Outriders Review – Surprisingly Good Fun

Well, better late than never, right? Weeks after becoming a hit, in no small way due to launching on Game Pass on day one, my review for Outriders is finally here. People Can Fly have been quiet over the years, working on co-developing and remastering Bulletstorm, so it’s great to see the former Gears of War: Judgement developers releasing their own project after so long, a sci-fi third-person shooter with plenty of loot. Is it worth playing? Should you pick it up or download it from Game pass? Yes, and yes.

It wouldn’t be a science fiction story without humanity finding a way to destroy the Earth. With the planet doomed, humanity’s hope is pinned on two giant spaceships that will carry their passengers across the depths of space to a new planet named Enoch. As an Outrider you’ll be one of the first to set foot on this alien planet and begin to explore, ensuring it’s safe before the rest of the colonists can be sent down to begin making their new home. Of course, things don’t go smoothly and it turns out Enoch is home to a raging storm called the Anomaly which begins disintegrating people. But a stupid jobsworth insists on calling down the rest of the people despite the obvious problems, and thus humanity finds itself on a hostile world. This isn’t a problem for your nameless Outrider, though, because he or she is hit by the storm and ends up in cryostasis

Awakening 35-years later, you find that things aren’t going so well on Enoch. There are two factions at war, both trapped by the Anomaly in a valley with a deadly no man’s land separating them. But on a happier note, it turns out the Anomaly didn’t kill everyone it hit, instead giving some of them awesome new super-powers, and even more handily it politely lets you choose between four different class types to play as. Known as an Altered you are like a God among men, able to unleash a torrent of superpowers upon those around you. And now your job is to track down a mysterious signal that seems to be coming from outside the valley, figure out the secrets of Enoch and hopefully sort out this whole mess.

Available On: PC, Xbox, Playstation
Reviewed On: Xbox Series S
Developer: People Can Fly
Publisher: Square Enix

Outriders has that kind of schlocky, B-grade sci-fi vibe to its writing that I find myself drawn to. It’s cheesier than a homemade bowl of Mac and Cheese at times, filled with over-the-top characters and awkward twists and turns. It’s the kind of game that constantly made me question if it was all intentional, if the writers were deliberately aiming to create that schlocky, cheesy tone or if it’s actually genuinely iffy writing that becomes unintentionally funny and enjoyable. In other words, I either clicked completely with what the writers were going for, or I’ve just insulted a bunch of people who were being genuinely serious in their work.

As for the main character, he or she is…interesting. In my case, I went with the male Outrider, and the voice actor delivers his lines in a dry style I thought plays really well with the fun story tone I talked about prior. The character has a somewhat anti-hero style, an I-don’t-really-care attitude. It’s funny, it really is, but at times the Outrider can come across as damn near psychopathic, especially during the very first side-quest you can embark on. His devil-may-care attitude becomes more like a callous lack of empathy that makes that entire quest feel like something from a different game.

Overall, then, the story and performances are enjoyable, fun and entirely forgettable. It does its job in providing a framework for a road trip across an alien planet and shooting lots of stuff, and never goes beyond that. With that said, I’m excited to see what a sequel could bring to the story, and to see more of Enoch.

I do have some issues with how the story gets delivered to your eyeballs and your earholes, though. First, there’s the incredibly judicious usage of fading to black, which is used to end quite literally every single cutscene. It’s like someone went to film school, learning about using fading to black as a transition and then just decided they had learned everything they would ever need to know and quit.

But the bigger is how cutscenes frequently end in an abrupt manner. There were only a few scenes that seemed to end where they should, while the rest always cut off too early or at the wrong moment. It gives the story a slightly jarring edge to it and is made all the worse when Outrider’s jumps to a new cutscene and it feels like there’s connective tissue missing between the two.

The game is split into small hubs where you park up your truck and then head out to do missions, including a small selection of side-quests. There’s almost zero room for exploration except for the occasional nook or cranny where a chest might be hidden, and these areas are all quite small, but decently varied. And there’s a lot of barriers that you have to walk up to and hold a button before the game fades into a very short cutscene of you jumping a gap or moving a tree. According to People Can Fly, these constant little scenes are there to keep players grouped up. It’s not the most elegant way of handling things, but it works well enough, I suppose.

Outriders does struggle with its mission design, settling for using the same exact template again and again and again. That template is short linear corridor, big arena filled with cover, bad guys, kill ’em, short corridor, big arena filled with cover, bad guys, kill ’em. Repeat. The environments are sort of pretty but not exactly jaw-dropping and tend to lack any sort of storytelling, so the traipses down the corridors to the next death arena feel pointless, except for the fact that Outriders occasionally uses them to deliver radio chatter with your group of comrades.

Now we come to the first thing Outriders does great, and that’s the fighting. With all the chest-high walls scattered about the place you’d be forgiven for thinking Outriders is a Gears of War style cover shooter. And that’s sort of true, but it also isn’t. The cover is actually mostly there for the enemy, it seems, because playing as the Trickster I rarely ever made use of cover until I really started ramping the difficulty up. Movement is fast and precise, letting you run around the arenas, and whenever you do slide into cover the enemy immediately tries to shove you out of via grenades, flanking and just straight-up rushing you. Staying still is a good way of getting surrounded and murdered, plus my Trickster class gets its health back by killing in close range, so hiding behind walls was never an option.

Your class comes with a total of eight powers to play around with, and you can have three of these equipped at any given time. My Trickster could teleport behind enemies for some sweet shotgun massaging, levitate foes in the air, hurl a power-infused dagger that would mark multiple foes for extra damage and even unleash a sweeping melee attack. The abilities are nice and varied and are fun to use with decently balanced cooldowns that don’t let you complete abuse your superpowers, but also don’t leave you feeling like you barely ever get a chance to use them.

Arguably, Outriders is repetitive in its combat simply because of the sheer amount of enemies you’ll massacre throughout the reasonably lengthy campaign. So I was impressed that even though the gameplay contains almost nothing else outside of fighting, it never once got boring. I had a blast in the first fight, and I was still having a blast in the last fight. Outriders manage to tap into something special, nailing the core feel of shooting and moving and using powers.

Loot comes thick and fast, raining down like a multi-coloured meteor shower. It’s certainly not shy when it comes to giving you more and more stuff to tinker with, although not quite to the same level as something like Borderlands 3 which treats loot like candy. In total, you get three weapon slots and five pieces of armour that you can equip at any given time, with a reasonable variety of styles and stats. Most importantly, though, gear can come equipped with one or two Mods that provide a wealth of cool bonuses, like turning foes to Ash, lifting them off the ground, boosting your Class abilities or even letting you land nothing but critical shots after a kill.

Getting new Mods is done by disassembling your gear, which adds any Mods you previously didn’t have straight into your mod library and making them available to put on any of your other stuff. That can make for some interesting choices as you weigh up whether to keep a legendary item or destroy it so that you can use its awesome Mods. Of course, it’s a loot game so inevitable even legendary guns and armour will be outpaced by the steady stream of new kit. Still, it brings an almost Pokemon desire to get ’em all.

In fact, that’s one of my few complaints about the loot system: even legendary items feel like they become useless quickly, taking away from their feeling of specialness. It’s not until later when you’re really grinding to get stat increases that they can remain viable for longer.

I also struggled to form a connection with legendary items, especially the guns. They have some cool visuals, but being a third-person shooter you barely get to see your gun in any real detail, and functionally they feel identical to the standard weapons. Whereas games like Destiny 2 and even Borderlands 3 make their top-tier weapons feel different and let you form a weird sort of relationship with them, Outriders treats them as more disposable. That’s probably because the focus has gone into the Mod system, but I still missed the thrill of finding a legendary weapon that behaved completely different to anything else.

But back to the Mods: you can visit your camp to install new mods on your weapons and armour for a relatively low price. The only limitation is you can only replace one of the two mods, which is smart because it means you do still need to hunt down loot that has at least one mod already on it which works with character build. Apart from that, though, Mods provide a massive amount of room to customize how you play, whether it’s focusing on dishing out damage, settling enemies on fire, turning them to ash, boosting teleportation or even adding a Mod that literally makes enemies float when shot.

I adore this system. It’s one of the coolest around, and I happily spent ages tweaking mod loadouts and searching for gear with the kind of stats I was looking for. One of my favourite combos allowed me to instantly reload my automatic shotgun when delivering a killing shot provided the ammo count was low enough. That meant my Twisted Rounds abilities could be kept running almost indefinitely, so long as I could kill something at the right time. Be warned, though, the developers have already nerfed a few of the more overpowered combos, which is good for the game balance and yet at the same time does a little of the fun out of it all.

So class abilities and Mods are absolutely excellent, making loot and creating builds exciting and fulfilling. But the skill tree is far less entertaining, basically being a standard case of sticking points into stat changes that you can barely feel. If People Can Fly had managed to nail that skill tree as well and made a trio of dynamic and interesting ways of building up your character then Outriders could have taken things to a whole other level. Ah well.

Outriders handles its challenge through the World Tier system, of which there are fifteen ranks, each ramping up the difficulty. Sadly it’s the basic form of making a game like this harder – each rank just whacks up the damage enemies can soak up and dish out, turning them into bullet sponges. It’s worth chasing each new level, though, because it increases loot rarity and amps up how high you can upgrade your gear.

The way the game handles progressing to each new World Tier is interesting, too. Basically, you have a bar at the top of the screen that fills up as you successfully decimate the population of Enoch. Once it maxes out you unlock the next tier and are free to jump straight in, but if you find yourself struggling the bar simply doesn’t shift, essentially creating a difficulty system that manages itself. For the most part, I found myself moving up to the next World Tier as soon as I unlocked it until I moved past Tier 10, at which point I did have to start backing it off every now and then due to elite units or bosses smashing my face into the ground.

Outriders can be played with up to two other people and is undoubtedly at its best when you have a squad of mates at your bank, coordinating the use of powers, cooldowns and raw firepower. But I’m a crotchety bastard with a flagrant disregard for people in general, so I spent a lot of my time playing Outriders solo and I am pleased to report it actually holds up really well as a singleplayer experience. The number of foes can be tough to deal with but never absurdly overwhelming, so I found myself enjoying the whole thing on my own, almost as much as having a few friends along for the journey.

If you get to the end of the campaign and find yourself hankering for more loot then there are a couple of choices. First, you can replay missions to increase your World Tier, chasing down better and better legendary drop rates, although from what I can tell even at the highest level legendary items are incredibly rare.

The other choice is Expeditions, unlocked once you beat the campaign. These 5-30 minute missions come with their own difficulty tiers and are designed around having a group of players, although you can still work through at least some of them solo. These challenges bombard you with legions of foes before rewarding you with a shower of loot at the end.

There’s a catch, though: to get better rewards you need to beat the missions under a certain time. In other words, Expeditions are like speedruns, and that means certain builds, character classes and playstyles suit them far better. What that has resulted in is some players getting kicked out of groups because they’re using the Devastator class, which is like a walking tank and therefore not so good at getting through Expeditions quickly. While the rest of the game allows such a lot of flexibility in terms of how you use mods and abilities, it’s a little annoying that Expeditions are more constrained, pushing you toward certain playstyles.

But I do like that even the Expeditions have a clear end. Reach the final difficulty tier and you can embark on the final mission of the game, thereby “finishing” Outriders. I’m not someone who finds the more nebulous endgame elements of Destiny 2 interesting, so Outriders more focused endgame experience appeals to me a lot more. And the developers have stated that they aren’t intending on Outriders being live-service, either. For some people that might be a bad thing, but I think it’s nice to have a complete game.

There are bits of People Can Fly’s previous work on Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgement within Outriders, and its great to see the studio back and creating their own projects rather than working on Fortnite. And man, they’ve come punching and kicking. Although Outriders does have some big flaws, I also found that it was just downright fun to play. The combat is a blast, and it feels like a live-service style game condensed into a nice 20-30 hour game that gives you plenty of cool loot and abilities to play around with. It doesn’t keep going and going and going, it has an actual end to chase, and a second ending if you really want to keep going for a little while more. But after that, it’s finished. Unless, of course, you feel like replaying it all as a different class.

So Outriders is worth playing. It’s a lot of fun. A middle of the road sort of game that doesn’t overthrow everything we know about looting and shooting or act as the benchmark for all future games. It’s just fun. And that’s good.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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