From the outset, developer People Can Fly have been adamant that Outriders is not a game as a service game, instead insisting that it’s a complete game with no planned expansions on the horizon. The need to clarify this is obvious as it looks to borrow so many elements from looter shooters like Destiny and The Division. However, Outriders is admittedly a bit of a confused experience, because while it’s fantastic on almost every level, its insistence on online-only restrictions holds it back.
The plot of Outriders is straightforward – Earth has ended, and the humans are looking to colonise the alien planet of Enoch. There’s a bizarre accident, fuelled by a massive energy storm the locals call “The Anomaly” and you’re left with powers as a result. Following the accident, and a lengthy time jump, you awaken to discover that the colonists have separated into warring factions. Your job is thusly to explore the planet, learn more about The Anomaly and learn about humanity’s fate.
Outriders has one of the worst introductions I’ve ever played in a game, betraying everything about it’s unique spirit in the opening hours, including a very ho-hum story setup. I urge you to persist though – as even though the story is a little bit done-to-death, it’s got some nice twists and turns as you progress. The Outrider themselves is a genuinely funny character too – a surprise given that they’re not a specific character and a player creation.
On a surface level, Outriders looks like yet another games-as-a-service fad, a looter shooter looking to capitalise on the status quo that games like Destiny and The Division permeate. But underneath that loot filled veneer is a surprisingly meaty campaign and, even better, a great set of combat mechanics that channel some of the most enjoyable shooters like Mass Effect and Bulletstorm. More importantly, despite having such an emphasis on equipment and character building, the conclusion can be reached rather comfortably without incessant grinding.
It makes sense, really, given that developer People Can Fly also developed Bulletstorm, an often-underappreciated game that had similarly fun shooting mechanics. A far cry from the games it’s often compared to, Outriders puts your characters abilities front and centre. In my preview earlier in the week, I compared it to the Doom reboot and that comparison still stands. Outriders combat loop is fast and frenetic, and you need to get out from cover and be aggressive to come out on top.
The crux of the combat is built around your abilities – each of the four classes is in possession of eight of them with varying effects and cooldowns. Where other games that look like Outriders make your abilities feel rare and spaced out, Outriders does the complete opposite. You can use many abilities within ten seconds of each other – and with the right build you can manipulate said abilities to come out even quicker. More importantly, barring one skill that enchants your bullets, every class has seven other unique skills that makes each class play completely different from one another.
The Devastator is a close-range tank, dealing heavy damage while also taking the brunt of the damage in any firefight. The Pyromancer can, obviously, conjure flames and lay flame-based debuffs on enemies, performing well at medium range. The Technomancer performs best at long range, summoning gadgets to aid your team in battle and effects that cover the whole battlefield. The Trickster is close-range too, but more concerned with mobility and fast-paced hit-and-run mechanics. Each of the four work well individually but work even better together.
Similarly, each class has specific quirks that complement their play style. Technomancer heals purely by the damage dealt, encouraging more of a distant support role than anything else. Pyromancer heals when damaging enemies that have already been debuffed by their own skills, encouraging the use of said skills. Trickster and Devastator only heal when defeating enemies up close, but Trickster generates additional shields to give them the leeway to stay mobile during battle. Each class has a unique melee too, which can also debuff enemies, further differentiating them from each other.
But what’ll influence how you play your character most is the progression system. Abilities are unlocked automatically and are the bread and butter of combat. The skill tree, however, adds certain attributes to your attacks as well as special modifiers to better suit your playstyle. Each class has three distinct skill trees which you can fill how you see fit – one tree might improve the damage your debuffs do, while another tree favours defence if you want to play like a tank. Such a system does give you the flexibility to say, spec your Pyromancer more towards a tank if you so wish, but obviously you’ll want to play to the strength of your class.
But one of my favourite aspects of Outriders is the flexibility it gives you in how you approach the campaign. The game scales appropriately no matter if you’re playing solo or with friends, but it also has a “world tier” system that adjusts the difficulty of your game world. Borrowing a little from Diablo III’s Torment system, the higher your world tier, the higher your enemy’s level scales. Of course, this also scales up the equipment you’ll earn and the chance to earn much coveted legendary weapons too.
After you’re done with the campaign, Outriders isn’t quite done with you. The campaign itself is well put together – a twenty-to-twenty-five-hour romp that continues to throw new locales and enemies at you. It’s remarkably repetitive, I’ll admit, but it’s also so enjoyable that it’s hard to say this hampers the experience. Some of the game’s best arenas, it’s best encounters, however, can be found in the Expeditions mode. These are the hardest of the hardest battles Outriders has to offer – there’s fifteen of them to get through and they are all fantastically unique with a general feeling of good balance between them.
Built from the ground-up to accommodate your team, I was surprised at just how seamless Outriders was in terms of how it handles co-op play. Players can drop in and out at their leisure without detriment to the other players. Similarly, the game dynamically scales everybody to the right level to ensure that even overpowered people can’t ruin somebody’s game if they’re lower level. It’s a system that works beyond the already well implemented world tier system, and one that means nobody truly ever gets left behind.
But I can’t not address the elephant in the room.
When Outriders works though, it’s a remarkably seamless experience, though I can’t help but wonder why this game had to be online-only. At the time of writing, a lot of Outriders problems have already been fixed. But I’ve experienced many of the issues that I’ve seen online – and many of them stemmed from this game being an online-only experience.
Random disconnects, random crashes to dashboard, inability to join games, objectives having strange waypoints, disappearing weapons and even disappearing friends. It’s all frustrating stuff that’ll hinder your enjoyment of the game, though I’ve no doubt it’ll be fixed in the very near future. Your mileage may vary, of course, but most of these happened to me at least once in the first few days of playing the game.
From a presentation standpoint, Outriders is fantastic. It’s a little bit done-to-death, for sure. I even mistook it for Destiny on more than one occasion before I even knew what it was. But there’s such a sheer amount of variety here that I am still in awe as to how much world People Can Fly produced for this game. Enoch is a beautiful planet and one that I hope I’ll be able to explore even more in future games. The score is similarly well produced, though it does fade into the background of more frenetic battles.
THE XBOX SERIES X VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW.
Outriders combines immense variety, aggressively geared combat and fun abilities to offer a third person shooter like no other. It’s filled to the brim quality content – bringing a stellar campaign that’s constantly throwing new things at the player and a compelling well-designed post-game experience in Expeditions. Teething issues with online aside, Outriders is poised to be one of the biggest surprises of the year, and you should definitely give it a go.