables that provide brief skill bumps, and companion buffs. I basically traveled with extra stat-boosting outfits for myself and my followers at all times.
You can also often find keys to doors or hidden routes that let you enter restricted areas. And having a holographic disguise handy definitely helps—as I pointed out back in August, when your disguise fails you can continue the ruse by passing speech checks (opens in new tab)—which was no challenge at all for Sly Vester.
But I do admit occasionally being frustrated. In a late-game story mission, I found myself up against a single door I couldn't open no matter how much skill-buffing I did. The door's lock and a nearby terminal were both high above my skill levels, and even after searching for ages I just couldn't find an alternate route and no amount of scrounging turned up a key. Finally, out of sheer crankiness, I sicced my companions on a guard I'd talked my way past a half-hour earlier. On his corpse, I found the key I needed. So, sometimes, a silver tongue just isn't the answer.
When I completed The Outer Worlds' last story quest, my final adjusted Dialog stats were all sky-high. Persuade was 133, Lie was 125, and Intimidate was an soaring and unnecessary 156, thanks to armor that boosts my Dialog skills +5, a installed mod that boosts them another +5, a sweet intimidating eyepatch that contributes another +10 (though it unfortunately covers my stylish eyebrows), and a 20 point boost from my robot companion, SAM.
Maybe Sly Vester isn't the strongest, fastest, or stealthiest space cowboy to ever conquer The Outer Worlds. But he'll definitely tell you he is. And you won't have any choice but to believe him.