It’s perfectly normal to be on the lookout for the next great game. We’re anxious to hear more about upcoming sequels in our favorite franchises, like Halo Infinite and the sequels to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and God of War. We’re eager to lose ourselves in high-profile indies like Hollow Knight: Silksong and the star-studded 12 Minutes. Or to be completely caught off guard by masterpieces, as so many of us were last year with Hades, Spiritfarer, and 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. Simply put, there’s nothing better than being lost in a game and suddenly realizing that you’re in the middle of something truly special.
But those moments are few and far between. Sometimes, we don’t need greatness. Sometimes, a game might simply deliver the right thing at the right time. Sometimes, a good game is good enough. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen over the past few weeks with Outriders from Square Enix and People Can Fly, which, initial technical issues aside, has been one of the nicest surprises of 2021.
To be perfectly clear, I don’t consider Outriders to be a masterpiece. And honestly, I’d be hard-pressed to find a single element of the game that I’d even consider to be incredible. And yet, there are so many different things Outriders does well, and they all congeal into a single experience that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed for the 30+ hours I’ve put in so far. The world and story are engaging, if familiar. The cover-shooting gets the job done, even if it feels a step behind Gears. Kicking the tires on your skill tree feels good, it’s nice to chase new loot that changes your appearance, and three players wrecking the battlefield with superpowers makes me feel more like a superhero than Marvel’s Avengers has.
It’s not reinventing the wheel, but Outriders is delivering exactly what I want from a game on my relatively new consoles. A lot of that is thanks to how smartly it strips down the bloat we’ve come to expect from looter shooters and instead delivers lean slices of consistent entertainment. For more on that idea, check out this piece Nick wrote regarding how Outriders doesn’t waste our time.
And clearly we’re not the only ones who’ve enjoyed the game. According to NPD, Outriders was the third bestselling game of March 2021, behind Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Monster Hunter Rise. This data ran through April 3, 2021, which makes the stat even more impressive considering Outriders launched on April 1, meaning it hit those numbers in just 48 hours. And of course, this is just data of folks who purchased the game, not including the Xbox players who downloaded it for free off of Game Pass.
On a small tangent, the recent NPD data also highlighted a number of fascinating revelations. First off, Spider-Man: Miles Morales is the 5th bestselling game of the past 12 months, surpassing its fellow PlayStation exclusives The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima, despite the fact that it launched months later than the pair. Insomniac’s superhero sensation has arguably become PlayStation’s most valuable asset. Expect the proper Spider-Man 2 to be an absolute smash whenever it launches in 2022 or 2023.
The other NPD note comes from Nintendo. The same 12-month bestsellers list is littered with the likes of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the last of which was released back in 2017. The longevity of Nintendo’s premier franchises is in a rarefied atmosphere when it comes to video games, sitting alongside only Rockstar’s games.
But back to Outriders. I see two factors contributing to the game’s impressive opening sales. First, it was wisely marketed with a free demo in late February that allowed anybody to jump in and really get a feel for what People Can Fly had created. Letting folks play a thing is the easiest way for them to figure out if they’re going to want to buy the thing. And second, it came at a time early on in the lifecycle of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X that has been understandably quiet with big new releases, thanks to the pandemic shifting the goalposts of countless projects. Ultimately, Outriders epitomizes the kind of solid-enough game that we often find at this point in the life of a new console.
Let’s look back at some of the big games we got in 2014, the year following the launch of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Infamous Second Son and Titanfall were Sony and Microsoft exclusives, respectively. And when it came to multiplatform games, we had Destiny, Shadow of Mordor, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and The Evil Within. I wouldn’t call any of those games masterpieces, but they were all good games that came along at the right time. Although they were all very different experiences with very different aesthetics and mechanics, one commonality they all share is that they created a solid foundation and were ultimately improved upon in sequels and expansions. Some of those follow-ups like Titanfall 2 and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus went on to become some of my favorite games of the generation.
I could absolutely see Outriders riding its current wave, benefiting from consistent updates and fixes, and ultimately becoming something special a few years down the road. After all, when you think about it, the Destiny experience in 2021 is nearly unrecognizable from what launched in 2014. Outriders is currently a good game, and the bones are there for something great. And unlike Square Enix’s other shared-world experiment in Marvel’s Avengers, it isn’t at the bottom of an uphill battle.
This ultimately bodes well for Square Enix, a company that’s had an odd go of it over the past few years. While it’s firmly denied recent reports of acquisition offers coming in from numerous different parties, it’s not hard to see a discrepancy between its Japanese portfolio and the games of its western developers. In that regard, it wouldn’t shock me if some of those teams were eventually acquired by someone like THQ Nordic, Koch Media, or even Microsoft or Sony.
Outriders’ success feels like an outlier for Square Enix. With the bungling of Marvel’s Avengers, the Hitman franchise going on to flourish in the hands of IO Interactive, and the seemingly quiet death of Deus Ex, it feels like so much of its Western output has taken a few steps backwards. Meanwhile, its Japanese teams (Balan Wonderworld aside) have been fantastic. Final Fantasy VII Remake, Nier Automata, and Final Fantasy XIV all delivered incredible experiences. There’s huge anticipation for the timed PS5 exclusives Final Fantasy XVI and Forspoken. And Square’s doing a pretty good job of remastering and porting some of its lesser-known classics like SaGa Frontier, which is great considering that so many of those PlayStation 1 classics are going to be lost to time after this summer.
At the end of the day, Outriders doesn’t need to be a game-of-the-year contender in order to be considered both an individual success and a massive win for Square Enix. Outriders is a good video game, and right now, that’s honestly all I can ask for.