Outriders is designed as a complete power trip. Not every element of it works as well as the brilliantly realised powers and ability system, but that's okay.
I’m not typically a looter-shooter gamer, but Outriders spices up the formula just enough to make it feel different yet familiar enough at the same time. While the components of grinding for better gear and guns will forever haunt the Outriders game cycle, its approach to the class system, weapon mods and kick-ass power system make the game captivating. Even when the slightest opportunity to boot Outriders back up again presented itself, I found myself willingly jumping back in to get another power-kick of ability-based carnage that never grew tiresome through its 20-hour campaign.
Outriders tells the story of settlers from Earth who have escaped their dying homeworld in search of a better life. However, when the new planet they choose turns out to host gigantic storms of something called the Anomaly, war breaks out among the many factions of settlers as a struggle for power and survival runs rife within the human population. Your character, a nameless Outrider and one of the first settlers on the planet, is frozen in cryo after becoming infected with the Anomaly, waking up years later to witness the destruction that ravages the planet. In an effort to understand the Anomaly and why you survived an encounter with it (along with gaining some awesome new abilities), the Outrider journeys across the planet to find the source of a mysterious signal. Basically, the writers at People Can Fly threw in as many science-fiction tropes as possible, some cool-sounding words and created a badass planet to set its adventure in and somehow it just works. While Outriders is no narrative masterpiece, it manages to juggle enough mystery even when recycling sci-fi clichés, most likely because of how much emphasis it puts on its cutscenes. I didn’t expect Outriders to drive its story element as hard as it does, but that’s a credit to it. While predictable, there are enough elements of intrigue that make you want to find out more.
Yet if the story doesn’t do it for you, its class and power system probably could. In the opening chapter of the game, you are asked to choose one of four classes: Technomaster (long-range support), Pyromancer (mid-range), Trickster (close-range) and Devastator (close-range tank). Each of these four classes has its own set of abilities that you unlock as you climb the levels. Simply put, they’re what steal the show. From sending walls of fire at enemies to appearing directly behind them to slice them with a spectral sword, People Can Fly makes every ability worthwhile and incredible fun to use. What’s even better about these is they don’t hide them behind ridiculously lengthy timers, encouraging you to use them as often as possible. Playing Outriders makes you feel truly powerful, and it helps add an element to the subpar gunplay. There was never anything better than playing as the Trickster and summoning a shield that slows down everything that enters its field and then slicing all the enemies than enter with my sword to get a health boost. It was outlandish fun that I haven’t quite experienced before and was always the big reason that kept drawing me back into the world of Outriders.
However, these abilities do come at the cost of gunplay. At its heart, Outriders is a shooter, and when it’s guns feel rather uninspired this is worrisome. Only offering four distinctly unique gun types, the main differences between them were often the rate of fire, damage output and clip size. Apart from these distinctions, every gun in the same family feels identical except for a few passive modifiers that most of the time passed unnoticed. They don’t even feel like they pack a punch when fired, with many enemies acting as bullet sponges, and so I was always eagerly anticipating the cooldown for an ability to cause chaos on the battlefield. Thankfully guns and armour both come with slots that allow for mods which offers the most variation to the game’s gameplay. In the same vein of the abilities, the modifications feel powerful and genuinely provide another power-kick to the game that helps salvage what could potentially be rather dull. It’s not enough to completely disillusion me, but it’s tolerable for the campaign length.
The campaign of Outriders takes place in a linear fashion of small branching areas that you can explore freely. While somewhat open, there can be no denying its maps are not open-world, only ever having one entrance to each segment with the occasionally hidden exit. This works in Outrider‘s favour because it allows each map to feel somewhat different, whether that be the peaks of a snowy volcano, the decrepit ruins of the failed city or the bogs of a forgotten wasteland. Each map feels different and visually unique, even if its layout is predictable. You always know when a battle is about to assume because random objects that don’t make complete sense litter the area in convenient places that act as cover. No doubt used to encourage close-combat experiences, it’s clear that Outriders wants you to get up close and personal with the enemies so you can make the most of your abilities, and I was often more than happy to comply.
Although, Outriders isn’t a single player game; it improves massively when playing as a team. The hordes of enemies are quite intimidating when playing by yourself, but having even one teammate can make all the difference. There’s a huge social element to Outriders that thrives in just having people to accompany you. Often the best kills came about by tag-teaming enemies with different abilities to reduce their health to zero in a matter of seconds or having someone lead countless enemies towards you ready for the devastating AOE effect that always feels more compelling when it wipes out ten enemies in one go. In fact, there becomes something more tactical about Outriders when in a team that only makes it feel stronger. Sadly, its cross-play feature is currently broken, and servers have an awful habit of disconnecting or imprisoning you in an inescapable loading screen. Plus, sometimes matchmaking doesn’t even work in the first place, and that forces players into a more lonely and tiresome Outriders experience.
For me the Outriders experience finished alongside the campaign. While there was still plenty more loot to grind and higher difficulties to experience, its pull immediately lessened. That doesn’t mean I’ve completely finished playing Outriders, but I’m not spending the whole day bingeing it either. Its powers and abilities are great fun to explore, but when you finally get that last unlock or a nice configuration of mods, it becomes hard to find purpose in Outriders’ world. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a longevity in the experience for most players, but as of now, I feel like I’ve experienced most of what the game has to offer, and I enjoyed it pretty much from start to finish. I can’t wait to see how game gestates from here, but for now, I’m more satisfied with everything I got out of the game’s campaign.
Outriders is out now on multiple platforms. You can watch a trailer below.