People Can Fly’s Outriders is in a unique position in the video game world. It looks like a live service game, but the developers vehemently deny it is one. Outriders has a definitive single-player experience, but with an endgame meant to satiate players who want more.
The title is reminiscent of a chimera. It takes bits and pieces from other well-known games and meshes them into a distinctive offering. At its heart, Outriders is a third-person looter shooter that heavily emphasizes gear and loot management. The game does a lot of things right, but at the same time, it is let down in the places that matter the most.
Disaster on Earth
Outriders is a game about survival and enduring. In the middle of the 21st century, Earth is ravaged to the point of being inhospitable. Humankind has exploited Earth’s resources resulting in severe climate degradation that has brought disaster to the planet. As a last ditch effort, humanity finds a new planet to colonize and preserve the human race, Enoch. The Enoch Colonization Authority (ECA) commissions two ships to carry humanity to their salvation. One ship explodes during construction leaving your vessel, the Flores as humankind’s last hope.
After an 83-year journey, the Outriders, elite troops tasked with scouting Enoch’s landing zone are deployed to pave the way for colonization efforts. However, Enoch is not the friendly planet they hoped it would be. The Outriders quickly discover a massive and dangerous energy storm known as the Anomaly.
The Anomaly and the Outriders
Despite the dangers, the ECA still intends to colonize the planet, and they dispatch their own forces to silence the Outriders as part of a cover-up. One of the Outriders, having survived exposure to the Anomaly, is mortally wounded during the fighting and is put back into cryostasis by Shira, an ECA scientist. The Outrider is awakened 31 years later, where they find that the ECA has failed to colonize the planet. The Anomaly has destroyed all the colony’s advanced technology, trapping the colonists within the confines of a single mountain valley.
The remaining colonists are overwhelmed by hostile alien wildlife and left with dwindling resources. This has caused a massive civil war pitting the remnants of the ECA against the Insurgents, militant rebels seeking to overthrow the ECA. Additionally, people who have survived exposure to the Anomaly have become “Altered”, mutated humans possessing supernatural powers.
This is a lot of set up for a game that is ostensibly about killing enemies and getting loot, but the game feels like it succeeded in doing what Anthem wanted to do with its story about humanity and a harsh world eager to destroy them.
Intriguing Story Throughout
Surprisingly, the game’s story kept me invested throughout the entire campaign. I was not expecting the twist and turns to captivate me the way they did. It’s a unique sci-fi take that is almost reminiscent of Noah and his Ark.
At the later stages of the game, I can see the influences from The Island of Dr. Monroe. The last act of the game touched on themes of pain and cruelty; the distinction between men and animals; and human interference in nature. These are reoccurring themes found within The Island of Dr. Monroe. And I must say that those sections of the game really piqued my curiosity to dive deeper into Outriders’ lore.
Naturally, this led me to brush up on reading the game’s journals to help fill in the gaps. This is not something that I tend to do, especially when playing a looter shooter. But, I felt that the game’s story and themes warranted a deeper look into the lore. I must say it was a rewarding experience as it fleshed out the world and politics of Enoch. Though it is clear that the last act relied on a lot of exposition to quickly wrap up the storyline. The exposition felt hurried as if time has run out to explain key storylines in the game. Nonetheless, the story was intriguing throughout.
Outriders Excels in Power Fantasy
Outriders lets you select from four different classes, each with a distinct power set: Pyromancer, Devastator, Trickster, and Technomaner.
The Pyromancer excels in mid-long range AOE damage focusing on crowd control by burning things. The Devastator uses ground and earth elements to decimate enemies. While Trickster opts to manipulate time and can slow down and teleport behind enemies to say hi with a shotgun to the back. Lastly, the Technomancer relies on long-range toxic damage and makes use of turrets to distract his/her opponents.
Each class is very well thought-out and distinctive enough with unique abilities, themes, and roles. Simultaneously, each class is relatively balanced and plays a distinct role in co-op bouts. With the exception of the Pyromancer, which has some initial shortcomings compared to the other classes. Most notable of these are the initial weakness of the class’s skill damage and heavy reliance on mods to improve the build compared to other classes.
Tricking The Trickster
I completed the campaign with a Trickster. It was an absolute blast slowing enemies down and turning them into mulch with my favorite automatic shotgun. From the moment I chose my class to the game’s conclusion, I never felt bored with the Trickster. I also appreciated the free skill tree respecs the game offers. It really adds to experimenting and fine-tuning your build.
In fact, almost midway through the game, I completely changed my build and play style. Going from assault rifles and sniper rifles to focusing on shotguns and weapon leech skillsets helped me overcome the many challenging encounters the game throws at you. Weapon leech provides health when dealing damage, and when coupled with an automatic shotgun, helped me survive even during the most grueling firefights.
PCF Nails the Feel of Outriders for the Most Part
If there is one thing that People Can Fly (PCF) excels in is getting the feel of the game just right. Their last title Bulletstorm exemplifies this concept well, and it continues in Outriders. The game’s mobility is tight and shooting is mostly enthralling and enjoyable. However, the game does sometimes hiccup in this department.
At times, the hit detection can be extremely spotty. Think of Call of Duty’s multiplayer hit detection woes and you’ll understand what I mean. Seemingly perfect shots will be inexplicably off the mark. Luckily, the hit detection issues are few and far apart and do not detract from the overall experience.
The same applies to traversal mechanics in Outriders. There are moments when you accidentally jump over cover when you did not mean to. This is a common nitpick in many third-person cover games. Fortunately, it’s easy to rectify when you master maneuvering your Outrider. This combined with the epiphany that the game rewards a gung-ho attitude complements the overall feel of Outriders.
The abilities are a treat to use and only add to the positive feel of the game. People Can Fly did a great job of developing abilities that allow players to express themselves in the game. Not only in terms of playstyle but also creating synergy within your build. Mixing and matching your abilities with your weapon and gear mods will help you get the most out of your build.
Pointless Cover System and Map
I wish I could be as praiseworthy about Outriders cover system as I am about much of the rest of the game. Like we said before, Outriders is a bit of Chimera. The cover system feels like it should be taken from 2006’s Gears of War. But halfway through the game, it became clear that cover was impeding my progress and is clearly an afterthought.
Simple actions like being able to grab an enemy on the other side of the same cover is simply not possible. It makes it feel like a hollow homage to what was cool when the game started development without evolving with the rest of the game. Once I changed my play stay to a more run-and-gun style I immediately progressed in the game.
World Tiers Challenge but Fair
Similar to Diablo’s Rift, Outriders utilizes a World Tier system that makes enemies more challenging but provides more rewarding loot. The maximum World Tier level is 15. Once you complete the game, players then can tackle Challenge Tiers for even more punishing enemies and sweet loot.
This system is great and keeps the game fresh throughout the experience. And I must say, that the game will challenge you and force you to rethink your builds time and time again in order to progress. Luckily, once it clicks, the experience becomes extremely satisfying and rewarding.
Solid Loot and Crafting System
Another thing that Outriders does right is the loot and gear systems. Gear follows the standard categories of greens (uncommon), blues (rare), purples (epic), and yellows (legendary). Taking out enemy captains will reward you with better loot. Naturally, loot also ties into the World Tier systems.
Setting the game to the highest World Tier system will net you better loot categories. So, if you want to farm epics, it is best to set to World Tier 7 and above to do so. Again, the player is left with a lot of agency to fine-tune their experience based on the rewards they seek. It works well, but the difficulty really picks up after World Tier 7.
When it comes to crafting, Outriders again does a great job. Deconstructing gear will net you leather, iron, and titanium depending on the gear’s rarity. And better yet, in addition to getting crafting material when deconstructing gear, you’ll also net attribute points for weapons and gear.
For instance, if you want to improve your weapon leech for your shotgun, look for older gear with a symbol next to that trait. Once you deconstruct it, you’ll get attribute points and can upgrade that specific attribute in other weapons. It’s simple and works well and really lets you prioritize certain attributes that bode well for your playing style.
However, it must be said that Outriders seems to be stingy when it comes to rewarding Legendary gear. You’ll have to really dive deep into the game’s end-game content, called expeditions. And this is where Outriders’ problems begin to unfold.
Outriders P2P Blues
Expeditions are Outriders main end-game content and are a time trial mode where the faster you complete the level, the more rewarding the loot. It should be a fairly simple system, except when multiplayer doesn’t work as intended.
For some reason, Outriders operates on peer-to-peer (P2P) connections for its multiplayer. Players have complained of getting kicked from games right before they collect their rewards from expeditions. P2P is notorious for lag and unstable connections.
For a game that is always online, it is mindboggling that they use P2P for multiplayer. This truly worsens the experience, especially for committed players who want to dive deep into Outriders’ expeditions.
However, PCF defended itself for using P2P in order to deter hackers. But the thing is Outriders is strictly a PVE game. So why then is there is incessant fear of hackers if players aren’t competing with one another directly? If anything, it just adds new problems that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Why Always Online?
Even though Outriders multiplayer is P2P, players still have to connect to a server just to play the game. Unsurprisingly, this caused a whole lot of connection issues when the game launched. Even poor Snoop Dogg was left fuming after he couldn’t log in to the game’s server when the game launched.
Some have also reported getting their entire inventory wiped. Even our own Lord Cognito fell prey to the wipe. Part of the reasoning behind the delay in the review process was due to holding off on playing the game until a fix was out.
To this day, PCF is hard at work trying to restore weapons and gear of players afflicted by the inventory wipe bug. The fact that this is still an issue multiple weeks after launch is a serious problem. It’s these kinds of questionable decisions that I thought about during my time with Outriders. Even some of the patches were questionable.
One of the first patches PCF released nerfed very popular bullet abilities. For a game that is not a live service game, it is definitely acting like one when it comes to patches and supposed fixes. This particular patch was meant to slow down players excelling in the expeditions. But again, the decision to nerf the bullet abilities as your first patch just raises more questions.
Sometimes Cringy Voice Acting and Hilarious Facial Glitches
The voice acting and dialogue in Outriders is also a hit or miss affair. But, leans more towards the miss side. Not only is some of the dialogue cringy at times, but the execution of said dialogue is below par.
However, conversely, there are moments where the dialogue and voice acting are entirely convincing. This is typical during the more serious moments in the game. And these moments are sparser compared to their cringey counterparts.
On a more comical front, the game has some truly hilarious facial animation glitches. Some of the characters’ faces glitch out in hilarity during cutscenes and it rips the game’s presentation to shreds. Think of that Bilbo Baggins’ face when he sees the Ring of Power one last time and you’ll know what I mean.
Bland Level Design and Fade Out Galore
When it comes to level design, Outriders is very deceptive. At first, I appreciated all the different battlefields, dense forests, tundra, and sprawling deserts. It definitely changes things and keeps them fresh. However, again, the change in scenery is skin deep. Most of the level design is highly predictable and sectioned off. Meaning, you see cover, expect a firefight. There are specific diverging zones for side missions and other tasks. The level design is all predictable and not worth a second glance.
In addition, Outriders also has a lot of fade-outs for some reason. This is most noticeable traversing between cut scenes and traversing between zones. It feels really antiquated like watching a B-movie. It’s not a big deal, but it’s worth pointing out.
Also, it has to be said that the game’s quest map is infuriating to read. I think Marco Polo would have turned over in his grave trying to make sense of Outriders’ map. It is unintuitive and frankly a poorly designed map. Luckily, the waypoint marker makes life easier.
Final Thoughts on Outriders
Outriders is a strange game. It excels in delivering a wonderfully realized power fantasy and nails the feel of the game. The shooting and abilities are exceptional and the run-and-gun element is exhilarating.
This game could easily be outstanding; however, the myriad of technical issues, stingy legendary drops, and half-baked design choices hinder the experience. Players should not get anxious when booting the game up. But that seems to be the case.
When it comes to it, Outriders does a lot right, but it also lets players down in areas where it matters the most.