Outriders reviewApril 10, 2021
Unfortunately, Outriders’ servers also mess around, and how! From the game being completely unplayable the moment America woke up in the first few days to the connection and matchmaking issues that still plague Outriders, those servers seem to be made of paper, twigs, and wishes. Throw in regular crashes and other issues and you’ve got a recipe for frequent frustation. Even though auto-saves and checkpoints are such that it’s rare to lose much in the way of progress during regular play, there’s always the rigmarole of logging back into the game (assuming it actually lets you) while you pray for matchmaking to play nice this time. The problems are compounded further in Outriders’ main endgame activity, Expeditions. These warrant further discussion on their own merits in a bit, but the fact that they don’t offer any rewards until completion means that a crash or disconnect before the end can easily write off up to half an hour and leave you empty-handed, which is pretty rough.
It’s getting better almost by the day, but even now, it’s extremely unlikely to have a session go by without seeing a handful of errors, crashes, connection issues, or matchmaking problems of some kind, and these seem to be compounded when attempting to play with others. Hopefully, the upcoming patch will address most of these problems. Still, the fact that we have been so determined to fight through these issues is telling of just how good Outriders is when everything is working as intended — it’s intense, visceral, satisfying, often beautiful, and always very silly, which is a strange yet compelling combination, the likes of which you don’t see very often.
I’m typically drawn to the tankier classes in games like this, so when Outriders offered me a character who could kill enemies just by running through them, I knew I’d found my main. The Devastator is the vanguard that leads every offensive; the wall against which your enemies will break; the last thing the weak will see before they explode into gallons of jam. And hot damn, is that ever a satisfying role to play. Defensive tools allow you to turn your skin to stone to mitigate most damage or throw up your hands to catch all incoming bullets (and — even better — fling them back), and there are loads of ways to boost your Armor stat into the stratosphere, even turning that into extra damage if you tailor your build around it properly. This class absolutely demands aggressive play as you only regain health when an enemy dies in close quarters, although you don’t have to be the one to score the kill. In fact, when playing in a team, you can just throw yourself into the fray and pop cooldowns to eat up all that delicious damage, keeping your squishier friends safe from harm as they pop the skulls of the fools laying into you and top off your health in the process.
It must be said that the Devastator feels like one of the weaker classes for solo endgame content, unless you get lucky with Legendary drops and opt for very specific DPS builds — rerolling is free, which is great, although you’ll likely need a separate gear set for each build you want to use. Damage output is still good, great even, but these guys really come into their own when doing endgame stuff in a group. At higher Challenge Tiers, it’s all too easy for a tankless group to get overrun and annihilated, but what most Devastator builds might lack in clout compared to some other classes, they more than make up in survivability. There are certainly ways to spec for pure pain, though, and that flexibility to swap between being a two-legged wrecking ball and a nigh-unkillable buffer between allies and foes makes this my favourite Outriders class by far. Also, that bullet shield ability? Cool as all hell.
Just as with Square’s other recent release, Balan Wonderworld (which I had also intended to review before I was swamped with other things to do, so here’s the short version: it’s incredibly basic but not as bad as it’s been made out to be, especially for older platform fans who will dig its Saturn-era vibes, and the Tims are my family. 5/10), I feel like the demo did Outriders kinda dirty. The opening area is the game’s most lacklustre when compared to the lavish and varied vistas of Enoch that come later, the boss at the end one of the game’s weakest fights — one tanky enemy in an arena isn’t exactly stellar encounter design when three of the four classes rely on kills to heal — and performance wasn’t indicative of the final product, which hits a near-perfect 60fps on both Xbox Series X and S.
Online issues aside, Outriders generally feels pretty polished, and it’s not really the game it appears. Its space magic premise means comparisons to Destiny are sort of inevitable, but the two games really don’t share much DNA beyond that core premise… it’s an odd place to go perhaps, but the part of Destiny that feels closest to Outriders is the Mayhem multiplayer mode, where cooldowns are short enough to allow for near-constant ability use much like People Can Fly’s game facilitates in such a wonderfully empowering way. Although mechanically quite similar to The Division, it makes much more sense for a hulking alien beast to be an absolute bullet sponge than a regular dude called Colin, and the pace and scale of the action here are on a whole different level. I’ve even seen it compared to Marvel’s Avengers when in truth, the similarities start and end with both being games where you press buttons and things happen. Which is probably the nicest thing I could say about Marvel’s Avengers, but I digress. Closer points of reference would be the likes of Earth Defense Force and Diablo, with Outriders feeling like a more refined, accomplished, and focused version of the former while adapting many elements of the latter for a different style of gameplay. Stats rise exponentially as you boost both character level and World Tier, but Outriders does a fine job of throwing new gear at you to keep you chasing the Power Carrot all the way to endgame, and the affordable modding system means you seldom have to give up your favourite perks when you get changed.
The Technomancer is a death machine… I mean, that should be the official description, instead of the label of ‘long-range/support.’ Even from the earliest levels, you’re given access to abilities that rain hellfire onto your foes or lay proximity mines capable of blowing a passer-by in half. Once you begin rising through the ranks, new abilities come into play, like Blighted Rounds — toxic bullets that pack a helluva punch. Or, if more firepower is what you need, then Tool of Destruction has your back with the choice of either a rocket launcher or minigun. Of course, there are also support abilities that heal yourself and your allies if you wish to pursue that line of play, but what’s the point when every tick of damage you deal out pays you back with health? The Technomancer seriously holds its own on the battlefield, with the choice of hanging back or jumping into the fray for some up-close-and-personal punishment.
Due to the phenomenal arsenal at your disposal, you’ll find that even in close quarters encounters, retreat is rarely a consideration. When playing solo, most fights can be started with some good old marksmanship, evolving into what can only be described as a Frank Castle-style brawl once the enemy ranks have been thinned. For multiplayer, the choice is completely yours — the support abilities and the healing from your damage done mean you can join your teammates in close combat, or, if you’re like me, race to get headshots with a sniper before your teammates can slaughter enemies. The Technomancer is a beast and wields just as much destructive power as the other classes, so you owe it to yourself to give it a go.
Let’s dive into that mod system some more, because it’s one of the coolest features of the game. Rarer gear pieces come with built-in perks — a single Tier 1 perk on Rares, a Tier 2 and a Tier 1 on Epics, and a Tier 3 and one of the lower level ones on Legendaries. So far, so standard. But just as Diablo’s Horadric Cube lets you dismantle special gear to permanently learn its unique abilities, breaking down equipment in Outriders sees you slowly amassing a permanent library of every perk you’ve ever smashed up. It then goes a step further, allowing you to swap out one perk on each gear piece for another from your collection. This is where the fun starts. Early gear only has that one slot, so you never need to leave behind an extra charge of a key ability as you can simply pop in whatever extras you like. Once you upgrade to Epic stuff, being able to sub out one of the two perks makes it so that way more drops become viable than they might otherwise be, and you can start creating some pretty filthy combos. Then you start getting Legendary drops, and things get silly. Naturally, breaking down an old Legendary adds its powerful Tier 3 perk to your catalogue, allowing you to combine two of them on one weapon or armour piece in ways that can get completely busted. While these perks can also be applied to lower rarity gear to excellent effect, you’ll eventually reach a point where you’re able to deck out top-tier gear with twin Tier 3 perks that share absurd synergy. It’s still early doors and already, people are finding combinations that are just disgusting, so we’re sure to see some utter nonsense in the near future, and coming up with your own killer combo is hugely satisfying.
You’ll need that ludicrous power as well, because Outriders isn’t afraid to throw entire armies of enemies at you at a time. You get a decent idea of the scale that conflicts can reach over the course of the entertaining campaign, but then Expeditions — fast-paced endgame missions with almost no downtime — take it to the next level. You need only blink and you’ll find yourself surrounded by dozens of monsters and handfuls of Elites at once, similar to Diablo III’s Greater Rifts. Expeditions offer a similar progression system too, with their own Challenge Tier akin to the main game’s World Tier, letting you tackle stronger foes for better loot, and pushing through the ranks here makes for a solid endgame. These can be played solo but you’ll only be able to make it so far without some god-tier build, and they’re more enjoyable in a group anyway. Coordinating to focus down key targets and keep the party from getting overwhelmed is both stressful and captivating, especially since you’re on the clock if you want the best rewards. Having time be the only factor in how much loot you get at the end feels a little unfair on players who would rather lean into support roles, so we’d love to see this tweaked to add some extra metrics (accuracy, efficiency, synergy, no deaths, etc.) to combat the problem the endgame currently has where some random groups are actively hostile towards anyone who joins with a build that isn’t pure DPS.
Outriders, if you’re playing on your own, is weird. The curious ebb and flow of feeling underpowered and overpowered feels almost intentionally paced: one minute you’re detonating an enemy’s bones and dancing in the ashes of their incinerated femur, the next you’re pushed into a corner begging for your life as a group of loud, angry men pump you full of hot lead. It’s not bad, just weird. When you team up with some buddies, though, the game suddenly clicks — the arrhythmic balancing is smoothed out, the emergent gunplay makes sense, and it feels like you’re looking at the beautiful, ruined world of Enoch through new eyes.
Playing a Pyromancer (fiery space wizard that gets more powerful when everything is on fire) pushes you into doing one of two things: be a twisted firestarter and immobilise mobs of enemies with Ash, or play like a punkin’ instigator and hit hard with a one-two punch of Ignite, Explode. You need to be aggressive, because you’re squishy — People Can Fly really urges you to be the fire if you play as a Pyromancer; spreading to other enemies and crisping them up before your teammates come in to knock them down. Pyromancers are maniacs, the flint your pals can strike to spark a dirty little inferno in whatever arena you’re playing in. And that really plays into Outriders strengths, too. Boot up this game with mates: it elevates what would otherwise be a dumb, one-note shooter into a smart, dense looter that will probably stay installed on my Xbox for a long, long time to come.
Tonally and thematically, Outriders is a strange nu-metal arrangement of Avatar — a game so edgy that all those edges run together into an almost perfect curve, smoothing all that edgelord nonsense into an experience that somehow holds together without careering off Cringe Mountain. It just makes sense in context for virtually every character to be an absolute tool. These poor souls have seen the utter devastation of human civilisation not once but twice, so of course they’re going to be more than a bit messed up. Folks on Enoch seem to use profanity as punctuation, which again should come as no surprise if you’re familiar with People Can Fly’s other works, most notably Bulletstorm, where the classic compound cuss ‘dick-tits’ was born. Outriders doesn’t come across as puerile as Bulletstorm simply because it’s that much darker in tone, but it’s still every bit as crass and vulgar. Some will no doubt find this abundance of attitude obnoxious, but we found it easy enough to laugh along with the dumb game being dumb. Just like PCF’s other games, Outriders is so knowing in its brazen immaturity that it simply demands to be taken on its own terms, and as long as you’re willing to stoop to its level, you’ll have a good time.
Enoch itself is a fascinating and beautiful world, with an array of varied landscapes and a chaotic climate that make it a joy to explore. Doing so will, however, involve watching (or skipping) a whole bunch of brief and seemingly pointless cutscenes of your character hopping a small gap, squeezing through some rocks, or doing a little climb, like modern versions of that Resident Evil door opening animation. These don’t serve the same purpose of disguising load times as they’re skippable, instead being used as transition sequences where the game can quickly resync all players in a group without jarringly teleporting them from one place to another. Outriders has quite a few idiosyncrasies such as this, and most just add to its quirky charm.
Good ol’ Lee isn’t much of a wordsmith — he’d happily admit as much himself — so we took the liberty of writing this segment up on his behalf. Still, he’s proven himself to be an invaluable wingman over the years in the likes of Destiny, Monster Hunter, Diablo III, and Remnant. And sure enough, Outriders proved to be no exception to the rule. Having a Trickster by our side always made encounters that much more interesting, that’s for sure. The time-slowing field allows you to pick off enemies at a much more leisurely pace than usual (and fully appreciate the slow-mo brutality of dozens of enemies getting gibbed at once), while being able to place a reset point wherever you like with the Borrowed Time ability gave our lad free rein to run off into danger with all manner of buffs, with the safety net of a free panic button to let him instantly retreat as soon as things started to get hairy.
Twisted Rounds seemed to be the MVP of the build, though, granting a free clip of empowered ammo on activation. Strong on its own, sure, but by coupling this with the right weapons, other skills, and some downright daft perks, Lee managed to make this seem utterly broken. Buffed rounds on a 30-clip automatic shotgun which would instantly reload itself on a killing blow inside of the final third of the magazine proved obscenely effective, since that free reload would refresh the augmented mag without ending its effect as a manual reload otherwise would, leading to what our resident Trickster described as “proper comedy gameplay.” A lack of obvious party support options makes the class feel like arguably the most selfish of the four — which is perhaps to be expected of an assassin-style archetype — but there’s no arguing with results.
The Outriders achievements are much more straightforward than you might expect from this kind of game. Most achievements are easily earned on the way to endgame, and only Outrider, First Class (which requires you to use all of your class abilities hundreds, if not thousands of times) is any kind of grind. All bar one of the 55 side missions are flagged up on the map — when the waypoint system decides to play nice, at least — and that outlier isn’t exactly hard to find if you just explore a little. Gaming the system by upgrading weak gear makes True Potential more affordable than doing it with endgame stuff, and I literally only sold enough junk to unlock Hard Bargainer before I went back to breaking everything down, which is way more beneficial. Honestly, it’s a fun and easy completion (if admittedly easier for some classes than others), and I’d be surprised if it took anyone more than 40-50 hours of play in what is an extremely fun looter-RPG-shooter-thing.
Outriders is a fantastic action-RPG, only held back by technical issues which will hopefully soon be ironed out to let its great gameplay shine even brighter. That our group would hand-wave problems with a condescending chuckling chorus of “Outriders…” rather than meeting them with frustration and despair is telling of just how much fun the game is when everything works properly — it’s worth battling through the bugs to get to those intense encounters, over-the-top abilities, and absurdly powerful builds that make you feel like the godlike force of nature the story sets you up to be. It’s brilliant in spite of its myriad issues, so once those are sorted, Outriders stands to be something truly special. While Square has made it clear that it isn’t intended to be a live service game, we’d be all over additional content down the line that lets us see more of Enoch and push our preposterous powers even further. An incredible get for Game Pass and a superb game in its own right (issues aside), Outriders is comfortably one of the best games of the year so far, and it’s only going to get better as the post-launch polish puts paid to the technical problems that currently hold it back from true greatness.