Outriders is a near perfect looter shooter (once the bugs are fixed)

By Jacob Snell-Field 3 years ago

To say that Outriders has had a hard time capturing the attention of gamers up until launch would be an understatement. Looter shooters are unfortunately known by the wider gaming community as rush-job live-service games that would rather nickle and dime their players and slowly trickle content out over time instead of leaving them satisfied with a full package right away, see Anthem for a prime example of this.

While I don't dislike the Live-Service model in and of itself, it's clear that the days of games like Borderlands 2 are behind us. It just makes financial sense to keep your fanbase consistently engaged and spending on your game MMO-Style. Even successful examples of the model, like The Division or Destiny, started out poorly and had to win back the trust of their fanbase with consistent updates and improvements to the game. Even as a huge Destiny fan myself, I'm starting to feel fatigued with the game and have been wanting to spend a bit of time away from the game, and craving a self-contained experience to sink my teeth into.

Outriders is a title created by People Can Fly, a Polish studio, with publishing by Square-Enix.  In the year up to release, People Can Fly were very transparent with their game and laid out exactly what to expect with this release. Going into detail about various things, such as the classes, campaign content and length, even an extensive 13 minute long video showcasing exactly how end-game content works. All of these videos made me very confident in this release, but unfortunately, aside from the initial announcement trailer, most of the videos went pretty unnoticed.  

It wasn't until around 2 months before the game's release where it started to gain any traction at all, and the announcement of it being available in Xbox Game Pass really kicked my interest into overdrive. This sudden surge of interest so close to the game's launch would be good publicity for the studio and Outriders, but would also set up for an objectively rocky launch.

I want to mention the launch events before I go into any detail about the game itself, because I feel it's important.  

On April 1st, hundreds of thousands of players logged in on their platform of choice to experience Outriders for the first time, but were met with constant error messages, disconnects, and crashes. The servers had become overwhelmed by the amount of people trying to play at the same time. I'm sure nobody at People Can Fly or Square-Enix expected this many people and their servers certainly weren't ready for such a huge load. For the first 3 days or so, server disconnects were frequent, and expected.  

While People Can Fly remained transparent and assured players they were doing their best to solve the problem as soon as possible, it didn't do much to quell the anger of some players. The vocal minority, in traditional fashion proceeded to “review-bomb” the game on Steam and Metacritic, as well as harass People Can Fly's (and individual dev’s) social media channels. This behaviour by the very vocal minority was abhorrent. However, this whole situation may have been avoided, or at least, been less severe if People Can Fly hadn't decided to make the game online-only, and let solo players experience the game offline. I'm not here to argue the merits or disadvantages with always-online games, though I think we can all agree that given this is not a live service game, and can largely be experienced solo, it is puzzling as to why they would do it this way.

I wanted to bring this up because I believe that the current state of user-scores don't even come close to what this game deserves. Gamers are right to be upset at the server issues and crashes, and the technical problems. But I don't want this to overshadow the work People Can Fly have put into this game.  

I think with all of this said and out of the way, it's time for the actual review.

 The story gets better over time, there's some twists and turns, genuinely unexpected moments, and really good acting. By the end I was having a great time and genuinely felt attached to some of the characters.

When the demo launched I played it for quite a long time, 20 hours or so leveling all of the 4 classes and grinding for the rare legendaries. While I was enjoying what little taste of the campaign we got, it didn't seem like anything special. The environments felt kinda bland, the level design was pretty simple, and the story was just middle of the road. Not terrible, but maybe a bit over-acted and it didn't have a whole lot of interesting moments. It was starting to look like this would be another game like Destiny, where the campaign is only a few hours and pretty simple, but end-game is the main focus, but I was relieved to discover that this isn't the case at all.

The story may not be anything special, it's no Mass Effect, but there is a lot of fun to be had here.  The story gets better over time, there's some twists and turns, genuinely unexpected moments, and really good acting. By the end I was having a great time and genuinely felt attached to some of the characters. Not all of them are great, but some of them are endearing, and that surprised me. I'm not going to talk specifics in the story, but if you go into the game looking for a campy and at times, edgy action movie-styled story and don't go into it expecting a writing masterpiece, you'll enjoy yourself.

You'll explore a vast alien jungle with ancient structures scattered throughout, a mountain with giant icicles formed at extreme angles due to the constant heavy winds and storms

As for the environments, I was genuinely surprised and at times, in awe at the quality and beauty of some of these maps. You'll explore a vast alien jungle with ancient structures scattered throughout, a mountain with giant icicles formed at extreme angles due to the constant heavy winds and storms. You'll explore the outer rim and even the inside of an active volcano with giant alien spiders. You'll explore desert areas with sandstorms that are at times so heavy you can barely see a few feet away from you. The trenches in an active and highly volatile warzone, and the dreary slums of a civilization on the verge of a collapse.

The amount of variety here in the environments is incredible and each one is breathtaking in its own way.  However, level design is extremely linear. You aren't going to be exploring that often aside from going a bit off the beaten path to find a chest. The main campaign has you going through a clearly laid out path the whole time and you always know exactly where to go, and sidequests have you go through entirely unique areas in these environments made specifically for them.  

I don't believe that it being linear is a bad thing, but I think it's important to know what to expect.  Despite the very linear level design, I was consistently surprised with how much fun each and every engagement was, and how different they all felt from each other. You're still doing largely the same things each engagement. Using your abilities, shooting, and going for cover when needed. But the different layouts and enemies they throw at you consistently keep things interesting. There are multiple enemy sets, with multiple types of enemies in them.

To keep things spoiler-free, we'll just focus on the humans which are the first things you fight in the game, and are a consistent threat for the majority of the campaign. You have the standard rifleman that can shoot and throw grenades at you, marksman which have a sniper and revolver if you get too close. There's the breacher which is heavily armored and has a shotgun. Once killed it lays a grenade at its feet, forcing you to move if it got too close to you before it died. 

There's the cutthroats who constantly rush you with melee attacks and will actively bob-and-weave to try and dodge your shots as they get closer. There's multiple elite types all with different abilities and weapons. The enemies in this game are designed to constantly push you and flush you out of hiding spots so you have to constantly play aggressively and be on your toes. The AI is very smart and if you aren't on your A-game they will flush you out and put an end to you. Sitting at the back of the map behind cover and picking off enemies one by one is not an option here, after all, as the promotional material for outriders states, cover is for cowards.

I didn't even list all of the enemy types for humans, and there are still multiple other enemy types that all fight in different ways so the campaign is constantly keeping things fresh.  Just as you get used to one and feel confident in fighting them, it introduces a new enemy type that changes the flow of the entire encounter, or switches around the enemy type you're fighting, sometimes mid-battle.

If just want to have fun being a demi-god destroying everything, you can just switch the world tier down and make the game easier.

This game can be brutal sometimes. It's very difficult even early on, and demands that you pay attention to your build, what guns you're using, and your skill tree to stay on top of things. As you fight, level up, and get further in the story, you'll gradually earn more world-tiers.  World-tiers are an interesting mechanic where the better you do, the harder things get, but at the same time, the better loot you get. This can be changed at any time so if you aren't concerned with getting epic or legendary loot and just want to have fun being a demi-god destroying everything, you can just switch the world tier down and make the game easier on yourself. You can get through the entire game on the first tier if you wanted, though I'd highly advise against doing so. The challenge of constantly increasing your world-tier forces you to engage with the crafting and build creation.

Now, I don't say this lightly. The modding system in Outriders, is possibly the best modding system I've ever seen in a video game. How so? Well, let's talk about it.

Given other looter shooters, you'd expect the build-crafting, be it weapon or armor perks with modding, or min-maxing your skill-tree to be all end-game things. In Destiny 2, while you're playing through the campaign, you're putting on the gun or armor piece with the highest number on it and don't put any more thought into it. It's just watching numbers up so you do normal damage to enemies again. In outriders? Absolutely not. You unlock the crafting in the game only 3 or so hours in, in a campaign that's 20-40 hours long depending on how much side content you engage in.

Now I've propped this modding system up pretty highly here and I think it's about time to explain why it's so good.

So, every piece of gear, be it armor or weapon, has mods on it if it's blue rarity or above. Rares have 1 slot, Epics and Legendaries have 2. When you dismantle gear that has a mod on it, that mod is permanently added to your collection. This applies to every rarity. Even exclusive mods only on legendaries. If you want to add a mod to an existing piece of gear, you can either edit slot 1 or 2. When you slot in that mod, the other slot is locked and can't be edited anymore, but the initial slot is free to be swapped whenever. This means that you can get mods from extremely powerful loot and pair them up with another mod of the same rarity and create the ultimate OP gun. Imagine if in Destiny, you could combine 2 exotics together, that's essentially what we have here.

I'll list 2 examples of how powerful this mod system can be. I got a legendary shotgun "Body Snatcher" which had a mod of the same name which reads: "Killing shots teleport another enemy to the place where the previous one died. Works within a 25 meter radius of the target." This in of itself is alright, but then I remembered the legendary gun I got during the demo, "The Migraine" which had the Bomb's Ahead mod. "Killing shots turn enemies into an Anomaly bomb, dealing damage.". So I dismantled The Migraine since it was low level so I could get the Bomb's ahead mod, and then slotted it into the other mod slot of the Body Snatcher. So now I have a shotgun that when it kills someone, it pulls someone else into the spot where the first mob died, and since the explosion is delayed by about a second, the second mob instantly takes a huge chunk of damage, often instantly killing them because they were at the center of the blast.  

Another example is my Amber Vault legendary Double Gun. It has the Killing Spree mod which increases damage by 25% for 20 seconds when I get a kill and stacks up to 3 times. I then paired it up with the Ultimate Damage Link mod that I got off of the Voodoo Matchmaker legendary.  This mod links up to 4 enemies and shares 40% of weapon damage and 20% of ability damage. I now have a gun that increases its own damage and shares that damage with up to 3 other enemies. Pretty powerful! 

Armor mods can be just as powerful as the things I've shown off, as there are class-specific mods that directly power up your abilities, and standard mods that work with everyone, spanning 3 tiers. With how powerful this all is, you'd think it would cost an arm and a leg and take forever to get the materials to do all of this, but no. The costs are so low that I would be genuinely surprised if anyone playing this game couldn't afford it. At end-game slotting a mod costs around 200-300 iron or leather, when I have stockpiles of over 30,000 each. 

On top of all of this, you have your class and its skill tree. Each of the 4 classes feels completely different from one another and are expertly crafted. So much so that if you only play one of the classes and don't touch the others, you really aren't experiencing everything this game has to offer. The class skill trees have 3 branches and you get up to 20 points to spend by the time you get to level 30. You can't earn all of the skills in the skill tree, but you can respec at any time at no cost.  

With all of this combined it creates an incredibly satisfying build-crafting experience that you are engaging in the whole game, and as you learn the system and get better at crafting your builds, it transfers to the endgame very well.

The endgame is the last thing I'll talk about here before I give my final conclusion.  

As of writing I managed to get my Trickster and Technomancer to max level and played a decent chunk of the end-game. I still have a ways to go, but I'm enjoying myself. After completing the campaign, you then unlock expeditions. There's a little over a dozen expeditions in Outriders, and they are all completely unique missions exclusive to end-game. No recycled content here.  

These expeditions are backed by another form of the world-tier mechanic called challenge tiers.  You can play each of the expeditions at the lowest challenge tier if you want to, but you won't get great loot, and the last mission, eye of the storm, requires you to unlock the max tier before playing so you do eventually need to play the hard content if you want to get the full experience.  

Outriders does not want you to keep playing this game forever. You'll clear the end-game, grind for some more loot if you want, and it'll be done

The expeditions are basically the same things you have been doing in the campaign, just harder, and with significantly more enemies. There are some exclusive objective types, like capturing a point and defending from enemies for example, but most of it is just wave after wave of mobs and the goal is to do it as fast as possible to get the best rewards. These can be done solo, but a team is highly recommended for higher tiers. These expeditions will test your builds and mastery of the game in ways that even the campaign couldn't. It's a great send-off to the game even if it's not as deep as something like Destiny. Outriders does not want you to keep playing this game forever. You'll clear the end-game, grind for some more loot if you want, and it'll be done, which is fine by me. There's the possibility of big dlc in the future, but don't expect to get constant content over the next year or two.

I plan on fully leveling up and clearing the end-game on all 4 classes because I've enjoyed my time with the game so much. On one hand I wish this was live service so I could keep playing new content, but at the same time I am glad that this is a self contained experience that I don't need to commit my life to like so many games expect me to nowadays. I suspect I'll come back to this game as much as Borderlands fans go back to 2. You don't need a live-service game to get people to come back. You need to create a fun as hell game with a satisfying gameplay-loop with replayable content, and make something that you can't get anywhere else.  Outriders is one of those games.

I think it's clear at this point that I believe Outriders is an exceptional game. I thoroughly enjoyed every second I spent playing the game and I definitely feel it's worth the $60 admission fee. Yes, the game has some technical problems, and even I experienced some inconsistent frame rates from time to time on PC, but I don't care. Those things will be ironed out in time. As it stands, Outriders is one of the best looter shooters money can buy and has a lot to teach other games of the genre.

Without a shadow of a doubt this game deserves a 9 out of 10.

Score: 9/10

Outriders is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Steam with a free downloadable demo.


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