People Can Fly’s new looter shooter has been compared to Destiny and Gears Of War but how does it match up to such well established greats?
Outriders felt like it was missing something in its early announcements. A hook that truly made it stand out. It instead came off as a bland mush of super-serious tone and art assets that the Western market grew out of half a decade ago. Derivative of trends that had steadily fallen out of fashion during the game’s development process.
On top of that, it’s a looter shooter, a genre strewn with the bodies of several high profile failures, such as Anthem. All in all, the deck felt stacked against Outriders.
Which makes it a particular pleasure to say that all the concern was unfounded. Outriders is the complete package, both in form and quality.
Marooning you on a mysterious alien planet, the game puts you in the shoes of an elite soldier sent on a galactic colonisation mission. You’re an Outrider, the muscle of the operation and the first to set foot on the world of Enoch. With you, you carry the hope for the entire human race, who are running from an Earth ruined by climate change.
Unsurprisingly, this would-be paradise turns out to be less than that. It’s plagued by a mysterious power called the Anomaly, which destroys electronics and bends the physics of the world in unnatural and often devastating ways.
After becoming afflicted by this force, you play as an Altered – a rare individual who receives otherworldly powers from the Anomaly, instead of just being killed by it. Without going into the circumstances, you find yourself hurled 30 years into the future, where remnants of the human race are locked in a constant war for resources. It’s all gone a little bit Mad Max for the human race and it’s your job to navigate the nightmare that Enoch has become and find some hope for humanity’s future.
To be plain, Outriders is a third person looter shooter. You’ll navigate the world, use chest-high walls, open chests, kill bad guys and monsters, all in hope of finding better equipment and getting better powers. This is hardly a new concept and it’s easy to categorise the game as something in between Gears Of War and Borderlands.
That’s reductive though, as Outriders manages to carve out a unique position of its own, compared to others in the genre. While it is always online (which has proven to be troublesome with significant server issues in its first few days), it’s not a typical live service game and is instead a contained experience that’s entirely complete from day one.
Outriders houses a 20-30 hour campaign that never overtly encourages multiplayer. While it can be played with two other players in your squad, the game works as a single-player experience. It’s perhaps even best enjoyed that way.
The story remains largely engaging throughout as well. While nothing really out of this world (pun intended), it’s helped along by a crew of likeable characters. Working in a road trip-like structure, you’ll be bringing your crew from location to location in a planet-spanning adventure. While each member of your merry band is gruff and prickly, they are believable products of their desperate circumstances. Good people turned hollow and harsh by their decades of enforced survival.
While the overarching plot is fairly standard sci-fi fare, it contains some surprises and the people who come on this journey with you imbue it with a decent amount of life.
It’s not all doom and gloom either, especially when it comes to the world. While everything starts exceedingly grey, brown and bleak, Outriders eventually finds itself in a more adventurous stride. From snow-covered volcanos, dense forests, tropical jungles, sandy dunes, ancient ruins and more, the breadth of colour and variation available keeps the game fresh and constantly changing. Seeing it in its entirety, this feels more like Avatar with a lot more gore and swearing than the Mad Max or Fallout homage which the early game implies.
While this world and the characters that inhabit it are enough to carry the campaign’s run-time, it’s not what makes Outriders. No, instead, the aspect that is going to undoubtedly come to define it is its combat, reinforced by its commitment to an expansive mod system that opens up endless theory-crafting opportunities.
As an Altered, you’ll have the choice of four classes to choose from. The Devastator is an earth-based tank that wants to get into the thick of things. The Pyromancer is a mid-range fire-caster. The Technomancer is a longer range, gadget-based class, while the Trickster is a rogueish time-bender. Each class has their strength and a slew of nine abilities, in which you can have three active at any one time. There is also a dense skill tree that runs deep, which players can reset for free to try new things out on the fly.
Things only get deeper when you consider the loot aspects of the game, and this is where the sense of endless possibility takes over. As you gain loot, armour and weapons will contain different mods. If you dismantle that item, the mods will be added to a library allowing you to use them on any other piece of loot.
That lightning bolt power that is on your sniper rifle can be used on a cool new auto rifle you found. The revolver that grants you better melee powers would make an excellent addition to your automatic shotgun. It’s expansive. Weapons can also be brought up through the rarity ranks, really giving a sense that you can craft tools of destruction almost from whole cloth.
Armour on the other hand is largely about buffing and further defining your abilities, perhaps changing the amount of health you get per use or the number of times you can activate it.
This system is deep and gives proceedings a sense of borderless opportunity. The only real barrier to what you can come up with, to cut through the hordes of enemies, is your creativity (and crafting resources, which are thankfully pretty easy to come by). It’s a mod system that really encourages your imagination and is exceptionally freeing compared to many other looter games that have more rigid systems. In Outriders, mods feel truly, well… modular.
This all feeds the combat, which is chaotic fun. As an Altered, you can take on dozens of enemies at a time, and your abilities let you slice through monsters and people alike. However, with so many combatants against you, you also take exceptional amounts of damage. This is where People Can Fly has implemented another aspect that comes to define the feel of Outriders.
Your health regeneration is tied directly to your damage output, both through your guns and your powers and by proxy your mod synergy. Violence is the best medicine on Enoch and you need to be in the thick of it, slicing limb from limb, to keep yourself alive. In harder content, combat feels like dancing on a knife’s edge, your health rarely leaving its last third as you try to sustain yourself by tearing through hoards of enemies. It’s a unique flow, creating an engaging dance with death.
This does sometimes fall apart, especially towards the end of the game where some encounters can feel a little cheap. On harder world tiers (the game’s dynamic difficulty system) you can be downed in one hit out of nowhere and that can be frustrating, as some encounters can take quite some time. However, for the most part, it works.
Once past the campaign, the game opens up into an endgame state where you can both clear up side quests you’ve missed and also take on Expeditions. There are 15 unique ones and these act like time trial encounters that help you level up past where the story can get you. This culminates in a unique encounter at the heart of the Anomaly.
While these can get repetitive, it’s typical of the game that even after the lengthy campaign there’s still plenty for you to do, and reasons to find more and more powerful builds to throw against harder challenges. That’s not even taking into account making new characters to try new classes. There is a lot of playtime on offer here, for those who want to go really deep.
This endgame drive may not be for everyone though. Outriders’ dedication to complex structures built around granular and detailed systems could be a turn-off. If you are not the kind of person who likes to ‘optimise your build’ and find new ways to make yourself powerful through synergies, you may struggle. While you can certainly have a decent time with the game’s campaign just picking up loot and throwing on whatever has the biggest number, you will likely bypass a lot of what makes Outrider special.
While many of Outriders’ commitments to the past help define it, it can also leave parts of the game feeling fairly archaic. While Enoch is teeming with stuff to do, that scale is hurt by what a hassle it can be to move around. Fast travel especially feels stuck in a bygone era.
If you are out in the world and decide you want to move to another biome, you must return to a flag you’ve planted, fast travel to your camp, then ask your driver to take you to a new area, then once there, use your flag to travel to another sub-area in the world. On top of that, as you travel between these sub-areas, there are small, needless cut scenes that break the flow. It’s a cumbersome system and makes it a chore to move around, which can certainly get in the way of the exploratory nature of the world.
Elsewhere, for how much the mod system encourages experimentation, actually doing that can be a pain. You’ll have to travel back to camp, talk to the vendor and mess around with each mod, one by one in a painfully slow process. Being unable to rearrange your builds on the fly out in the world breaks up the sense of fluidity the game is begging for.
Several issues like this give Outriders the impression of lacking polish and being somewhat outdated in its design, but that also comes with its own sense of charm. There aren’t microtransaction kiosks here, it is a contained narrative and grinding experience and, at least for the campaign portion of the game, it usually feels better in single-player. These are rare traits for a modern title.
In its dedication to the past, Outriders finds something that feels fresh. An old school cool that permeates the game’s DNA. A love letter to the way things used to be, and a commitment to how games of this ilk could still form a valuable space in the gaming landscape.
On the surface, Outriders is a Frankenstein’s monster of several other games. Aspects of Destiny, Borderlands, Diablo, The Division, Gears Of War, Fallout, and more are all present here. However, it manages to find its voice in its focus. A brilliant crafting system, a surprising diversity of characters and locations, vicious and fast-paced combat… it all blends to create something new.
While all of its pieces are reminiscent of other games, taken as a whole this doesn’t feel derivative. Instead, it’s an appreciation of the genre. Outriders shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it trades on surprise, an often scarce commodity. People Can Fly has crafted something increasingly rare in the modern gaming world: a new and exciting major IP with a bright future.
Outriders review summary
In Short: A surprising, old school looter propped up by a contained sci-fi campaign, ferocious combat, and a modding system that encourages endless creativity.
Pros: A complete narrative experience in one package, supported by an endgame and a modding system that could keep players busy for hundreds of hours. Refreshing in a genre dominated by live service elements.
Cons: Game design can be archaic. Some aspects, like the travel system and fluidity of creating builds, are a slog. Also, if detailed dives into mod synergies are not your thing Outriders’ best aspects may not be for you.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Stadia
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: People Can Fly
Release Date: 1st April 2021
Age Rating: 18
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