It’s been about 10 years since People Can Fly released its last original game, Bulletstorm. Since then, the company co-developed a Gears of War game and parts of Fortnite. As such, I was looking forward to seeing what the studio had to offer in Outriders. The result is a surprisingly long and entertaining cover-based, third-person shooter (TPS) with some dated design choices and a host of technical issues. People looking to blast enemies to bits with friends will find a lot to like, but there are some things that’ll scare folks off.
Outriders, despite coming from the makers of campy games like Painkiller and Bulletstorm, attempts to tell a mostly serious and coherent story. Earth is dead, so mankind travels to the distant planet of Enoch to find a new home. The twist is that the seemingly pristine planet is covered in deadly storms that make it practically uninhabitable. You play as an Outrider, whose job is to scout the place and lead the people to greatness. Or it was, until most of the Outriders died horribly and you ended up spending 30 years in cryosleep after gaining superpowers. Oops. When you finally wake up, everything has gone to double shit and it’s up to you to forge a new future.
Despite the fact that people seem to think Outriders is a live service game, its campaign is single player at heart, although you can play it with friends. The narrative itself has some interesting lore, but the actual plot beats and characters, while not bad, don’t do much to make this something people will remember for its story. The basic gist is that your Outrider hears a distress signal when they land, so you set out to find it in the hopes that the electronics equipment it uses can call down the supplies stuck on another ship in orbit. As such, it’s mostly a road trip story. Beyond the rising action, it gets somewhat dull and doesn’t have much to make you want to rush forward.
Outriders has a structure semi-reminiscent of an MMO. Each story section takes you to a zone containing markers that progress the story. Along the way to these markers, you’ll fight your way through foes. Once there, you’ll watch a cutscene and then fight some more, before finally seeing another cutscene. The zones are visually pleasant, but they tend to feel empty and dead. Lore notes can be found along the way, as well as chests with (typically) unneeded loot, plus spots to harvest iron. The locations are all aesthetically distinct, taking place in typical video game environments such as war-torn cityscapes, forests, snowy mountains, deserts, and ancient ruins.
The problem is that there’s nothing to see or do in any of them. Once you fight the initial waves of enemies, they don’t respawn. There’s no reason to attempt to explore, and the areas are so closed off with invisible walls that you wouldn’t want to try anyway. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity.
Outriders does have some RPG elements on the surface, though. You create a character at the start and choose from one of four classes: Tank, DPS, support, and teleporting shotgun wizard. Each class has its own skills, and only three of them can be equipped at a given time. You also level up and gain class points that can be put into a skill tree, which grants bonuses.
I played as the wizard (aka, the Trickster). While I greatly enjoyed teleporting behind enemies, slamming them with a melee attack that slows them down, and turning them into a rain of giblets with a shotgun blast, there were some elements holding it back. Three skills is more limited than what I would have liked. The problems really started to show though when I decked out my skill tree to specialize in shotguns. Only, shotguns have significantly less ammo than other guns and have the range of a baseball bat. That is decidedly not how shotguns work. I also found myself running out of ammo constantly, which didn’t happen with any of the other guns.
Not you again
The shooting is terrific, at least. All of the guns are punchy, and the way enemies respond to damage is how you’d want it. The typical assortment of guns is on display in Outriders: pistols you’ll never use, assault rifles, SMGs, sniper rifles, shotguns, and light machine guns are all accounted for. Unfortunately, there are no flamethrowers, rocket launchers, or BFGs. The game plays like most of the cover-based shooters that were all the rage a decade ago, although its gunplay is up there with the best of them.
You can take cover behind all sorts of walls and geometry that litter the battlefield. However, some of the cover mechanics are a little iffy. It’s not uncommon to randomly dislodge yourself from cover, or for your character to interact strangely with it. If you’re hit with a sniper shot from cover, you’re immediately kicked out of it, which I found rather awkward. As for the enemies, they are a bit typical. The encounters are divided between waves of dudes and waves of creatures. The dudes are much more interesting to fight, as they also use cover, plus they have different means of attacking.
The creatures just throw themselves at you. I found it necessary to switch out my guns against them, as well as my skills. Shotguns and sniper rifles are far less useful against creatures. There are sadly no loadouts, and the sections don’t always make it clear what you’re up against. You’ll just need to change everything on the fly.
Within these two subsets of enemies, there are the ones that die when you cough on them, and those that absorb damage like they’re made of dark matter. Some of the enemies are absolute sponges that can take an obnoxious amount of time to put down. And my Outrider was super squishy. But then I’d have a tanky foe held in mid-air as I unloaded a shotgun with over 100% extra damage done due to mods and perks, and I’d watch in awe as my attacks barely did anything. The tankiest enemy I can think of is the lightning shaman. It has so much health.
Been a long time
Outriders is long for a third-person shooter. It took me about 35 hours to get through, but I did every single sidequest along the way. I also died a lot. You can set your difficulty based on world tiers that each add an additional level to the gear you find and equip, which also applies to the strength of your enemies. That makes the game as hard as you want it, which is neat. I often didn’t find the game particularly difficult, but it can be really cheap. The vast majority of my deaths were due to enemies doing an insane amount of damage. It’s not uncommon for a single enemy attack to knock off 60% of your life. I got one-shotted a lot and often by attacks that I didn’t even see coming.
Your character can dodge, which has some iframes in it, but I often didn’t feel like it was enough. This goes double for when Outriders throws foes at you like this is another Painkiller game. Once you beat the game, you unlock a series of missions called Expeditions. Completing tiers of these at certain numbered difficulties unlocks even higher difficulty tiers. Your level caps at 30, but gear can go up into the 40s in these. This isn’t a game you’re meant to play indefinitely though, so don’t expect there to be an endless grind, even if doing these missions nets you a currency you can use to buy ridiculously strong weapons and armor.
Speaking of gear, the drops in Outriders are weird. I’d go hours and hours without getting a single shotgun drop, or I’d be stuck with lower-defense armor for a long time, as everything I did find was nothing but garbage. It took 30 hours for my first legendary to show up, too. I also had a fair amount of technical issues. Every time I jumped in, my HUD was missing. To fix the issue, I had to exit to the lobby and then start again to get it back. Performance was fine at first, but the day two patch caused the game to crash on me half a dozen times in one day, forcing me to switch to DX11 from 12. The servers have also been in constant flux.
Still, I like Outriders overall. The areas and RPG mechanics are somewhat underwhelming, and it can get unbearably repetitive. The action is great though when you’re not getting one-shotted, bored by the creature fights, or struggling to stay awake while chipping away at enormous enemy health pools. It may feel like too much of a throwback at times, but there’s plenty to enjoy. I’d wait for the servers to stabilize before jumping in though.