Outriders – Epic SciFi Shenanigans
PC, Xbox One/Series, PS4/5
Let’s get this out of the way early. Outriders has problems. Some of the writing is rough, there are little broken edges everywhere, it’s crass at times and the shooting can find its way into frustrating territory. But the thing is, none of that actually stopped me from having an absolute blast. Outriders shares the same place in my brain as something like the Arnie classic (and it is, no arguments) Commando. I know that there are problems, I know that it isn’t the best example of the genre and I know that there are elements that are objectively bad, but once the bullets start spraying and the one-liners firing, well a big old grin settles on my face.
Let me start with the story, a surprisingly strong part of the game. The premise is firmly in classic sci/fi territory, Earth has gone to hell and a group of survivors have managed to get themselves onto a spaceship, into cryo and shot themselves at the nearest habitable planet that they could find. Upon arrival, things don’t go well and the player’s character finds themselves back in cryo for another 30 years, awakening to a world of war and chaos. I won’t go any further into the tale because it is one that really deserves to be experienced. It is grand sci/ fi nonsense that clearly calls on things like Planet of the Apes and other movies of that ilk, but it spends just enough time winking at the audience to make sure we know that this is supposed to be, above all, a fun and none-too-serious ride. The game is littered with some genuinely funny moments and while the writing can easily bring a cringe it just as often brings a genuine chuckle, so on balance, I feel like players will end up ahead on the enjoyment meter.
Mechanically the game is set up as a 3rd person cover-based shooter, but that is just a ruse used to lull you into a sense of security. The fact is if you approach this game as you would say, Gears of War, you will die and die very quickly. People May Fly have included two mechanics that have really forced me to adapt to a new way of playing. The first of those is aggression. The only way to heal in this game is by being aggressive. Dealing damage with your class’ particular set of skills is the only path to a long life and this attitude does take some adjustment. Realising that you should be running into the fray instead of running away goes against my entire lifetime of video game muscle memory, but once I had adjusted it actually felt wonderfully empowering.
The second gameplay change is the fact that powers are both rapidly recharging and wonderfully customisable. This enables their constant use and frankly, that is a good thing because without exception they are fun to use. From turning baddies into timebombs as the Pyromancer to teleporting back-stabs as the Trickster, the powers are just pure joy. The game also encourages the customisation of both your powers and your weaponry, with little to no in-game cost to respec at any time. Want to swap your powers or even go down a completely different skill tree? No worries, just jump into the menu and away you go. Found a weapon with a really cool mod? Scrap it and then you can add that mod to any weapon, no matter the level. This flexibility, more than anything, tells me that People May Fly want players to muck around in this world they have created. They want players to play in a way that suits and excites them and it is honestly a joy to see.
Another cool thing that has been included is a World Tier system. What this does is give players the ability to adjust6 the risk/reward matrix within the game. The higher the tier, the higher the rewards in the form of loot. But once again flexibility is the key here, with it being able to be changed at any time. While you can only unlock higher tiers by playing at your current highest level, you can dial it down a notch if you have come across a tough battle that just keeps kicking your ass. I know I had to later in the game against tougher enemies that were clearly designed to be beaten with multiple players. This brings me to the one thing that I found truly annoying. There is a strong assumption that you are going to be playing this game with friends, so if you want to solo it prepare yourself to drop the difficulty or die on a very regular basis. With a bit of effort, I feel like People May Fly could have balanced the game just that bit more to make it less frustrating for single players and just as rewarding for the co-op teams.
The main game took me about 30 hours to finish a fairly complete run. I could have gone through things much quicker but I was enjoying my time chasing side missions and learning the lore of the place so I took it at a steady pace. Once the story is completed there are a series of missions that, in terms of comparison, feel like strike missions from Destiny. Kind of extra story tidbits with challenging mission parameters and enemies. The game isn’t a games-as-a-service title as such, but there is room here if that is the direction the developers want to take it. I am not too sure how much the end game will hold my attention at this stage, but I am enjoying what is there enough to play it for a few more hours at least. Now that the launch issues regarding crossplay have been fixed there should be plenty of people to play with too.
As a reviewer, I need to look at games and point out problems and positives, but the gamer inside me just wants to have fun and in the case of Outriders, these two sides of me are clashing fiercely. I look at the rough edges and feel the need to mark the game down for it, but the side of me that just wants to play exciting games is too busy enjoying himself to care. I guess where Outriders falls for you will depend on where you fall between those two spectrums. For what it’s worth, I fully expect most of the current issues to be resolved with patches so if you are interested but still a little gunshy, you may benefit from waiting a couple of weeks. But all that said, Outriders, in its current state is an absolute blast from start to finish. It is confident in what it sets out to do and succeeds despite a few stumbles on the way. It may not be a GOTY contender, but when I look back at which games brought me the most joy in 2021, Outriders is sure to be around the top of that list.
Outriders was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by the publisher.