Outriders Review – A New Breed Of Looter-Shooters
For a studio like People Can Fly, who have made names making old-school FPS and one entry in the Gears series, I honestly wouldn’t expect them to enter the looter-shooter space with the latest new game and IP, Outriders.
But to call Outriders as just another one of many looter-shooters doesn’t do it justice. This “high-intensity RPG shooter” as publisher Square Enix likes to describe it plays fast and loose with many familiar shooting game and RPG mechanics.
The demo seemed promising enough the last time we checked it out. Is the final game good though?
Outriders doesn’t have the most appealing of aesthetic choices, and it’s by design. It’s a grimdark tale of a twisted sci-fi future where everyone on Earth can’t stop massacring each other in wars so they sent out colonies of humans to go to a new planet.
Only for them to continue massacring each other, but now some folks have superpowers. “In this grim dark future, there is only war” is something you can describe Outriders- this world has a similar vibe.
I won’t blame you for taking a look at some screenshots and already gazing your eyes off for the return of muddy beige brown seen from the early Gears games. But thankfully, the planet of Enoch do have different biomes you’ll be exploring, some with more colours. There is still too many beige brown for one game, but there are more stunning locations to see as you progress further.
The game is powered by Unreal Engine 4, and with that comes with its usual quirk: slow texture loading. But other than that, it’s a solid looking game.
The UI is clean and easy to read. And it has nice quality of life additions too like a quick-select to mark all gear of a certain rarity as junk for quick selling/dismantling and handy auto-loot button that just picks up all the loot drop without needing to run around the whole map again after an encounter.
But there’s room to improve here. I would love to see not only the stat number of my character- but how it derives that stat from (form which gear, skill, class ability, etc.). And also a quick way to see what the icons of all my active buffs mean.
There’s a story to tell here in Outriders, and as far as the presentation for that goes, it’s well done. There are scenes that plays out really well not just because of the writing, but also the body language the characters exert.
It’s all nice details, and if you enjoy the story, you’ll enjoy it more from watching the performance displayed here.
There’s a bombastic orchestral soundtrack composed by Inon Zur (Fallout 3, Fallout 4) that accompany you in your journey, but it’s most of the time come underutilised. It’s only by the credits roll when I really appreciate the well-made orchestral music. Though that six-note bass tone it likes to use throughout the game has been stuck in my head.
It’s either because orchestral music is so overused now in a lot of entertainment media these days so it doesn’t stand out, or it’s being overwhelmed by the really good sound design.
And by golly the sound design here is punchy. Guns are satisfying to shoot just from the ballistic sound effects they produce. The superpowers have that otherworldly boops, bops and crackles that makes it so good to use the skills more often.
Even status effects debuffs has clear sound effects, a nice heads-up should you be too focused mowing down enemies while aiming down sights and not see the many oozing status effects that are on your person at the time.
In Outriders, you play as a mercenary as part of the Outriders. This group is supposed to be the scouts and explorers for this new world of Enoch, helping humanity rebuild a future where they’re not massacring each other.
What supposed to be a paradise world fit for colonisation became a world plague with abnormal (and lethal) environmental hazards dubbed the Anomaly.
A time skip via cryosleep later you found out the colonisation process turned bloody wrong humans continue to massacre each other. But with your new powers, you and a makeshift party will be making a journey to find a way to help what’s left of humanity survive the planet.
Cover Shooter With Boom Shooter Sensibilities
Outriders, from the onset, feels like a regular third-person shooter. And one without a jump button. You run really fast, so fast the limited sprinting animation can’t quite catch up (and can look janky). But you’ll also find it so easy to get stuck by an invisible wall- either from slight height increase/decrease of the terrain or the game very badly signalling that the area is inaccessible.
Traversal feels bad.
You can take cover, blind shoot and pop out while aiming down sights. The regular cover shooter mechanics are all here.
But in Outriders, your main character is blessed/cursed with the power of the Anomaly, making you an Altered. There are four different classes each with a different play style in mind. Technomancers and Pyromancers, in general, will have you staying behind cover still and play like a cover shooter, but the Trickster and Devastator class encourages you to go blasting enemies head-on.
This is thanks to the way healing works. You don’t have a heal button. Instead, each class has a different healing mechanic that all involves something about killing enemies. Outriders forces you to go hog wild and deliver big damage, and not cower in the cover for long.
And boy, the combat is ridiculously aggressive. It’s fundamentally a cover shooter, but with the sensibility of a boom shooter. Enemies come thick and fast, and when you are so busy dishing damage on an Elite enemy that has a longer health pool, a new wave of smaller enemies bursts out to throw you off and keep you on your toes.
You have to properly clear the room before getting to a checkpoint. After that, you go clear another room, filled with another combat with multiple, overlaying waves of enemies appearing.
It’s relentless, it never stops being like that, whether you be shooting humans or monsters.
I Have The Power
Thankfully your weapons and skills are also ridiculously powerful. As the Devastator, I am basically a walking tank, with not only extra armour, but also an ability to form into a rock-solid golem that soaks up more damage away from the team. I can also leap into the air and ground pound enemy groups. It’s an effective AOE damage dealing skill, but also, I can be a mobile, flying tank.
What a satisfying power fantasy it is, mowing down dozens of mobs with a clean one press of a button. Though be warned, most of the difficulty in encounters lies from the game trying to overwhelm you with ridiculous enemy numbers. A lot of the enemies are functionally the same, even some of the Elite enemies have similar movesets. Though you’ll see more (annoying) variance of enemy movesets near the endgame.
But, there are ways Outriders make the game not be a “hit a skill to win” kind of game.
Outriders has a world tier system you have access to it very early on. Essentially, it’s a difficulty select. You can totally play the game on normal or easy if you just want to finish the game. It’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with playing on easier difficulties.
But you can also play on the higher world tiers where enemies are a couple of levels higher than you. The reward for doing so? Better loot, and better loot drop chances.
Eventually, you’ll find a point where you can’t just power through these encounters- your health and damage output is severely limited in higher world tiers. And if you die repeatedly here, the game kindly reminds you that world tiers can be lowered. (i.e. the modern equivalent of “easy mode is now selectable”)
But at higher world tiers, you are able to equip higher level loot similar to the levels of the enemies. And this is where the depth of the RPG system shines.
Modding And Crafting
Outriders has a mods system where you can add different perks to loot with blue rarity and higher. This ranges from tweaks to the skills you have to nice passives.
The mods are diverse and have a lot of nice synergies that you can discover and make a build of. For example, as a Devastator, I’ve been spending my class points on the middle tree for armour and tanking abilities.
But now I’m lacking in firepower. So there’s a mod called that boosts weapon damage in proportion to health regen. And so I took up some health regen class abilities in the class ability tree.
On that tree, there’s also a class ability that boosts weapon damage in proportion to how many health regen abilities I picked in the tree.
Now not only I have a passive health regen, but also two sources of firepower boosts. I can confidently go into a crowd and fire shotgun rounds knowing that they’ll be dead in one or two shots. And if the kills don’t come fast enough, the health regen should keep me alive enough to back out from the fray.
The RPG mechanics really goes far, and one of the most satisfying I’ve encountered in a looter-shooter. There’s so much room to play around and customise I don’t mind if the loot doesn’t look good on my character. This is one simple example (and likely not an optimal one), but if you love messing around with numbers and stats like an RPG should, Outriders will make you happy.
The game also says it’s okay to not throw away outdated loot when a new shiny one arrives. Like the gun (or gear) you’ve been using but you just levelled up? Go to the crafting screen and level the gear up (and keeping it relevant for longer) using crafting materials.
In other words: like that gun or gear? You can keep it and upgrade it.
It’s probably not a wise investment to keep upgrading this way, but should you really want to use that one gun for one more level like a rare gold Legendary, you can do in this game. It’s a much-needed feature we’ve been missing in looter-shooters.
But for the farmers and dedicated players out there, you can still grind for god roll drops, as you should be able to in any good looter-shooter.
On that note, legendary drops are really, properly rare (though there are side-quests and encounters that guarantees a drop). And when you get them, what makes them rare is only the mods- which you can keep into your own library of mods and install to other gear when you dismantle them.
Outriders has a similar system to The Division 2 where you can keep the perks of weapons and gear you dismantle and also improve on the attributes. But it’s more streamlined (it only has a handful of resources that’s easy to keep track of) and can be engaged from early on in the game- not wait until the endgame.
The mods and crafting system in Outriders, paired with the interesting classes you can play each with different skills and skill trees, truly lives up to its RPG mantle. And you don’t have to wait for the endgame before these systems come into play. The game’s already good before the endgame as a result.
Outriders main story can be completed under 20 hours if you beeline it (and don’t subject yourself to the hell of higher world tiers), or even shorter. I’ve definitely took my time and did half of the available sidequests before the credits rolled and that stretched out to 30 hours of playtime.
I’ve mostly played solo, but you can also team with two other friends or random players for 3-player co-op. It has cross-play too with all platforms. It’s definitely a different experience when you get a full squad to combo your builds and powers with, but it’s still as fun for solo-only players.
The story in Outriders is a mixed bag. It can be good fun for some and cringe to others. I like the cynical tone with all the ironic twists being at play here, and the ending is a good payoff, for me at least. But you’re not wrong for thinking the story is way too tongue-in-cheek and self-aware to be taken seriously, and too straightforward to be truly intriguing.
The cast of characters are given room to shine (your cynical old buddy Jakub is a gem). But the story, world and tone for the game is an acquired taste. It’s not appealing for everyone, but if you’re into it, you’ll really be into it.
There are sidequests that are built entirely just for a story bit, and oddly enough I found myself laughing at the harrowing twists of events. Definitely fit the grimdark vibe, and a show of confidence the team has with the writing. I hope it’s not just me that’s enjoying it.
Outriders is all about the high-intensity combat sequence, and there’s nothing else. So it’s really one-note. There’s not much fun to explore anyway given how small the levels are and how unsatisfying the traversal is. The only breaks you get is in the inventory menus fiddling with stats and gear.
Into The Eye Of The Storm
As for the endgame, you have Expeditions. These are similar to strikes in Destiny 2, but shorter, and intended to be quickly finished. It’s a time trial where the quicker you finish, the better the loot drops are. These are all unique instances not seen from the missions before, and there’s no collectable or loot drop to distract you from the run.
Expeditions also have their own separate tier system, and you will have to refine your builds, buy high-end gear only available with the new endgame resource and continue the grind here before you can take on The Eye Of The Storm- the final Expedition level for only the strongest of Outriders.
It’s a promising endgame, one I enjoy doing repeated runs. Having a timer really makes you rethink your builds to be more efficient killing machines. For me, I have no issues on surviving the onslaught with my Devastator. The problem is I can’t clear them fast enough. It got me to continue tinkering with my builds (I’m now experimenting with dishing out debuff stats). And the cool-looking class-based Legendary armour is quite the carrot on a stick for me to keep on the grind.
Important Side Note – The Technical Issues On PC
It’s important to make note that during this launch window, Outriders is suffering from a slew of technical issues, in particular, if you’re playing on PC. From weird controller issues and the HUD not displaying to awful ones like inventory wipes and not-working PC-console cross-play. It’s definitely rough right now (I’ve experienced quite a number of crashes on PC). Even worse, there’s also an inventory wipe bug that has happened to some players.
While the servers are okay for now, there were server issues in the first weekend of launch. Outriders is an online-only game, and that means each time the server is down, you can’t play the game, even in solo.
I want to believe there are sound, behind-the-scenes considerations that made the developers decide to make the game online-only, but so far it’s only made for a worse experience for players. The game has no PVP, only co-op play. And there’s at least one looter-shooter that does what all of Outriders does (from a player standpoint) and does not require it to be online only.
Judging from the reactions of players right now, you either really love Outriders, or you really don’t like it all. And if you’ve been reading through this, you can already guess which camp I lie on this.
Outriders is non-confirmative. It challenges what a looter-shooter can be. It also makes weird choices that have split opinions. And I love that they are swinging this hard with their new IP.
I get to enjoy the thrills of a boom shooter without my bad aim being detrimental. Piecing together my own build and seeing having a big impact on the battlefield is satisfying. And while I don’t like the overall aesthetic it has going for, I enjoyed the ride the story took me.
I haven’t tried other classes long enough, but playing as a Devastator is so much fun just because I can play it not as a cover shooter. So the fun factor may tie into how different each class’s playstyle is, and how you personally find them fun or not.
It’s also troubled with a lot of technical issues right now at launch- which I’ve experienced the same frustrations as many of the day-1 players had first-hand. Just like the UE4 crash screen say, my reaction to all these issues is simply “Madness”.
Also, if you don’t like the one thing that carries the game- the combat- you won’t be impressed by anything else. Its appeal is solely reliant on how you like the gameplay loop of shooting people and monsters with guns and superpowers.
Outriders brings together many elements of People Can Fly’s past works, both cover shooters and boom shooters, into a satisfying RPG-focused looter-shooter. It’s all familiar mechanics, but combined in a way we haven’t seen close to this before.
Its non-confirmative design will split opinions, but if you like the ridiculously intense combat, and deep RPG systems that really changes up your playstyle built on top of a cover shooter foundation, it’s a satisfying power trip. And you don’t need to wait until the endgame before the game starts to get good
Give it some time to fix all the launch woes. When it’s firing on all cylinders, Outriders stands apart from its genre brethren. It’s a new breed of looter-shooters.
Review based on PC version. Review copy provided by Square Enix