If you’re looking for a next-gen shooter, Outriders is quite stubbornly old school.
It doesn't immediately appear to offer anything new, given its sci-fi premise is also about humanity looking for a fresh start, as your custom character is among the first to land on the lush alien planet of Enoch, which looks like something out of Halo or Horizon Zero Dawn.
Don’t get too comfortable however, because after a freak energy storm occurs, you’re suddenly 30 years in the future to find that your new home has already gone to hell, while the palette has lurched back into a muddy brown, with all the feel of a last-last-gen cover shooter.
It’s not the best first impression, and if you’re looking for an engrossing storyline, you won’t find it later on either. That ultimately won’t matter so much, though, because if you’re principally playing Outriders to shoot things, then that’s fortunately where developer People Can Fly excels.
The one who Enochs
While your character may not have much of a personality aside from the occasional quip, they stand out as an ‘Altered’, having survived an energy storm that’s also granted them superpowers. These powers are split into four distinct classes, which you have to choose straight after the opening prologue.
There’s the Technomancer, who’s great for long-range and support, and the fire-based Pyromancer, while the assassin-style Trickster and tanky Devastator are best for getting up close to wreak havoc. The gunplay is as solid as you’d expect from a studio who worked on the Gears of War series and Bulletstorm, but these powers - with relatively quick cooldowns - are what make each encounter feel so engaging so that you’re not just taking potshots behind cover.
That proactive aggressive play is precisely what’s encouraged as killing enemies is how you also heal. There’s a real exciting balance of risk and reward as you rush a mob while your health is low only to completely heal up after taking them all out.
The exciting gunplay is however marred by some frustratingly clunky movement, with no jump button, a run that doesn’t always seem to register (not great when trying to leg it from a large enemy area attack), and getting behind cover or vaulting over providing just as much of a problem. It does rather undermine things when you can eviscerate a horde of enemies in front of you but still get stuck behind a bit of scenery.
World tiers for fears
Even though you’re locked into your class for the rest of the game (unless you choose to start another campaign with a new character), there are plenty of skills and buffs you can unlock as you level up. You can only equip three skills at a time, and it won’t just be a case of discarding earlier ones for more powerful variants later, as we found ourselves still using the Trickster’s first unlocked skill Temporal Blade all the way to the endgame. It’s simply giving you more options to suit your playstyle.
The same can be said for the class tree, which is impossible to completely fill out, but the freedom to reset the class points you put into it means you can always experiment and even criss-cross between the branches (essentially split into weapon damage, survivability and powers) so that you’re never locked into one build. As powerful as you can be, don’t expect to steamroll your way through Outriders, as ferocious waves of enemies, ranging from soldier factions to Enoch’s hostile fauna, respond in kind.
Things continue to get more challenging because of the world tier, which both raises the enemy level as well as the rate of rare loot drops. Fortunately, you’re also free to lower the tier if combat gets overwhelming. It will also get to a point where you might not be able to unlock a higher tier since progression is reduced whenever you die, meaning the game's difficulty is only as tough as you can handle it. For the most hardcore players, striving to reach the highest possible tier for the toughest encounters and rarest loot will be its own challenge.
Outriders on the Storm
Just like with Destiny, killing enemies or opening chests has chances for colourful loot popping up, which also corresponds to your level and world tier. At first you might just be mindlessly swapping out gear with whatever’s got a higher number, but the real depth comes from modifiers taken from any rare gear you’ve dismantled.
For instance, you may be rocking a very powerful shotgun or helmet, but its initial mods don’t really play to your strengths. Instead, you can swap these mods out with something that actually works to your playstyle. Conversely, if you have a mod you really liked in a weapon that’s now under-powered, you can dismantle it and carry that mod over to a more high-level weapon.
It’s that creative flexible min-maxing that makes Outriders’ endgame especially rewarding, when you’re going to need all the gear and skills you can muster for tier-based Expeditions. These high-level missions have the toughest wave of enemies but also the chance to score bundles of loot, with much rarer rewards the quicker you can get to the end.
While teaming up with others is going to be the best way to survive the overwhelming odds (not least because teammates can revive one another), it’s a shame that those who do want to brave it all on their own will still have to be connected to the game’s online servers, and all the issues that entails. Granted, an online game facing network issues at launch is expected, but it’s a particular sore point when there’s a server outage and there’s no offline mode for those who were just planning to solo it.
Outriders isn’t going to win any points on originality, a cross-gen release that feels even more old-school, with its awkward transitions and screen fades undermining any instant loading the PS5 is capable of. But once the shooting starts and the mobs rush from all sides, these flaws take a backseat as you fight for your life and have a hell of a time doing it with all your powers.
Despite all the trappings of a service game, this is a hugely generous and complete package, from its myriad side quests and abundance of loot and unlocks, to its engrossing and challenging endgame that encourages skill, experimentation and replaying, while rewarding in kind.