Now that I’ve had time to fully blast my way through Outriders, it’s time for our final review – we appreciate your patience! Now, People Can Fly’s gritty, blood-and-guts take on the co-op looter-shooter RPG genre definitely delivers great action that’s kicked up a notch by impressive sci-fi super powers, some cool world design, and a pretty satisfying loot grind. At the same time, an occasionally clunky interface, some persistent bugs, and a messy story make it seem less like a big-budget science-fiction epic and more like a guilty pleasure Sy-Fy Channel™ original series.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course – sure, SyFy might be responsible for Defiance and Hunters, but it also gave us modern classics like Battlestar Galactica and… The Expanse is pretty good, too! (It had to be saved from cancelation by Amazon Prime Video, but that’s beside the point!) Outriders would definitely fall somewhere in between those extremes if it were a TV show – its story makes decent use of its recognizable sci-fi tropes for when deep-space colonization goes wrong, but the script often takes its grim/dark self too seriously.
A lot of the voice acting falls flat – particularly for the leads, who mostly just dutifully grunt their way through accepting quests – and the script careens back and forth between being so hardboiled that it borders on camp, to downright cringeworthy takes on the ugliness of humankind. While there are a few moments throughout that could have evoked some believable empathy, they’re all undermined as a result. That said, the overarching story and unexpectedly hostile alien world is interesting enough to keep things moving, and there are some genuinely intriguing twists as it progresses, even if (without getting into spoiler territory) their payoffs are somewhat underwhelming.
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Outriders is at its best when you’re blasting your way through hordes of bad guys with a couple of friends. Gunfights are frenzied affairs that leave battlefields literally coated with blood, and even though you’ll likely outgrow its cover mechanics pretty quickly as you progress, this delightfully chaotic action is just as entertaining at the third level as it is at the thirtieth. Sure, the combat scenarios become fairly repetitive – especially after you’ve played more than a few of Outriders’ endgame challenge missions that follow its 30-odd-hour campaign. But the combination of sadistically gratifying superpowers and destructive weaponry makes sure it’s always good fun – there’s something morbidly hilarious about seeing a whole-ass ribcage rolling through a skirmish like a bony tumbleweed – and that borderline cartoonish, over-the-top violence is really accentuated in multiplayer.
Each of the four classes has strengths, weaknesses, and skill sets familiar to class-based action games – except for the fact that here they’re all primarily focused on dealing damage (of the 32 unlockable class skills in Outriders, only two have healing abilities). Still, each compliments the others in more interesting ways than something like the standard healer would. I genuinely can’t remember the last game that could make me cackle as hard as when my earth-bending Devastator combos a Gravity Leap with a Trickster’s Stasis Bubble, creating a slow-motion fountain of bad guy chunks.
That uniform focus on damage output may be a turn-off for anybody who really loves to play a capital-S Support class, but the fact that any class can competently reduce the opposition to a sticky red paste allows everybody to safely go it alone if they want. However, I will reiterate that it is far more enjoyable to gun down hordes of monsters and space bandits with friends.
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The human enemies you’ll face are fairly limited, ranging from run-of-the-mill rifleman to rushing berserkers and the occasional superpowered minibosses (that get decidedly more powerful towards the endgame), but they provide enough tactical variety to demand some quick thinking and strategy. Of course, we’re not alone: As you explore more of the planet’s interesting and diverse wilderness, Outriders trots out some really cool monsters and environments, with interesting takes on snowy mountains, dense jungles, and beyond. The second half of the campaign is a bit too focused on desert landscapes, but the creature designs there are some of Outriders’ best.
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From the variations on fodder-level mutants to the larger beasts that look like somehow even grosser and meaner takes on something out of Half-Life or Alien, the encounters designed around them are a fun alternative to the endless rain of bullets you have to dance through when fighting human enemies. What’s unfortunate is that, despite good encounter design for both styles of enemies, the more traditional boss battles are some of the least engaging fights Outriders has to offer. Sure, that five-story-tall Street Shark monster looks awesome, but the whole “shoot the big thing outside the arena and avoid being smashed by its big hand” concept feels a little played out.
Similarly, while some of the endgame missions do a fun job of tying up loose storylines, others just feel like harder reskins of earlier boss fights. The frantic action remains decently fun, but it’s rather anticlimactic to have jump into a higher-tier mission that boils down to “Fight this boss you hate for a third time, please,” especially after you’ve spent an additional 10 or 15 post-credits hours grinding up your gear level to reach them.
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When it comes to the stuff that falls out when you kill those guys – or that explodes in a blinding flash from a giant loot crate after an expedition – Outriders doesn’t exactly revolutionize the loot grind, but it at least offers some great looking options. Notable inclusions like the “double gun” – which is basically just two assault rifles welded together – or Legendary-tier weapons (most of which look like they’re carved out of some monster’s ribcage) give the otherwise mostly standard assortment of weapons some flavor. Not to mention what are easily my favorite video game autoshotguns since Doom, though they’re not so much “shotguns” as they are portable flak cannons – seriously, the novelty of just how loud and powerful these things are still hasn’t worn off after (at least) 50 hours.
But the real good stuff comes as you find and build better gear, and here Outriders makes some smart adjustments to the traditional looter-shooter formula. Its World Tiers, which are Outriders’ 15 difficulty levels, are a good workaround for insurmountable challenge spikes that might discourage you in other co-op loot grinds, and its crafting options offer a wide range of character builds.
A Note on Microtransactions
Good news on this front – there aren’t any!
The development team at People Can Fly have been very adamant that Outriders is not a live-service game, and as such won’t feature microtransactions of any kind. “The bad things that are sometimes connected to games as a service, like loot boxes or any pay to win mechanics, we are against them,” says Creative Director Bartosz Kmita. “So we’re not using them at all in our game.”
The news may be that there is no news, but we thought it would be good to let you know that you don’t need to worry about seeing any content locked behind a paywall here.
That said, for every smart twist there’s also a frustrating drawback. On the plus side, I really appreciate how the crafting system simplifies the process of modding your gear compared to other loot-heavy adventures, and the variety of easy to swap mods offers a lot of flexibility to adjust your build. Granted, the loot grind can be a bit frustrating if you’re trying to blitz your way through it, but the level of customization on hand as you progress is a tinkerer’s dream come true.
Basic armor mods, for example, provide buffs to your active abilities. You might boost the damage of your Trickster’s Temporal Blade, or make it so your Devastator can turn two bad guys into shish kebabs at once. Higher level gear lets you add higher-tier mods to your library – rather than having to craft each mod individually – as well as gear with multiple slots. That allows you to do things like take a gun that explodes frozen enemies into icy shrapnel for AOE damage and add cryo rounds so that it freezes them and blows them up in one go, or pair a gun that regenerates your health on every kill with an armor mod that gives you bonus damage whenever you heal.
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What’s frustrating is that, because loot grinds are designed to encourage incremental progress, I was routinely changing up my gear loadout, meaning I constantly had to return to base camp to fiddle with my mod loadout. You can’t do that on the go, and the crafting UI is not great. Outriders is far from the only game to have this issue, but it’s still frustrating to constantly bounce back and forth between the crafting menu and your inventory screen for lack of a decent sort/compare function – especially when you have to talk to an NPC every single time you want to open the crafting menu. A similar problem exists for its “fast” travel system, where you have to return to a campsite to fast-travel back to your main campsite, to then talk to an NPC and fast-travel to a new quest hub.
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This can be especially irksome when you run into progress choke points, usually at the start of a new World Tier. Finding better gear requires playing on the highest available World Tier, and the catch is that you lose Tier XP (which is separate from your character level) every time you die. So, you have to either play tediously slowly if you’re constantly optimizing your build, or lower the World Tier at the cost of loot quality. This does eventually become less of an issue as you’re regularly getting Epic or better gear – for me it was around World Tier seven and eight – but, man, making that jump from Tier six to Tier seven took forever.
It’s also less frustrating once you reach Outriders’ endgame, since all the necessary merchants end up in one place, though it’s replaced by having to constantly juggle resource and currency types by jumping between your inventory, then to a vendor, then to another vendor after that, and then back to your crafting station to upgrade your gear. And once you do reach the point in the endgame where semi-regular legendary drops occur, the cost to upgrade or improve your preferred gear is high enough to require its own grind for disposable loot. Thankfully I found a build that let me punch well above my weight class to grab better drops, but not everyone will be so lucky.
Outriders also has its fair share of technical issues. These range from bizarre idiosyncrasies like jarring cutscenes for opening doors or poor balance between dialogue and background audio to some more troublesome persistent bugs. Enemies are often able to shoot through cover, abilities occasionally don’t work properly (I can’t tell you how many times my Trickster’s teleport ability flashed but then didn’t send me anywhere), I found a specific bug with my most powerful weapon mod that just disabled it if I had it equipped during cutscenes, and crashes are still semi-frequent when playing co-op.
Those can be annoying, but they’re manageable enough that it didn’t detract too much from the overall fun of kerploding monsters and bad guys. I’m also glad to see that the most egregious issues seem to be behind us: servers are mostly stable and the bug that was wiping out people’s inventories (with the nasty chance of that being permanent if it occured along with a crash) has, as of this review, apparently been patched out (we haven’t experienced the inventory bug ourselves since just after launch).