Since its reveal back at E3 2019, Outriders has been met with some skepticism. The original reveal didn’t really do the game any favors and at first glance, it looked like a Destiny 2 clone but with third-person combat. Now that the game is finally out for fans of the looter shooter genre to try, the final product is vastly different from Bungie’s MMO-lite shooter. However, that difference isn’t exactly a good or bad thing. In fact, after spending over 20 hours on Enoch in Outriders, I am still not sure how I feel about this game and its mashup of formulas and gameplay elements from various other games in the market.
Let’s get the main thing out of the way first. No, despite looking like it, Outriders is not a Destiny clone. Far from it actually and is much closer to shooters like Gears of War and even Mass Effect thanks to all the RPG elements thrown in.
Sure, there might be way more looting than Mass Effect games but Outriders is still far from an MMO shooter like Destiny or The Division despite it feeling like one. At its core, Outriders is basically just a singleplayer linear-ish story-driven game that can also be played in co-op. However, that is where the game’s problems start off.
While People Can Fly might have been pretty inactive on the mainstream game development scene since their 2011 and 2013 hits; Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgement, the company had been working with Epic Games on a number of different IPs as well as ports and remasters of games.
Due to the pedigree attached with their name and their previous two major games, there were certain expectations with Outriders but it seems like the developers didn’t exactly learn from the mistakes of other games and kind of dropped the ball with the launch of their first original IP in almost a decade.
As I mentioned before, Outriders at its core is a singleplayer game. Unfortunately, it is a singleplayer game that requires players to be always online even if they have no intention of playing the story mode with others. Diablo 3 in 2012 was among the earliest games to make this mistake and was rightfully blasted by players and critics alike for hampering the player experience in such a way.
Over the course of the years, many games have attempted the same thing again and it has never worked well for the playerbase. For some reason, People Can Fly decided to go the same route with Outriders and as expected, the result was nothing short of disastrous.
With the review codes being sent out only a day before launch, the servers come launch day were unable to handle the load resulting in delayed reviews. Even as of this writing, 2 days after release, the servers are struggling and players constantly face disconnection in the middle of missions or boss fights, forcing them to start the process all over again. Given how sparse the checkpoints are in the game, this means someone playing solo might have to do an entire 20-30 minute section of the game all over again, hoping they don’t disconnect again.
After numerous disconnections on Friday, forcing me to stop playing Outriders which I was supposed to be reviewing and go back to Apex Legends, I was unable to play the game almost the entire Saturday. The servers finally stabilized to a bearable extent in the early hours of Sunday morning so I started grinding the story and doing a few side quests to ensure my character wasn’t too underpowered while keeping the automatic tier upgrade system on.
With the launch issues out of the way, let’s talk about Outriders’ core gameplay, which happens to be an amalgam of Gears of War, Mass Effect and any standard run of the mill looter shooter. Straight out of the gate, Outriders doesn’t really try to reinvent the wheel and instead attempts to sit comfortably in the middle, sapping in elements from different games and putting slight spins on them.
Standard 3rd person cover shooter mechanics, tons of weapons and armors with different rarities to customize the look and abilities of your character and a pretty decent Class Tree to enhance your character even further. All in all a decent mix but nothing with the wow factor to sweep you off your feet. Perhaps the strongest thing gameplay feature in favor of Outriders are the abilities themselves. All four classes; Devastator, Technomancer, Trickster and Pyromancer play very differently and are actually a blast to play with. Close, medium, long or straight up tanky beast, the playable classes and their class trees allow you to live your power fantasy in true sci-fi epic fashion.
Manipulating time and space as Trickster, fire attacks as Pyromancer, ranged abilities and gadgets as Technomancer or battlefield juggernaut as Devastator, whichever class you pick in Outriders is fully viable for all encounters.
To complement the class system, Outriders has a pretty unique method of healing during combat encounters. Instead of picking up or using healing items from inventory, your characters get shield and health based on their kills and abilities. Killing enemies with fire abilities heals the Pyromancer while rushing them and killing them up close with abilities or regular close-ranged damage is how you survive as a Trickster.
However, despite all the uniqueness and fun of classes, the actual combat encounters of Outriders aren’t a lot of fun due to a number of reasons and design choices that feel archaic in this day and age. The combat and shooting might be snappy but the encounters are boring, feel like a chore and the level design is not only frustrating but makes them all feel the same. Every combat encounter takes place in an ‘arena’ littered with conveniently placed objects to take cover behind while enemies come at you in waves.
The AI isn’t particularly great either and at times can be quite frustrating to deal with. For a cover shooter, the game forces you out of cover every few seconds. The moment you take cover behind objects, grenades starting flying in from every direction with amazing accuracy. Funnily enough, enemies rarely use grenades if you just stand behind the same wall and not press the cover key to hug the wall.
While the locales where the entirety of Outriders takes place are diverse enough and some of them even look beautiful, none of them truly standout to leave a good impression to the point where you can’t really tell which combat encounter took place in what area of the map as all these ‘arena’s look pretty much the same with their color scheme being the biggest differentiating factor. Combine the lackluster level design and the non-existent enemy variety, the combat loop which makes up like 80% of the game comes off as very shallow and dated.
In fact, the combat encounters in People Can Fly’s 2011 game Bulletstorm were more fun for me than the ones in Outriders. At least there were creative ways to kill enemies in there but in Outriders its basically just spray and pray and using your abilities as soon as they are off cooldown as waves upon waves of the same enemies rush you mindlessly and you run around trying to take down the extremely bullet spongy Captains or Elites.
Speaking of bullet sponge enemies, I have my fair share of experience in Destiny and The Division franchises but never have I felt more frustrated at the enemy design and boss fights than in Outriders. For all intents and purposes, most of the enemies have no weaknesses for you to exploit and make quick work of.
You would think that destroying an Iron Clad’s entire body armor would help you mow him down quicker but it doesn’t seem to make any difference except for headshots but even then the damage done isn’t significant considering these are normal enemies and not superpowered Altered individuals. The same goes for bosses as every boss encounter is just running around avoiding AOE attacks and hipfiring at the time because you can’t afford to aim properly since you need to constantly dodge their barrages and abilities.
Shooting a giant lava spider on the eyes, countless pulsating sacks on its body or in its mouth does the same damage. After Tier 6 and level 17 it got to the point that I was forced to run with an LMG so I could just spray down enemies with 100 bullet magazines and not worry about reloading. Even then it would take 1000s of bullets to take down any boss. There are some enemies that do have weaknesses like the flame tank on Cremator’s back but the visual feedback of shooting it is nonexistent so you have a difficult time figuring out if you are even hitting the critical spot to explode the tank or not.
The weapons themselves feel extremely lackluster. It’s difficult to tell the difference between a common or an epic assault rifle since they all look and sound the same, with the only difference between them being stats and mods, something that we previously experienced in the disastrous Anthem. It isn’t until you start getting Legendary loot that the loot game of Outriders actually starts to shine with weapons that look amazing, perform amazing and give you the feel that you are actually holding something with devastating power.
Unfortunately, the economy of the game is extremely stifling and forces an unreasonable amount of grind to allow continued use of such legendary equipment as a few hours after acquiring a badass shotgun that suspends enemies midair when hit, I end up getting a rare shotgun that does far more damage and the resources required to upgrade that legendary shotgun are just a massive pain.
Since we are on the topic of resources, scraps that are used as currency to buy items from vendors are in an even worse spot. At level 18, I decided to buy a helmet from a vendor to replace my current one. To this point I had mostly been selling my loot to vendors and only scrapping items if they had good mods for me to use.
I thought that with over 13K scrap I could afford a good Epic helmet but I was mistaken as the only Epic headgear available at the shop was more than what I could afford and was only 3 levels above me! So, for spending all the scrap I had collected in these 18 levels, I could only buy one piece of gear that would become obsolete pretty soon and then I wouldn’t have had enough money to buy another if I wanted to.
However, not every aspect of Outriders’ gameplay is bad. As I mentioned before, the abilities are a lot of fun to use and look like out of a blockbuster sci-fi superhero movie. The same goes for the other smaller systems like Class skills and Class tree that allow for amazing build diversity. While the crafting and mod system of the game is pretty decent, the economy that supports it needs major tweaking.
Story has never been the forte of looter shooters with Borderlands 2 being the only successful example with an amazing balance of narrative and combat. So, it is understandable that Outriders story wouldn’t really stand out. While the developers did build really great lore surrounding the events of the game and the planet Enoch, it’s a shame that to access that lore and fully appreciate everything you have to go through mountains of written journals. Perhaps a variety of delivery methods such as audio logs and conversations would have been a better option instead of forcing players to read walls of text to better get in touch with the game world.
That’s not to say that the main story of the game doesn’t try its hand at enlightening players about the hostile planet they are on, it’s just that it does too little and too late. The bulk of the main campaign is spent on forgettable characters and story points that never make a return and it isn’t until you are on the last 25% or so of the game that the main plot actually starts to take shape.
If you have seen any B-grade sci-fi movie ever or played Mass Effect Andromeda, the big twists and reveals won’t really surprise you but they are done decently enough to make sure you aren’t pissed off at the final payoff. While the conclusion could have been a bit better and exciting, it is serviceable enough to get a pass.
Sadly the game’s side content doesn’t fare much better either. The content is divided into 4 categories; side quests, historian missions, wanted and hunt missions. As the names suggest, side quests involve some narrative aspects and task players with helping out other survivors on Enoch with different tasks off the beaten path to your main quest.
Historian missions require you to collect lost relics from Earth’s history while wanted and hunt missions have the players hunting down and killing other humans with bounties on them or monsters respectively.
While a few of these side quests are pretty interesting and take you to cool-looking places, the rest of the missions and the 3 other types of side content is pretty bland and doesn’t serve any other purpose besides loot grinding and a meager amount of XP. There is no interesting backstory attached to the people or monsters you are hunting down or the survivors you choose to help.
Given these limitations with the side content, extremely linear story and map design, I find myself hard-pressed to create another character and go through the same old stuff again just to experience the endgame Expeditions as another class.
While doing the same old content to level up another character is understandable in such games, titles like The Division and Destiny keep the experience engaging and refreshing by adding in random world events, encounters, PvP or collectibles. Sadly, Outriders has none of that and will require a very patient person to go through the 20-25 hour slog to complete the campaign again and grind enough to hit the level cap of 30 and 15 World tiers to acquire level 45 gear.
Even after the server woes and launch week issues are resolved, Outriders doesn’t deserve its AAA price tag of $60. Server issues can be explained away by the massive and unexpected launch day traffic (over 100k concurrent users on Steam alone) but that still doesn’t excuse the poor performance of the game, at least on PC and the countless bugs and hiccups that should have been fixed after the game’s multiple delays since 2020. Whether playing on Low or Ultra, the constant microstutters on my PC which is more than capable of playing the game on High settings made every combat encounter frustrating, cutscenes lose audio sync or skip sections altogether.
Combine that with the need to always be online even if you are playing alone, it’s better to wait for a sale and hopefully an offline mode in case you don’t have people to co-op with as I doubt the P2P servers will make matchmaking fun once the matchmaking system gets fixed. While People Can Fly does deserve praise for not following the industry trend of making every game a live service and asking players to shell out another $40-50 for DLCs and updates in the future, it doesn’t excuse the rest of the mediocrity littered throughout Outriders.