After a disastrous launch People Can Fly’s third-person sci-fi adventure emerges as a smart if familiar shooter.
As launches go, Outriders’ was a doozy.
Strictly speaking, Outriders isn’t a live-service game. There’s not much in terms of “end-game” content, there are no microtransactions (!), and the campaign can be played entirely in single player. The caveat, of course – one which screamed into focus to bite developer People Can Fly squarely on the arse this week – is that for all its ifs and buts, it might as well have been live-service given the servers went tits up the moment it went live and no one could bloody play it.
For three – three! – whole days, Outriders was essentially unplayable. For a full 72 hours, players all over the world sat patiently (or if, like me, you’re a little less zen about this kind of thing: impatiently), waiting for the “Authenticating” to become “Signing in!” to become… well, something. Anything.
The most maddening thing of all about this bungled launch is that it’s likely turned away players that might otherwise have loved what Outriders has to offer.
Of everything I enjoy about the latest looter-shooter – and there’s quite a bit – what I love most is that it doesn’t demand all my attention like a teething toddler. I’ve been an early adopter of all the games you’ve seen Outriders compared to – Destiny, The Division; you name it – but none of those games have been so generous in terms of giving me back my free time… and no, I don’t just mean the server downtime.
Whereas Destiny wants me on every week, front and centre, to complete daily and weekly quests to scrounge about for miserly loot drops, Outriders is considerably more relaxed about my commitment to it. Yes, there’s a solid campaign with plenty of side missions and expeditions, and yes, it’s early days, but right now, Outriders is exactly what it should be: a game. It’s not leeching all my free time and forcing me to unravel miles of complex lore and nightly homework as though it’s a tedious second job.
That said, it’s unlikely the story’s going to grip you hard, but I’ve definitely experienced worse. It’s got all those sci-fi buzz words in it – the Earth destroyed, humanity’s last gasp at survival was to deep-fry everyone in cryo and travel to a planet lightyears away – but it’s complex without being unduly tough to follow. And though I’ve seen some people complain about a lacklustre plot and wobbly voice-acting, again, I’ve seen worse, so make of that what you will.
Also? I really enjoyed how Outriders’ Game-of-Thrones-ified the entire cast so you didn’t know who was going to make it from one second to the next, let alone the next cut-scene. And while the environments you traipse through on planet Enoch aren’t quite as exciting as they will-they-won’t-they-get-shot-in-the-head twists, once you progressed past the everything-here-is-brown phase, you’ll find some stunning backdrops poking through all the flames and blood.
To its credit, Outriders is stuffed with all the usual hubbub – skill trees, special abilities, crafting, looting, accolades – but rarely feels overwhelming. Sure, there’s a modest learning curve, but it’s a more simplified affair than other games of its ilk. There’s a class system – you can choose to play as the tanky Devastator, the nimble Trickster, firestarter Pyromancer, or my personal favourite, the go-go-gadgetry of Techomancer – and all bring a certain flair to proceedings. Some are trickier to adapt to than others – Pyro, for instance, initially can’t heal themselves without finishing someone off with flames; a fiery feat easier said than done – but thanks to that aforementioned skill-tree, you can tuck and tweak until you’ve crafted your own formidable soldier from every class’ default foundation. Chuck in an impressive array of different weapon mods and special abilities, and it really feels as though every character – even those sharing the same class DNA – will vary wildly on the battlefield.
This is just as well, really, as pretty much everything unfolds on a battlefield, and Outriders wants you to get stuck right in. While yes, it’s ostensibly cover-based combat, your foes aren’t keen on indulging those who prefer to sit back and snipe from a distance. Combat can be challenging and unforgiving, and few Outriders will last long without getting up close and personal. Enemies will continually move to flank you – sometimes whilst simultaneously blowing up your cover – which means you’ll frequently pirouette from rock to rock, tree to tree, handy low-slung wall to handy low-slung wall, to avoid getting pinched by two dozen tanky blowhards.
That’s not an exaggeration, by the way – sometimes there really are scores of enemies hunting you down. Server and matchmaking woes aside, I rarely experienced framerate or stability issues, even when my vision was swamped by enemy AI. Everywhere you look, there’s someone – or something – looking to take you down, the entire field flooded with those tell-tale crimson icons helpfully indicating where enemies lie in wait.
Later, you’ll discover the joys of a cover-based shooter in which there’s no cover, and that’s when Outriders’ enemy bullet-sponges start to irk. The sheer number of enemies can be problematic if you’re playing alone, too. Though it appears that the difficulty and number of foes scale with the size of your fireteam, on your tod, there’s no one else to distract the angry mob. Mid-adventure, this doesn’t feel too egregious, but both early- and end-game, it can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you’re facing those toxic-hurling flying jerks – honestly, I hate ’em – or anything holding an explosive. This is further compounded by the fact Outriders seemingly equates higher World Tiers – which are just difficulty levels – with lobbing tankier and tankier enemies your way. Your reward for besting them? Better loot, of course.
For some, I suspect Outriders doesn’t innovate enough to stand out from an already oversaturated shooter market, relying too much on the ideas of other, stronger titles that have come before it. But while Marvel’s Avengers suffers from a similar malaise, recycling the same old tropes and mechanics we’ve seen before, at least in Outriders’ case, these magpie’d ideas are carefully curated, highly polished, and well implemented.
What it manages to avoid, however, is the tedium of the grind. Only on a handful of occasions did I feel I had to grind for better gear to tackle a particularly unpleasant fight, and only on one of those did I feel compelled to knock down the World Tier to get through alive. But Outriders’ generous loot drops will see you lose ten minutes an hour painstakingly sorting through your groaning inventory – hey, PCF, why can’t we sort our gear by stat number, please, to help us quickly identify the strongest stuff?! – but I never begrudged that.
While it’s unlikely to make fans of those of you who’ve sampled the shooters that came before it and left unsatisfied, as a die-hard Guardian and card-carrying fangirl of the genre, Outriders tickles me in all the right places. Offering gunplay that feels solid and satisfying and an array of additional powers and abilities to keep combat fresh and exciting, I can only admit that Outriders has surprised me in all the right ways. Maybe it’ll surprise you, too.