Despite its popularity, the looter-shooter genre has developed a bad reputation in recent years. This can largely be attributed to business models, as many of these games turn out to be greedy cash grabs full of live service mechanics. It certainly doesn’t help that there have been some very high profile flops in the genre, such as Anthem and Marvel’s Avengers (though the latter isn’t a shooter).
Seeing as how that second example was also published by Square Enix, it’s easy to be skeptical of Outriders, the latest game by People Can Fly. Outriders‘ dev team seems extremely aware of the genre’s bad rep, and have tried to be fairly transparent with the game’s marketing and development diaries.
They have already promised that Outriders will be a “complete experience” upon release, and will be devoid of any irritating microtransactions and live service BS, though they haven’t ruled out paid expansions as time goes on.
Part of this marketing campaign includes a pretty generous demo on every platform, which contains the entire prologue and some of the first act. You can play the demo for as long as you want, it allows you to try out all four classes, and the progress even transfers to the full game should you decide to buy it. Here are our own impressions after playing around in the demo for six hours over the weekend.
Outriders is set on the distant planet of Enoch, a world that humanity has chosen as the site for their new home following the destruction of Earth. The game opens with the first scout teams being unfrozen from cryo sleep, and sent down to the surface of Enoch to retrieve data probes that were launched prior to first contact.
You play as an Outrider, a member of an elite organization of scouts and pathfinders tasked with exploring Enoch and finding suitable areas to begin colonization.
As you can probably tell from the screenshots and trailers, this optimistic first mission ends in complete disaster as the first scouts encounter a deadly black goop that causes severe illnesses. They also encounter a bizarre lightning storm begins rampaging through the convoy, disintegrating everyone it touches.
In the chaos, you end up being thrown back into cryo sleep, only to be reawakened three decades later to see that humanity is in the same situation that they left behind on Earth. The lightning storms have only gotten worse in the 30 years since humanity landed on Enoch, supplies are nearly nonexistent, and the colonists have been locked in a never-ending civil war inside a small, barren valley.
While most people are completely vaporized by the abnormal lightning strikes, you are one of the rare few who become Altered. These individuals possess incredible powers, and are worshipped like gods among the colonists. Unfortunately, many of them are also completely insane, and gradually become more and more detached from their humanity as time drags on.
As both an Altered and the final remaining Outrider, it’s your duty to carve a path forward for the dwindling numbers of colonists before their endless war, diminishing resources, and Enoch’s countless hazards finally kill off the human race for good.
In terms of looter-shooters, Outriders leans more on the Borderlands side of things than The Division or Destiny. By that, I mean that Outriders places a greater emphasis on the story, characters, and lore. Cutscenes are pretty frequent, and you are constantly stumbling upon collectible journals and data entries that can be read in-game to expand your understanding of the story and setting.
There is even a rudimentary dialogue system that allows you to ask characters for more information during a conversation, though it doesn’t look like you can make any real choices that alter the story or outcomes of these chats.
This is one of the more divisive parts of Outriders based on what I’ve heard from others. There isn’t any inherent problem with trying to be a more story-driven looter-shooter, but what Outriders offers so far is pretty generic.
The setting is fine, and there is even some interesting concepts and enemy designs, but the characters themselves are basically what you would get if you removed all the strangely enduring charm and snarky dialogue from Gears of War‘s cast of grizzled war veterans. It’s kind of like all the Gears games made after the original trilogy.
Aside from the drunk Polish guy, most of Outriders‘ cast of characters all fall into some variant of disgruntled, angry masses of living muscles that like to stand around scowling. No one has any real personality traits or redeeming qualities that make them interesting. Then again, considering the overall tone of the game’s setting and how humanity’s situation on Enoch is about as cheerful as living on Armageddon in the late 41st millennium, there isn’t exactly much for anyone to be happy about.
Of course, this is only the first 5 or so hours of a game that is supposed to take roughly 30 hours to complete, so there is still plenty of time for the characters and story to grow on you as the game progresses.
The other issue with the game’s cutscenes are the excessive amounts of shaky cam. The game even uses shaky cam when characters are just standing around a table during a mission briefing.
It’s like they hired the camera crew from a J.J. Abrams film, hooked them up to a permanent IV drip feed of pure distilled caffeine, and had them script out the cutscenes. Shaky cam’s ugly big brother motion blur is also along for the ride, and there is currently no way to disable it.
Of course, you aren’t playing a game like this for the riveting story, enduring cast of characters, or expertly crafted cutscenes using obnoxious Hollywood film techniques that should have been expelled from cinema in 2007. You are here because you want to shoot people with assault rifles in the hope that they will drop more assault rifles with larger numbers on them. In this regard, Outriders is actually pretty damn fun.
The core gameplay loop in Outriders is exactly what you’d expect from a looter-shooter. You have a main questline to follow that will send you around to new areas, many of which also contain little branching paths with side quests. As you kill enemies and complete quests, you’ll gain experience and find new gear so you can tackle increasingly higher levels of enemies and quests.
The game has a World Tier level that you can adjust as you increase in level and get better gear. There are 15 World Tiers, each of which gradually increases enemy levels and difficulty in exchange for better loot drops.
You can carry two guns and a sidearm at a time, and your character has equipment slots for helmets, gloves, boots, chest pieces, and pants. Even though the demo only contains the earliest parts of the game, the loot drops are already pretty interesting and meaningful. In addition to the usual selection of stat increases that you’d expect from a looter-shooter, the rarer armor pieces tend to also buff specific skills.
Meanwhile, all of the rarer guns have cool proc effects. You might find a sniper rifle that gives you life steal whenever you score a headshot, or a machine gun that causes a small explosion when you kill an enemy.
When combined with the skills you buy from your character’s skill tree and the abilities you want to focus on, Outriders looks to have plenty of ways to craft your own playstyle from each class. There will also be an actual crafting system, though it’s not in the demo.
The gunplay is pretty satisfying. Like all looter-shooters, Outriders does feature a lot of pretty bullet spongy enemies in the form of elite mobs or bosses. Even so, most enemies have a nicely balanced time-to-kill that encourages you to constantly be on the lookout for better gear without making you feel like you are shooting them an unreasonable number of times.
Shotguns in particular pack a nice punch and will cause enemies to explode into giblets, and a headshot with a sniper rifle often rewards you with a popping head and shower of gore.
Outriders has a cover system, but don’t expect a cover-based shooter from it. The devs have explicitly said that the cover is mostly for the enemies, which probably explains why the cover mechanics feel a bit unpolished.
It’s not uncommon to have your character not take cover when you want them to, or slide into cover when you were actually just trying to dodge roll. The cover system isn’t as slick or snappy as a game like Gears of War, and it’s partly because the game doesn’t actually want you sitting back glued to a chest-high wall during the entire firefight.
What the game wants you to do is to aggressively rampage across the battlefield with your arsenal of Altered superpowers. The game features four classes of Altered, each of which has access to a variety of cooldown-based skills. You can have three abilities equipped at once, and each class also has a rather large skill tree that is loosely divided into three subclasses.
The Technomancer is a more long ranged support class that relies on gadgets and weapon emplacements. The Pyromancer is a mid-ranged spellcaster that throws all kinds of fireballs and explosions.
The Trickster is a stealth class that functions like a rogue in a more traditional RPG, albeit with time manipulation abilities thrown in. Finally, the Devastator is your big and bulky tank class that features high defense and some melee-focused abilities. Outriders‘ classes have a nice array of really fun, powerful abilities that have tons of built-in synergies, even before you take into account co-op multiplayer.
I put most of my time into the Pyromancer, because I like seeing my foes writhe in agony as their sins are purified by cleansing fire. The Pyromancer can send out waves of flames, turn enemies into living firebombs, or consume the flames burning your foes to deal damage and heal yourself.
Casting abilities and killing enemies is how most of the classes regenerate their health, further encouraging you to get into the thick of it and actively seek out your enemies instead of camping behind a wall. The AI is also quite aggressive, and will try to push forward and surround you if you decide to stay behind the same piece of cover for too long.
While the combat itself is fun, Outriders really falters in the level design department. The environments so far can largely be described as narrow, linear corridors with invisible walls that connect to a large area full of strategically placed chest-high walls.
The prologue was at least visually interesting since it was a lush alien forest, but the first act is just a series of trenches and bombed out buildings. I really hope this is just because it’s the early parts of the game, as the levels in the demo are extremely bland and not that exciting to actually navigate.
In terms of performance, Outriders is a mixed bag. I have an older rig that still runs a 1080, and the game stays a pretty consistent 80 FPS at 1080p at high settings. This is a perfectly acceptable performance level for me.
However, people with newer PCs trying to run the game at higher resolutions have reported unstable framerates that can jump all over the place, and often don’t go too far above 60. I’ve heard a lot of people complain about crashes as well, though I personally didn’t experience any. One annoying performance issue regardless of hardware is that the cutscenes are locked at 30 FPS.
While Outriders can be played and enjoyed alone, its real draw is the three player co-op. The game even has full crossplay support, though you’ll need to use something like Discord if you are playing with friends on different platforms.
While co-op with friends works fine, it should be noted that the matchmaking seems broken. I was never able to successfully join up with a party of randoms, which will definitely be an issue if you want to play the game with others, but don’t have a group organized already.
It’s easy to have a vehemently negative opinion of new looter-shooters these days, especially after EA just recently all but confirmed that Anthem is on the chopping block, and Square Enix seems to be making Avengers more grindy and annoying for the three people that still actively play it. I have no idea if Outriders will be a success, or drop 97% of its player base within weeks like Avengers did on Steam.
While there is no denying that Outriders has a lot of issues that I just don’t see being fixed before its full release less than a month from now, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit excited to play more.
The core gameplay loop is fun, the loot drops so far have been interesting and meaningful additions to my character’s build, the Altered powers are all big and flashy, and the skill trees look like they have a fair amount of depth the further you get into them. I’m not completely sold on Outriders yet, but I still see enough potential that I want to keep an eye on the game.