With the last console generation seeing the rise of the live service game, there’s a certain level of expectations that new games that aim to utilize the format seem to merit. As soon as the game launches, eager players who speed through the campaign will already be flocking to the appropriate channels to seek out news on future patches and content to satisfy their latest obsession. While titles like Destiny and The Division have found success by building upon a solid foundation and listening to community feedback, other games have struggled to meet the demands of their fanbase, leaving the developer to either find a path towards redemption in the months and years to come, or to recognize their shortcomings and move on to potentially greener pastures. So it’s a little strange when a new looter shooter comes around and one of its big selling points is how the game is not a live service title, instead promising a complete experience from day one that includes a substantial campaign and endgame. That new title is Outriders, the latest project from Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgment developer People Can Fly that was announced back at E3 2019.
Outriders takes place after the abandonment of an increasingly unstable Earth, forcing what’s left of humanity to travel to the potentially habitable planet of Enoch. After the titular Outriders land on the new planet to ensure its safety for the remaining humans, an expedition in search of an already-present signal from another civilization goes sideways after the team comes in contact with a dangerous anomaly, with the player character going into cryo stasis as a desperate means of survival. The story picks up thirty years later, where the player character awakens to find Enoch’s natural beauty devastated by years of war amongst the surviving humans, fighting over what little resources remain. With the aforementioned signal still persisting three decades later, the player character, who is now granted alien powers after their previous contact with the anomaly and has become Altered, forms a team to track down the source of the signal in the hopes of finding a new sustainable home for what’s left of humanity. This bleak premise is doubled down on by its cast of characters, who offer little in the way of heart or levity in between bouts of swearing at or complaining about their newest predicament. A couple of late additions to the crew provides intriguing moments towards the campaign’s conclusion, as the writers do a surprisingly satisfying job of providing answers to what exactly happened over the last three decades. But ultimately, far too many of the primary and secondary plotlines in the hours beforehand are filled with grim, forgettable characters and are wrapped up with resolutions that essentially boil down to “humanity sucks,” leaving little for the player to get invested in in any meaningful way throughout the 20-25 hour campaign.
The level design of Outriders is straightforward, as players traverse from one open battlefield to the next with minor opportunities for exploration that are rewarded with additional loot or journal entries. Despite a few glitches with the waypoint system, the world and mini map do a largely satisfactory job of pointing the player in the right direction and indicating where enemies (and boss enemies marked with skulls) are coming, while making it clear which optional sections of the map can be returned to later for side missions, bounties and creature hunts. While checkpoints in each location serve as an easy way to fast travel between different chunks of a given area, players will have to return to their truck to travel to new locations altogether, but the quick loading times and lack of interesting ways to traverse make this system a helpful necessity. Several hub areas serve as opportunities to peruse shops for new weapons and armor, but the camp that serves as the starting area for each new location slowly grows in size as the player progresses through the campaign, adding new party members that offer opportunities to modify loot, change your appearance or simply engage with in optional conversations as a nice reprieve between battles. While this loop of traveling to new areas and returning to your camp is uninspired and lacks any sort of variety, the predictable nature of the campaign’s progression leaves little room for confusion and allows the core gameplay of Outriders to shine bright.
Fortunately, Outriders’ true driving force is its combat, which features satisfying gunplay and useful sci-fi powers to help players take on the hordes of human and alien enemies that get in their way. With the exception of the oddly-named double gun, Outriders offers a standard assortment of weapons to choose between as your primary and secondary guns, alongside a pistol that holds infinite ammo. People Can Fly has done an excellent job with the handling of these weapons, with a solid amount of variations to match different playstyles and class benefits such as the automatic shotgun that’s super effective at simultaneously healing the player and doling out damage. Finished enemies will occasionally drop ammo and loot to pick up, but some of the larger waves of enemies can drain the player’s ammo without a second thought, leading to desperate moments of searching for the nearest ammo box. In between fighting groups of enemies, players can sort through their loot of new weapons and armor to upgrade their firepower and health, with a traditional loot tier system that offers more resources for selling or disassembling higher-tiered guns and armor and a quick-mark mechanic that makes it simple to do either in bulk.
Although most battlefields will house plenty of chest-high walls for the player to crouch behind in moments of desperation, the most effective ways to regenerate health always encourage the player to get in the heat of the action, leaving the cover more as a last-chance resort for your enemies that helps drive the power fantasy of finishing off the final cowering survivors after a long battle. While the encounters will only consist of alien or human enemies with no crossover between the two, there’s a nice amount of variety to be found within each group, with enemies that rush and swarm to push players out of cover, grenadiers and snipers to fight players from afar, and altered enemies with powers to counter your abilities. As the game progresses and enemies flood in in higher numbers, the constant challenge often becomes keeping around weaker enemies to provide quick bursts of health while whittling away at one or several boss enemies, which requires plenty of concentration without seeming too overwhelming or out-of-reach, and can often leave you feeling incredulous at your own survival. Instead of a traditional difficulty system, the level of these enemies and the quality of the loot they drop are centered around a world tier system, which reaches up to level 15 and advances based on the player’s ability to survive without dying or changing tiers. The system is arguably one of the strongest innovations here, offering yet another way to advance your character while making it simple to switch to lower tiers in the pause menu during more challenging encounters or boss fights, which become more frequent in the later stages of the campaign.
After the singleplayer-only prologue, the player is given a choice between four unique classes that offer their own abilities and way to regenerate health, with no option to change the selection afterwards. Thankfully, players who want to experiment with the other classes can do so through the creation of a secondary character, and will not be forced to play the prologue again each time through. While we dabbled with the fire-spreading Pyromancer and the turret-friendly Technomancer, the bulk of our time with Outriders was spent as the Trickster, a space and time-bending class that regenerates health by finishing off enemies up close, with a handy symbol that appears above the enemy to know when you’re with a close enough proximity. Fortunately, the Trickster’s abilities take full advantage of this need for up-close aggression, starting the player off with a wide-reaching sword that goes through cover and slows enemies down while dealing massive damage, a time-slowing bubble that deploys on the player’s spot to hold off rushing enemies and a teleportation ability that spawns the player right behind an unsuspecting foe. While the five additional Trickster abilities that players can unlock by leveling up offer their own unique advantages, these three starting skills proved to be fun to use and combine, whether by slowing down or interrupting boss enemies with your time bubble and unloading on them with your shotgun, or teleporting up to pesky snipers and slicing them down with a quick sword slash. The relatively short cooldowns for these abilities also go a long way towards encouraging frequent usage, leading the most skilled players to take full advantage of their arsenal and class skills to stay on top of their rapidly-fluctuating health.
As you progress along the campaign and gain more loot and XP towards the level cap of 30, players will gain access to the full suite of eight abilities as well as twenty skill points, which can be used to unlock upgrades in each class’ unique skill tree that features three subclasses. Meanwhile, loot can be disassembled into materials that can be used in the crafting menus to improve the rarity and overall level of owned loot, as well as shards to enhance specific bonuses and mods which offer more significant advantages, with three tiers and dozens of possible options that allow for plenty of room for experimentation. On top of all this, Outriders also features an accolades system that has its own leveling system with aesthetic rewards for completing specific achievements, which can include new emotes, banner designs and truck customization options. After reaching the end of the campaign, players will gain access to expeditions, which are fifteen challenging time-based trials that feature massive amounts of enemies and forego the world tier system in favor of challenge tiers. Challenge tiers work similarly to world tiers but can make these missions imposing, all but forcing solo players to find a squadmate or two in order to reach the conclusion and the massive amount of loot awaiting them, including yet another currency that can be spent at a separate shop to buy some of the best items the game has to offer. It’s far from a way to play the game ad infinitum, with a clear final fifteenth expedition that’s sure to push players to their limit, but it’s a substantial post-campaign addition that will likely satisfy those who are itching for more of the frenetic combat.
After server downtime during the first few days of launch that seems all but guaranteed when online-centric games first come out these days, the Outriders servers have largely been stable during our time with the game. This initial downtime, however, did bring one glaring issue to light: online-only single player. Not only can you not pause the game when playing solo, but for whatever reason, solo players are unable to play the game in any capacity if the servers are offline. It’s a fully unnecessary restriction that only serves to hamper players who are eager to spend time with the game and feels more in-line with a game that came out in 2008 instead of 2021. On top of this, while our solo time with the game was largely free of technical issues, the multiplayer side of Outriders continues to be inconsistent over a week after launch. Both of the only hard crashes we experienced occurred when attempting to play with other players, alongside issues with stuttering and matchmaking. While this is sure to be ironed out in the weeks and months to come, it’s undeniably frustrating for those looking to play with others at launch.
The planet of Enoch is filled with a wide variety of interesting environments, which ends up leaving Outriders with a mixed graphical presentation. For every bland desert or war-torn landscape that is filled with every shade of brown imaginable, there’s an awe-inspiring vista of giant waterfalls or ancient civilizations, along with more traditional environments that have been upended by the anomaly to create unique paths with floating objects or other oddities. The soundtrack and voice acting are perfectly adequate with no standout performances or pieces to single out, but the sound design does an excellent job of providing key cues in the heat of battle, letting you know the instant your weapon or ability is reloaded and ready for use. For players with access to the new consoles, the graphical fidelity won’t blow you away, but the stable framerate during the most chaotic battles and the quick load times for fast travel are appreciated.
Outriders is an exciting evolution of the third-person shooter genre, with thrilling sci-fi powers and satisfying gunplay that makes nearly every battle feel fast-paced and gripping until the last enemy drops. The memorable planet of Enoch alongside a steady flow of loot with plenty of promising ways to mod and enhance your weapons and armor are both strong motivators to see the game to its conclusion and beyond, even when the story does little to intrigue and the server issues plague both the solo and co-op experiences. Additional mission variety could have helped keep the game feel fresh for a little while longer, but with such deep and engaging combat that evolves alongside the player thanks to the innovative world tier system, Outriders is sure to please players looking for the next great looter shooter.