The looter-shooter genre first rose to popularity with the release of Borderlands in 2009 and then skyrocketed after the release of Borderlands 2, Destiny, and The Division. Whether they are third or first person, there is one common factor in each of these games, and that is loot; a lot of loot. This is the reason why many gamers, myself included, return to the genre. I have over 500 hours in Borderlands 2 alone, so it’s safe to say that looter-shooters click for me. People Can Fly developed, and Square Enix published Outriders has a fantastic gameplay loop but its characters and narrative fall by the wayside, leaving a rather uninteresting story.
Story – Could it be any worse?
Humans are on their last legs and are currently on their way to Enoch in hopes of beginning a new chapter for the human race. What they find, however, is a volatile planet filled with natural disasters called Anomalies that send them back to a primitive state with no electricity, forcing them to start all over again. Our protagonist is a member of the Outriders, a scouting team specially selected to forge a path for the humans on Enoch. After the aforementioned Anomaly hits and you are frozen in cryo, you awaken as an Altered, now possessing supernatural powers.
The writing is easily the weakest part of the game; it failed to create any connection to the characters that accompanied me on my journey across Enoch. The main character is just a vessel for one-liners and lacks any depth whatsoever; he felt like an edgier Nathan Drake but didn’t even have 1% of his personality or charm. Side characters were once again unmemorable. The game world advances nearly 30 years while you are in cryo. When you awake, the game expects you to care about your remaining friends from before you were frozen. It does so by having some stupid jokes about how old they are.
There is an extreme lack of depth shown. Every town you visit has a quest giver, typically the leader of that particular town. They’re fleshed out for about an hour or two while you’re in the town, but once that is over, the game all but forgets they exist. Personally, this isn’t an issue for me; while I loved the story of the Borderlands series, I couldn’t care less about the Division’s narrative and it didn’t hinder my experience with that game.
While the narrative was subpar, the world of Enoch was an intriguing setting. While the journey of finding out the inner workings of this alien planet and the causes of the anomalies was interesting, I feel that the world-building was bang average; only standing out because of the dreary story and characters.
Gameplay – 3rd Person Diablo
While Outriders lacks in the story department, it more than makes up for it in the gameplay; after all, that’s what these ARPGs are all about. A good narrative is the icing on top of the cake, but without the cake, the game would be boring. The best comparison I can make is that Outriders is an amalgamation of Gears of War and Diablo, for better or worse. The core mechanics are a third-person cover-based shooter with three different class skills at your disposal. You might be wondering why I left ‘for better or worse’ at the end of the comparison sentence, and that is because the level design feels like something out of the original Gears of War, a game that is 15 years old this year.
Levels are littered with random walls and boxes, more often than not looking out of place. It inherited the worst part of the Gears series but forgot to take the best bits with it, too; the cover system is passable, it worked as intended about 90% of the time, the other 10% led to mashing the A button and dying because of the jankiness.
Now, were these big issues? No, and there is one reason for that. The game has an extremely satisfying gameplay loop. Shooting feels fine, automatic weapons lacked a punch, but the shotguns and sniper rifles had great impact behind their shots.
Where the fun comes is in the class skills. Each class can choose three of eight skills, and in the case of the Pyromancer, every skill was viable. I focused on status effects for my build. All three of my skills engulfed my enemies in flames, burning them, and with the help of the skill tree, once they are no longer burned, the enemies turned to ash, immobilizing them and increasing my damage against them.
I played the Technomancer and Trickster in the demo, so I can see some synergy between classes, something that the Borderlands series has struggled with. The Technomancer’s strong suit is ranged damage, so you could spec the Pyromancer into immobilizing enemies, giving the Technomancer a window to pop off a few headshots before returning to cover.
One highlight I have to mention is the enemy A.I. They were quite smart in their movements, oftentimes flanking me to flush me out of cover or rushing me when I was low on HP. Encounters were tense as a result; there was a nice variety of enemy types that would serve different purposes during combat. One might rush me to force me out of cover while a sniper was off in the distance waiting for me to peep my head out. I really enjoyed what this brought to the table. Fighting humans or the many creatures that inhabit Enoch brought their own challenges that varied the gameplay.
Skill trees are something that I feel ARPGs haven’t got quite right. Every game I have played has a typical ‘+5% reload speed’ upgrade that is just fine. After all, there are only so many times I can increase my fire damage by 10 percent before it becomes tiresome. I’m no game designer, so it’s difficult to think of an alternative; I personally haven’t played a game that has offered up a viable substitute for this style. It didn’t stop me from finding some pretty overpowered builds that would all but make my character unkillable. I feel the power fantasy is integral to ARPGs, and Outriders can fulfill any fiery, futuristic fantasy.
The mission structure is as basic as it can be, talk to the quest giver, walk from point A to B while ripping and tearing through enemies, then interact with something. Some variety would’ve been nice, but it’s clear that the Polish developers focused on the combat, and while the game has clear issues, all these are overshadowed by the kinetic loop. Once again, this issue seems to plague the ARPG genre, just like the skill trees I mentioned earlier. From Torchlight to The Division each one have their own basic mission structure that is a track for the gameplay to ride on.
Loot, loot, and more loot, arguably the most important part of looter-shooters. A game can have tight gameplay and an amazing world, but without rewarding gear drops, the community will quickly turn on a game (I’m looking at you, Destiny). I never felt unrewarded for my efforts to save Enoch. Even the most basic of enemies drop decent gear that can be a slight upgrade or used to scrap for crafting materials. People Can Fly struck a balance here where I never felt bored by the drops but also wasn’t spending hours in menus sorting through useless loot. That leads to the post-game content.
Once you beat the main story, you unlock post-game Expeditions that are completely new missions that reward you with an insane amount of loot for completing. There are 14 missions with one final mission, and each one can be tackled at difficulties that reward you with better loot depending on the challenge level. While I haven’t beaten all of them yet, they give you more gameplay and more loot, and best of all, the levels aren’t rehashed.
While I didn’t experience any issues as of writing this review, please note that there have been widespread server issues; luckily, they seem to be fixed. However, there are other issues like character progression being wiped that the developers are currently trying to fix as of the 12th of April. Most of the issues are tied to online play, and I played my playthrough solo.
Graphics and Audio – ‘AA’ at its blandest
I would personally class Outriders as a AA game, meaning it does not have the budget that other, larger games possess. The reason why I preface this paragraph is that the visual and audio design is a complete mix bag. In some instances, you can see the quality; in others, you can see the cut corners, leading to a rather unpolished presentation.
The main culprit is the cutscenes. To say these are bad is an understatement. Firstly, it looks like the cameraman drank about two litres of coffee before shooting, making them nauseating in some instances. On top of this, the acting is absolutely dreadful. Characters move with the stiffness of a PS2 game, and there are strange visual bugs like mouths gluing shut or light hitting the character’s face strangely. The further I went into Outriders, the more I wanted to skip the cutscenes, which was a combination of the presentation and drab story.
The environments, however, are quite solid, and at some points, I would say they’re quite beautiful. When exploring the jungles or the wide-open plains of Enoch, I stopped and took in the sights, but this only last about 10 seconds until I was ready to start setting enemies alight.
The audio is slightly better. While the writing is pretty terrible and the overall delivery is lacking luster, the quality of the voices is good. Guns are a hit or miss (pun intended), smaller guns sounded like peashooters, but the larger weapons had a nice weight behind them. Where it excels is the feedback of character skills. I could really feel the whoosh of flames.
I simply have nothing to say about the music, it was neither good nor bad, and to be honest, I couldn’t think of one track without searching for it online.
Outriders was reviewed on Xbox Series S.