The looter shooter is something of a recent mainstay in the genre space, first-person or third-person action that blends the shootery stuff with action-RPG mechanics where a new item or weapon excites based on a combination of bold physical design and stat goodness. A power rating, a passive ability that makes you go “ooh”, or something unique that could very well change how you engage with enemies from that point on.
, The Division
; games where longevity also plays a part, be it through seasonal updates, expansions, and other bits of DLC. Or simply taking on repeatable missions or encounters in search of a purple do-dad, an orange Legendary. Outriders
from Square Enix
and People Can Fly
fits under the ‘looter shooter’ umbrella, but does so as a co-op driven self-contained experience. In that the lengthy campaign and post-story action delivers a singular experience. And all without DLC on the horizon, a roadmap, or timed-event seasonal business. You know, live service stuff.
Commendable, as is the game’s inclusion as a part of Xbox Game Pass. But it doesn’t change the fact it’s all, well, lacking outside of some engaging ability-based combat.
With its sci-fi story consisting of humanity looking to find a new planet to call home, it’s safe to say that the early moments -- the tutorial stuff -- lands a little soft in Outriders. Flat even, with characters and stakes painted with a broad brush that evokes arguably better narratives in games like BioWare’s Mass Effect
. In many ways it’s like an overblown action movie from the 1980s or early part of the 1990s, but even here it doles out the cheese without its own identity.
The lengthy campaign and post-story action delivers a singular experience. And all without DLC on the horizon, a roadmap, or timed-event seasonal business. You know, live service stuff.
Speaking of identity the character you control, the last Outrider, is a psychopath that indiscriminately kills and executes people in what can only be described as fascist-like. A bullet to head after someone expresses remorse followed up with a terrible one-liner along the lines of “screw you, my pistol was getting a little bored”. Also, for a three-player co-op experience and a game called Outriders, the story never takes into account that plurality. It’s all “hey, you’re an… Outrider” and “Oh, the last Outrider. Here?”.
Okay, so there are bright spots to be found, namely with the combat and the abilities you can call on when playing as either a Pyromancer, Trickster, Technomancer, or Devastator. For the Technomancer you can go all frosty by throwing down an ice turret that can freeze enemies, follow that up with an ice blast, and heal your squad when the time is right. This all plays into the skill-trees that offer up variety in what play-style to pursue -- coupled with weapons that can roll passive stats that augment skills in a way that can turn an otherwise okay effect into a game changer.
Good stuff no doubt, but it’s surrounded by samey sameness.
Outriders consists of two game modes, the Campaign and the Endgame, and unfortunately they're virtually indistinguishable from one another. The campaign offers a flimsy story mode involving finding a beacon or signal to accompany your slaughtering of hordes of enemies whilst traversing an assortment of rooms. Environments are varied in that we get to see different biomes and weather conditions, though it’s all set dressing for what ends up being a rather repetitive string of missions that are all basically the same aforementioned horde mode. With the same exploration - a to b with a side quest or two.
Side quests that introduce no new mechanics outside of the game’s m.o. -- “shoot three waves of enemies and press a button on a marker”.
Aside from some cool looking ruins and architecture this repetitiveness ends up making the maps feel boring and generic. Snow level? Bland. Desert? Boring. Jungle? Cool at first, but ultimately fucking boring. Map exploration (such as it is) leads to dead ends containing either nothing or one of these three things; a harvest node, an ammo restock box, or the shittiest looking loot chest you have ever seen.
Outriders consists of two game modes, the Campaign and the Endgame, and unfortunately they're virtually indistinguishable from one another.
Where Outriders presents a sense of progression is with how it deals with challenge, i.e. the difficulty. World Tiers unlock the more you play, choosing to go from 1 to 2 to 7 or 12 ups both the enemy level and the quality of loot you’ll find. It’s the main driver from an action-RPG perspective -- which, yeah, is interesting but not all that exciting.
This then bleeds into the enemy variety, of which the in-game journal and encyclopedia will have you believe is made up of dozens of enemy types -- when it’s basically the same creatures no matter if it's the desert or the snow. The same goes for the human enemies, they might look a little different but it’s all the same mob of mobs after the first few hours. There are a couple of cool boss fights though, a massive spider in the middle of a volcano, a giant worm thingy, but these are few and far between.
For a lengthy campaign the end result of “wave battle versus creatures” followed up by a “wave battle versus humans” is disappointing. Outside of a few bright spots in the form of combat and class abilities, the campaign is bloated and padded.
Endgame offers a similar horde slaughtering premise, but with a twist. For some inexplicable reason, the endgame introduces a mechanic not once seen throughout the entire campaign - a timer. The presence of the timer forces you to utilise your most damaging and aggressive build in order to beat the timer and be awarded loot, albeit at an abysmally poor drop rate.
Failing to beat the timer still results in a loot reward, however the items are of markedly less quality and quantity. This timed mode is the only endgame offering in Outriders, meaning that any build diversity or experimentation with different skills or armour sets is pretty much verboten
, with DPS being the only path forwards. Also, playing the endgame without at least one other player is an exercise in punishment because dying whilst playing solo results in an instant failure.
Speaking of dying, there are some questionable decisions and quirks; unavoidable sniper fire, telegraphed but still unavoidable melee and ranged monster attacks, enemies stun-locking the player thanks to a dodge mechanic with no invulnerability phase, and close-to-invisible AoE death circles. The enemy AI is pretty solid though - humans will flank, fall back, and attempt to route the unwary player, while elite heavies and armoured units will aggressively and relentlessly push forwards. Monsters will gang up and rush the player, while ranged units hang back and actively avoid incoming fire.
For a lengthy campaign the end result of “wave battle versus creatures” followed up by a “wave battle versus humans” is disappointing.
At times it makes for a thrilling challenge, but the predictable wave-based nature of it all comes to fore -- leaving little in the way of genuine surprise. Even though saying “it’s repetitive” is starting to sound a little repetitive, that is the best way to sum up the action.
After a while the skill trees and abilities and how powerful passives on armour and weapons can define a build begins to feel limited too. The low drop-rate on legendary gear coupled with a handful of viable build options quickly lowers the incentive to even bother with Expeditions, or wonder just what a new item might bring to the table. Odds are you’re going to mod it so you can keep the passive you need. The outcome becomes little more than progressing through different difficulty settings with a heavy dose of ‘the grind’.
There are so many little things that feel off with Outriders that you begin to question what the goal was from a design perspective. The ingame minimap is useful for one thing, showing enemy spawns. Outriders is not a cover-based shooter ala The Division, which is a good thing because the nature of the various classes and abilities adds up to a fast-paced action-RPG where skills and things like freeze-blasts become as important as the fire-rate and damage output of an Assault Rifle. Action gets chaotic, but rarely in a way that feels like a mess -- an aspect of Outriders that does give it a different feel to other looter shooters.
Anyway the lack of a decent mini-map is a head scratcher, no terrain, no room layouts, not even a compass. The main map which has a few of those things doesn’t fare much better as it’s more “here’s the general location of quests and fast travel points without clear icons'', leaving you to figure it all out like you’re in a large shopping centre trying to work out where the JB is. And when the ingame quest marker fails to lead you in the right direction? It almost feels deliberate.
The list goes on, side quests are copy-paste jobs, the story and characters are cartoon caricatures, the overall conclusion is bleak and out of step with the cheesy presentation. Outriders has also been plagued with more than its share of launch issues and bugs. Servers have been frequently unavailable, and the peer-to-peer network code can only be described as shoddy - responsible for numerous dropped connections, host unavailable errors, stuttering and lag-ridden gameplay, and at worst, entire inventory wipes. Thankfully the inventory issues have now been resolved, but there's still no cure for the less-than-stellar multiplayer issues.
There are so many little things that feel off with Outriders that you begin to question what the goal was from a design perspective.
All in all, Outriders falls short of Anthem in the launch-period stability stakes. Having to combat the game to be able to combat enemies and then combat the game to be able to combat enemies and then combat the… well, it’s just not worth it.