Back in March, I wrote a fairly optimistic preview of People Can Fly’s new looter-shooter, Outriders. While it wasn’t doing anything particularly groundbreaking in this increasingly saturated genre, the core gameplay loop was pretty fun, and I could see a lot of potential in the build variety once you hit endgame.
There were definitely issues; like janky pathing during context-sensitive button prompts, a clunky cover system, and mediocre performance. But my overall impressions were fairly positive. Perhaps naively, I was hopeful that the problems could be ironed out before launch.
Unfortunately, the parts of the Outriders demo that were a little rough around the edges were the least of the game’s issues at launch. Between the server outages, crashes, and general bugs; it was several days before I could actually play the full version of Outriders to any meaningful degree.
While the game has definitely stabilized a bit since release, Outriders is still plagued with so many issues that it’s hard to truly recommend right now, despite being a full two months after its initial release. This is a real shame, because there is a pretty good looter-shooter buried here somewhere beneath all the problems.
Developer: People Can Fly
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Windows PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Google Stadia
Release Date: April 1st, 2021
Price: $59.99 USD
Outriders is set in the distant future; after Earth has been rendered an uninhabitable hellscape following decades of war, resource scarcity, pollution, and cataclysms.
The last hope for the human race lies on Enoch, a distant world that has been chosen as a suitable place to establish a colony. Those lucky enough to have the proper credentials and skills are loaded onto a colony ship, frozen in cryo sleep, and sent off to rebuild civilization on this new planet to ensure that the human race can survive extinction.
The game opens with the Outriders, a group of elite scouts and pathfinders, awakening from cryo sleep and being sent down to the surface of Enoch to begin the first stages of colonization (collecting data from previously launched probes). Unfortunately, Enoch turns out to be much less hospitable than the initial surveys originally believed.
These first scouts on the planet’s surface encounter a thick black goop that causes severe illnesses in anyone it comes in contact with. Even worse are the seemingly unnatural lightning storms that tear through the Outrider convoy, disintegrating people left and right as bolts of electricity strike them from the sky.
After the chaos of this first mission, you are thrown back into cryo sleep, only to be reawakened three decades later in another chance encounter. The colonists that were sent to Enoch have found themselves in roughly the same situation as those that were left behind to die on Earth. Resources are dwindling, the hostile environment and wildlife are too difficult to tame, and the colonists have splintered into warring factions fighting over what little scraps they can scrounge up.
While the lightning storms on Enoch tend to vaporize most people unfortunate enough to be caught out in the open, you are one of the rare few that instead become an Altered. These god-like individuals are both feared and revered by the colonists on Enoch due to their superhuman capabilities and unexplainable powers. Most of them are also completely insane, and gradually lose more and more of their humanity as time goes on.
As both an Altered and the sole surviving Outrider, it is your duty to finish what your brethren started 30 years ago; find a safe place for the remaining colonists to rebuild and thrive on Enoch before they are wiped out by the planet’s hostile lifeforms, deadly environment, dwindling resources, and bitter civil war.
Outriders is on the Borderlands side of the looter-shooter spectrum, in the sense that it’s a bit more story-driven than some of its contemporaries. There are quite a few cutscenes that push the story forward, and some basic dialogue options every now and then.
You’ll also find lots of journal entries that expand on the game’s lore and character backgrounds; though they suffer the Destiny problem of being blocks of text you have to sit in a menu to read through.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with trying to be a more story-driven looter-shooter, the biggest problem with Outriders‘ narrative is that it’s just not very interesting. The setting and overall lore work fine enough, but the characters are your typical selection of grizzled and angry Gears of War extras, and few of them are compelling enough to build any sort of meaningful attachment to.
The game also has a habit of introducing a new character, only to kill them off less than five minutes later. It’s meant to emphasize how grimdark and bleak the world of Enoch is; but the game is ultimately just killing off random people you didn’t even get a chance to know, trying to evoke some sort of emotional reaction from you.
Outriders‘ campaign structure consists of a dozen or so regions that you’ll travel between using your drunken Polish driver’s party van. Within these regions are highly linear levels; broken into chunks by poorly-hidden loading screens via opening a door, squeezing through a crevasse, or climbing a rope.
Considering how small some of these chunks are, the way the levels are broken up feels extremely archaic in a game from 2021. Some of them are literally a building containing a single room, or an open arena that you can sprint across in about seven seconds.
I thought we had the technology to render large levels without having to break them up every few hundred feet with a loading animation, but apparently the developers of Outriders don’t have access to such techno-sorcery from the far future of the 41st millennium.
Most of the game’s regions will have a town or camp that acts as a central hub area where you can access vendors or crafting stations, and accept side quests. While the levels are all very linear and straightforward, they usually have a few branching paths that lead to side missions, like beast hunts, bounties, or fetch quests.
As for what you will be doing in each level, that generally boils down to shooting dudes and hoping that they drop gear with larger stats, so you can shoot higher level dudes more efficiently. While I might sound a bit dismissive with that statement, Outriders‘ core gameplay loop is actually pretty fun and engaging.
The star of the game are your Altered powers, and their ability to tear through hordes of enemies with all kinds of bizarre and interesting effects. There are four classes of Altered to choose from, each of which unlocks new special skills at set levels, and have a rather large skill tree that is loosely divided into three subclasses that focus on specific skills and playstyles.
Most of the nodes on the skill trees are kind of bland effects, like 6% extra Anomaly power or 4% extra health, but every few nodes will normally have a much more interesting and meaningful skill.
When it comes to the classes themselves, the Technomacer is the longer range class that relies on gadgets and summoning turrets and other automated defenses. The Trickster is your typical rogue class, and likes to sneak around stabbing enemies in the back and manipulating time to apply debuffs. The Devastator is the big tank class with high survivability and some melee-focused skills.
I decided to go with the Pyromancer, which does pretty much what you’d expect from the name. This class is more of a mid-range spellcaster, and can summon waves of fire, turn enemies into living bombs that explode upon death, shoot massive heat beams from their hands, and apply debuffs by covering enemies in ash.
While Outriders has a cover system, it’s not really a cover-based shooter in the traditional sense. The game really wants you to be ripping and tearing your way through the battlefield; and to encourage this your character typically only heals when dealing damage with their Anomaly powers, or leeching life from guns with health draining mods.
Not only can you not just sit back and stay behind cover to regenerate your health like in Gears of War, but there are lots of enemies with skills designed to make you move around. These include grenades or long-range artillery bombardments.
This all leads to the developers’ often-parroted tagline “Cover is for your enemies, not you.” The cynical side of me feels like they may have went with this approach because Outriders‘ cover system isn’t exactly smooth and polished, and the developers knew as much while working on the game. Moving around in cover feels pretty sloppy, and not nearly as refined and snappy as the game’s contemporaries. Pathing as you try to move from cover to cover can be hit or miss, and it’s not uncommon to accidentally snap to cover while trying to dodge.
Since your Altered powers all have a cooldown, you’ll be doing a bunch of shooting with more traditional weapons as well. This is a looter-shooter after all. You can carry two primary weapons and a sidearm at once, and the game’s arsenal consists of your standard selection of shotguns, assault rifles, submachine guns, sniper rifles, revolvers, and machine pistols.
Most guns in the same class tend to handle about the same, which is a little disappointing. However, what you are really after are the stats and abilities on said guns over any differences in the feedback you get while shooting them.
As with all looter-shooters, weapon and armor rarity corresponds to the usual color-coded selection of trash-tier commons, trash-tier uncommons, okay rares, epics, and legendaries. As you’d expect, the higher the rarity, the better the item.
This comes in the form of a few general stats, and more importantly, mods. Rares come with one mod, while epics and legendaries come with two. There are three tier levels of mod, with each level getting progressively more insane.
Tier 1 mods might be things like passive buffs to your skills, while higher tiers can do all sorts of absurd things. You might receive a huge armor buff when below a certain health threshold, or your bullets might generate explosions when you score a critical hit.
The gigantic variety of mods in the game, when combined with your skills and passive bonus from your class skill trees, ensure that Outriders has a ton of potential for unique and creative builds. At least in theory, more on that later.
Your loot can also be customized to make it fit better within your build. You can use crafting resources you acquire within the world, and by dismantling unwanted loot you can upgrade items to higher levels, reroll stats, swap variants on your weapons so they perform different roles, or swap out mods.
Whenever you dismantle an item its mods are added to a pool, allowing you to swap out an undesirable mod on a new item to a mod you’ve previously acquired. You can only do this once per item though, so make sure you think about your build before carelessly swapping around mods.
As with many loot-based games, Outriders has a World Tier system that you can crank up to improve your chances at getting better loot. The higher the World Tier, the better the drop rates.
Obviously these improved drop rates come with tougher, higher level enemies to fight. At least, this is how it’s supposed to work. Outriders is extremely miserly with its loot drops, and I never actually found any legendaries during the campaign aside from the ones you get from specific quests.
When Outriders is at its best, it’s actually a really fun and compelling looter-shooter. There is decent enemy variety, your Altered powers are big and flashy, and rare loot drops trigger that primordial dopamine injection that all gamers are geared to react to by now. The shooting mechanics aren’t phenomenal, but enemies still explode into nice meaty chunks when you shoot them at point blank with a shotgun, or pop their head off with a sniper rifle.
There are tons of ways to build your character, and the way classes and their skills interact can make co-op loads of fun. Despite some janky mechanics here and there, Outriders can be pretty fun to play through as you level up your character in its roughly 30 or so hour campaign.
Now that I’ve got the positives out of the way, however, it’s time to tell you why Outriders is kind of a hot mess that is hard to really recommend right now.
As already established, Outriders was pretty buggy and unstable when first released. This has only slightly improved two months after launch. The game works fairly well in solo play, and I’ve been getting the game usually staying at a pretty consistent 60 FPS on high at 1080p.
Unfortunately, the game’s performance doesn’t scale well on higher settings and stronger machines. There are lots of complaints of frequent stuttering and frame drops on high-end rigs when played at max settings or on higher resolutions.
A lot of people still complain about frequent crashes too, though I can’t say I’ve ever experienced this problem. The more pressing matter is that the game just doesn’t work very well in multiplayer.
Outriders uses a peer-to-peer system, and it can still be pretty laggy in online co-op. That’s assuming you can get co-op to work, as sometimes the game just doesn’t want you and your friends to party up together. Matchmaking is much worse, to the point that I’m pretty sure the game just doesn’t even have a proper matchmaking system.
Online play aside, the Outriders‘ endgame content is also really bland and disappointing. Endgame is based around Expeditions, which are missions where you fight through a quick series of arenas to get to a treasure chest full of loot at the end. The problem with the endgame is that it’s basically time trials, with the quality of your loot tied to how quickly you can complete the Expedition.
Oh, and remember how you spent time raising your World Tier in the campaign areas in the hopes of getting better loot? Well, you wasted your time. Once you unlock Expeditions, there is no reason to return to previous levels and quests to farm, because the loot that will drop will probably be a fair bit worse than what you can find in Expeditions.
The problem with an endgame focused on speedrunning through levels is that, despite all of the awesome build variety Outriders has to offer, the only thing that is really viable in endgame is pure DPS. If you aren’t killing enemies super fast and rushing through the level, then you aren’t getting the best chances possible for loot drops.
Speaking of and as already mentioned, Outriders is very stingy with its loot drops. You have to grind your way up to the final few tier levels of Expeditions before you have a decent chance at getting good legendaries; and even then the loot grind is so insane that you probably won’t be getting what you want.
You can find lots of forum posts by people who have been grinding the endgame since release, sometimes with upwards of 400 hours of playtime, who still don’t have the items they want to complete their builds for just one character.
This intersects with the greater problem with Outriders. Despite People Can Fly’s insistence on Outriders not being a live service game, it has every single downside of a live service model imaginable bar the rampant microtransactions and battle passes. The game requires a constant internet connection to play, the loot drops are extremely stingy, and on top of that the devs seem to prioritize nerfing popular class builds.
Bullet builds were nerfed within days of the game releasing, and other skills and builds have been defanged in later updates. At the same time, People Can Fly seems reluctant to buff weaker skills, or tune down the game’s most annoying enemies and engagements.
It honestly feels like the developers are artificially extending the experience to make people play as long as possible, despite their repeated quotes about Outriders not having a live service model, and instead being designed more as something people can play to completion and leave behind.
If this is truly the case, then why are loot drops so skimpy? Why are popular builds regularly nerfed? Why does it feel like they want to keep people running on the live service treadmill as long as possible, instead of letting them just enjoy the class building process and farming the specific loot they want?
Finally, we come to the bugs. Anyone who played or followed Outriders early on is probably aware of the inventory wipes. This glitch seemed to be related to playing Expeditions with friends, and could result in your entire inventory being wiped. People Can Fly pledged to restore everyone’s inventories, and while the glitch seems to mostly be resolved now, you can still find posts every now and then by people who haven’t had their inventory restored yet.
There was also a particularly annoying issue related to the preorder bonus. If you preordered the game, you received some special guns and armor to help you out early on in the campaign. These items were fairly low level, so were outclassed after a few hours of play.
However, there was no way to actually dismantle or delete these items. Worse still, sometimes the game would bug out and send you these items multiple times, which would clog up your inventory with low level gear you can’t get rid of. The only solution was to transfer all of these items to your stash, start a new character, play until you get passed the prologue and can access your stash, equip all the items, and then delete the character.
People Can Fly seem to have a really bad habit of introducing lots of new bugs and glitches when they try to fix past ones as well. Another infamous example of this was when they tried to fix a damage mitigation exploit. The end result was completely breaking the way armor and damage mitigation works. There were some workarounds, but the general result was that player survivability took a giant nosedive, with some attacks completely one-shotting you regardless of your stats and gear.
This lead to some speculation that the game’s stats are actually fake, or that the game’s level scaling is completely nonsense and doesn’t work correctly. There was even a rather infamous video of someone who used a trainer to get impossible armor stats still taking lots of damage, which further fueled the speculation that something fishy is going on under the game’s hood.
This bug has since been addressed, but some people are still complaining that their armor doesn’t seem to mitigate damage the way its supposed to. Another thing that people frequently complain about is certain perks and proc effects not always triggering when they should, for whatever reason.
I myself have noticed this, as after one of the earlier patches the freeze effect on my assault rifle wasn’t proccing correctly all the time. Sometimes these issues seem to be related to specific mods or perks not playing nice together after yet another update breaks lots of little things in the game once again.
When everything works as intended, Outriders can be a pretty satisfying and engaging looter-shooter. There are a wide range of build possibilities when you take into account all of the various skills, abilities, and mods in the game; and these powers can interact in interesting ways when used in co-op. It’s a game I could see myself devoting a lot of time to, if everything worked as intended.
Unfortunately, even two months after release, Outriders doesn’t always work as intended. Grouping up with friends is still hit or miss, and matchmaking just doesn’t seem to work at all.
Updates designed to address problems often introduce even more issues, and to top it all off the endgame consists entirely of railroading you into focusing almost entirely on DPS to get the best loot. Even then, the game is so miserly with its drops that you can easily grind for hundreds of hours.
I’m not saying that you can’t have fun with Outriders. I was having fun for a while when I was playing through the campaign solo. However, the longer you play, the more apparent the game’s flaws become, and I eventually just got sick of enduring all of the bugs and poorly thought out mechanics. The endgame in particular is where a lot of Outriders‘ problems really become obvious, so you can probably have a decent time leveling your character through the campaign and stopping there.
Part of why it took me so long to do this review was because I kept waiting to see if updates would address the game’s many problems. Unfortunately, those updates often failed to address issues at best, or introduced new problems at worst.
While there is a really good looter-shooter somewhere in Outriders, it’s still plagued with just too many issues to recommend right now. Perhaps one day it will be come a truly awesome looter-shooter experience, but for now its too frustrating for me to contemplate investing more time into it.
Outriders was reviewed on Windows PC using a review code provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.