(Out)riders of the storm.
You probably won’t remember the Outriders cinematic trailer that accompanied its E3 2019 reveal. To recap, it showed a trio of soldiers running around a gritty, seemingly post-apocalyptic world shooting their guns at enemies reminiscent of those seen in Mad Max and Stranger Things‘ Upside Down. Though polished, the trailer gave us nothing concrete about what was to come. Save for some official tweets offering a few nuggets of story premise, info about People Can Fly’s upcoming shooter has been virtually non-existent. Having played through multiple romps through its prologue and the first few hours of the Outriders campaign, we’re here to fix that.
Outriders is a third-person, three-player drop-in, drop-out RPG looter-shooter that blends elements from the likes of Destiny, The Division and Gears of War; don’t forget that People Can Fly were behind 2013’s Gears of War: Judgment. Though it should be made clear that even though the latter two of these three comparisons fall under the banner of games-as-a-service, Outriders does not. Instead, it offers a set campaign inclusive of side quests with roughly 40 hours of playtime on average; it will also be free of loot boxes and microtransactions.
As one to always appreciate a new IP, my attention was peaked at its premise more than anything else. While original in its own light, it draws some pretty obvious inspiration from US sci-fi series The 100: Earth is all but destroyed and the powers that be have sent out two arks loaded with people in cryosleep. In a last resort attempt to continue the existence of the human race, they’re looking to establish a new home on the planet Enoch.
While the majority of the arks’ inhabitants remain in cryosleep orbiting Enoch, the Outriders themselves are an elite force of explorers looking to secure a landing zone, scout the environment and commence the early stages of colonisation. Things quickly turn to shit, though, thanks to an event you’ll come to know as The Anomaly. This electrical storm of sorts disables all technology and vaporises many of the people that come into contact with it. For a lucky few, however, The Anomaly grants special abilities; funnily enough your player character fits into that group. After suffering a life threatening injury in a firefight, you end up back in cryosleep only to wake 31 years later to find the green and lush planet you once hoped to call home has become a wasteland ravaged by war.
In the midst of all of this high-level exposition, your character also discovers a mysterious signal — as far as we know, the signal is the primary focus of the narrative. You’ll work to track down its source and discover what it means.
Following the prologue we were offered a choice of three classes. The Pyromancer can summon flames in various iterations and focuses on medium to long distance combat. The Trickster manipulates time and space, ideal for close quarters assault. The Devastator is a tank that controls stone and earth in various offensive and defensive ways. A fourth class was confirmed by People Can Fly and while no details were provided at the preview event the trailer released earlier this week hints at ice powers of some sort.
Missions all began within, or close to, a central hub area scattered with friendly NPCs and vendors looking to sell you gear. Following a Dead Space-like navigation system, my team of three ventured out into a highly-detailed warzone, complete with trenches that eventually lead to open area combat zones tons of waist-high cover. According to the narrative, our objective was to power up a tower off in the distance, though from a gameplay perspective it was simply a matter of killing everything and moving forward.
On the surface, it was pretty basic; waves of enemies ran onto the battlefield, we shot them all until they stopped coming and then continued on to next open area to do the same again to complete the mission. While this raised initial concerns as to the depth to — or lack thereof — the gameplay loop, it’s important to keep in mind that this was a preview build of Outriders‘ opening hours. Hopefully, the types of missions you’ll see in the final product will be far more varied.
Despite this, the intensity of Outriders’ combat very much impressed me. Enemy fire comes from all directions thanks to AI enemies which constantly press forward or flank towards each side. Outriders is a very challenging and high pressure shooter that constantly forces you and your teammates to work in order to hold the line. All the while, it manages to balance gunplay with the special abilities provided by the Anomaly.
On our first playthrough, our team was made up of one Pyromancer and two Tricksters, which made us a formidable force. Tricksters are able to quickly teleport behind any enemy they choose and can also unleash a bubble that slows down anything caught inside it. Combining these two abilities offered a significant advantage on the battlefield as all abilities have a short cool down to promote frequent use; our two Tricksters could take turns teleporting into a large groups of enemies and then quickly drop a time bubble to leave them vulnerable to a hail of gunfire from all three players for extended periods. These tactics were partnered with fireballs and heatwaves distributed on the reg by our Pyromancer.
The cover system is shamelessly lifted from Gears. Taking and moving between cover works exceptionally well — in fact, it’s better that it ever was in any of the Gears games. In the first hour, I was heavily reliant upon it to stay alive, though as I became more acclimated to my powers the less relevant the cover system became. This was further compounded by the aggressive nature of enemy AI and the healing mechanic unique to the close quarters specialty of the Trickster.
Regenerating health works differently, depending on your class. If you’re a twisted fire starter and go with the Pyromancer, you’ll regenerate health when any enemy dies, provided they kick the bucket whilst on fire. As a Trickster or Devastator, you’ll only get a boost of health from only enemies that die nearby your current position.
At the end of the build, our fireteam went toe-to-toe with a boss-type enemy who controlled lightning. He was tough; after who knows how many failures, a Square Enix rep informed us that we were playing on a higher World Tier than was suggested. As the world levels up with your character, Outriders also offers better rewards when you challenge yourself before that initial scaling. Higher Tiers mean better drop chances of legendary weapons and the like. Dropping the World Tier down a single notch made the boss much less challenging, yet still fun to engage.
The main thing I took from my time with Outriders is how focused it was on the multiplayer experience. Enemy numbers are scaled alongside difficulty, correlating with the number of players in your fireteam; while it’s still very playable on your own, there’s much more fun to be had with a few mates. Communication is key; while the majority of our banter was spent asking for a revive, we were all naturally communicating our positions and the location of challenging enemies or better loot. Loot isn’t shared, by the way, so there’s no panicked scramble to pick up stuff before your mates get to it.
The team at People Can Fly will likely cringe at the number of times they hear or read about their new IP being compared to three well-established and successful series of games. But there’s no denying the similarities. Small fire teams with supernatural abilities go up against bullet sponge enemies in a third person shooter featuring an excellent cover system? Come on!
Though don’t let that dissuade your interest. There’s much more to Outriders that we haven’t seen yet. We’re promised multiple hub areas, journeys through forests, mountains and deserts, “twisted” weapons which can be upgraded, potentially with links to your characters abilities, plus customisable vehicles that will act as mobile bases. I’m keen to find out more about the signal and The Anomaly when Outriders launches on Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4 and PS5 this holiday season.
Jay Ball traveled to Warsaw, Poland as a guest of Square Enix.