I’m very certain that somewhere, somehow a pitch meeting of a video game developer to a company for a game that included a little bit of Destiny, a dash of Diablo and Borderlands and the gameplay of Gears of War may have been rejected or laughed at. Either way it would have been put forward with so much gusto we’d be excited at the prospect of just another looter game to the fray. Despite a rocky launch plagued with server issues and bugs that included entire loss of progress, developers People Can Fly have acted swiftly so that Outriders can be the experience they wanted us to have. The overall experience winds up being a mixed bag of good and bad. A back and forth if you will of smart decisions and the usual mistakes that loot-based games tend to make that we hope to get fixed down the line. For some, there is the choice to stick it out and await the future content drops in the hopes that the game “gets better,” and for others, we’ve already decided to trade this thing in or get a full-on refund. (I’ll let you know where I wound up by the end of this review.)
Outriders attempts to tell a futuristic tale of humans fleeing Earth to settle on a new planet when things go wrong, but for the most part the overall narrative of the game starts off interesting and then winds up devolving into the mundane linearity of kill sections and boss fights. The characters in the game can’t save this thing either: they move the story enough towards its climax, but if you asked me to remember their names I’d stare at you with a shrug and go, “the cowboy dude in the beginning was the best character but he dies in a cinematic.” It also doesn’t help that your character is the embodiment of the “dry, shallow empty shell of a tough person with a good heart” trope. They grunt their lines through their teeth and you just laugh at the overzealous portrayal of badass hero character the game gives you.
Thankfully the game begins redeeming itself by sending you through multiple environments as you explore the planet in the game’s sectioned-off story missions. Lush forests, vast deserts to snow-covered mountains, the game has a robust level design that complements the gameplay with its chest high walls for cover and sometimes little to no cover at all during certain fights. Outriders is meant to be played aggressively regardless of what character class you pick. You can heal yourself by kills or doing damage depending on the class as well. I started with a Technomancer who employs turrets and grenades and has abilities based on ice and toxic. Freezing enemies in place while poisoning them, then exploding them into bits that did damage to nearby enemies and seeing it domino effect throughout an entire encampment presented some of the highlights for my playthroughs on that class. On the other side, playing as the Trickster had me slowing down time and slicing all in my temporal bubble, with some other nifty tricks for my guns so that I could become ninja Rambo. Ability cooldowns keep the encounters fast and frenetic especially during the boss fights. I wish there were more, and I also wish more centered on the giant alien monster motif instead of the occasional super soldier with powers you fight. It doesn’t help that the final boss is just some regular sized creature with a ton of powers as opposed to one of the first bosses you encounter which is literally a lava spider. I will say that above all else, the graphical fidelity of the environments and the gameplay help save what is unfortunately otherwise a mediocre experience.
Story and gameplay are all fine and dandy, but these types of games are most often about the loot. The grind for armors and guns is what keeps people coming back to this type of game. It’s why I constantly find myself dipping back into games like Destiny and Diablo from time to time. Outriders gives us end game Expeditions that come with increasing Challenge Tiers for its endgame content, and they are for the most part a fun and wild ride through what is essentially the game’s hardest content. When you complete the game, 14 of these Expeditions open each with a higher difficulty. The final Expedition mission only unlocks at the highest Challenge Tier and the loot from here is some of the best in the game. You will be fighting against not just harder enemies but are also timed to complete these missions as quickly as possible. This is where your character build comes into play and requires careful consideration of your abilities, skill tree and weapon mods. The loot is rewarding as not only do you get a chance at some fantastic elusive Legendary drops, but they all have random rolls that can be broken down if you have the piece already and give you mods to use on other weapons. It is entirely possible to enhance your purple gear into gold tier gear by just mods alone and sometimes this is the best way to go for Expeditions and Hunts.
With a solid main campaign and a decent endgame, Outriders at least sticks the landing in delivering a full experience from start to service. Despite being an always online game, it is not a live service title like Destiny or The Division, but it does manage to mirror those games as inspirations for some of the way content is set up in the game as well. Instead, it is more akin to a shooter version of something like Diablo. You can team up with other players on the same system and even with Cross Play across other consoles and even PC Players. This did have some hiccups at launch, but over the course of the past three weeks since launch (as of this review) it’s gotten more stable and consistent. Server issues still pop up from time to time but nothing as strenuous as it was during launch, where I encountered numerous instances of being kicked out mid-mission even sometimes during a boss fight.
One thing I did appreciate was People Can Fly’s open and constant communication, something I’ve only really seen from Bungie and its flagship series Destiny. Unlike Anthem and EA/Bioware and more than Massive/Ubisoft with The Division, People Can Fly not only maintained communication on its social media channels, but also in-game with pop-up prompts letting you know what was going on. This type of clear and concise thoughtfulness from a developer is what’s needed more of these days, especially when a lot of other titles released half-baked and unfinished. For the most part, Outriders IS a finished product that launched with some hiccups. However, as I trudged through the disconnects and bugs, I found I was faced with an adventure that was as muddy as some of the landscapes you ventured through in the game. The gunplay isn’t as engaging as I would have wanted it to be. The World Tiers only give you a series of DPS checks, making the enemies take more damage and spongier. The game ultimately becomes a mixed bag of different things that couldn’t hold my interest personally, and once I finished the final Expedition my immediate thought was one of exasperation and feeling like I was done.
I can tolerate a lot of nonsense for a good gameplay loop. I dive into a game like Destiny every week without fail. The combat in Outriders is both varied and frustrating. The character progressions is both rewarding and nonsensical. I’ve grinded for three hours only to dismantle a ton of guns and armor for materials, time I could have put to something else. That feeling of doing anything else ultimately is what I felt once I completed the things to with this game. I realized I could have put more time into other video games after walking away dissatisfied with Outriders. The initial ride may have been fun, but over time the game became mundane, boring, and flat out unengaging. With no road map for future updates or expansions, I worry that Outriders winds up being a one and done. People Can Fly has stated they’ll eventually work on more, but that isn’t enough for me. For others, this may be exactly what they want. There is for sure an audience of the, “make my numbers go big,” crowd and if that’s you then Outriders may very well be for you. If you’re like me though, I recommend trying Outriders on Game Pass at best, but save your sixty bucks for something else.