When Square Enix and People Can Fly put the Outriders demo out on February 25, my buds and I jumped in to play. The taste we got convinced me I’d be buying this game even if I wasn’t reviewing it. A couple months later, I will say that the v1.0 of Outriders isn’t perfect by any stretch - it's buggy, requires online, and is full of unnecessary cutscenes to name a few issues. However, where it succeeds distracts well from its flaws. It delivers an over-the-top violent third-person shooter with co-op and solo play, classes that are fun to explore, and mods and gear that allow you to continually evolve your playstyle across a generally enjoyable difficulty-vs-reward system.
The Anomaly changed us
We begin the game as a mercenary among the group known as Outriders: an expedition team meant to explore, survey, and face dangers in uncharted areas. It’s a good group to have for the remnants of humanity that left a dead and polluted Earth behind to go seek another world. Humanity finds Enoch, which seems to be suitable to human life and settlement. However, it isn’t long before you and the first explorers discover the Anomaly: A force that fries electrical components and either painfully disassembles humans or, in very rare cases, gives them powers and turns them into beings known as Altered. You’ll never guess which category you’re in when it hits you.
As your character is coming to terms with what happened, they’re wounded and put in cryo for 30 years. It’s long enough for some requisite jerk to call for humanity to land on Enoch despite the dangers. Thousands of people are awakened to a planet where their technology doesn’t work and they can’t gather resources for fear of the deadly Anomaly. Starvation, riots, and anarchy ensue. You wake up in the middle of a war and find as an Altered you are capable of turning the tide and guiding humanity to actual meaningful settlement on Enoch, if other Anomalies and Enoch’s twisted wildlife don’t kill you first.
Outriders’ narrative is unabashedly full of b-movie cheese. Your character responds adequately as a person who woke up with superpowers in the middle of a war on a world trying to kill you off (namely lots of “what the f***?”). Meanwhile, most of Outriders ranges from the usual mad world depression, bitterness, and insanity to outright ridiculous. It can be seen in full stride when, in a side quest, you save a soldiers who was working with enemies to survive, only to mercilessly betray and kill them, declare “this is war, deal with it,” and then get shot in the noggin by a stray bullet before he can finish that sentence. It feels hard to get emotionally attached to Outriders due to its jumps between depressing futility of the situation and brazenly gratuitous violence and bravado, but at least the latter makes for surprising and laugh-out-loud moments sometimes.
Let’s get to what being an Altered Outrider means. Outriders is a third-person cover-based shooter taking from People Can Fly’s previous work on Gears of War and it shows. Throughout the game as you fight soldiers, Altered, and Enoch wildlife, you’ll run into an endless supply of firearms that will regularly change up how you fight (though of course you can focus on finding certain gear). The gunplay is a mixed bag. On one hand, I think it feels impactful whether in the recoil or the visuals of you shredding foes with bullets. Shotguns eviscerate foes to a pulp and sniper rifles provide the kind of head pop that wins Shacknews awards. The aiming, on the other hand, feels a little flimsy: a bit too tight on pinpoint movement, and a bit too loose when you give a stick too much oomph.
What makes up for the mixed state of gunplay is easily the powers. There are four classes in Outriders and dang if People Can Fly didn’t make them all feel like they matter. Whether you go for the long range disruption of Technomancers, area-of-effect fire of Pyromancers, hit-and-run burst of Tricksters, or tanky short range disruption of Devestators, all of them are fun to play in various ways in solo and group play. you can learn more about them in my classes breakdown over in Cortex.
What you need to know here is that Outriders does a great job of continually allowing you to individualize your character. At the basics, it’s in your class, their abilities, and your weapons. Soon enough you unlock class points for your skill tree, which allow you to unlock things like added status effects on some of your abilities, bonus damage for using them a certain way, or specialization in a weapon class. Then there’s gear mods. On weapons these do everything from providing special health restore for kills or damage to causing explosions that harm nearby enemies when you hit a critical shot. On armor, they augment your class abilities, such as allowing a Technomancer turret firing freezing rounds to also poison enemies or a Trickster gaining bonus damage after using their blink ability. You can even disassemble gear for parts and keep its mod to put on other gear later.
Through all of this, Outriders supplies a ridiculous amount of variety in how different players can play with the same class, let alone different classes. And when you bring co-op into the fray, discovering synergies, it provides for a messy ballet of death and destruction as you splatter every unfortunate foe that gets in your way. The only thing bothersome is that while you can access your class abilities, skill trees, and gear at will, you cannot access mods you’ve found. You have to use a vendor to see what mods you’ve gathered and mods you haven’t collected are displayed, but blacked out with no way of seeing what they might do. The latter I can deal with, but it would be nice to have a tab where I can see the mods I have in my inventory without the vendor.
Perhaps the most interesting thing adding to this is the World Tiers. You don’t just level up your characters. As you succeed without dying, you level up the game’s difficulty, making foes tougher, but also boosting chances of high-tier loot. Die too much, and your top World Tier can level down. It’s possible to play well enough where you suddenly find even small fry kicking your butt without the right gear, but you can also select a lower World Tier better suited to you. It’s a really smart and thoughtfully adaptive way to deal with difficulty vs. reward in a looter shooter and I found myself happily wanting to challenge it throughout the game, satisfied with the option to take it down a notch if it was too much.
“That guy did not deserve an introduction”
Outriders is great in a lot of ways, but it’s also full of weird problems and nonsense. Perhaps the most glaring of these is that the game is always online whether you play in solo or co-op. The issues with that could be seen thoroughly in the first weekend of launch where server overload made it nearly impossible to play the game for a while. For my experience, I occasionally lost connectivity to the servers while in the middle of a mission. It booted back to the title screen where I waited for the matter to be resolved, all the while hoping the gear and level ups I collected were saved. There’s also bugs such as HUDs disappearing, abilities unable to be equipped, and enemies floating in the air in cutscenes and combat that sometimes required restarts to fix.
Speaking of cutscenes, Outriders is filled to the absolute brim with unnecessary cutscenes that pull you out of the action and then throw you back in. In dialogue moments and story that’s fine. But we’re talking about a game where you go to a side mission area, activate a door, watch a cutscene of your character opening the door, and that’s it. There’s another moment where my friend and I were in the middle of combat being fought by close range enemies when the action suddenly faded to black for an “elite” enemy to be introduced in a 10-second cutscene. We were dropped back into the action and went hard to the paint turning the elite enemy inside out with gunfire and abilities in seconds. “That guy did not deserve an introduction,” I told my friend.
We laughed for that one. But Outriders does this throughout the game and it becomes a less funny joke each time. Thankfully you can skip most cutscenes. Even so, Outriders can be pretty with verdant forests and iced-over mountainsides, but in a time where games like Destiny 2 and Apex Legends have previously produced vast, nearly seamless settings, Outriders’ constant transitions are strange and jarring.
Outridin’ dirty in Enoch
For its weird flaws, bugs, always online issues, obnoxious use of cutscenes, and b-movie attitude, Outriders is still mostly what I wanted it to be in execution and I think it's built for a wealth of future content and improvements that mean it's just going to get better from here. Whether I jump into the game on my solo character or team up with my friends, I know I’m in for a good, visceral, and rewarding time. I look forward to exploring Outriders’ missions and challenges, discovering how to make my Outrider a more powerful vehicle of battle, violently annihilating my foes with satisfying weapons and powers, seeing what new gear it will give me, and chasing a more difficult World Tier. I also want to see People Can Fly and Square Enix continue to build upon the awesome things they've put in place here. I hope the servers hold up going forward, but for all of its issues, when all of Enoch is in working order, the spectacle and progression are quite a rewarding experience I want to keep returning to for a long time.
This review is based on a PS5 digital version of the game supplied by the publisher. Outriders is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.
- Great classes with various solo and team viability
- Weapon impact and variety is great
- Frontrunner for Best Headshot of the Year
- Powers are devastating and fun
- Mods and skill trees allows for lots of unique builds
- Genuinely funny moments in an otherwise somber narrative
- World Tiers provide good difficulty vs reward system
- Excellent drop-in co-op experience
- Aim feels a bit flimsy
- Story tone is uneven and difficult to care for
- Gratuitous useless cutscenes
- Always online, at the mercy of servers
- Mod inventory hidden away at vendor