STAFF REVIEW of Outriders (Xbox One)


Friday, April 23, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Outriders Box art It’s been quite a few years since I’ve played a decent shlooter (shooter + looter) akin to a Destiny, Borderlands, Anthem or The Division. Square Enix is now wanting a piece of the action, so they teamed up with developers People Can Fly, best known for Bulletstorm, to create their own take on the shlooter genre. If you like shooting, looting, fighting hordes of near endless enemies and massive bosses, then Outriders needs to be on your radar with its sci-fi backdrop and 1 to 3 player co-op with drop-in/out gameplay.

STORY:

There’s a large emphasis on narrative with Outriders, honestly more than I expected, and while not the most unique or mind blowing story out there, it’s just interesting enough to keep you engaged until the credits rolled and the endgame opens up. Earth has become inhabitable, so you among thousands of other humans have left your home in search to make a new one on the planet of Enoch, an Earth-like habitable planet among the stars. Enoch is quite the distance away though, about 80 years to reach, so you’re put into a cryosleep to pass the years as you travel.

The first people that set food on Enoch are labelled as Outriders, a squad of elite soldiers to ensure that the area is safe for everyone else. Something is wrong though and there’s a massive storm, labelled the Anomaly, destroying the majority of your fleet. Somehow you survive and are put back into cryosleep for another 30 years only to wake to a now hostile planet. You’ve become an Altered though, a soldier with special powers that you’ve absorbed from the Anomaly instead of dying like everyone else, making you a super soldier.

You’re now tasked with searching for a mysterious radio signal on the other side of the massive Anomaly where you originally landed, but doing so won’t be simple as you embark across a hostile planet filled with countless enemies and monsters through forests, swamps and deserts; it’s a good thing you inherited all those special powers Altered. There are some secondary characters you’ll meet along the way that will help you in your journey, some of which are quite memorable like Jakub, and there’s some decent twists along the way, but I don’t want to spoil much else for its narrative.

While the story itself is interesting, at times it can feel quite rushed and awkward. For example, your character seems quite uninterested in being there or wanting to do much at times and also can be incredibly brutal. There are also more than a few times where cutscenes simply jump from one moment to the next, like later on when you’re escaping from an exploding ship but the next cutscene simply shows them all fine and dandy with no explanation or showing of how they actually got out. It’s not a major plot hole or anything, but it did feel a little disingenuous with the story pacing and impact scenes like that are supposed to have. Also, while you can play co-op up to three players, only your character is shown in cutscenes, so you won’t ever see your friends even in the background oddly enough.


GAMEPLAY:

My initial impression about Outriders was that it felt a lot like The Division meets Gears of War due to its shlooter mechanics and cover based system you rely on early in the game. This cover system really goes completely out the window later on once you get a true grasp on the encouraged aggressive gameplay that it wants you to play like. Yes, there is waist-high cover setup everywhere which you’ll instinctively want to utilize early on out of habit, but Outriders is designed to be played very aggressive, and since you actually heal yourself from using your abilities and skills, you want to generally be in the thick of battle. This doesn’t mean you’re invincible, hardly the case especially on the hardier World Tiers, but once you stop trying to use cover you’ll do much better overall, particularly since endgame is all about playing through runs as fast as you possibly can, so you don’t got time to sit back and use cover.

Outriders' gameplay revolves around combining your weaponry and supernatural powers, based on which class you’ve chosen to play as, melding typical shooting mechanics with some RPG elements as well. Guns vary from your typical Assault Rifles, Snipers, LMG’s, SMG’s, Shotguns and more, but it’s really how you mix the shooting with your powers which will determine how successful you are. I admit, the aggressive approach took me some time to get used to, but once you learn which skills heal you, you start getting some great gear upgrades and learn how best to defeat certain enemies, Outriders starts to feel mechanically great, even if there are a slew of issues along the way. One of the worst offenders has to be the overabundance of loading screens. Moving to a new area? Load screen. Transitioning from one pocket of a map to another? Small cutscene. On an Xbox Series X these aren’t much of an issue especially since they can be skipped, but for those with older Xbox One’s, you’re going to detest every time you need to move to a new area.

CLASSES:

Your first character will go through a brief tutorial about the basic shooting and cover mechanics where you’ll get to choose one of four classes and begin your Altered journey once complete. The four classes are Pyromancer, Trickster, Devastator and Technomancer. Pyromancers can conjure flame abilities, burning enemies and are meant for medium range damage. Devastators are your typical tank-like class, meant to get into the thick of battles with shotguns. Tricksters are a rogue-like class, leaping in and out of battle able to do short high-dps bursts of damage. Lastly is the class I went with, the Technomancer, a medium to long range class that is more support with turrets, able to actually heal other teammates if you spec down a specific line of abilities.

Each class has its own skill tree that has three distinct subclasses to suit different playstyles. So for example, my Technomancer can spec as a healer/support, or go a more poison based damage role if I want. While there’s no “best” build for each of the classes, I did tend to find many often generally choose the same skill tree and abilities for the most part. You’re able to equip any three skills you like from your class, of which you have more choices, but depending on your build certain skills will be best suited for that playstyle. For example, my Tech Shaman build is focused on ice for not only freezing enemies in place for easier headshot damage, but I also make sure that my gear has ice based mods as well, boosting its effectiveness, but more on that shortly. Turns out it’s not just about getting the best and coolest gear, but how it all ties together with your skill tree and mod choices which is going to determine your damage output and survivability.

TIERS:

Instead of typical Easy, Medium and Hard difficulties there’s actually a completely different system in place that can be adjusted whenever you want for various reasons. You instead choose from World Tiers, ranging from 1 to 15. You begin with World Tier 1 unlocked, and the more you play you eventually earn enough XP to unlock World Tier 2 and so on. You need to be playing the highest available World Tier to earn towards unlocking the higher ones, but there’s numerous reasons you’ll want to, or not.

First, not only does World Tier 1 offer the easiest difficulty, but it won’t net you much good gear either. Playing on World Tier 15 for example instead will be much harder, but gives you much better rewards as well, so there’s a balance of finding what works best for you and your group. World Tier 1 for example has enemies two levels lower than you and also drops gear two levels lower, so getting an upgrade isn’t very likely. There’s also no modifiers for Legendary loot (the top tier of gear) to drop because of the ease. World Tier 15 though has enemies and loot +12 of your level along with a massive chance for rare and Legendary loot to drop, but this will be a much harder experience obviously. By the time you learn all of this and finish the campaign though none of it will matter, as endgame has its own separate tier system that is used in Expeditions, but more on that shortly.


LOOT:

Loot. Who doesn’t love loot? That’s why you play games like this generally, killing endless enemies hoping to see those purple and yellow beams of light indicating dropped gear. You’re able to equip a pistol, two main weapons, chest, legs, helmet, gloves and boots, so there’s plenty of gear you’ll be sifting through as you progress through your journey. Early on it’s easy to tell what’s an upgrade, as an item will have a green arrow if it’s basically ‘better’, but as you get near the end, especially endgame, there are many more factors like mods and attributes you’ll need to take into consideration when contemplating gear and upgrades.

There are of course different rarity of loot, though you’ll end up only caring about purples and Legendary stuff by the time you get to endgame. Unwanted gear can be sold or broken down into other materials which is used for crafting, upgrading and changing mods of other gear. You’ll most likely have times where you’re short on scrap currency to purchase gear, so then you’ll sell gear instead of breaking it down, only to find that you need to break more gear down to get shards to upgrade the gear you just got, so there’s a constant balance of trying to sell versus breakdown.

MODS:

You might get one piece of gear that is an upgrade in one aspect, but possibly has the ‘wrong’ mods that won’t benefit you at all, or is a sniper with close range damage bonuses, so there’s lots of factors you need to consider when swapping your gear. Mods play a large part of your gear, as these are bonuses that enhance the skills you use for your class. Blue gear has one mod slot whereas purple and above have two. Mods come in three different tiers, and the only way to ‘learn’ these mods so that you can apply them on other gear is to break down items with those mods, which is why breaking down gear early on is so important.

Purples will have tier two mods where Legendary has Tier three. Yes, you’re going to have to break down some of the best gear in the game if you want access to their mods to put on your ideal sets, which hurts to do at first. Interestingly, you’re also only able to change one mod on a piece of gear, so eventually you’re going to want to find gear that already has one of the mods you desire based on the skills and skill tree you’re using, so that you can keep that one and swap out the other mod that’s not as useful to you. You’re able to change the second mod as many times as you like for a small resource fee but you’ll generally find new gear at a steady rate, having to ‘fix’ its mods every time you upgrade until you reach endgame. How you stack and equip mods is going to make an absolute massive difference in your gameplay and success, so take the time to learn its intricacies and plan ahead what gear you want to use and it will pay off in the end.

CO-OP:

While you are able to play through the game completely solo, Outriders definitely shines when played alongside two other friends. And yes, the irony of having four classes and only three player co-op is not lost on me, nor do I understand the decision, but alas. In theory, Outriders is a simple drop-in drop-out co-op experience that you and your friends can simply enjoy, in reality though it’s a buggy mess, so much so that I have a dedicated section below for all the issues I’ve run into, including co-op problems.

There is some sort of scaling that happens when playing co-op though. Enemies seem to gain more health and deal more damage when playing with a partner. Add a third and that scales up even more, almost to the point where a friend and I don’t really enjoy having a third, as it makes all of the hardest elite enemies just massive bullet sponges. Two player co-op seems to be that ‘sweet spot’ for challenge and difficulty while still being able to do Expeditions within the allotted times. Basically anytime we have a third, we generally have a much harder time, even with the extra damage.

EXPEDITIONS AND ENDGAME:

Remember everything I said above about the World Tiers, difficulty and utilizing cover? Well, throw that all out the window, as once you beat the campaign the real endgame begins with a completely different grind. Endgame is all about Expeditions, basically time trial runs in a randomized assortment of missions, usually lasting 10-15 minutes, where the better time you make the better chance at gear you have. That’s why I said you won’t be using cover after the opening few hours, as endgame is all about rushing to beat missions as quickly as possible.

Expeditions has its own Tier system, also rank 1 to 15 to be super confusing, and is somewhat like the World Tiers where higher is harder but gives better rewards. This is how you’ll start to get the best gear, as beating missions has you opening a pod where 10-15 items spew out at the end as your reward. Where in the campaign and side missions of the core game enemies will randomly drop loot, the only loot from Expeditions are at the very end, determined by your time attack placing.

That’s it. That’s the endgame. There’s a special mission you can take on once you reach Tier 15, and yes, the gear changes are much higher and better in Expeditions, but there’s no raids, no nothing else other than grinding for Pods, the new endgame currency which you can buy the best gear with. Problem with this though is that loot scales based on which tier you’ve unlocked, and every time you tier up, the costs for gear also go up. Generally it’s going to take five to ten runs to get enough Pods to afford a piece of gear, and that’s hoping that it’s a piece you want with the correct stats and mods as well.

This is where the grind really sets in. With 10-15 minute runs it’s manageable in short bursts, but given there’s only a dozen or so Expeditions to partake in, which is randomized each time only offering a handful of choices per attempt, endgame feels like a completely different part of the game created by someone else compared to the campaign and side missions you did before the credits rolled. There’s also no raids or anything after the fact, so until more content gets added it does feel quite bare if you’re not into grinding endlessly for a chance at some high end gear.


VISUAL/AUDIO:

Visually, there were many times I had to stop, take in the vistas and nab a few awesome looking screenshots. The environments are all varied, and seeing the Anomaly is quite a thing to experience. Even though you may be trekking through a desert, it’s not all drab and brown, especially with your elemental powers adding some visual flair and brightness. Character models are decent, nothing amazing and certainly passable, though there really only is a handful of different enemy types that are constantly reused, so expect to fight against the same monster types and enemies without much variety.

As for its audio, the musical score was done quite well, adding a fitting atmosphere for your environments. Weapons all sound varied and skills impactful. I quite enjoy hearing my turret blasting nonstop only to hear that sweet sound of ice freezing over or smashing, knowing that’s my cue to start dishing out some serious damage to a frozen target. The voice acting throughout was decent, but nothing amazing, though I think that may be partly due to the writing and rushed scene transitions at times.

BUGS AND CRASHES:

Where to begin. I’ve actually lost count of how many times my game has crashed playing through Outriders, to the point that myself and friends actually made it into a drinking game, seeing who would be the next one to crash to the dashboard. For a massive ‘AAA’ game like Outriders, the amount of crashes and bugs really surprised me, many of which are still issues as of the time of this publishing. Outriders at times was more frustrating than it was enjoyable at times due to all the issues myself and others have had since its launch, which surprised me given how well the demo performed before launch. To be completely honest, if I wasn’t reviewing it, I probably would have given up playing and uninstalled, that’s how bad it was at one point. That being said, something keeps bringing me back every time I see a friend online playing as well.

While random crashes were the bulk of the issues I ran into, even on an Xbox Series X, we had a laundry list of other problems too. I’ve been stuck inside the environment, I’ve fallen through the world, I’ve respawned as a camera unable to move with my body, I’ve had weapons refuse to reload, we’ve had horrible lag in co-op games, missions not triggering, waypoints not showing up and a slew of other issues along the way. While I was fortunate enough to not run into this issue, many others were, and still are, reporting a massive bug where the game wipes your whole inventory of your loot, causing all your hours of hard work to be gone for absolutely nothing. Obviously this is being addressed by developers, but is a severe issue that unacceptable.

While they would like to claim Outriders is NOT a games-as-a-service type of game, there’s not only a requirement to create a Square Enix account, but even if you plan on playing solo for your whole Outriders career, you’ll need to always be require to be online to their servers. Many times even playing solo I was dropped from my game for some reason or another, and means there’s no pausing either. This also means that the game can be tweaked and changed on the fly from the backend, which has already seen the Trickster class receive some extreme nerfs, causing one of my friends to make a whole new character and class. While server drops have gotten better overall since launch, it’s almost daily when my friend and I have issues getting into each other’s game for some reason or another.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I have no doubt that Outriders will improve over time but I’m kind of torn about how I feel for it in its current state given its issues. On one hand I’m addicted to the shlooter treadmill, but on the other, having already reached endgame and grind the hell out of it, I think I see my end in sight without much further to do aside from yet another run for hopefully a new piece of gear. That said, Outriders is currently included with Xbox GamePass, so there’s no reason to not jump into the shoes of an Altered to save Enoch, even if it does turn into quite a grind later on and having to suffer through numerous game crashes daily.

**Outriders was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**


Suggestions:
Launching in its current state is unacceptable.


Overall: 6.7 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10

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