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Outriders hands-on preview: Intriguing hodgepodge of looter-shooter fundamentals

Outriders isn’t the most original game. But when so many recent triple-A looter-shooters have flopped hard, isn’t execution all that matters? With a lot of Gears of War, a heap of Mass Effect, and a sprinkling of Anthem in the mix, Outriders could be the one that bucks the trend.

People Can Fly is probably best known as the studio behind Bulletstorm, as well as its work with Epic Games on Gears of War: Judgement and the early days of Fortnite: Save the World.

It’s pretty funny just how close Outrider’s core shooting is to Gears of War, with a similar intensity to its over-the-’roided-shoulder perspective and characters who clomp meatily between cover, firing chunky bursts from over-engineered weaponry.

But rather than slipping into knuckle-dragging pastiche, Outriders tries to liven up the familiar format with interconnected open environments and a more emotionally intelligent storyline, much like how Gears has reimagined itself in recent years – as well as an Anthem/Destiny-like bustling hub area.

Sleep it off

Fleeing a dying Earth in search of a habitable planet, the Outriders think they’ve found a golden world when they happen across the distant planet of Enoch.

When their new home isn’t as hospitable as they hoped, things quickly turn sour for the group of soldiers and scientists, where a close encounter with a mysterious Anomaly forces your create-a-character to fall back into a thirty year cryosleep.

You wake up to a dark and dirty war of attrition between your former friends and a Mad Max Fury Road-style group of feral goons, with powerful Altered – people who’ve been given magical space powers by exposure to the Anomaly – in the middle.

As an Altered Outrider you take it upon yourself to put an end to hostility, make a new life for yourself on Enoch, and make sense of the Anomaly.

Again, it’s a hodgepodge of familiar elements, with echoes of the Anthem of Creation from Anthem, Destiny’s Guardians, and the themes of extra-terrestrial war you’ll see in everything from Halo to Mass Effect. But that doesn’t mean it’s not intriguing.

The set up and reintroduction of your unit before and after the timeskip is a stark, if predictable, juxtaposition. While the churning of Enoch’s wild habitat into a bleak no-man’s-land drives home the grim reality People Can Fly is trying to create.

You attack main missions like you’d expect, while there are side quests to discover by exploring hidden paths in the open environments. These often whisk you into sectioned-off side areas with a monster closet or two to wade through and a tough boss at the end.

The conversation options you find throughout are definitely BioWare-inspired, and it’s clear People Can Fly is trying to give the same kind of Commander Shepard persona to your created Outrider, backed up a really solid voice and capture performance from the male and female protagonists.

It’s not perfect though. Things might have been moved around for the preview, but there was a bit of tonal whiplash in early side quests, where you go from dazed fish-out-of-water to straight up murdering defenceless guys in a blink.

Pick your power

As an Altered, your character wields elemental powers against the paramilitary troops and aggressive indigenous wildlife alongside more conventional weapons.

Outriders is designed for 1-3 player co-op, and we had access to three of the classes in the hands on preview: Devastator, Trickster, and Pyromancer.

Each class has a suite of “gun-like” powers on a quick cooldown which are supposed to be used liberally in combat. Generally they play a lot like the biotic powers in Mass Effect, providing both offensive and defensive utility in a scrap.

Instead of health packs, all of the classes have different healing mechanics which replenish their vitality in a fight.

The Trickster is a close-range DPS class who uses time magic to manipulate their mobility and enemies. They can teleport behind bad guys, as well as unleash an extremely strong swiping sword attack, while their main skill is a large time-slowing bubble which not only traps enemies but catches their bullets, giving it extra use as a zoning tool.

Their health replenishes whenever they kill an enemy up-close, giving them a lot of staying power in conjunction with their high-damage capability – easily making it the strongest of the three.

Devastators are the tank class. They have a rock armour skill which cloaks their body in stone, as well as high damage earthquake AOE. They also heal themselves from enemies defeated in close proximity and are probably good for solo play since you can bulk out their survivability. They’re definitely the least flamboyant of the three though, with the electric blue time powers and pyromancy leaving a much bigger footprint on the battlefield.

Elsewhere Pyromancers are a mix of the two, swapping raw damage and health for longer ranger AOE. In the early areas it was by far the squishiest class, since you only heal from defeating enemies marked by your abilities – so it was much easier to get swamped in a tricky situation. The walls of flame and magma you can conjure synergize well with the other classes though, so they make a good, flashy partner in a co-op team.

Each class handles differently, so it’s not like you’re just playing reskins of the same moves and there’s at least some amount of metagame. But I’d guess the balance gets tweaked in the final game, since the Trickster is leagues above the others. They have way more mobility, and their skills are so powerful that you rely on them more than other classes. While the Devastator and Pyromancer are similar, the former is more of a traditional shooter experience, where the Pyromancer needs to focus on constantly lining up ability kills to stay healthy.

Shoot the loot

The more pedestrian side of Outriders is the weapon and armour loot cycle.

The early game loot drops I came across had the same problem as Ghost Recon: Breakpoint and The Division 2. You know the drill. As you progress through the game you collect ever more powerful pairs of beige and brown cargo pants with bigger numbers on until you stumble across a black pair which sparkle with untapped potential. Now you’re onto the good stuff – this one’s got a 48 next to it.

It’s in keeping with the somber fantasy People Can Fly is going for, but it’s hardly inspiring – especially against the backdrop of shooting fire out of your hands.

Again this might be something that picks up later on. We caught glimpses of Altered with more stylish armor sets, but we don’t know whether you can get any of that stuff yet.

One of the things that Destiny gets so right and Anthem got so wrong was loot which feels special, powerful, and distinctive. I did get higher tiered weapons from completing side quests which had extra perks – a particular favourite was an assault rifle with a vampiric ability which leeched health with every shot.

This gives me hope that there are some more creative guns waiting in Outriders, but it’s definitely something I’ll be looking for more from, especially if it turns out you’re stuck wearing a paintball centre’s lost-and-found box.

Reinvent the dialogue wheel

People Can Fly has rejected the live-service model for Outriders, saying it wants players to have a complete experience from the off, which could turn out of to be a breath of fresh air in light of its microtransaction-laden contemporaries, most of which also fail to stick to their promised content roadmaps.

What exactly this means past the absence of loot boxes is unclear, however, with end-game content like raids and post-story dungeons yet to be announced.

Still, I liked what I saw of Outriders. It’s third-person shooting at its most solid, with bombastic, powerful abilities that make a tight and engaging core combat loop. The story’s premise is interesting too, if a little uneven, but it really comes down to whether Outriders has enough variety and drive in its loot-shooting systems to give it to the longevity and fun-factor of genre greats.

Outriders launches on current-gen consoles, PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC around Holiday 2020. The release date was pushed back from summer to better coincide with next-gen hardware.

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