a step forwards with story and characters, but a step backwards with everything else
The biggest improvement with this game, is the stronger emphasis on storyline and characters, something I always thought was somewhat lacking in the first game. Here you get a cool sci-fi adventure, where you meet a good mix of colourful characters. The atmosphere of the game also feels re-vamped from the first game, as it really hones in on the player being a space outlaw, in the form of a trader, pirate or bounty hunter - the game is very open with the kind of missions you can do. Keeping in mind that the game is designed with the idea that you should focus on one or the other; a ship designed for trading will do poorly in combat, and vice versa. The music and visuals are two other noticeable improvements, as the game has a very cool and fitting soundtrack featuring space-trucking country music and rock. To summarize then, the immersion is stronger with this game, compared to the first one.
Playing with a controller felt intuitive and easy to learn, but then again it was the same with the first game. The gameplay is built around using a controller, rather than mouse & keyboard.
What the game doesn't do as well as the first game is the combat. It plays like a generic or typical first-person space shooter; gone is the characteristic and unique combat system of the first game. Sure, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw still offers a third-person view, but it is not as good or well-done as in the first game. For one thing, the camera is far too close to the ship, and I don't find it enjoyable to play in this view. The combat is also much faster, focusing on dogfights rather than the more epic [slugfest] fights the first game had. So if you really enjoyed the combat in the first game I'm not convinced you'll like it in this one. I don't think the combat style was bad per se, it just doesn't feel as unique and fun as in the first game.
The side missions, which you are required to do in order to upgrade your ship, is a missed opportunity for me. When it comes to trading, there are too few goods available for you to buy and trade, especially in the beginning of the game. The combat missions get boring rather quickly since there's no variety between them: you seek out a place, there's mines everywhere, and then you have to do dogfights with pirates among heat-seeking mines that will continuously slam into you. That's how I would sum up the combat side-missions; mines and dogfights.
One common issue I had was that the missions felt too unbalanced. A mission might be labeled as "mild" or even "easy" in difficulty by the game, but then you end up being massacred by pirates. A common theme is that you kill a few pirates, but then the game will spawn x number of much more powerful enemy ships at you, from out of nowhere, where you have very little chance to win or escape. Pardon my language, but this game-design felt like utter BS. Being massacred by 2-4 gunships many times more powerful as your own ship is not a "mild" or "easy" mission.
The side-missions seem randomly generated, but I often ran out of missions I could do for the level I was at; the missions available were typically either too boring (shoot 30 mines), too difficult, or simply unattainable (buy x number of diamonds ... yet there's no place that actually sells them or has them in stock). On some planets or stations I couldn't find a single mission that was do-able with my "ship-level", so I had to fly around around to several stations until I found some side-missions I could actually do. These issues enhance the feeling of "grind", which is not a positive thing. This is a very grindy game, more so than the first game, or at least it all worked better or smoother in the first game.
The menu system was annoying with a controller, it was much easier to use in the first Rebel Galaxy game. In this game, some of the the menu items are not where you expect them to be. For example, instead of using a single map for your travels, you have a world map through the start menu, and a local map through a ring-menu (Y-button). I also kept forgetting how to access the in-game menu for loading, saving, exiting etc. It's not reachable directly through the start menu, instead you have to click through one or two other sub-menus to get to it.
To sum it up, without the engaging storytelling, immersive game-world and enjoyable characters, I'm not sure I would have finished the game. The gameplay itself was OK, since it plays well mechanically speaking (overall) and I had no software issues at all, but the progression structure felt sloppy and lacking in quality and commitment. Is Rebel Galaxy Outlaw as fun to play as the first game? no, it is not, especially not the combat. Would I have bought the game with the knowledge I have now? no, I don't think so. Right now, I think of Outlaw as a stylish but generic space sim shooter.