Outriders is still shaping up to be one hell of a good time. I was able to go hands-on with a new portion of the game earlier this month, and I came away impressed with the third-person looter shooter yet again.
Though neither its world nor its characters grabbed me as much as they first did, the gameplay remains tight, and the core mechanics, specifically synergizing abilities with teammates in co op multiplayer, makes for intense, often rewarding encounters. Its robust crafting system, which we hadn’t seen until now, is smart, accessible, and deep. And the new Technomancer class adds a new way for players to strategize in combat.
Square-Enix dropped my fireteam of three outriders about 15 hours into the game, and we were able to explore the semi-open world for about two and a half hours. We were given Level 30 characters, an epic gear loadout, and access to the entire skill tree for our chosen class.
I didn’t get to experience much of Outriders‘ World Tier system in my first hands-on demo back in late February, where my playthrough was locked to World Tier 1. Here, though, my team began on World Tier 5 (there are 15 in all, according to Square).
World Tiers are a dynamic difficulty system in Outriders where levels scale up or down based on player performance. Enemies get harder, and the loot gets better. Even at Level 30 with epic gear, though, Tier 5 was challenging, to say the least. Torrents of enemies flood the screen, and captains unleash vicious, unrelenting attacks. Accuracy, ammo conservation, and strategic use of skills are paramount for even the most well-armed team.
Perhaps it was because my team was thrown directly into the fray before acclimating to the game or that our class composition (two Technomancers and a Trickster) wasn’t ideal, but in some ways, it feels that the difficulty is a bit tough at higher levels and too disparate between World Tiers.
The higher you go, the more bullet sponges you’ll encounter, with Tier 5 enemies taking dozens of critical headshots to bring down. A duo of enemy captains can quickly overwhelm teams, soaking up all of the ammo on the battlefield in quick order. It does give me some pause that the system isn’t quite balanced yet.
As expected in a shooter like Outriders, cover is a must, and, as my poor teammates learned from my initial enthusiasm, running straight ahead can lead to a quick death, stranding you from your fireteam easily. Enemies bead on you really quickly, even from across the map without long-range weapons. It does make some encounters frustrating if only because you feel like you’re stuck in cover until you thin out the horde.
But that’s where class abilities come into play.
We’ve known since February that players can respec the entire skill tree at will, but being able to try new passive abilities in real-time without being permanently locked into a particular build is immensely liberating. Staple skill upgrades are here, such as increasing your health and increasing close-range weapons damage, decreasing damage taken from specific enemies and decreasing cooldowns.
Being able to mix and match or completely start over without penalty encourages class experimentation and gives players a monumental amount of freedom in each encounter. Though skill trees culminate in one of three subclasses, players are afforded flexibility in their choices and are even allowed to mix skills from various branches on a situational basis.
The system further highlights the strategic elements present in every encounter, and it blends well with gear and weapon passives, which provide more granular control of classes and loadout.
A piece of upper-body armor may reduce damage taken from elite enemies or increase the damage or duration of a particular class skill by a certain percentage. An auto-shotgun may have a mod that makes enemies more vulnerable for a period of time, or an LMG may have bullets that explode into shrapnel after killing an enemy, wounding others nearby.
It’s a deep modding and crafting system that we haven’t yet seen. What’s really interesting is that players have an amount of direct control over the progression of certain items. Item rarity can be improved from one color to another by spending resources harvested in the world. Typically, this increases the armor or firepower value of an item, but it can also unlock new mod slots that can be switched out on the fly.
Players can also raise the attributes of a weapon or a piece of gear, as well as increase the overall level of an item. Attributes focus on things such as armor-piercing damage and long-range damage for weapons and anomaly power and cooldown reduction for armor.
Weapons also have variants that can be swapped in and out, effectively making them vastly different firearms. A Burst Fire AR variant, for example, can be switched over for a Demolisher AR variant, which has a higher capacity clip and can shoot faster. However, it takes big hits to accuracy and stability.
It’s not just about finding new gear in the world; it’s also about picking up gear and finding ways to make it better to fit a specific playstyle.
Crafting is done at the Outrider camp, a mobile base of operations that moves along with the outriders from place to place. Here, players can also speak with NPCs for missions, find a squad for multiplayer, restock ammo, access their stash of weapons and gear, and change their appearance.
The star of this hands-on session, though, was the brand-new Technomancer class, an altered that controls technology to devastating effect. It separates itself from the elemental-based classes of the Pyromancer, the Devastator, and the Trickster by conjuring weapons and explosives. Though I did not play as the Technomancer, the effect of the class on battles is already palpable.
Despite its access to immense firepower, where my teammates were able to summon devastating mini-guns and proximity mines, the Technomancer is ultimately a support class focused on crowd control and dealing damage over time. It’s also the only Outriders‘ class that can heal teammates “at the press of a button,” giving it a unique place in each team composition.
Alongside the powers of my Trickster, we were able to slow enemy movements to a crawl before laying waste to large swaths of them with an array of rockets or well-placed grenades. These moments, where class synergies combine, are some of the most engaging in Outriders, and they flow naturally.
Though, my teammates and I were on comms, we didn’t verbally communicate all that often. Instead, we fed off of each other’s abilities, learning in the field, and combining skills as they were unleashed.
It’s a smart, organic, and effective interplay between the game’s mechanics and the ferocity of its presentation. It feels good to pull these synergies off and advance, to work together to outwit an enemy captain by syncing with the groove of combat.
Unfortunately, the world of Enoch didn’t feel as unique or intriguing this time around. With tinges of other post-apocalypses peppered across its environments, it felt, at times overwhelmingly, like I had seen this all before. One character deeply reminds me of another from a famous Ubisoft franchise, and some of the environments feel directly pulled out of games like Fallout 4, Destiny 2, or Anthem.
That’s not to say the world itself isn’t beautiful, but instead that it’s sometimes generic, not nearly as captivating as its many systems and subsystems. To be fair, some of that feeling can be attributed to being thrown into the middle of the game, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Of course, there are the staple journal entries to find, as well as secondary mission types, bounties, and hunter quests. Bounties are scattered across the world and can be started at any time by picking up a wanted poster, while hunter quests involve hunting down some of Enoch’s most ferocious wildlife.
I’m very much looking forward to what else Outriders has in store. Though my expectations of its world and story are more tempered than they were pre-pandemic, there’s a lot to love here. If I could give Outriders one ringing endorsement so far, it would be this: I just want to keep playing it.
And that’s what has me hopeful for what’s to come.
Outriders is set to release on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X later this Holiday. It will launch on both Steam and the Epic Games Store.