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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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PC Review - 'Outriders'

by Andreas Salmen on April 6, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

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

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Outriders is an online, third-person, co-op shooter set in a dark sci-fi universe. Recent online-only titles have walked the path of live service experiences, and Outriders tries to mix the best of both worlds. While most of its core gameplay aspects hold up incredibly well, they cannot completely hide the rough presentation and invasive server and matchmaking issues at launch. Like so many other titles before it, the combination of an always-online requirement and severe server disruptions spells a botched launch that locks out players from the experience.

The story begins with a spacecraft from Earth arriving on planet Enoch, which is the last hope for humanity to rebuild society. We are one of the Outriders, the forerunners of the colonization effort, but things go bad in a heartbeat. Creatures and anomalies immediately destroy all technology and set humankind back a couple of decades. You are granted special powers by that same anomaly, making you one of the mightiest beings on Enoch. An unknown frequency sends out a distress signal, and our goal is to reach that frequency and figure out how to save humanity. To do that, you'll take your trusty truck across the planet and into untouched territory that's swarming with insurgent forces and dangerous wildlife. You'll meet several characters along the way, and some will even join your mission.

The story is passable. The writing is often too serious, but the tale is enjoyable enough to string together the main and side-quests in a cohesive way. I'd love to see some characters expanded upon with more dialogue and story beats. The plot occasionally introduces some interesting story points, but it never delves deep enough. It feels like an introductory story to the world, so I hope future DLC or potential sequels may expand upon that foundation. There is some B-movie charm at play and a certain roughness that almost feels nostalgic to me, but other players may feel differently about this.

The bread and butter of Outriders is not its story but its gameplay. There are four total classes to choose from, each with distinct abilities and traits. The Devastator is a tank with powers that can deal a lot of up-close damage. The Trickster also focuses on close-range damage and is physically weaker but is capable of bending space and time. The Pyromancer is more effective in medium-range battles, with fire powers that set enemies ablaze or make them explode from afar. Finally, the Technomancer is the support class with long-range weapon boons and elemental turrets that are welcome aids in the heat of battle.

Their traits don't end with their skills. Outriders does not have health regeneration items, since each class regenerates health when playing to its strength. The Devastator and Trickster regenerate health for close-range kills, the Pyromancer when setting enemies ablaze, and the Technomancer regenerates a portion of health for overall damage dealt. This creates quite a dynamic system where you're better off when directly participating in the action. There is no downtime when there are enemies in front of you; directly engaging them is your best bet to survive. That also keeps the gameplay flowing nicely, without stopping to heal every so often. You're often pushed to the brink of death where a few quick kills can turn the tide in your favor.

Regardless of which class you choose, the gameplay takes a little adjustment. In Outriders, combat is almost a 50/50 mix of using your demigod abilities and over-the-shoulder shooting. Unless you adapt to that gameplay style, things will be very difficult. You'll be inclined to drop behind cover and treat it like a cover shooter, but depending on your class and situation, hunkering down is rarely the best choice. When you figure things out, Outriders' gameplay is fast, brutal, and satisfying. It's a great power fantasy to work your way through hordes of enemies that are only held at bay by your weapons and powers. As a Trickster, I enjoyed slowing time to a crawl and going to town on a horde of enemies with my shotgun, leaving behind a bubble of floating extremities. I also played a limited amount with other classes, all of which have their own play styles that need to be mastered to survive on the battlefield.

Players don't need to rely on their character class and abilities alone. Your equipment is important in the early stages, but by the time you reach the end and the level 30 cap, your gear will be the most important aspect to manage. Neglecting to collect, craft, or improve your gear usually means a bad time, since you'll hardly inflict damage on foes.

Outriders' loot system is not only excellent, but it also features a great crafting system. You'll want to collect any loot you can find, if only for crafting resources. Common items are good to sell for a few bucks, while rarer items grant you resources for crafting and mods to use on other gear. Nothing you ever pick up will ever be useless. Crafting becomes available very early on in the game and essentially offers you the chance to improve armor and weapons. The most inexpensive changes are to your weapon type (firing mode) and swapping mods, which are the most powerful passive abilities, such as recovering health when firing, comets raining down on enemies, or reducing the cooldown of abilities.

Dismantling a weapon grants you its mod, which can then be inserted into any weapon with a mod slot for a very small fee. That means you're always able to customize your current build based on the skills you're using, with a few exceptions. If a weapon is under-leveled, in most cases exchanging and dismantling the weapon is a smarter choice than using the crafting tool to level it up.

Each class has a complete skill tree that branches off into three subclasses that you can freely invest your skill points in. You can go all the way into one direction or pick and choose your favorites, and changes are quickly made. There's a free option to reskill the entire tree as often as you'd like.

The gameplay, skills, and loot work so well together and are so easy to change that it's a mystery why Outriders doesn't currently allow you to save several different load-outs for a character so you can swap between different gear and skills. There are certain gameplay situations where you'd use a specific loadout, like a boss encounter or when you're playing in a group.

The core pillars of Outriders are strong. The shooting feels impactful and brutal, the skills and mods are devastating, and the loot system is addicting and highly customizable. When contained in that loop, I am completely glued to my screen, which is a testament to how well the mechanics work together and how difficult the game can get in higher tiers. There is quite a lot of content to get through. The campaign alone is decently long at about 20-25 hours, and the side content can easily add another 10-15 hours to your slate. Completing the game unlocks expeditions, which are essentially tougher missions that are separate from the main game. Expeditions also grant a special currency to buy epic gear at vendor sites. If you are chasing a perfect build and want to max out everything, Outriders can keep you busy for quite a while, and that is ignoring the fact that there are four different classes to play.

Outside of that gameplay loop, though, Outriders often misses the mark. The story leads you through stages that range from muddy war trenches to snow-covered peaks and deserts, but the level design is passable at best. Combat areas often have the same layout, and while there are some standout locations in the middle of the game (ruins and jungle areas), much of it feels the same.

Fights are usually the star of the show, with numerous enemies, minibosses, and bosses surrounding you. The game makes fights interesting with tough enemies that keep the pressure on you and keep you on the move. However, skirmishes can quickly feel generic, since the environments feel similar much of the time. Given the lackluster level design and set dressing, not many of the combat moments are memorable in the grand scheme of things.

There are a lot of little things that aren't as great, like the fact that some healing mods and weapon perks are essential and overpowered when playing solo. Fast-traveling between stages always requires you to fast-travel to your base within a stage before you can travel to another region. You can customize your truck, which you'll only see in those fast-travel cut scenes, but it's obsolete otherwise. There are also a ton of little bugs like clipping, floating enemies, absent sound effects, etc. It feels rough outside of the very polished gameplay loop that carries the entire game (and does a fair job), and that may be a tough sell for some. It doesn't look nearly as good as the sum of its parts, but if you're able to look past the inconsistencies, this is a co-op gem that will hopefully get more refined over time.

This brings us to the worst part of it: performance and server issues. Outriders can be played solo, but it's best enjoyed with up to two friends with different classes as you grind away and earn new gear to experiment with — when you get to play with them, that is. Since its launch, Outriders has fought a lot of issues. Servers were down for hours on end, so the game was inaccessible to everyone, even solo players. Even worse, some players were kicked out during gameplay, reportedly losing access to items and inventory in the process. While we were not affected by this particular bug, it's worth pointing out.

On top of that, matchmaking is still a mess. Cross-play between PC and consoles did not work at all at launch, and it's even spotty when playing against other PC players. For some stretches, I would not get matched with other players for story content, so I choose to get matched with other players to do expeditions instead, which then consistently matched me with players doing … story content. It's all over the place and often not playable, which is a pity since it had a reasonably strong launch and a lot of positives going for it.

In its current state, I cannot recommend Outriders to anyone yet (except perhaps those who own the Xbox Game Pass on Xbox consoles). The issues will eventually be ironed out, but until then, you're better off waiting to see how things develop over time. The game also isn't running too well on the PC. The newest Nvidia Game Ready driver seems to worsen performance, so if you haven't installed that yet, it's best to hold off. We had to combat some highly variable frame rates and stutter throughout the experience, which we were eventually able to solve by limiting the game to 60fps. If you're unable to reach that mark, anticipate some variable frame output that can make things look less smooth than they are. When everything works, it's a blast to play alone and even better in a group, but those moments are frequently disrupted.

I'm hooked. I love Outriders' shooting, skill, and loot mechanics and how they work together to form a highly addicting co-op shooter. While it has a lot of features that I'm not fond of, the core gameplay is solid enough to easily carry the rest of the experience. If you're into looter shooter or dungeon crawler games, Outriders will scratch that itch — if you can play it. With its current matchmaking and server issues, we cannot help but score it lower than we'd like. Whenever the technical issues are resolved, the experience could be as high as 8.3, making Outriders a co-op shooter that's well worth experiencing either alone or with friends.

Score: 6.8/10

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