In the battle for the title of Destiny-killer (or even competitor, at this point), Anthem’s death knell had barely finished ringing before another sci-fi looter shooter came in and stole the limelight: on February 25, the day after BioWare announced that it was done working on Anthem NEXT, players got early access to the class-based third-person cover shooter, Outriders.
Outriders comes to us from Polish developer People Can Fly, which is known for Bulletstorn, Gears of War, Painkiller and plenty of other action-shooters. In the demo, People Can Fly and publisher Square Enix have shown off the game’s Prologue and initial mission scenarios complete with side-quests, for a total of two to three hours of unique gameplay on all major consoles — including previous-generation consoles and Google Stadia.
I took the chance to play through the Outriders demo and see how it’s shaping up: here’s what I’ve found so far.
Outriders takes players into a future where the Earth is dead, and what remains of the human race has fled to the alien planet Enoch… Which turns out to be an absolute nightmare, filled with reality-bending storms that grant deadly powers to those who survive them. Those survivors, yourself included, are known as Altered. Humanity is already at war with itself on Enoch, and it’s up to you — an Outrider (a.k.a. a badass scout) and one of the only Altered that didn’t go on an absolute killing spree after gaining their powers — to try and make a difference.
After completing the Prologue, players can choose between all of the classes on offer: Devastator, Pyromancer, Technomancer and Trickster. There are six slots available for character creation, giving players ample space to play as each of the classes and even to double up. One of Outriders’ biggest draws is the amount of replayability it has to offer, as players can repeat all of the missions and side-quests indefinitely. That feature will be fantastic for loot grinding once the game goes fully live, but in the demo, it allows you to continue to experiment with each class’s killing power for as long as you see fit.
Combat, Classes and Loot
The linked videos do a better job of breaking down the classes than I have room to do, but in brief: the Devastator allows the player to become a stone golem, creating quakes and slamming enemies at close range; the Pyromancer is exactly what you would expect, geysers of flame, long distance fire lashes and thermal explosions; the Technomancer creates artillery from the void, dropping proximity mines, freezing turrets and explosive salvos onto the terrain; and finally, the Trickster is the agile psycho we all aim to be, creating massive slowing fields and teleporting behind enemies before hitting hard with powerful close quarter attacks.
The big feature that appears on the front page of any Outriders media is the opt-in (and out) co-op that is available at any time with all players, via Crossplay. Outriders is a whole lot of fun solo, but raining down abilities from your squad on the hordes of enemies is where the game stands out. Imagine Borderlands, but instead of comedy and freeze frames, you battle hardy enemies with stoic efficiency. The transition between mission spaces takes place through an easy-to-follow UI vote system, which means that you don’t need to bring your microphone to the gunfight.
The game advises players from the beginning that the way to survive is by playing aggressive, as the only way to regain health is via close quarter kills, ability damage and takedowns depending on your class. There’s also plenty of cover to be found for moments of reprieve from the action, but there are no “cheese spots” or easy encounters to be had: enemy brawlers will push you, snipers will flank you, grenades will rain down on you if you hide for too long… and heaven help you if you’re fighting a fellow Altered, because their powers simply do not care about cover. The only way to stay in the fight in Outriders is to push back just as hard, turning even the smallest of skirmishes into an intense showdown. Oh, and you can turn enemies into a fine pink mist if you hit them hard enough.
Outriders’ loot system is largely unremarkable, and I mean that in the most positive way: it just works. Quests reward you with loot, and taking down powerful enemies allows you to immediately equip superior gear. The four weapon archetypes — pistols, shotguns, auto-rifles and sniper rifles — all come with a range of sub-variants that each feel good in certain situations. There’s also a massive number of mods, debuffs and effects available that make Pokémon’s type advantages look simple, but they all create a rich variety of choices when it comes to loadouts and specialisations.
The demo only allows players to progress to level 7 (out of 30), which unlocks each class’s first four abilities. Each of the abilities we’ve had the chance to play with thus far is uniquely powerful, but without undermining other class options — also, without having to design for PvP scenarios, there’s no rock-paper-scissors combat balancing that you need to adhere to. Outriders also boasts massive skill trees to allow for dynamic build specialisation, but with the level capped at 7 for the time being, players can’t jump into the perfect builds just yet.
Similarly, only the higher-tier loot appears to drop with additional perks that complement class abilities, but being locked at such a low level means that players are (rightfully) kept from becoming too powerful in the demo. Alongside player level, Outriders also offers a unique World Tier system that levels up as you slay your way across Enoch. Each World Tier level increases enemy power, experience gained, and the likelihood of epic or legendary gear dropping. Players who want an easier time with no loot can select a lower World Tier level at any time, keeping the game accessible for casual players and hardcore grinders. The demo has the World Tier locked at Tier 5, which means it’s possible for legendary loot to drop, but the odds really aren’t in your favour so it’s probably not worth the grind.
The official launch will support cross-character inventories, a crafting system to maintain and improve weapons and armour and significantly larger word spaces and activities to engage in. Players will only get to engage with other human combatants in war-torn urban environments, while Outriders media showcases deserts, jungles, icy mountains and a range of beasts and other factions to engage with.
Could’ve Gone Better
The demo’s launch ended up being a mess of server issues and members of the community grumbling when they couldn’t log in. In fairness to People Can Fly and Square Enix, the demo launch was literally a designated stress-test to work out how to run the servers for Outriders’ official launch. Xbox Live breaking on the same day also didn’t help people’s moods.
Played on an Xbox One X, the demo really struggled with framerate in a few instances, oddly more so in social areas than during combat with abilities and numerous enemies. The menu and vendor screens are also painfully clunky. In a game that doesn’t pause when players access the menus, the two to three seconds of black screen before you can back out again is enough to cause a heart attack.
Speaking of menus, the menus and prompts all look just a little too bland, which can be a stark break from the game’s visual flow: you’ll be dominating on a colourful battlefield, with abilities lingering in the area and the skybox alight with space magic… then you switch to a clinical grey menu with miniature font that fades into the background. I’m a great believer in function over aesthetic, but a little more visual flair would have been nice.
For the sake of quick comparisons, given that Outriders looked to be another Destiny competitor, it resonates far more with the weapon-power based combat of Mass Effect 2 and 3. In fact, the player character always has a very strong Renegade Shepherd vibe — that is to say, you’ll do the right thing, but you’ll do it with explosions and critical levels of sass.
There isn’t too much else to say about the Outriders demo — it’s a short, free experience released to give us a taste of what’s to come, and its developer is allowing players to transfer their progress to the main game at launch. If you were already invested in Outriders, there are no glaring issues with this demo that might change your mind: it’s got solid, engaging combat; unique and powerful classes and builds; and although the menus are ugly and a little clunky, those aren’t factors that ruin a game for me personally. The game’s official Twitter account has also been buzzing since the demo’s launch, addressing the issues players have experienced already and giving us plenty of reason to believe that People Can Fly will be able to polish a few of the game’s rough spots by launch.
Speaking of launch, Outriders’ full, official launch is tentatively scheduled for April 21, but that’s after two delays already — making games is difficult, especially in this COVID-affected climate and, as Jake wrote four years ago, it’s better to get it right the first time than to disappoint the community! The good news is that this demo is set to be an ongoing call to the game beyond the official launch, so prospective Outriders can jump in at any time and try before they buy.
Our verdict (so far):
Moments of menu awkwardness and a few frame rate drops are completely insignificant to the unique power-based combat and pure joy of mastering stylish take downs on the mysterious planet of Enoch. Outriders looks like it’s going to be one to watch!
Tom previewed Outriders using an Xbox One code downloaded from the Xbox Marketplace.
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