Outriders is putting the RPG back into looter shooters

The looter shooter genre has been booming for years now, from Destiny and The Division, to Warframe, Borderlands, and beyond. Set on the alien world of Enoch, with the survivors of a calamitous colonisation attempt imbued with magical abilities, Outriders is People Can Fly’s big budget take on the popular genre.

Firstly, just in case it needs clarifying, let’s get one thing clear about Outriders: it’s not a live game. Instead this is a game with a self-contained story, but what advantage do People Can Fly feel that gives them?

“First, you are not being tempted to buy some shady monetisation practice!” Bartek Kmita, Creative Director laughed. “I’m joking of course, and I’m not against games as a service; it can be cool and I play these kinds of games, so if a game is designed from day one as a service” – “And that the player is happy about it!” added Szymon Barchan, Lead Narrative Designer – “then this can work.”

Bartek continued, “We thought about [making a GaaS] many years ago, that maybe this was the right approach? But what were we going to do? We’d chop the game into segments, into chapters, the story would be delivered in parts. We asked ourselves if this was something we’d want as players, and decided that no, we didn’t want that. Let’s go the classical approach as Diablo did, let’s release the game as a whole, and if players are enjoying the game we can add expansions.”

An action RPG shooter with a clear beginning, middle and an end sounds oddly refreshing, even when there are some other notable examples. To be honest, though, a fair bit of Outriders’ setting and story feels… let’s just say that it feels like we’ve seen this kind of thing before. Small pockets of humanity are struggling to survive, there’s infighting over resources, and a big anomaly that is shrouding large parts of the world, making them utterly inhospitable and deadly. There’s unknown dangers, broad mysteries and plenty of intangibles to the game’s setting and the driving plot right now.

It’s how those mysteries can be peeled back through the game that is pretty different to Destiny or Anthem. There’s far less pressure to keep things back for a drip feed of content over the course of months and years that follow. Well, outside of any hopes for a sequel, that is.

“Some of the questions, a lot of them will be answered during the story,” Bartek said, “but there is a big world and not everything will be touched and some of the mysteries will be mysteries for a little bit longer!”

Szymon said, “We have a lot of content inside for the players to be playing for a really long time. All the main path, the side activities, and some endgame content we won’t be discussing right now. There’s various things you can do, and it can be 40 hours, even without the end content, depending on the play style. […] We have all the lore, all the knowledge about the world is inside the game. You don’t need to go anywhere else, like external sites; you can read it fully inside the game. ”

The game will take on a kind of road trip format, as your Outrider leads a large truck from location to location, bringing a village-worth of NPCs and vendors along for the ride. However, while the main path through the story is linear, the world design blends in more open world elements, and there’s side quests that can draw you back to previous areas.

Bartek explained, “What’s important to mention is that we don’t have an open world, but we don’t have a completely linear game either. We have a linear game, but it’s branching into different arenas, different levels and parts of the world. It’s merging the classic levels from a story-driven game with the open world choice and freedom of exploration.”

Everything we’ve seen of Outriders so far has a real front foot approach to combat. Though there’s cover shooting underpinning the action, an emphasis has been placed on showing off the magical abilities available to the various outrider classes, often seeing them leap into the fray and get stuck in. It should come as no surprise considering this is the same team behind 2011’s Bullestorm.

For People Can Fly, it’s a style of gameplay that comes from treating this as an action RPG with shooter elements, rather than the other way around. You see that through the combat, where the gunplay often looks like the backup plan.

The various abilities feed into one another, while a number of character builds feeding off the action to regenerate your health. The Pyromancer, for example, can use Ash Blast to immobilise enemies, encasing them in dust while you line up headshots, or use Heatwave to create a wall of flames that they cannot escape. And now that they’re all weakened and clustered together, Thermal Bomb can set an enemy ablaze, rising up and exploding as they’re health bar runs empty.

But those are just one potential trio of abilities that you can equip from the Pyromancer’s eight, allowing for flexibility of play styles just from switching them out. Dig a little deeper though, and there’s a large skill tree with three branches, funnelling players toward Ash Breaker, Firestorm and Tempest character builds, and the added flexibility of finding items and gear that fundamentally modify the abilities you have equipped.

“The skill tree and the three branches, to be honest, are mostly added to help people who are not so familiar with this kind of trees.” Bartek said. “We have to direct their fantasy if they don’t want to deal with build management, but if you’re a player who wants to analyse and create the build, to create their own Outrider, for some builds you don’t even have to go the full branch of the class tree. You can mix and match different paths, which is more important sometimes than just going to the end […] and it’s even more complicated because of the items that you’ll find.”

Most importantly, the style of play you have chosen shouldn’t change as the difficulty increases, with World Tiers that ramp up the challenge and the rewards, but access to these shifting up as you progress and down should you fall in combat. It’s a unique risk and reward system, with the option always there to step away from that, play on lower difficulty and just take in the story.

Bartek explained, “Basically, if you are not playing according to what you have built, then you will fail. So, for example, if you build a character that is squishy and getting hit with one bullet will kill you, then you will stay in cover and get the cover shooter experience, up until you’ve killed the most dangerous enemies and you’re able to go out and finish them off.

“On the other hand, you can create the same character in a way that relies on permanently regenerating health when you are close to enemies to keep you alive, then you will not be able to stay in cover, you will have get close no matter the difficulty level.”

But don’t call this the endgame – Bartek and Szymon chuckled when I asked if they were calling it the Infinity War instead, though probably out of pity. Nothing has been revealed about the actual endgame content just yet, beyond its existence as a means to keep players that want to hunt for that perfect character build engaged after the main campaign and clearing any side content they missed.

It would be easy to dismiss Outriders out of hand, but to do so would be to overlook the ways it stands out from its fellow looter shooters. The greater emphasis on the RPG side of the game, with character builds that are more than just what you happen to be wearing and holding in your hands, and just having a self-contained story all sounds rather appealing to me. Throw in People Can Fly’s game-making history, and Outriders is definitely a game to keep an eye on for later this year.

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