In what is already starting to feel like a much quieter year for video games, Outriders is one of the early heavy hitters looking to make its mark in 2021. But what exactly is this latest game from Square Enix and, more importantly, why should we care?
Outriders is a futuristic third person shooter that combines traditional, snap-to-wall cover mechanics with an RPG-like focus on dungeon crawling and class customisation. Developed by People Can Fly – the Polish studio best known for 2010’s bombastic FPS, BulletStorm and Gears of War: Judgment – there are some familiar strands of DNA present here in Outriders beyond the occasional F-bomb. Each of the four unique classes is capable of unleashing a barrage of superpowers, from the Technomancer’s support gadgets to the Devastator’s golem armour. You don’t need to be an RPG nerd to gel with Outriders though fans of the genre will delight in being able to sift through expansive skill trees and weapon mods to specifically tailor their playstyle.
Outriders is at its best when you’re barrelling through its linear gauntlets, raining down destruction on enemy patrols, and scavenging their corpses for shiny loot. Those who have previously played games such as Destiny and The Division will know this feeling all too well, though Outriders veers more towards Borderlands – an action shooter spliced with Diablo-esque dungeon crawls.
This all takes place on the planet of Enoch, a world that humans once thought of as their salvation. However, the landing party is rudely interrupted when a storm-like cataclysm known as an “Anomaly” tears its way through their ranks with your Outrider caught up in the madness.
Instead of dying they somehow survive the storm, albeit changed. Flung decades into the future you emerge from cryosleep to find Enoch torn apart by warring factions, wracked by a chain reaction of Anomalies, and swarming with mutated alien lifeforms.
On paper, Outriders offers a fascinating setup though it’s hard to care about the game’s story, especially after its incredibly dull prologue. While there’s plenty of lore and optional dialogue to soak up, it’s often crammed into the occasional cutscene or text logs stashed in a submenu. That said, People Can Fly has still tried to inject a little intrigue where they can – the mysteries surrounding the Anomaly and our hero’s search for answers help to grease the wheels a tad while racing through back to back dungeons.
It’s a word we’ve mentioned multiple times already, but “dungeons” is the most fitting descriptor when talking about how Outriders has been portioned out. Instead of dropping into a vast open world, each biome is its own self-contained level. The way these are stringed together gives this sci-fi odyssey more of a road trip vibe as you and your allies travel in a convoy, hustling between different regions dotted along a linear path on the world map that extends as you progress through the game’s main questline. Along the way you’ll gain access to higher “World Tiers”, an incremental dialling up of the difficulty in exchange for better loot drops.
Upon entering a new region you’ll establish a basecamp before venturing into the wilds beyond, usually capping off each area with a nail-biting boss encounter. It’s quite easy to find yourself rushing from point A to B along a critical path, but you’ll find that these big maps are stuffed with optional content including bounties, beast hunts, and other side quests, each activity leading into smaller dungeons and instances.
Although you’ll see plenty of variety in the game’s environments (forest, alien ruins, deserts, snowy mountains, and so on) the way battlefields are constructed lacks the same spice. There are only so many ways to arrange clusters of waist-high walls and vantage points, your Outrider’s movement options limited to running and vaulting as level designs are devoid of any meaningful verticality.
Thankfully, the punchy combat encourages players to keep moving instead of cowering behind cover. Your enemies often lobbing grenades, popping spikes, or spewing fire to weed you out, and your abilities are designed to keep you on the front foot. The BulletStorm developers have concocted a rewarding battle system that constantly administers shots of adrenaline as you perform a flowing ballet of bullets, spliced with frequent Anomaly powers. Outriders encourages you to play aggressively, each class able to reclaim precious hit points by tactically pursuing targets as opposed to idly hunkering behind a wall and waiting for the big green bar to slowly regenerate.
There’s a generous spread of weapon types available here, Outriders packing in a few variants for each gun class across assault rifles, snipers, shotguns, LMGs, SMGs, and shotguns. For example, sidearms aren’t just limited to handguns – there are powerful six shooters too, as well dual pistols. Although there are no hard restrictions, some classes will naturally gravitate towards certain weapons, the Devastator favouring close range weapons that will complement their passive skills and Anomaly powers. Each class has eight available powers that gradually unlock as you level up though you’ll only be able to slot three at any given time, forcing you to consider the interplay between skills.
The more you delve into the Outriders, the wider its scope grows in terms of character customisation and tailoring your own playstyle – between quests, you’ll find yourself sprinting back to Zahedi at basecamp to pimp out your new weapons and armour. One of the game’s highlights is definitely the straightforward modding mechanic, allowing you to break down loot in order to extract mods which can then be replicated and slotted in another piece of gear you own. There’s an extensive list of mods to find in Outriders, offering a whole host of damage/defence/support capabilities that can then be combined with various weapon and power loadouts to create wildly different results out on the battlefield.
That cocktail of supercharged gunfights and rewarding RPG mechanics is exhilarating at first though eventually sputters out as you continue to grind from one repetitive story mission into the next. Towards the end, Outriders turns into a slog and the only thing that kept me going was a genuine desire to reach its endgame content. Things definitely improve here as Outriders finally sets aside its uninteresting story and characters in favour of feverish loot-shooting – it’s just a shame how many hours you need to invest to reach this point.
Once the credits roll you’ll gain access to Expeditions. Although these can be attempted solo they’re designed with multiplayer in mind, tasking Outriders with clearing a remixed section of the game teeming with tougher enemies, all while racing against the clock. The quicker you clear an Expedition, the better the rewards – it’s only here that you will unearth the best loot Outriders has to offer. Expeditions are where Outriders feels the most refined and unfettered, though it feels like only a minority of players will ever reach this part of the game.
Note: This is an updated version of our original Review in Progress, posted on 2nd April 2021.