Gunning for a place upon the looter shooter pantheon, Outriders is just weeks from launch on 1st April. With an early demo now available on all available platforms, you can scout the perilous planet of Enoch yourself before pulling the trigger on a pre-order. We dove in to try it out.
Polish developer People Can Fly are credited on a number of big titles including Gears of War: Judgment and collaborating on Fortnite: Save the World, but they’re perhaps best known for their bombastic FPS, Bulletstorm, which celebrated its tenth anniversary just this week. Outriders is their first real attempt since regaining independence from Epic Games to create a big budget franchise of their own.
Let’s get the worst part of Outriders out of the way: its prologue. Sure, there’s an interesting premise at the game’s heart, though the way you’re eased into this gritty sci-fi setting is excruciatingly dry.
With Earth in ruins, humanity scrapes together its remaining resources, journeying into space in search of a new home. Their desperation leads them to the planet Enoch, but after scouting this uncharted world the Outriders quickly fall prey to death and disease. However, it’s “The Anomaly” that poses the greatest threat, a storm-like cataclysm that engulfs large swathes of the planet in its wake. Those who survive being touched by this mysterious force come away changed: as powerful being known as Altered.
The buildup to this revelation is slow. You can’t exactly fault People Can Fly for trying to establish their lore, characters, and setting, but all it amounts to is a tedious walkabout, peppered with a handful of dull and linear missions. Thank goodness you can take progress from the demo to the full game to get this section out of the way early.
Outriders eventually picks up as your character emerges from stasis many years after their contact with The Anomaly. You’re now looking at a very different Enoch. One that has been colonised by warring factions and wracked by constant storms.
Among the rank and file grunts caught in this conflict are the superhero-like Altered. This is where you come in, rejoining what’s left of your Outrider cohort as you’re given a lay of the land.
Perhaps what makes the prologue so painfully dull is that it simply holds you back from the looter shooter action Outriders is built around.
The comparisons to games like Destiny, The Division and Borderlands are unavoidable, yet completely valid. People Can Fly are attempting to craft a highly replayable third person shooter that juggles dynamic gameplay with a progression system they hope players will hook into, either riding solo or teaming up with up to two squadmates via online co-op.
Gunplay feels smooth as you weave in and out of cover, raining down fire on enemies and eviscerating them with your Altered abilities. There’s a genuine attempt here to encourage tactical, offence-focused playstyles as NPCs constantly move to flank or engage you head on, cover points crumbling as they soak up bullets from incoming fire. To regain health you’ll need to break their ranks and use special powers that vary depending on which of the four Outrider classes you’ve selected.
These include the steadfast Devastator, deceptive Trickster, and support-focused Technomancer, as well as the flame-wreathed Pyromancer. Each comes tagged with their own unique powers (three can be slotted at any one time) as well an expansive skill tree loaded with passive stat buffs and perks to further customise your character.
After a few hours with Outriders, the combat gameplay remains enjoyable, mainly due to unlocking new Anomaly powers as well as finding more powerful loot. Encounters can be surprisingly difficult at times, including nail-biting boss battles that rely on more than just chunky enemy health bars to raise the challenge threshold.
One aspect some fans of the genre may find difficult to grasp is how Outriders is portioned out. Don’t expect open world spaces teeming with other players. If the region featured in the demo is indicative of the rest of the game, expect linear pathways that branch off into smaller dungeon-like instances. At any point you can drop into a friend’s game or look for squaddies via the matchmaking menu. In that regard it lands itself somewhere between the live always online experience of Destiny and the optional online co-op of Borderlands.
Outriders is arriving pretty late into the looter shooter party, but this is a genre that’s sure to stick around for years to come. While there’s nothing particularly unique or ground-breaking, the game’s dungeon-crawling structure, combined with smooth gunplay and devastating Anomaly powers has us wanting more, if only to see how well these elements mature as we reach its endgame climax.
The Outriders demo is out now across Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC, and is expected to remain available permanently. The full game is out on 1st April 2021 for the aforementioned platforms and Google Stadia, with progress transferrable from the demo to the main game if you stick with the same platform – crossplay multiplayer is an option for teaming up.