Guns with elemental powers? Tick. A high level of RPG-styled customization of everything from loadouts to character appearance? Tick. Explosive, satisfying combat against relentless foes? Boom.
Outriders seems to be gunning for some of the co-op looter-shooter market share dominated by Destiny. Being set to release on next-gen consoles this holiday season, it may just succeed. It’s certainly good enough to capture an audience, with a fast pace and real sense of energy, but those positives feel a bit like a skin stretched over a rickety frame.
Nick Calandra and I recently had the opportunity to go hands-on with some missions that take place several hours into the campaign. We were assigned to the Technomancer class, the newest and final class, and set loose upon the entirely aware hordes of foes that awaited.
The Technomancer appropriately offers a suite of skills pertaining to the use of technologies, such as automated turrets or missile barrages, as well as a healing ability that restores such combat aids. It is a diverse skill set that gives you the freedom to lure enemies into traps or simply attack from multiple angles simultaneously. The Technomancer feels like it will slot in well as a distinct class alongside the tank-like Devastators or the underhanded Tricksters.
Even without a diverse team makeup, the Technomancers could hold their own. Used properly, the skills can have devastating effects, significantly weakening enemy forces. And that is essential.
It may simply have been how deep we were thrown into the campaign, but Outriders is not messing around. The sheer number of foes is daunting, with waves upon waves washing over you as you scrabble for every inch of ground. While most enemies lack the same access to special abilities as the player, they come in various forms.
Some fast-moving ones home in with devastating melee strikes, while others sit back and fire off pot shots with sniper rifles. The AI is smart enough to do its job, but there’s nothing special about it. Or if there is, it’s buried beneath the mountain of enemies involved in every combat encounter.
On top of that, many of the encounters also star a miniboss. These supersoldiers pack a much stronger punch than the regular grunts, with some also having elemental effects on their weapons, such as being able to freeze you in place temporarily.
The unique strengths of these enemies offer up continual surprises, forcing you to reconsider strategy and engage in teamwork far more effectively than otherwise. However, these characters are undisguised bullet sponges, taking far more punishment than is necessary or, indeed, enjoyable.
While most of the hostiles in the preview session were human, we also danced briefly with the hostile beasts of Enoch. We first stumbled across the towering monsters in a narrow corridor in the Badlands before the space opened out and we had to battle a whole brood.
Though this encounter didn’t fundamentally change anything, it did offer an unexpected breath of fresh air and an entirely new challenge compared to the waves of human foes.
Perhaps the most exciting battle though was the final one, which saw us attempting to surmount a hill across a battlefield pockmarked by trenches, a la World War I. Prior to that we had shot our way through an array of visually diverse landscapes, including outposts and ruins. For all that the constant renewal provided an impetus to push forward, none of it felt particularly fresh.
For better and worse, shooters have been riffing on these same environmental designs for years, and Outriders offered no sense of subversion or reinterpretation. It all suffices without really feeling outstanding, particularly as the goal is to just push forward and kill everything you see.
It’s a great thing, then, that the killing can be pretty spectacular. Yes, the enemies are boring, but Outriders is a looter-shooter, which means you may wind up with some brilliantly random weaponry. The standard rifles and sidearms are all-rounders, achieving a satisfying balance between precision and damage.
The shotguns didn’t feel as powerful as you might expect, seeming to have a heavy falloff effect, while the snipers were less accurate than you might hope, though developer People Can Fly has ample time to balance those weapons.
The really exciting part comes from the modifiers. Nick was chaotically happy about a rifle that gibbed enemies as it killed them, while I was more fond of my shotgun that froze whatever I hit. These are only two of the special abilities that can be layered upon the weaponry. If they are any indication, you should have plenty of freedom to find other weapons that complement your favored play style. As well as picking up guns from fallen foes, you can also buy some in the hub zones that break up the otherwise relentless action.
The hubs are also where most of the storytelling takes place. Being thrown into the campaign at a random midpoint meant that we had little buy-in for the characters and world of Outriders, so gauging it is tough. What we saw was mostly played straight for the familiar, almost comfortable, po-faced sci-fi that video games are so well acquainted with.
The conversations had some casual humor, but nothing that really stood out as betraying a unique or otherwise engrossing sense of personality. That is reserved for the gunplay, or at least that’s how it seems from this small glimpse.
All things considered, Outriders is perfectly competent. It does exactly what it says on the tin. If the co-op looter-shooter isn’t your bag, then this game isn’t even trying to change your mind. If it is, though, then Outriders is an easy recommendation as an early next-gen pick-up.