Developer: People Can Fly
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG, Looter-Shooter
Platform: Xbox Series X (also available on Steam, PS5/PS4, Xbox One, Stadia)
Age Rating: PEGI 18
Release Date: 1/4/2021
Price: £59.99 (Also available with Xbox Game Pass)
A code was provided for review purposes.
In a world where live-service games are becoming all the rage, Outriders feels like a much-needed breath of fresh air. Even more interesting is the fact it arrives in the form of a looter-shooter, not too dissimilar from other games of its genre. But where the likes of Destiny and The Division pride themselves on being an ongoing gig, Outriders sets itself apart as a fairly linear third-person looter shooter with everything available at launch. So for the most part, what you see is what you get, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Outriders has set out to be something different in a genre that is becoming increasingly popular, but does it succeed? Absolutely.
A Fresh Start
Outriders is set in the (hopefully) distant future where humanity sets out in search of a new planet after inevitably ruining Earth. This leads what is left of humanity to the planet of Enoch, which promises to be a solid replacement. Luckily for you, you’re one of the first ones to set foot on the new world as an Outrider tasked with ensuring Enoch is all it’s hyped up to be. Though it’s not long before paradise falls as a strange unforeseen anomaly rips through your comrades and ruins all hopes for colonisation. After being injured yourself, you are thrown into cryo-sleep, where, unfortunately, you have been sleeping for 30 years. When you wake up, you find Enoch all but ravaged by the anomaly and the warring remnants of humanity. But, you quickly find that you have become “Altered” by the anomaly, and subsequently become humanity’s last hope.
The main story has its fair share of cliches and familiar story beats that easily put it in the same league as a game that came out 5 years ago, but I feel like that’s a big part of its charm. While I’ve grown accustomed to grand overarching story arcs and ongoing narratives, Outriders’ linear approach to storytelling harks back to a time in games where campaigns were simple, straightforward, and fairly enjoyable despite their short length. Not to say Outriders’ story is short, but it’s just refreshing not having to cycle through multiple dialogue options and make hard choices. It feels a lot like Gears of War meets Mass Effect if I were to compare it to anything. At the same time, I’m glad the game isn’t in the style of modern RPG’s with their diverging plotlines and player choices. Outriders‘ knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything more, and it more than succeeds at being itself.
That’s not to mean its hits the mark all the time. In certain instances, the voice acting seems a little off and maybe not up to the standard you’d expect, and characters feel overly similar. Pretty much every character in the game, of significance at least, has an overly macho personality and an F-you attitude, feeling almost like they’ve been ripped out of a B-tier 80’s action flick, or the Gears of War franchise. There are some characters that make it work, but when almost every character feels the same, the novelty wears off.
Saying all that, is it bad that I really don’t mind? Especially in the case of your own character, I feel the voice acting is spot on. The protagonist isn’t necessarily as in-your-face as other characters but is instead rather stoic. Your character always speaks quite casually, and the blunt delivery of certain lines feels natural to a character that is fed up with practically everything. Everything feels like a breeze to the protagonist and I feel it more than makes sense as someone who can cleave through hordes of bad guys in a single swipe. Not everyone will be a fan of the lax tone of your protagonist, but I feel it really does fit nicely.
A Strange New World
Despite how much humanity has destroyed Enoch, it’s still an intriguing and visually exciting world. I constantly found myself fascinated by the world People Can Fly have built, not only in its design but as a new IP that genuinely feels fresh. Outriders is built on the simple idea that humans are terrible and that no matter where we go, our penchant for ruining things will always come with us. It’s a tale as old as time, but Outrider’s leans into it in almost every aspect of its world and produces a story that is incredibly haunting. This running theme makes the game, in retrospect, fairly depressing should you allow yourself to get invested in its various quests. Even in the more lighthearted moments of the game, there’s always a sort of catch to joke, a grim undertone. Very few side quests have a relatively happy ending, and on numerous occasions, I couldn’t help but think “wow, humans are horrible”.
No matter how optimistic you may be, Outriders will without a doubt always make you see the worst in people. It won’t change your world view, but man it is really rough sometimes. It’s a world that is incredibly dark and gritty, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. People Can Fly, particularly, their writers, have done a stand-up job of creating a world that sticks with you, with side quests and characters that are more impactful than you’d expect.
Yet most of your time spent in the game will be running through various environments gunning your way through foes. Thankfully, each area of the game feels unique and carefully designed, even if some feel like filler zones to add more hours onto your playthrough. Your journey will take you through battlefields staged amongst the ruins of old settlements, as well as areas of Enoch untouched by the destructive hand of man. The gorgeous white mountain of Eagle Peaks and the dense and lush Forest particularly caught my eye, not only in their natural beauty but also in the way they lend credibility to the fact that Enoch could’ve been paradise had things gone well. That is if you take away the mutated wildlife of course.
Yet one of the most memorable areas for me was the bleak and muddy Trench Town. As the name implies, Trench town is a sprawling town built into large trenches on the edge of a ravaged battlefield. What’s more fascinating is the town is noticeably reminiscent of WW1 trenches. There’s even a mission that has you storming a hill across from Trench Town, that is covered in trenches, barbed wire, and pillars of rebar and concrete. I found it hard not to be impressed by the level of detail and thought put into designing parts of the world such as Trench Town, as the team uses familiar motifs and influences that lend greater authenticity to the world they’re trying to create.
It’s abundantly clear that the team have put considerable effort into meticulously crafting a world that is reflective of the games thematic foundations. Engaging with the denizens of Trench Town and taking time to explore revealed more attention to detail than I first anticipated, and even proved more thought-provoking as well. In contrast, the natural areas of Enoch were a joy to explore and give players a break from the darker zones of the game, and especially on the Xbox Series X, these areas are stunning and more than worthy of a screenshot or two.
Fight Like Hell
Despite Enochs beauty, it will try to kill you in every possible way. While the anomaly can’t be shot, practically everything else on the planet can be. On one end of the spectrum, you have the lowlifes and maniacs that have thrived amongst humanity’s desperation. These bandits and insurgents are fighting for the world to stay as broken as possible, and to kill what sane people are left so they can get a better share of the planets dwindling resources. Your sudden arrival put a spanner in the works and as such, all sights are set on you. On the other side lies Enochs hostile wildlife, who are not only grotesque monstrosities but an absolute pain in the butt should you fail to keep them under control. Creatures ranging from poison spitting bugs to hench alien hounds will be out for your blood, so when you’re out in the woods, you’d better watch your back, and then your front, and then your back again.
No matter what you’re up against, enemies will come at you in hordes, seeking to overwhelm you rather than outgun you (though they will be packing a lot of firepower). When it comes to humans, you’ll be facing an endless hail of gunfire and grenades, forcing you to think on the move and know when taking cover or charging headfirst into the action is the best play. The game also throws a variety of enemy types at you that change up the balance of a fight considerably, and challenges you to pick your targets wisely to survive each encounter. Snipers with unnatural aim will force you to hide behind cover, and at the same time, shotgun-wielding bullet sponges will force you to move out of cover. Not to mention the fact that ordinary footsoldiers will constantly be firing on you should they see an opening, which is almost always.
The odds are almost always stacked against you, but take it from me when I say the best play is to go in guns-blazing. In the same way, DOOM is all about throwing yourself into the action to survive, Outriders follows suit, as regenerating health is directly tied to your ability to do damage and kill opponents. So rather than be a coward and hide behind cover, get out there and even the odds. Just watch out for the snipers, they are honestly not human.
It’s in this chaotic approach to combat that I fell in love with Outriders’ gameplay. Charging into the heat of battle gunning down squads of psychos feels and sound so good, and above all else, incredibly satisfying. Even when you’re just plugging a full magazine into a tanky boss, it somehow still feels good and somewhat cathartic. Perhaps I’m just a psycho, but Outriders’ has some of the most fun combat I’ve played in years, and the guns are only the tip of the iceberg.
While the many threats you’ll face on Enoch pack a nasty punch, so do you. Unlike your fellow Outriders that were killed by the anomaly, you were instead blessed with incredible powers that put you leagues ahead in terms of human evolution. Your newfound superpowers enable you to do things normal humans cannot, for example, slay monsters the size of a multi-level car park and turn ordinary mortals to paste in a single punch. As an “Altered”, being a living weapon never felt so fun.
At the start of the game, you get to pick your class, which determines your powers and playstyle. You’ll be able to choose from four options; the stone skinned Devastator, the fire controlling Pyromancer, the time-bending Trickster, or the gadget slinging Technomancer. Each is designed to match a specific playstyle, with classes like the Devastator and Trickster being more up close and personal, and the Technomacer being more of a support and long-range threat.
In my playthrough, I picked the Devastator, because c’mon who doesn’t want to be a walking tank? The abilities at my disposal were a blast, as I pulverised enemies with mini earthquakes, impaled them on giant spikes, and laughed with glee as bullets would bounce off of my stone armour. Outriders never ceased to make me feel like a living god of war, and having that much power makes for some incredible gameplay. Yet the devs have done well not to literally make you a god, thanks to things like ability cooldowns and enemy scaling. By the time you max out your character, you might not even need bullets to take down your foes.
Beyond the base abilities of a class comes a levelling system that allows you to spend class points in exchange for perks that improve your abilities and character. These perks can do simple things such as grant you more health and weapon damage, as well as offering more advanced options to appropriately develop an overpowered build. Should you want to be more ability focussed, then getting perks that reduce ability cooldowns will turn you into the Superman of Enoch. Even if you prefer guns, you can get perks that give a range of bonuses to your firepower. For me, I created a build that allows me to heal so long as I make enemies bleed, allowing me not only to do more damage but more easily stay alive. There is an assortment of ways you can wreak havoc with your chosen class, and every way will feature its own brand of chaotic fun. In Outriders, the experience is tailored to you, by you, so get out there and show em what you’re made of.
At Your Own Pace
It would be a crime not to mention the game’s handling of difficulty scaling. Outriders foregoes the traditional difficulty settings of easy, normal, and hard, instead introducing its own system called “World Tiers”. Starting in world tier one, enemies will be appropriately adjusted to your level to ease you into the game. But as you progress and gain more experience, you’ll unlock a new world tier that cranks up the difficulty by giving enemies more levels than you, while also raising the chances of you getting better quality loot.
It sounds like a good trade-off, but take it from me you might not want to rush. I’ve played through most of the game without dropping down a world tier, and I kinda regret it. Whenever I progressed into a new tier, I’d find myself getting insta-killed by bosses and even reduced to the smallest amount of health by the lowliest of enemies (the snipers, it’s always the snipers). Should you seek a challenge, Outriders will give you one, but don’t feel bad for staying on a lower-tier till you’ve reached the endgame, as it’s only then you can really reap the benefits of higher world tier loot.
Loot Glorious Loot
Now onto that sweet, sweet loot. Outriders is after all still a looter-shooter, and it lives up to its genre incredibly well. For anyone familiar with rarity based loot systems, you’ll be accustomed to gear being colour coded on the basis of how good they are. Guns and armour can go from uncommon to legendary, with the latter gear coming with fancy designs and unique perks and attributes. You’ll even notice that as you start to unlock rarer gear, they start to come with mods.
These mods are mini perks you can equip on gear to basically enhance your weapons, armour, and even abilities. Guns can have things like fire ammo or shots that periodically set off an explosion. Armour on the other hand has far more interesting mods, that can not only do things like cause enemies to bleed on critical hits, but also bolster your class abilities with extra damage and effects. When you find a pretty new gun or armour piece, you’re better dismantling unwanted gear, as doing so will add the mods on them to your collection for use later on.
The integration of the mod system makes pursuing loot in Outriders feel more rewarding and justified. Sure you might have a cool gun with decent mods, but maybe one doesn’t compliment your build, and so going out and getting loot will yield something you can slot into that useless mod’s place. Unlike its looter-shooter brethren, there isn’t necessarily a “meta” loadout or weapon that is the be all end all of the game that everyone should use, and it’s great. Getting exactly what you want in a looter-shooter is almost always the buzzkill of the experience, but because Outriders offers so much flexibility in the way you can customise your gear and class, seeing the rainbow of loot erupt from a boss always feels exciting and rewarding.
Fans of the looter-shooter genre and third-person RPGs alike should absolutely play Outriders, but so too should anyone looking for some fun high-octane action. People Can Fly have valiantly created a new IP that succeeds on almost every level, giving players the chance to experience some of the most intense and empowering gameplay in years, and a world bustling with fascinating stories and detailed environments. Outriders is the result of a dream five years in the making, a dream it fully realises, and one I can’t wait to see more of in future.
Rapid Reviews Rating
4 out of 5
You can pick up Outriders on Xbox Game Pass, or buy it on the Microsoft store here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.