Outriders Hands-On: Building a Grave New World
Outriders had no business surprising the hell out of me.
Though I knew relatively little about the game going into PAX East 2020, Outriders seemed like an average, if potentially fun, cover-based third-person shooter. I had watched the gameplay reveal back in February, read up on it, and figured I would at least enjoy it based on Square's marketing machine.
Fast forward to my hands-on demo, and things changed. What was supposed to be a three-hour hands-on experience was quickly shortened to an hour and a half by technical difficulties and poor planning on my part. But once I sat down and got a controller in my hands, I couldn't put Outriders down.
Developed by People Can Fly and published by Square-Enix, Outriders is a new IP that has a lot going for it. Coming from a studio that's worked on the Gears of War franchise and Bulletstorm, among others, it's positioned as more than just a cool-looking sci-fi shooter with pedigree.
Lead Writer Joshua Rubin and Lead Narrative Designer Szymon Barchan have crafted what seems to be an intricate, detailed world in which we can all pew, pew the bad guys whiles also using awesome powers. The world of Enoch is a vivid alien world full of contrasting locales, even in its early hours.
Though Outriders won't release until sometime late this year — holiday if everything goes to plan — both Rubin and Barchan have agreed they've built the world of Outriders as one that can grow exponentially in future releases.
Playing through the first hour and half of the game, I believe them. While I won't speak about story beats that fly in the face of convention so early in Outriders, I will say I was (pleasantly) shocked by the decisions made by the narrative team. Rarely have I so quickly cared for characters I previously knew so little about.
While some characters, like the demo's primary antagonist, are so easy to hate that blowing them apart feels like giddy, divine justice, others aren't so easy to put between the crosshairs. It's a nice mixture that I hope keeps up throughout the game's 30-40 hour campaign.
Check out the panel from PAX below to hear more about the world of Outriders and its already-intriguing characters, the world of Enoch, and the plot that revolves around an alien world ravaged by human civil war.
Combat in Outriders feels a lot like the combat in Gears of War, but that's not a bad thing. That series is wildly popular for a reason, and its basic cover mechanics fit well with the tight gunplay found in the early hours of Outriders.
I was able to try out a sidearm, an assault rifle, and a shotgun. Each played about as you would expect from such weaponry in a third-person, cover-based shooter. The sidearm was snappy, the assault rifle devastating (especially in bursts), and the shotgun mauling at close range, ripping enemy heads off with pronounced ferocity.
What I enjoyed the most, however, was the game's trickster class. After the prologue, you're able to pick between three classes: pyromancer, trickster, and devastator. I wasn't able to try the other two classes due to time constraints, but the trickster is certainly my early favorite based on time with it and the descriptions of the other classes.
Shown as the first class in the video below (starting around 1:03), the trickster is a class built for getting close to the enemy. In some ways, this is the rogue class of Outriders: it can hit fast and from many different angles. The trickster can also slow time by proxy of a space-time anomaly, freezing enemies in place and leaving them open for devastating attacks.
Like the game's two other classes, the trickster also has a unique healing ability: close-range kills. Although Outriders is a game that employs a bevy of long-range weapons, and many of the encounters I played started at a distance, certain abilities and classes work the best in close quarters.
Though I wasn't able to play co-op, Outriders' campaign can be played solo or with two other people. According to the game's designers and narrative team, this allows for class synergies, where a trickster might slow time, allowing for a devastator (the game's tank class) to unleash a punishing earthquake attack. In the meantime, the pyromancer (another of the game's three current classes) sets the dazed malefactors ablaze.
Based on what I was able to play, I'm cautiously excited about Outriders. It doesn't redefine the genre yet, and it's sure to tick the "been there, done that" box for certain people. But I'm a sucker for narrative-driven shooters with good mechanics and a compelling world. And ultimately, Outriders doesn't have to completely redefine the genre to be worth rooting for.
It's certainly a game that shows a lot of promise.
Outriders will release sometime later this year for the PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. It won't have microtransactions, and the developers have said they plan to launch the game as "complete."
Stay tuned for more on Outriders as it develops.