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Platform(s): Google Stadia, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: People Can Fly
Release Date: April 1, 2021

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PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Outriders'

by Andreas Salmen on March 8, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Outriders is a 1-3 player, drop-in-drop-out, co-op RPG shooter set in an original, dark and desperate sci-fi universe.

Pre-order Outriders

With loot boxes, co-op gameplay, and live service components, the looter shooter genre has been dominant in recent memory. Recent experiences like Anthem and Marvel's Avengers have shown that slapping a big brand on a mediocre game with microtransactions isn't a good or rewarding experience. I'm honestly starting to get genre fatigue, and I was certain that feeling wasn't going to abate for a while.

I'm guilty of initially dismissing Outriders. The visuals and gameplay looked somewhat mediocre, and the setting didn't grab me, so I didn't concern myself with People Can Fly's new IP. This changed when I learned that Outriders would not be a live service game, but a complete and finite experience without microtransactions (for now).

We played the Outriders demo quite extensively, and the opening chapter of the game features a solo tutorial section, the first story mission, and a handful of side-quests. All four classes are available to play from the outset, and progress can be carried over to the final game. Regardless of how the game turns out, one has to appreciate the consumer focus of the absence of microtransactions and a sizeable demo that carries over progress. I hope that more game companies will see the merit in seeking consumer satisfaction rather than loot box saturation.

The story of Outriders feels like a corny sci-fi action movie with bigger and badder characters at every turn. It's fun, and I did enjoy it for what it is, but that may not be the case for everyone. Humanity has destroyed Earth, and after a long journey in cryosleep, they land on the foreign planet of Enoch. Our character is part of early colonialization efforts but is injured after discovering a local frequency and getting caught in a deadly anomaly storm. As a result, it's straight back to cryosleep until we are accidentally awakened decades later — and we gain a few supernatural abilities after getting caught in another anomaly storm. Given our new skills, we are the last hope for humanity, so we venture out of the inhabited safe zone to investigate the strange frequency.

The demo area is not an open world but a series of gameplay tubes with encounters sprinkled throughout. Some are directly connected to our main quest, which involves confronting another guy with supernatural abilities, but we'll also complete a few side-quests. The appearance is reminiscent of games like Destiny, with a hub city and vendors to organize gear, pick up quests, and venture into the world. Combat areas are neatly organized groups of cover. Nothing is organically placed; it's often a few rectangles in a square, but I hope that later encounters may be more creative.

My initial reaction to seeing the level design and the ability to snap to cover made me approach Outriders like I would any game of its kind: Stick to cover and periodically peek out to scatter some damage. The aggressive AI is going to change your mind. Get stuck behind cover for too long, and enemies will surround you.

As a supernatural outrider, we have special abilities that differ between the four classes. Combat is designed to cater to both shooting and skills equally, so the game is easier and more fun to play if we use abilities as they become available. Playing as a combat wizard is a lot of fun. Aggressive enemies are not the only way Outriders incentivizes players to use abilities and weapons equally. Since the game doesn't feature any health items, health is either recovered automatically (up to one-third of the health bar) or based on class abilities.

Outriders' classes feel distinct and well designed. They don't take huge strides in new directions, but they work well together. The Devastator is the tank, with abilities for close-range attacks that deal heavy damage, absorbing damage, and the ability to replenish health when killing enemies up close. The Technomancer is the support/ranged class with turrets that assist in dealing elemental damage and recovering health through damage dealt. The Pyromancer is a mid-range class with fire-based abilities that mark enemies. Every marked enemy killed by your team replenishes health. The final class is the Trickster, who attacks up close and personal with a hit-and-run strategy that's mirrored by its slow-motion and teleportation skills. If enemies close to the Trickster are killed, health is replenished.

Outriders' gameplay is very fun, especially when combining skills within your team. All classes play best if you use them as intended because skills and health regeneration are directly linked to the desired play style. The shooting mechanics are satisfying to execute; headshots that reduce heads to red fountains and general feedback makes shootouts feel impactful, especially with your skills being on a short cooldown timer. Some of the highlights include the Trickster's slow-motion bubble, which slows down anything that enters it, and the Pyromancer's remote bomb that lets you blow up an enemy from afar.

Outriders is a co-op experience for up to three players, which is an odd number because four players is common for most games and there are four available classes in the game. The game scales difficulty automatically based on player count, and from my experience, the demo missions felt like a comfortable balance, with no encounter being too easy or too difficult. My initial playthrough was done with one online friend, and things went great. We had a ton of fun co-op shooting our way through hordes of enemies and experimenting with some skill combinations for maximum damage.

Matchmaking is effectively broken in the demo. Regardless of whether we tried to match with other PC players or with any players via crossplay, we could not find a single match. People Can Fly has acknowledged that it's working on the issue, and some players have been lucky enough to occasionally get into a game, but we couldn't, which is worrisome for a title that's primarily aimed to do exactly that. As a result, I played through the demo with pretty much every character class on my own, and it was still fun but not ideal. Hopefully this is fixed in the full game by the time it launches on Apr. 1, which is less than a month away.

Beyond the gameplay and story, Outriders ticks most of the boxes. Anything expected in a multiplayer looter shooter is here: flags, heavy item management, gestures and vendors. The variety in gear and weapon stats and abilities is quite exciting. After a few loot drops, we had accumulated a sizeable arsenal. While weapons are ranked by their overall firepower, there is surprising depth in additional abilities for gear and weapons. Some add stats to firepower or skills, while others include a passive skill. Some weapons leech health from enemies or cause skills to cool down faster, while other gear can modify skills, such as additional uses or an increased effect.

By the end of the demo, some of my classes were morphing into builds that favored a specific play style. It also looks like every class has a fluid skill tree that can go into three distinct directions and can be reskilled at will, which further opens up unique build opportunities. However, with only two skill points in the demo, we can't see the full scope of the impact. I also have yet to find any legendary drops, which could potentially make an even bigger dent. Some have reportedly obtained legendary items within the demo, which can be done by repeating missions on the higher-world tiers (five are in the demo, as opposed to 15 in the final game). The boss fights are pretty decent for the early game, and I hope Outriders expands on those in interesting ways.

The Outriders demo didn't seem to run well on the PC. The frame rates can be inconsistent and sometimes changes rapidly, which can be noticeable and disruptive during gameplay. The demo also crashed and froze on multiple occasions and refuses to start on my main monitor, no matter how often I tell it not to launch on my second monitor. Any changes to the game settings revert when I start the demo. I like the graphics in Outriders, and we have a sprawling and wild planet to explore, so I hope that there'll be some interesting areas to explore in the full game.

Overall, Outriders intrigues me. I'm having a lot of fun with the gameplay and classes, and I'm generally fond of the direction that People Can Fly and Square Enix are taking this title. If Outriders can double down on its strongest aspects, such as gameplay with interesting areas and bosses, for its 35+ hour campaign and post-game content, this could be a sleeper hit. On the flip side, its technical difficulties, especially matchmaking, could mean an early demise if they're not properly addressed. We'll know more when the game drops on Apr. 1.

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