Outriders is an action-RPG “looter shooter” where you play as a raid boss.
At the start of the game, you’re barely more than a normal soldier, albeit a particularly durable one. By the halfway point, you’re a figure out of myth, capable of soloing small armies and changing the course of history. It’s the origin story of a wartime superhero, set against the backdrop of a science-fiction World War I.
I’m having a complicated reaction to it. Outriders has really good shooting, with an outlandish array of powers, mods, and character builds that put it more in tune with Diablo than Destiny, but it’s unstable, prone to crashing, always online, and rough around the edges.
I beat the story campaign before I sat down to write this review, so clearly Outriders is doing something right, but there’s a lot I’d change. This is the sort of game that makes me more excited for a theoretical sequel than for playing it on its own.
It’s the late 22nd century, and humanity has fled a rapidly deteriorating Earth in favor of the distant world of Enoch. Due to a combination of bad data and bureaucratic snafus, the colonists make planetfall to discover Enoch is not as habitable as early data suggested.
This is primarily due to the Anomaly, a magnetic storm that covers much of the planet. In its wake, the wildlife turns into monsters, electronics burn out, the landscape distorts, and most of the time, unprotected humans are disintegrated in their tracks. A relative handful of survivors come out the other side as Altered, endowed with a wide variety of supernatural abilities.
You’re the last surviving member of the Outriders, the now-maligned scout team that was the first to make planetfall on Enoch. Wounded after your own encounter with the Anomaly, you’re thrown into cryogenic storage and emerge 31 years later to discover what’s left of humanity has descended into civil war.
On one side, the remnants of the Enoch Colonization Authority are trying, and mostly failing, to hold onto civilization; on the other, the Insurgents are primarily motivated by a seething hatred for the ECA, which they perceive as having betrayed them. Both sides are confined to a single valley on Enoch by the Anomaly, and most of the remaining settlements have descended into trench warfare.
It’s actually a strange setting for a “looter shooter” when you think about it. A big part of what’s propelling the war is a lack of resources, but new guns, armor, ammunition, and explosives are all cheap if not free; humanity has been reduced to a five-digit population, but I can’t so much as go down to the corner shop without having to shoot thirty dudes. Outriders’ setting feels more like the backdrop for a post-apocalyptic horror/survival game than a smash-and-grab dungeon crawler.
Be that as it may, you enter the main game as the last Outrider and the newest Altered. You’re immediately drawn into a potentially foolhardy quest that could change the face of both the civil war and civilization on Enoch.
At the start, you pick one of four specialist character classes. I naturally gravitated towards Technomancer, because it seemed like it would be the least fair to my enemies, with deployable turrets, proximity mines, and a freeze bomb; the other classes are meant to work closer in, but I’m not about that life.
It worked out okay. Outriders’ story campaign is little more than a series of themed combat arenas, but its action is solid enough to make that work for it. You’re naturally meant to continually tweak your gear, mods, and skills to specialize in whatever challenge is in front of you, whether it’s a solo fight against a giant elite monster, a bunch of little guys rushing you down, or a human strike team with artillery support.
There’s a touch of unnecessary one-size-fits-all for the arenas, where one class or another might get destroyed through no real fault of its own. Devastators, for example, are meant to primarily use their melee attack and have no long-range damage to speak of short of simply carrying a rifle; I’ve heard from other players that maps with a heavy population of enemy snipers are harder than they needed to be. As a Technomancer, my least favorite arenas were the ones where I had enemies in my face from the start and no useful ability to backtrack or evade them.
This isn’t as much of an issue in the late game, when you’ve probably come up with at least one vicious mod/skill/gear combo that turns anything short of a mini-boss into cannon fodder, but it is a drag early on.
With that in mind, Outriders is a solid B-plus of a game on its own merits. It does one thing very well, and that’s shooting. I’m particularly fond of its “gibs,” where an enemy you explode or mutilate bursts into a satisfying spray of gore. Psychotic? Well, yes, but no less entertaining for it.
The big problems with Outriders all have little to do with the game itself. It requires constant connection with its servers to be playable at all, even if you’re solo, which means any slight Internet hiccup drops you out of the game and kicks you back to the last checkpoint. That’s not great.
More importantly, it was an unstable game on launch week and has gotten visibly worse since a recent patch. I’ve had more sessions ended prematurely due to Unreal Engine crashing to desktop than I’ve actually quit myself. Whenever I decide to try and play Outriders, I enjoy it, but it is a visible crapshoot whether it’ll crash or disconnect on me before I have the chance to do anything fun. Other players have reported losing their entire inventories or having consistent fatal errors. The game flat-out doesn’t feel complete.
Again, though, I have cleared the story campaign, so Outriders has a few things going for it. I’d like to see a sequel that addresses some of this, by getting rid of the always-online functionality, ditching some of the petty annoyances like how fast travel works between zones, and generally getting the game to a place where it doesn’t crash every hour or so. As it stands, it’s good, but obnoxious, and might be better after a few solid patches.
Reviewed By: Thomas Wilde
Publisher: Square Enix
This review is based on a digital copy of Outriders for the PC provided by Square Enix.