Outriders Review: New World, Old Problems
Every time a loot game releases, it comes with a set of expectations. Players want a meaningful power grind and cool abilities supplemented by or created by gear. They want a good-sized campaign, but one that’s not so long that it discourages alt character playthroughs. Finally, and most crucially for any loot game’s success, a robust endgame that keeps players invested for the long term.
That’s the dream. The reality is far harsher.
Every newcomer to the genre fails on at least two points, and Outriders is no exception. The campaign is a bit too long and monotonous for multiple characters. Worse, the endgame is insubstantial, shallow, and repetitive. There’s no raid or other quest-style activity, just a repeatable horde mode-style grind through higher and higher difficulties.
Outriders’ saving grace is its power grind. Throughout the 10-15 hour story, you make significant and satisfying progress while theory crafting on possible builds. Finding new gear with better stats and interesting mods and passives is a constant delight. Best of all, you have plenty of farming to look forward to once you do reach the endgame, even if it is lacking.
Add in some fun abilities that synchronize well with functional gunplay and fashion, and there’s some real enjoyment here.
Outriders Review: New World, Old Problems
Outriders is, first and foremost, a looter shooter. The gameplay loop is as you’d expect. Get gun. Shoot enemies. Take stuff. Repeat. Everything in the game serves to extend and enhance that sequence of events.
Thankfully, the loot is high quality, both in form and function. You’ll find the five standard rarities, ranging from common white gear to bright gold legendaries. The standard-issue stuff is usable, and as the rarity increases, so do the opportunities do some wild damage.
The more powerful your equipment, the more mods it can equip and the more powerful its passive stats. Rarity tends to determine pure damage and armor thresholds as well, so if you want to make the most out of your later gameplay, you’ll want at least a complete set of purple epic gear, ideally augmented by legendary weapons.
By the time you have actual endgame weapons and armor, you’ll look back on any early struggles and wonder how you were ever that weak.
Better yet, you’ll look good while massacring your enemies. Even blue gear, mid-tier at the best of times, looks pretty snazzy. Most of the armor is pretty bog-standard sci-fi, but true to form, epic and legendary variations get a little trippy. You might look like a golem with one set, a sleek, bone-ridden horror the next. In all cases, you’ll appear a badass of some kind.
Merchants and crafting will be your best friend, as well, especially once you start amassing legendary gear. Legendaries begin dropping in the middle of the campaign as quest rewards, and become more and more available the deeper you get into the post-game content.
Some of the mid-story gear might actually be well-suited to a later build idea, and with crafting, you can spend currency to bring it up to level. Merchants throughout the world also have a rotating stock of gear, some of it legendary. So if you're looking for some new spice to a build, all you need do is spend a lot of cash.
Four Flavors of Godhood
Like Destiny and Borderlands, Outriders offers four unique classes with abilities catering to four different roles.
- The Devastator is a walking, gun-toting tank designed to take and deal damage in equal measure.
- The Trickster is squishier but more mobile and uses spacetime powers to slow enemies or buff themselves.
- The Technomancer is all about area denial, controlling the battlefield, and keeping both themselves and their allies safe and effective, no matter the fight.
- The Pyromancer is a straight-up DPS designed to put as much damage downrange as is possible, with only a little team utility to speak of.
These roles are best exemplified during the campaign run to endgame. Late game, the classes play similarly enough, but there's a lot of fun to be had unlocking new abilities and experimenting with how they work together.
In other words, class progression is a lot like the gear grind. It's well-paced, constantly opens up new and interesting ways to play, and consistently asks the player to think about what they have equipped and how they plan to use it.
The abilities themselves are all thematically linked to the class they're in, as well, and all of them have value no matter what point you are in the game. Ability synchronization is well-implemented, too, with different buffs and enemy debuffs working in tandem with damage and healing.
Even before you reach the endgame, you can craft a build that's nigh-unkillable and dishes out pain to spare (though Square and People Can Fly will soon be implementing nerfs to Trickster and Technomancer). You'll look like a superhero using them as well, as each ability set comes with class-specific effects that showcase the power you're wielding.
Your powers are affected by the gear you have equipped, so you'll be spending a lot of time theory crafting between your guns, armor, mods and current ability loadout. You can only have three powers active at once out of a pool of 10, meaning every choice matters. Post-game will be a careful balance of mods, which add more power to your...powers, passives, and how you use the tools you have.
If only the rest of the game were as properly done as the gear and class systems.
Endgame Should Do More
Outriders' endgame is incredibly dull. Once you complete the campaign, you unlock the ability to progress through expeditions, progressively more difficult enemy arenas with a boss at the end. You can also replay story and side missions as many times as you want at increased difficulty.
Outriders offers no raid experience as of writing, no smaller end-game missions beyond the horde mode, and the repeatable story and side quests. It’s Destiny, the Division, Anthem — any new entry into the looter shooter genre — all over again.
That it has an endgame at all on release is, of course, something to celebrate. None of the other games just listed could boast anything substantial, if they had anything at all. And the current offering is a good baseline to both build on and experiment with for future content drops.
A World Not Worth Saving
The story of Outriders is pretty standard science-fiction fare. A colony ship left a dying Earth in search of a new home in the stars. Upon reaching said planet, events spiral out of control, and humanity descends back into chaos.
Your character, known only as “Boss” or “Outrider,” was conveniently frozen in cryogenic stasis for the duration of mankind’s degeneration to barbarism. You awaken at a turning point in an ongoing war and, thanks to some unexplained shenanigans, have altered superpowers. Your job becomes venturing into the unknown to find a signal only you have the frequency for, hoping to find a way to save what remains of the human race.
Your journey sees you collecting a ragtag gang of misfits, misanthropes, and ne’er-do-wells. Oh, all of them are fine with wholesale slaughter, too. By game’s end, you’ll have the knowledge that everything is awful and life sucks, but at least we have each other. Now please go back to shooting.
The campaign itself has a few notable twists, particularly the end, but nothing jaw-dropping. Keep in mind that things are pretty predictable, so if you know sci-fi tropes and cliches and ever ask, “Will this obvious thing happen?” the answer is probably yes.
Guns, Hallways, and Doors
The “shooter” part of Outriders’ looter-shooter isn’t anything to write home about. It functions, but that’s about it. It’s about the same tier as either the Division or Anthem. There’s not much in the way of snap or satisfying feedback. If you were expecting something like Bulletstorm or Painkiller, I’m sorry to disappoint you in the worst way possible.
The best part of the shooting mechanics is actually how brutal the enemy death animations are. How your foes die depends on where you shoot them, either blowing their heads to mist or slicing them in half. That is if you don’t turn them into a paste with a shotgun.
The level design is even less inspired than the gunplay. The “maps” are essentially a series of enemy-filled hallways with a boss at the end — this structure carries through the entire game. There is no exploration, no verticality, no open-world elements. The only open areas are the arenas where you fight.
Mission areas are also sectioned off behind loading screens, which the game hides by opening doors. To make your way to certain areas of each map, the game kicks you into an in-engine cutscene. You’ll know because your character’s helmet comes off and that only happens automatically during cinematics.
The fact makes some sense, as each mission area is its own instance. With all the computing power current-gen consoles and modern PCs have, you’d think individual mission areas could exist as part of a larger map. They do in Destiny, at least, and they have since the beginning of that franchise. In 2013.
Outriders Review — The Bottom Line
- A well-design loot and gear system
- Great build variety
- Snazzy fashion
- Lackluster combat, level design, and combat mechanics
- Uninspired endgame
- Forgettable story, music, and setting
Outriders makes a valiant attempt to marry The Division, Destiny, and, oddly, Borderlands. Unfortunately, it fails to live up to what made those games great, or at least their great moments. The game has its high points — its progression systems mostly. A loot game relies on progression to maintain interest, but that doesn’t make up for lackluster design in other areas.
Can you get 30 or 40 hours of solid enjoyment out of Outriders? Yes, especially if you find its ability synchronization and build potential enjoyable. If you were expecting something to take your main game’s place with its incredible core systems and substantial endgame, you’re not going to find it in Outriders. And depending on your platform, you might experience performance instability, server issues notwithstanding.
In short, Outriders is not going to dethrone the likes of Destiny from its throne, but it is a welcome distraction that’s fun for being fun, even if there are parts of it that shine less brightly.
[Note: Square Enix provided the copy of Outriders used for this review.]