General game information
Game name: Outriders
Release date: April 1, 2021
Store page: Steam
Developer: People Can Fly
Publisher: Square Enix
I’ll admit it, when the first Outriders trailer dropped, I glanced at it, thought it could be cool, and promptly forgot the game even existed. It was the kind of trailer that showcases pretty visuals, explosions and characters doing serious faces, without a second of raw gameplay on display. Fast forward six months or so, and we got our first proper gameplay trailer, which not only made me remember the game existed, but also put it on my radar as something I’d be following for the next year. People Can Fly is a developer that has consistently created games I’ve enjoyed over the years, and I’m the kind of person who’s been clamoring for a shooter answer to Diablo for years (without ever feeling satisfied with the currently available attempts at filling that niche). Could Outriders be that game? Normally, I’d have to wait until release to be relatively certain that I’m going to enjoy a game, but thankfully, PCF and Square Enix did something unexpected and released a meaty demo last month, so I’m quite certain that this is what I was looking for. Of course, I’m just one guy in a sea of people who play games, and saying “I liked it” doesn’t really help others much, so here’s what I thought about the demo.
The demo contains the prologue of the full game (and save files will transfer) so the initial experience is quite similar to the one people who start the game for the first time will get (with the exception of cutscenes being locked to 30fps on the demo, and having options for 60/120fps on the full version). Speaking about cutscenes, it’s obvious that People Can Fly are quite proud of what they are building here story-wise, since there is a somewhat overwhelming amount of them during the opening segment. I personally enjoyed most of them, but I can see people feeling a bit burned out, considering most demos aren’t as generous as this one, and the expectations are probably that we’d get to shooting people faster. There is one part of the prologue area that I’d rather wasn’t there, which is the shooting tutorial. I’ve seen first hand how people instantly go into “Gears of War mode” thanks to this tutorial, which teaches players to shoot behind cover like a good mercenary would. And it makes sense, too! The player character is a mercenary after all, with no weird powers or anything of the sort, so they’d be using to taking potshots at foes behind cover. The problem is that the real game is nothing like that, and people often go by their first impressions when it comes to games they aren’t completely sold on, so I feel that a lot of people will discount Outriders as a Gears of War clone (which makes even more sense considering that People Can Fly made Gears of War: Judgement and worked with Epic on the Gears series for years).
Once the more guided sections of the prologue are out of the way, our character will be Altered (they’ll gain supernatural abilities thanks to the Anomaly that’s wreaking havoc on this new planet) and we will be asked to choose between four different classes, all with their own playstyle and cool looking powers. That’s where the real game begins, as if we try to play like a cover shooter (as the tutorial taught us to play) we’ll get overwhelmed quickly and our time on Enoch will come to a screeching halt (well, until we reload and respawn, of course). Instead, we have to make full use of our abilities. The demo includes four of eight special abilities for each class, and we’ll unlock them as we progress through the campaign. These powers run on a cooldown, so we can’t spam them all the time, but the waiting period between ability activations is fairly short (at least compared to something like Destiny 2) so the fantasy of being an almost god-like being that rules the battlefield is very well represented here. Gods aren’t generally represented as spending much time in cover though, so you might be relieved to hear that out of the four classes only one has any reason to be behind cover (the Technomancer, who is more focused on ranged combat than the other classes). But if I’m not in cover I’ll get shot and die, right? Well, you’ll get shot, that much is a given. Dying, however is a different story, as Outriders has a neat health replenishment mechanic that lets players recover health based on the damage they are dealing. This mechanic is balanced so the Pyromancer, for instance, recovers health from enemies tagged with abilities, something that feels a bit weak if you think about the cooldowns, but becomes a lot more interesting once you realize that melee counts as an ability (and each class has its own specific melee power, which can either be unleashed as an area of effect ability or a close range punch). Once that clicks, you’ll be running into danger, tagging people, and zipping out of harm’s way while they explode in a shower of glorious, charred gibs.
All four classes can be played aggressively, and while there are tons of pieces of cover scattered around the battlefield, they seem to be placed there with the intention that enemies will use them, and not the player (that doesn’t mean we can’t take cover, but it’s not the most optimal or fun way to play the game). I’ve played with all four classes and I rarely felt like I needed to run behind cover, even at the highest difficulty available in the demo (Outriders has a World Tiers system, where getting enough experience lets you raise the difficulty in order to get better rewards, and the demo has a maximum cap of World Tier 5). Aside from the Anomaly powers, we also have access to two main guns and a pistol, so there is plenty of shooting for anyone who was concerned that People Can Fly weren’t doing what they do best (and let me tell you, gibbing enemies with shotgun blasts is as fun as it was in Bulletstorm). The gear we collect comes in different rarities and possesses different stats, as one would expect from an RPG-shooter, but the real game changer is in the mods that come with that gear. Even at the low level cap afforded by the demo, I can already see the potential for crazy builds that optimize and enhance the Anomaly powers while at the same time putting more emphasis on the gunplay. Mods can radically alter how we use the powers, or give us more charges of one we particularly like so we can have even more fun with it. This is a game designed around the idea of being able to have a very customizable playstyle instead of going for more “forced” builds, and I’m utterly in love with the concept. The full game will even let us remove mods from the gear we have, and slot them into other weapons or armor, so we can customize our hero even further. The developers have been showcasing this on Twitter, so there are already some “curated builds” out there, but I can’t wait for the crazy things the community will come up with. As usual with games that have RPG components, we can also make our way through a skill tree of sorts, though in this case, it’s not something that unlocks active abilities (that happens on its own as we level up and progress through the story) but rather, yet another way to customize our character’s gameplay style and role in the battlefield.
And while we are talking about roles, it’d be a sin to not talk about the cooperative aspect of Outriders, as this kind of title is very much geared towards playing with other people. I’ve run through the content available in the demo both solo and with a full squad of three (each of us with their own class, though you can team up with people who have the same class as yours). Playing in co-op upped the difficulty, but it never felt unfair, since the addition of extra players lets us revive and do other stuff that’s simply not available as a solo player (like ability combos from different classes). Still, I quite enjoyed the solo experience as well, and I hope that the game will remain as playable for lone wolves as it is now, because you can’t always gather a team when you want to play. I’ve pretty much left Destiny 2 as a side game lately, as it requires a strict commitment from my friends, and we’ve reached a point in life when that’s not as easy to do as it was a few years ago. Hopefully Outriders will take its place, since it seems to be a lot more forgiving when it comes to end-game content and solo players’ ability to progress at an acceptable pace.
Moving on to the tech side of things, this demo launched in a relatively rough state, with cutscenes locked to 30fps (and, as a result, feeling decidedly jerky) and motion blur turned on by default with no way to turn it off ingame (you can edit a configuration file). Thankfully, the developers have already confirmed that cutscenes will not be locked to 30fps on PC (30, 60, 90 and 120fps options will be available) and motion blur will have a menu toggle as well. I experienced a few other issues, such as a poor matchmaking experience and several crashes, but that’s also being addressed for the full release apparently (the demo already got patches to remove most of the instances where I used to experience crashes, so that’s a pretty good sign). Performance isn’t stellar, but the game is far from unplayable, and the launch version will feature Nvidia’s DLSS AI upscaling tech, so those with RTX 20xx/30xx series cards will see a nice performance boost there.
Overall, my impressions on the game couldn’t be more positive. Outriders might look like yet another generic sci-fi shooter, but there is a genuinely robust and entertaining RPG shooter hidden underneath that rusty cover.