Outriders on Xbox Series X
It’s easy to typecast Outriders as yet another looter-shooter, and with how frustrating the genre has been in recent years, you’d be forgiven for doing so. On the surface, the game looks like an attempt from Square Enix to cram itself into a very crowded, and popular, genre like many other publishers have tried to do in recent years. Those who haven’t kept up with the news might even believe that Outriders is another live-service game, and that it is destined to fail.
While yes, Outriders is a looter-shooter, it’s not yet another. It’s a special game that, while not perfect, does a lot of things very well, and is among the best games to be released in the genre in recent memory.
Despite all appearances, it is not a live-service game trying to compete with Destiny 2. There’s no PvP or seasonal pass. In fact, it doesn’t have any firm post-launch plans at the time of this writing, and developer People Can Fly has stated that the game is complete.
Without those distractions, Outriders is able to stay laser-focused on providing an entertaining campaign that is coupled with very fun third-person shooting gameplay.
The story of Outriders goes like this: Thanks to rampant war, Earth is no longer suitable for life. One massive colonization ship is able to make it off of Earth out to an alien planet known as Enoch in a desperate attempt to preserve humanity.
The ship is able to reach Enoch, and scientists and explorers – known as Outriders – wake up from cryo to begin their mission. This group of people includes you, the player character, and a few other major players in the story including the soldier and driver Jakub.
Things pretty much immediately go to shit as soon as the operation begins. Enoch is extremely hostile. A forest that encases the valley where everyone landed is filled with toxic fungus that eats humans up from the inside. Massive storms that quickly annihilate anything they touch are also frequent. Panic and infighting quickly ensue, and the player character, after being mortally wounded, is thrown back into cryo in an attempt to save their life.
You wake up 30 years later, and the people that survived are still stuck in the valley, split off into factions at war over the few resources that were recoverable from the colony ship. For your character that was stuck in cryo, though, the arrival was hours ago and you can recall a mysterious, unexplainable radio signal that was picked up in the forest.
Allies pin their hope on that signal being a key to potentially freeing everyone from this hell that they have created in this small valley on Enoch. Thus, you set out to try and find the source of it.
That’s the premise in a nutshell. The characters, while not written exceptionally well, are at least likable and non-offensive. None of them are going to make my Mount Rushmore of great video game characters, but I was able to root for them at least. The plot is instead lifted up by the overall mystery of “the signal” which carries very well throughout the 20-30 hour campaign.
As you push further into uncharted territory on Enoch, you’ll learn a little bit more about what the hell happened to this planet, as it wasn’t supposed to be this crappy to live on. Chasing the signal constantly put me into story situations that I found to be surprising and entertaining. There are plenty of twists and turns to help keep you pushing toward the end without it ever feeling like a grind. Outriders isn’t too short, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome either. The story really is the perfect length, and it ends on a satisfying note.
It seems like a good time to also mention a major point early in the plot that is tied more to the gameplay side of things: the Altered. The mysterious energy that powers the violent storms on Enoch has the ability to alter some people and turn them into beings with god-like powers. Your character is one of the few that are fortunate enough to receive and control this power.
You can choose from four different classes that shape how your power develops as you gain EXP and level up throughout the campaign. There’s the roguish Trickster, the tanky Devastator, the gadget-focused Technomancer, and the Pyromancer, which… sets stuff on fire.
Each play quite distinctly from each other and are complete with skill trees that can branch into three different directions. Each gives you more opportunities to further define your play style depending on which three of the six primary skills from each class you prefer to use.
You can also mix and match from each branch, but Outriders is a bit stingy when it comes to the skill points you need to progress in the skill trees. Although you can mix and match, you barely have enough points to max out one tree, so you kind of do have to just pick a branch and stick with it if you want access to its most powerful nodes.
I also was a bit let-down by the skill trees in the sense that most of the nodes you’re picking are more passive than active. Outriders is a cooperative, PvE-only game. There’s no need to be so conservative when it comes to powering players up and letting them do completely bat-shit-crazy things on the battlefield as you see in similar games like Borderlands 3.
Fortunately, this is alleviated somewhat through weapon and armor mods. Outriders has perhaps the most rewarding and thorough crafting & modding systems I’ve ever seen in a looter-shooter game like this. You can do so much at the crafting NPC station manned by the wonderful Dr. Zahedi.
Through dismantling gear that you don’t need over the course of the game, you’ll eventually put together a bank of mods that can then be inserted into new gear that you obtain. The mods are extremely powerful and synergize in very satisfying ways with your skills.
For example, I played as a Techomancer that focuses on gadgetry and status effects, particularly toxic/poison, and I loaded up on skills that enhanced the potency of my toxic effect. Not only were enemies taking a powerful damage-over-time effect when I applied toxic to them, but they would also take more damage from myself and my teammates while the effect was on. All the while, I was enhancing my damage anytime I would use a Decay aspected skill.
Then, I slotted in armor mods that allowed me to effectively double or even triple the amount of time I have for my Blighted Rounds skill which makes every bullet I shoot for two+ magazines toxic-aspected. To top that off, I applied weapon mods that made my bullets do area-of-effect damage and spread the toxic all around.
This is the kind of freedom you have at the crafting station to cook up whatever playstyle you want without heavy reliance on RNG like other comparable games. Sure, there’s some as you wait for mods you really want to drop, but you can get started as soon as the crafting station is opened up early on and you rarely have to settle for wearing mods that don’t suit your preferred way to play.
Outriders also lets you customize your gameplay experience through the use of World Tiers. These are a dynamic difficulty that further expands as you play the game on the hardest difficulty available to you. If the game is too easy, the World Tier will go up and you’ll unlock a sweet reward. The enemies will get harder too, but you’ll get stronger loot in return.
If you don’t like where you’re at, you can move the difficulty back down whenever you like, no questions asked. I absolutely adored this system and would welcome it in, well, pretty much any game, but certainly looter-shooters like Outriders. It also serves as the backbone of farming and playing as a group. You and your team, if you choose to play with others, will want to decide on a World Tier in order to set the expectations for difficulty and loot.
Speaking of group play, Outriders is far more enjoyable when played with others. Unfortunately, during a lot of my initial time with the game, Outriders was experiencing issues with matchmaking and I was forced to play alone. Towards the end of my time, though, a fix was found and I was able to play with a few groups. Especially considering I was playing what could be called a support class in the Technomancer, I had way more fun playing with other people.
Group play is particularly important if you choose to engage in the game’s endgame Expeditions system. Expeditions are essentially timed missions that have their own difficulty tiering system, similar to world tier, that challenges players to clear them as fast as possible on the hardest difficulty they can handle for the best loot.
Expeditions, especially at the highest difficulties, can be extremely challenging and are absolutely the place where you can put your best builds to the test with others. Your gear, your knowledge of the crafting system, and your understanding of the game’s mechanics and how different class skills can work together are all critically important to surviving these high-difficulty expeditions.
If you loved Outriders’ character building as much as I did, then you certainly have a playground to experiment with there.
Again, though, keep in mind that while there is an endgame system in place for Outriders, it too will eventually be exhausted over time and that is by design. Outriders, at least as of right now, isn’t trying to compete with Destiny 2 and become live-service. It’s almost a shame because there’s a lot of potential here, but I respect the decision of the developers. There’s certainly enough here to justify its purchase price.
In the meantime, the developers should turn their attention to fixing some issues that still persist in Outriders. There are some flaws that perhaps can’t be changed at this point, but can be alleviated in future content should they decide to add any.
For starters, moving in and out of cover is far from fluid. While Outriders isn’t entirely a cover-based shooter like Gears 5, cover is needed from time to time, and getting in and out of it is extremely clunky.
If you’re playing solo, you’ll definitely run into the issue of every single enemy coming down on you and having no place to hide with no one to take the heat off of you. Moving around cover, as I stated, doesn’t feel great, and the AI seems to have perfect aim at all times with snipers that can track your every move. It can definitely be frustrating, especially if you insist on staying at the highest level World Tier.
Then, there’s the enemy variety, which is perhaps the biggest flaw in Outriders’ gameplay. While there are four or so different factions, they all essentially boil down to animals or not animals. Those that are not the wildlife of Enoch all have the same enemy types: A sniper, a berserker that pushes you from cover, a rifleman, and so on. Despite looking different, all use nearly the exact same tactics with only very small variations.
The animals all behave and look the same as well. Most of them charge and swarm you, with a few others that hang back and sling things at you instead. I grew very tired of these patterns by the end.
This is exasperated by the fact that there’s almost no mission variety. Everything in the game boils down to go somewhere, kill stuff and then go somewhere new and kill stuff there. People Can Fly got very lucky that Outriders is so damn fun to play, because these problems could have ruined the whole game if it wasn’t.
Finally, there are some general technical issues worth noting. This includes aforementioned matchmaking problems, but also stuff like voice lines not syncing up with character animations, multiple lines being skipped when you’re just trying to skip one line, and cutscenes sometimes jumping ahead altogether.
In fact, the game’s final few cutscenes were plagued by these issues for me, it ruined the moment a bit, and yeah, that isn’t ideal.
Still, despite my final moments kind of being ruined, I really enjoyed my time with Outriders. It cracks into the crowded looter-shooter genre and carves out a niche, all while telling an entertaining story. Its character-building is top-notch, its PvE gameplay is challenging and rewarding, and despite not being a live-service game it comes complete with end-game content that is more robust than most games that are trying to be live-service.
Publishers, instead of trying to make everything the next Destiny-killer, should do what People Can Fly and Square Enix have done with Outriders. Offering a full experience with multiplayer, deep character customization, and plenty of post-game content works beautifully.
Cover and movement are very clunky.
Noticeable technical issues that can be immersion-breaking.
Matchmaking could and should be made easier.