You’ll come across a lot of information about People Can Fly
today and in the coming weeks. The names Gears of War
and The Division
will permeate much of that information, and rightly so. But, the takeaway with those name-drops should only be used as a means to give you a very basic foundation for how the game looks, and what its co-op and online systems will deliver.
It’s more important to understand that structurally the game is much more its own than any name-drop can suggest. This is a magic-heavy systems stacker with faster movement and an arena-to-arena level design that ever-so-slowly entices you into exploration and lateral thinking. The cover mechanics are straight-up Gears of War, and on our first passthrough, playing cooperatively with our pals from Stevivor
and Press Start
, respectively, we played the game like we’d play Gears of War. By the time we were on our third session, Gears of War’s more forced cover-shooter playstyle was a distant memory; another game from another time. Now, Outriders was promoting fast movement across each battle arena, we were magically in sync -- almost N’Sync
-like -- and we were stacking powers and taking down myriad enemy-types like the bosses of Australian
indie gaming media we are. And we looked good
"Mad Max: Fury Road is a heavy influence from a character, art and enemy-design perspective..."
Before we get any further into the gaming experience, here’s some facts:
- This is People Can Fly’s first foray post-Epic Games.
- The game, while online and co-op, is not a “game as a service”; no loot-boxes or in-game purchases -- it is a premium out-of-the-box experience, as described by Game Director Bartosz ‘Bartek K’ Kmita.
- There are four classes, though we only had access to three: Pyromancer, Devastator and Trickster.
- The game is “an RPG first and a shooter second”.
- It is the first confirmed title coming to both PS5 and Xbox Series X and will also be playable on this generation of those platform manufacturers' respective consoles, as well as PC.
- It is an upto three-player co-op experience and any combination of classes can team up.
- It is also scaled for single-player, with a dedicated story heavy with cut-scenes and in-depth voice-acting for either gender you choose.
- There are eight skills per class, however, you can respec at any time to tackle missions or bosses as you feel you need.
- Mad Max: Fury Road is a heavy influence from a character, art and enemy-design perspective.
- The base ‘story’ side of the game on a fair runthrough is roughly 30-hours long.
Out of the gate, and in all honesty, the intro/tutorial for the game, gave us zero confidence in the product. You play as an “Outrider” (natch) -- essentially a mercenary picked to be part of just two spacecraft carrying the hopes of humanity as we look for a new home beyond Earth. Back home, the proverbial shit has hit a T-shaped fan and proven the doomsday preppers right all along. One of those ships, however, has gone dark leaving just one on course to a Goldilocks zoned planet named Enoch. As an Outrider, your job is to set up a safe landing spot for the colony ship which has chosen few Earthicans awaiting our new chance at sustainable life, in cryo-sleep. The cryo-sleep stuff is important.
"Your only option is to get back to your giant landing pod and pop yourself back into cryo-sleep so that everything can settle and when more eggheads come down and work out what went wrong, we can start to set things right, right?..."
When we land on Enoch the place is bliss; green pastures, seemingly bountiful food and everything we could need to start over again. Unironically, the landing party is driving space trucks (that’s what we’ll call them from now on), through trees and native faunae with little regard for the damage being done to our new home. We are now interplanetary squatters, and it’s already showing why we had to leave our last squat. But I digress.
While you can name your character, from here on out you’re only known as “Boss”, though you’re hardly the boss. We won’t spoil how it all plays out here suffice to say you’ll be running in a straight line here, back to there, and then back again until the ‘event’ happens. Your only option is to get back to your giant landing pod and pop yourself back into cryo-sleep so that everything can settle and when more eggheads come down and work out what went wrong, we can start to set things right, right?
Wrong. You awake from cryo-sleep some 30 years later. Emerging from your pod, Enoch has turned into a visual hellscape -- bodies hang from structures, some in crucifiction poses, others just heads staked in purposeful signage of ‘warning’. It’s muddy and is full of trenches. Fighting echoes throughout the place and you have no idea what is going on, or why. Naturally this leads to you finding your trusted allies from 30 years ago who are now disgruntled and really have a problem with you having had the world’s greatest sleep-in. And from here, your story starts.
Now, on to gameplay. The preamble to you being where you are, and with the emerging powers you have, is both cool and cheesy at once. But it *kind of* doesn’t matter, and the game’s writing reflects this. Boss is just that, and you quickly learn that you take no shit from no one. So, now we have cool powers, there are three of us if you have friends in real-life, and you just gotta get stuff done. We talked earlier about systems stacking, and what works best here is that they need to stack based on individual input and behaviour. But importantly, you feel
powerful. As the Pyromancer in my first playthrough I quickly learnt to crowd-control and attack from afar. The Devastator is more of a tank class, but really, each class is really well-balanced and features neutral types of attack and movement. The Trickster is more stealth, and that plays more specifically, but that each weapon (of which there are hundreds, apparently) is also class neutral speaks to how People Can Fly has approached combat here.
"I mentioned earlier that we dropped the cover-shooter stuff and embraced powers, but you can still play it as a cover-shooter. Weapons can become your focus over powers, and you can flank and outmaneuver the baddies..."
The game also caters heavily to different playstyles. I mentioned earlier that we dropped the cover-shooter stuff and embraced powers, but you can still play it as a cover-shooter. Weapons can become your focus over powers, and you can flank and outmaneuver the baddies because each baddie bottleneck has room to move, and plan. The game also features bosses, whether it’s a commander who commands
fire to a degree he can make fire tornadoes (seriously devs, who thinks this stuff up?), or a bigger boss who electrifies everything and anything, and is also part Magneto
. Rest assured, there is serious challenge ahead.
Our first playthrough, we barely tapped into skill trees or played with gear. And the final demo boss owned us three times in a row before our ‘shoulder surfer’ handler came and gave us a bit of advice on speccing our characters accordingly. In the following playthrough we shopped at the market, did more side-missions and leveled up significantly, so the final demo boss was knocked over first go. He’s still not easy, and takes time to beat, but we were definitely less thrashed and were far more prepared. But each time it was fun and his patterns weren't always predictable, so from an AI perspective, PCF has done a great job of making sure players stay on their toes.
If we had to leverage any criticism, it would be that the UI is too
Destiny. That the intro is too on-rails and really doesn’t prepare players for what lies beyond their 30-year long cold nap. The game also doesn’t do a good enough job explaining to you how skills and leveling works and, most annoyingly, when you go down and need reviving, you can’t move, so you can’t put yourself in cover, for example, so one of your buddies can come and give you the kiss of life. These are mostly minor, and we’re aware of the fact the intro is locked in stone, but the UI has time to be tinkered with between now and the game’s November release, as can some of the information around skills and leveling, and allowing slow movement into cover upon death.
Hopefully it won’t be a hard-sell because of how much it looks like Gears of War, and if PCF and Square Enix can focus heavily on the powers and more RPG-heavy gameplay lean, it could have a solid launch. There are lessons to learn from the ‘shooter-looter’ space (especially Anthem
), and giving us the level of access they did this early is a great place to start. But on my last jaunt with the game, which I did solo, I was smashing fools left, right and centre and playing like a Boss
. There’s a lot of potential here, how they handle endgame content, post-release content and the dedicated community will dictate the game’s success. But, so far, so Goldilocks zone.