Outriders Hands-On Preview – A Promising Start To Next Gen

Outriders is the most ambitious game People Can Fly have undertaken yet in the array of previous game titles they’ve developed in the last two decades, such as Gears of War: Judgement, Bulletstorm, Painkiller and co-developed games like Fortnite and several projects in the Gears franchise.

People Can Fly’s Studio Head, Sebastion Wojciechowski, and Game Director, Bartosz Kmita shortly took to the stage and started the Outriders showcase, opening with one of the many cinematic trailers I saw throughout the presentation, providing a good overview and visually pleasing first look at the Outriders world, story, RPG depth and customisation as well as the character classes and powers.

FIRST AND FOREMOST

Outriders is a Co-op RPG shooter set in an exciting dark, sci-fi universe releasing this holiday on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and PC as well as being available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Outriders has been created with a traditional video game sensibility in mind – giving an intense, hard-hitting combat experience with deep RPG mechanics and a compelling story. It’s not a Games of Service, nor will there be loot boxes or pay to win shortcuts and we will have a complete experience straight out of the box. The game is first and foremost an RPG with the combat system being a top tier shooter. I asked Bartosz Kmita more on the emphasis on RPG,

“We wanted to give more people more freedom to play in the shooter genre, because most shooters define your play style, nothing changes from the beginning and when (let’s say) you change the sniper rifle for the shotgun, nothing changes. I think here we wanted to go a little bit more, with skills, modification, skill trees; you can almost create your own shooter, and this is the RPG element I wanted to say was so important – as well as having other RPG aspects like the story, the side quests etc.” said Kmita 

During my time with the game, I very much discovered what Bartosz meant by RPG first. In my first play through, it felt like a lot of other Sci-Fi shooters we’ve seen release this gen – another Destiny, another Gears and even another The Division with it’s cover base shooter mechanics and RPG loadouts. However, after another couple of playthroughs utilising different classes as well as really delving into what loot I could acquire in the game, it became clear what People Can Fly had implemented.

Outriders very much leans into its RPG core. My squad and I were left dying time and time again against ruthless and brutal enemies unless we really tailored our gun loadouts and armour right, not to mention utilise our classes effectively. Each character class (which I’ll dive into shortly), not only played differently, but still allowed me to play how I really wanted – did I want to play strategically, hang back and snipe or run and gun with all things blazing? It didn’t matter, I could tweak and use my characters gear sets, skills, and upgrades the way I wanted.

THE OUTRIDERS WORLD: A DARK, TWISTED STORY

 My first experience of the Outriders universe was the prologue mission the game started with. Laying down the foundation of the lore, gameplay and brutality of what was to come. Before jumping into the mission, I was able to customise my character in the ways of gender, body elements such as head type, skin colour and eye colour, hair elements like hair style, facial hair and colour, Markings aka scars, piercings, tribal like paint, and finally name. A button press later, and the origins of Outriders played out in front of me.

Outriders are a force of explorers tasked with securing the lush and unexplored world of Enoch with the hopes of sustaining human life. The Earth can no longer be home to humanity thanks to its destruction by war and climate change. In 2159, the last efforts to save human life were launched in the form of two massive colony ships, but after 80 years of travelling with their crews in cryo sleep, only one ships arrives in orbit around Enoch. It is up to the Outriders aboard this ship, The Flores, to be the first boots on the ground and the tip of the spear for the human colonisation effort.

 However, in their efforts to set up camps on the wonder filled world, a signal is discovered emanating somewhere on the planet. As the Outriders journey to the signal location, an unnatural storm, The Anomaly, engulfs the surroundings of Enoch, with its winds tearing anything caught in the open apart, frying technology and disintegrating some Outriders to nothing but molecules. Some survive, I survive. But I’m now changed, I am now Altered.

The prologue mission finished up with my character heading back into cryo sleep after being badly wounded by The Anomaly and waking up 30 years later on a vastly different Enoch. The Anomaly still rages, the once beautiful and peaceful planet is now an ugly, savage wasteland, brimming with hostile flora and fauna and deadly creatures. The colonisation has failed. The remaining colonists are trapped in a valley by The Anomaly, with no advanced technology, and are fighting a civil war against each other. The only remaining hope is the signal, which is still emanating out in the unforgiving, dark world – a beacon of light which may lead the Outriders to someone, somewhere, with the means of saving humanity.

ALL CLASS, ALL POWERFUL

After finishing the prologue, my avatar surged with the power of The Anomaly – granted great power, but slowly leaving my humanity behind. I’m greeted by the character class and powers menu and am now able to choose which archetype I wanted to play as. There are 4 character classes/power types available in Outriders, however only three were available in the hands on session. They were:

 Trickster – Bender of Space and Time

The hit and run damage dealer of outriders. They do their best work in close combat and are equipped with powers that allow for unrivalled mobility. Tricksters bend the laws of space and time, able to slow down time for both defence and offence play, can teleport across the battlefield and wreak havoc with their melee attack Temporal Slice – turning foes into skeletons.

Pyromancer – Wielder of Fire, Heat and Radiation.

Specialists of medium range attacks, they can utilise their fiery powers such as the thermal bomb to turn any enemies hit into walking bombs that explode on death. Others are Heatwave, which is a useful range attack lighting up enemies and flushing them out of cover as well as Ash Blast which solidifies surrounding enemies in molten ash stopping them in their tracks, ready to execute.

Devastator – Controller of Gravity and Earth.

The backbone and tank of the Outriders group. Strong and tough, they are a close combat specialist that is not swayed by flying bullets. Their powers allowed them to cover themselves in rock like skin which is impenetrable by bullets, send enemies flying with powerful (and Hulk like) ground pounds and can literally leap into fights with heavily damaging landings. 

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I was able to spend time with each playable class, all of which played entirely differently. The Trickster by far had some of the coolest visual and sci-fi-esque attacks. Being able to slow down time around a horde of enemies as limbs are slowly tearing away and have bullets create walls reminiscent to The Matrix had me voicing my awe. Even though the trickster is built for close quarters, I found myself playing more from afar, utilising snipers and rifles to gun down enemies then teleporting in behind to finish them off with a shotgun, melee attack or my temporal slice.

The Pyromancer definitely felt like a mid range attacker with its powers really set up to send across the battlefield a lot more than the other two classes. It’s a great class to exercise a “one two” approach to combat, utilising your fire powers to flush enemies out and either stop them in their tracks or turn them into exploding bombs and then finishing them off with a few gunshots.

Surprisingly, the Devastator was the class I had the least amount of time with, but the most fun. I’m not normally one to choose a tank type, as I find that style play in other RPG and Sci-Fi shooters a bit slow and boring. But the Devastator in Outriders was nothing like that. If you are like me and love a bit of fast pace, running and gunning when it comes to shooters then the Devastator is the power type for you. Equipping myself with a shotgun and SMG loadout, I would effortlessly preform the very useful leaping attack into battle and devastate the arena, smash some enemies, deflect bullets and leap off to the next group of foes. The Devastator is the class I felt the powers worked very cohesively and I would find myself chaining a lot more power attacks together rather then using each in the right circumstances like the other two classes.

The other aspect to the classes, which once again brought to the forefront the RPG element of the game, was that each class had a different way in which they’d regenerate health (for example, the Devastator would regenerate health with each kill) – and with each class I found myself needing to reference back to what I needed to be doing in order to gain some health back – especially when waves and waves of enemies were continuously coming at me. It was a nice touch to the RPG core in needing to really understand the character type I was using.

YOUR LIFE AS AN OUTRIDER

Story and powers aside, with an RPG generally comes more customisation options, side quests, world design and upgrades; and Outriders brings all this and a little bit more. The Outriders world is built around hubs, which in my gameplay session I only experienced one. It had the “safe zone/HQ” area where you can buy weapons and armour from merchants, interact with other players in your squad (whether you can interact with others online outside your squad in these places I am unsure of yet) and receive various quests and main missions from the residents and commanders of the location. As I ventured out into the barren wasteland of the Enoch valley, along the way I would encounter checkpoints and triumphantly place a banner down allowing me to then travel between the checkpoints I had found and the safe zone, making traversing in these hubs much easier.

The other means of traversing, not in the hubs but the wider Enoch world in-between the hubs (which unfortunately I did not get to experience) is by the way of a your Outrider vehicle. In a trailer I watched during the presentation, these futuristic half tank, half RV type vehicles were showcased as mobile hubs, a way to customise your character, switch out loot as well as the way in which to join up with squad mates. And of course they are also customisable with cosmetic and other upgrades. Not delving into too much more about these vehicles, People Can Fly only briefly spoke about these vehicles being your home between areas and that squads would have the ability to create convoys with each of their vehicles to travel to their next destination.

With that, obviously comes questions about the level and world design of Outriders, is this open-world? Sadly no. In an open Q&A with the development team, the level design was not intended to be open-world, somewhat more constricted with different paths you can take to get to your final destination. I also felt the levels design to not restrict you to one way of playing. There was plenty of cover, plenty of different heights but also plenty of open spaces, which meant in times I wanted to be tactical and use cover to take down enemies and plan my approach, I could. If I wanted to just run around shooting and dodging or make camp in a higher structure or peak, I could do that too. How the world design is built in the outer-hub areas is yet to be fully seen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a similar approach to Outriders in the way the Gears 5 exploration areas were constructed.

Another big factor to Outriders is the emphasis on the dark, twisted world and characters it outlines. As I only got to experience the very start of the game, and unfortunately was not given the opportunity to play or see any late game, so it’s hard to say exactly how dark and twisted things are meant to be. It’s clearly a selling point of the game, being the way in which it’s described at every given chance, but I do wish Square Enix and People Can Fly gave us a little taste. The closest thing I saw were promotional artworks and character mockups around the event space, which showed off the three character classes in very cool, very sci-fi, fantasy dark twisted armour. It was briefly mentioned during the presentation that the gear sets and weapons become much more beautifully twisted, combining the human weapon/armour look with the elemental, almost cursed nature of Enoch and The Anomaly.

I’m sad no hands on experience allowed for a quick taste of what this really meant, as I can see how much more brutal, savage and violently relentless time on Enoch would become seeing your character slowly grow less human like, yet hell belt on saving humanity – which ironically, in the end you may be too far gone from to be welcomed back. Rest assured there seems to be plenty of cool weapons, loot and armour to turn your character into one badass Outrider.

 Alongside weapons, loot and armour to upgrade your character stats and game style, your hero tree or skill tree is the final piece of the puzzle to character customisation. As with any skill tree mechanic, you utilise skill points to unlock certain attributes in three areas unique to your character class. These class attributes, such as “Increase your Anomaly power bonus by 6%”, are branched and structured in a way which gives an array of ways and combinations to upgrading and building out your character allowing for many different styles of play and character builds come replay. It is also the RPG element that will differentiate two of the same classes playing together. 

EARLY THOUGHTS ON OUTRIDERS

In terms of a first real look into what Outriders is all about, I think this game has potential to be a great next gen launch title and do this genre justice. I say that cautiously though, mainly because of how many times we’ve been burned before with hyped promos and “game changing” features, however as I mentioned we only got a first 3 or so hour taste of the game with People Can Fly stating a 30-40 hour playthrough depending on your need to complete side quests and explore.

I feel as though this is a game that will increase in enjoyability tenfold the more you play and once the underlining story and character upgrades start rolling out. However I can say those first 3 hours were definitely RPG shooter fun. Out of all the sci-fi RPG shooters to grace us over the current gen, Outriders feels the most polished and the best parts of all those games.

 

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The story and themes are intriguing and engaging (I want to know what the hell is going on and what will become of my Outrider), the gameplay is action packed, brutal, fun and backdropped by such a cruel world that only heightens that violent, powerful brutality of the Altered. The character class and powers aren’t just cool sci-fi/fantasy gimmicks, but actually make sense to play styles.

With Outriders being a next gen launch title, it’s definitely one to keep an eye on and have on your day one list. I’m extremely keen to see what comes of this game over the coming months.


The Author travelled to Poland as a guest of Square Enix for an early look at Outriders