I guess by your use of the word 'trudged' that you don't rate Horizon Zero Dawn too highly? It's coming to PC sometime in the future and I was optimistic about it.
I enjoyed my time with The Outer Worlds. Good catch with Vicar Max, I hadn't made that link. I think that the companion characters are some of the strongest bits of the game. I especially enjoyed how they interact with each other.
But yeah, as you say, the story plods in the middle. Then it's like: psyche! You're actually halfway through the final act. Wait, who exactly is the antagonist? Oh well, here's the final mission.
I was also disappointed by how little weight it felt like your decisions had. There's the one big decision you make on the first planet which feels impactful. And there's a cool potential interaction with a companion too during the decision. But after that, nothing felt that important.
In a funny twist of fate, the writer for Outer Wilds has now been hired by the creators of The Outer Worlds. Potentially to work on the sequel.
Also, if you have a spare 15 minutes, there's a good video of the devs of The Outer Worlds reacting to a 12 minute speed run of their game. Obvious spoiler warning if you haven't completed it yet.