A new cover-based looter shooter arrives and although it’s not going to revolutionize the genre, it’s an interesting enough diversion to be worth your time. As long as you can get it to work.
Type: Single-player, Online Co-op
Genre: Action, RPG
Developer: People Can Fly
Publisher: Square Enix
Release date: 1 April, 2021
Setting has always been an important part of every genre for me whether it’s a strategy, RPG, shooter, or so on. It’s what even the best of mechanics has to rest on to engage much of their player base. The most incredible gameplay experience is likely to be muddied and forgettable if it doesn’t have this key element of its foundation.
Outriders is a third-person cover shooter that is firmly rooted in science fiction. Though its gameplay is unlikely to surprise you, its sci-fi narrative is far enough from the norm that it might hook you and pull you into its story early on. Although it’s certainly not light on tropes, there were a number of elements that made the adventure that this title took me on stand out.
Earth Is Gone
Outriders kicks off by introducing us to the aptly named Outriders, an organization of warriors and survivalists that have been given the duty of preparing the new world of Enoch for the survivors of an Earth that’s torn itself apart. Though they’re only a small fraction of those who will be settling on the planet, they’re charged with the loftiest phase of the process. They are the vanguard against any dangerous surprises that the world may have in store.
To no one’s surprise, it’s not long before the planet goes to hell and the Outriders realize they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Violent, bizarre storms and equally as dangerous monstrous life forms result in a widespread disaster shortly after landing. Though you’re present for the initial events, a grievous wound results in an ally tucking you into cryo until she can return to adequately treat your injuries. An emergency freeze that was supposed to be a short-term safety measure ends up lasting much longer and when you’re finally released from it three decades later by a pair of strangers the Enoch’s not in the best position. Most of your friends are long dead, but a few of them are out there, waiting to meet you all over again.
A Worthy Arsenal
Outriders’ looter-shooter roots are on full display throughout the experience. Though the scenery and enemy combinations may change, you’re forever slaughtering your foes so that you can loot more powerful gear to expand your slaughter to more competent foes. This is mostly done through arena-like battles that have the potential to become quite intense with a few breaks in between each to explore. The gunplay is entertaining enough, though if you’re looking for more in-depth exploration you’ll want to skip this one; the world and its lore are interesting but it’s mostly on rails. That said, a handful of classes with a variety of skills will add a little spice to round out your build at any given time and it’s an enjoyable experience when it all comes together.
The wide variety of weapon types will satisfy shooter veterans who are looking for their favorite classic guns. I quickly gravitated toward the bolt action sniper rifle and alternated between the assault rifles and automatic shotguns, though I often broke the mold and tried out other categories of firearms when I picked them up. I never ran across any that weren’t a joy to use thanks to the solid shooting foundation of the title, though I wasn’t as impressed with the unique traits that made each drop more than a collection of attributes. If you go into Outriders thinking it might be the next Borderlands, you’ll likely be disappointed when it comes to loot variety.
Four classes supplement the fluid but relatively uninspired cover shooting combat. Devastators are burly, front-line tanks that can power through what the enemy throws their way to get up close and personal. Tricksters tend to like closing in on their prey as well, though whereas the Devastator takes them head-on, the Trickster prefers to take the indirect route, teleporting or slowing time to give themselves the advantage. Pyromancer’s specialize in mid-range combat, tossing enough fire around to set the world aflame. Lastly, Technomancers provide support to their allies while firing in on their enemies at great range. That said, I’ve found that with some foresight, it’s easy enough to adapt these classes into builds that are viable for however you want to play; I was a trickster who used sniper rifle headshots to clear the hordes until they were thinned enough to teleport in, slow them all down, and brutalize the rest with whatever secondary weapon I had at the time.
Misfires and Jams
Though Outriders is a solid and enjoyable enough title, it’s not without its flaws. For one, it pushes your machine much harder than it needs to while doing little to push the genre (or gaming in general) further. I’m fortunate enough to have a PC that isn’t taxed by much in the Year of Our Lord 2021, but I experienced lag several times during Outriders, primarily during cinematics. On a couple of occasions, I encountered serious graphical and audio issues that resulted in enemies dealing me significant damage without any cues (no bullet paths, aiming animations, or voice lines) and every so often I glitched right through the animations that played when interacting with the environment. Throw onto this that there have been several periods of time that it was nearly impossible to play the game even in single-player thanks to the always-online aspect of it and you’ve got something of a technical disaster on your hands at the time of this writing.
Outriders isn’t going to receive any nominations for Game of the Year, but it’s a worthy enough cover/looter shooter to give a shot if it’s your flavor. Gameplay is usually smooth and refined even if it isn’t particularly innovative, though the story will likely pull you in if you’re a sci-fi fan. It’s replay value is boosted by an easily adjusted difficulty slider (world tiers) that strengthens both enemies and their drops. If you’re inclined, you can even bring along a friend to play through the co-op campaign. Once the technical side is ironed out, this is an easy recommendation once it’s on sale, just don’t expect the absolutely wild variety of loot that we’ve seen in some of its looter shooter competitors.