Review: Outriders


Platform: PC, Xbox, PS
Release Date: 2020/04/01
Developer: People Can Fly
Publisher: Square Enix

STORY

When the initial coverage for Outriders first started to appear, I wasn’t impressed. A post-apocalyptic shooter with, what appeared to be, a Hellraiser aesthetic? Yet another looter shooter? No thanks. I was already firmly entrenched back in my long time favorite Destiny 2. I wasn’t about to pull myself away for an unknown. And after Anthem flopped and took a year to be canceled, Borderlands 3 didn’t land with me, Cyberpunk was a disappointing mess, and Godfall came and went like a fart on the wind...I was more than a little hesitant to pay full price for a new AAA title. 

    Then came the demo. A demo couldn’t hurt right? And if nothing else, a demo could scratch that itch and allow me to play and walk away. I could see what all the hype was about and then put it down.

    Like so many others, I got sucked in. Outriders presented an opening that left me exclaiming “WTF” more than I ever had in recent memory. It seemed like each set piece in the hour long intro left my mouth agape and me wondering what would happen next. It was a roller coaster of genres and emotions that I was ushered through at a breakneck pace. 

    It started off feeling like Mass Effect. Explorers on a new planet, looking to settle a new home. Everything was lush and green; there almost seemed to be magic in the air as characters like Jakub were introduced and the Anomaly  swirled about in the distance. Then we’re ushered into an alien hellscape before being dumped into something out of Mad Max and then finally ending up in a world that has hints of WWI, sci-fi, and a healthy dash of dystopia.

    Without giving anything away, the general premise involves exploring this new world to find a way for humanity to survive. While there is an unreal amount of story, character development, and world-building/genre tasting thrown at the player, it never feels like too much. Somehow, People Can Fly made this buffet work and work well. It took my about 40 hours to clear through the main story and all side quests and there was never a dull moment. I was astounded. Outriders had no business being as good as it was in the story-telling department.

GAMEPLAY

    There are four available character classes: Devastator, Trickster, Technomancer, and Pyromancer. Each has three “subclasses” that can be spaced into via a talent tree. However, build variety can be a little limited due to the number of skill points available and certain build styles being required to have any hope of conquering the end game. Each class is absurdly fun to play and offers enough difference to warrant playing each.

    There is a very robust crafting system that allows for yield variety and modification through the swapping of perks and upgrading of passive bonuses. Each piece of gear can be upgraded to have a maximum of two perks that can work in harmony across weapons and armor. It’s the farming of this gear for the ideal mods and perks that will keep players at the grind. Making a gun that can rain down lightning and having another perk that creates a chain effect is intoxicating. 

    Starter gear can be upgraded and carried through to the endgame, as I did with my favorite looking set. The only thing that is missing is transmog, but with the level of customization available for each piece, this is forgivable.

    Outriders differs in that it was never meant to be a live service game. People Can Fly has stated that it would be a complete game upon release with no plans for seasons or passes or even meaty DLC unless demand was there. In this way (and many others), it reminds me of Diablo 3. While Diablo 3 eventually got into seasons, it began as a standalone game. An expansion and two additional classes were added, but for the most part, it is the same game now as when it launched so long ago. The engaging combat, more than anything else, has helped keep it relevant after all this time. Will Outriders be able to do the same?

    Outriders can be played entirely solo without any real detriment. There is the option to play with two other players, for a total party size of three. Additionally, Outriders supports cross-play between PC, PS, and Xbox. However, a litany of bugs have plagued the game since launch and largely crippled the multiplayer experience. Cross-play has be largely disabled across the board. I have only been able to get it working a handful of times. Even playing with friends on the same platform can be an issue due to the number of bugs and crashes. There were several nights where launching any activity would cause my game to crash entirely and force me to join again. 

    On top of the general instability, public multiplayer is a bit of a mess. There is no in-game voice chat or text chat. The only forms of communication come from emotes and a voting system for traveling throughout the game. But, if a player goes AFK, little can be done to remedy the situation. On top of that, lobbies are set to “Open” by default without many players realizing it. This leads to players joining a random game only to be booted as the host had no intention of playing with others.

    You might be asking why someone would kick another? There are many reasons, but I feel that it largely boils down to how Outriders scales the difficulty when adding other players. Long story short, Outriders can get brutally difficult when adding more players. There are more, tougher enemies and it feels like they are sponges. On top of that, AI is hyper aggressive, constantly rushing, and never missing a shot. While dealing with that solo can be tough enough, when another player is added, that difficulty increases exponentially. While you may be clearing content without issue on a certain World Tier or Challenge Tier (Outriders difficulty scale), adding another player can make it seem impossible at that same difficulty due to this poor scaling. 

    Further compounding this was a bug that would wipe a character’s inventory when joining another player. It took People Can Fly weeks to find and fix the bug, but there are still many players with characters that have no inventory (heartbreaking after spending any real amount of time on) or totally unplayable as they can’t access them. PCF has said they plan on rolling out a “fix” that will put similar items into their inventory. Weeks later, we have yet to see this fix. 

    Long story short, Outriders is a buggy mess. Unfortunately it seems like the problem is only getting worse and the player population is quickly dying off due to this. And who can blame them? This is a game that requires an intense amount of time to farm end game gear with stats that work for very specific builds. Heck, I have nearly 100 hours into the game and still can’t touch the highest difficulty and haven’t been blessed with decent drops at all. Because that is another issue. Outriders is extremely stingy with legendary drops. So, it can be extremely disheartening to put so much time and effort in just to potentially see all your progress be wiped out due to a bug.

    This litany of problems is what makes it such a shame. Because when it works, Outriders is a ton of fun, especially when playing with friends and your characters are falling in sync with one another. Even if there were no additional content, the core components are so good. It’s such a shame that PCF can’t seem to figure out how to fix their game.

GRAPHICS

    This is one area that Outriders fell flat for me. The graphics themselves are good. Character models have a great amount of detail, environments are varied and a delight to look at, and clearly a lot of attention was paid to how good things should appear. However, the overall design aesthetic is a little all over the place. Much like the story and setting which have a little bit of everything, the design for weapons and armor attempts this without the same degree of success. 

    There were only a couple of sets of armor that I actually enjoyed, for which I was grateful for the in-depth crafting and upgrade system. The rest, no matter what look they were trying, failed to win me over.

    Weapons fall into one of two camps: uninspired futuristic version of modern weaponry or something out of a Lovecraft story. Most of the legendaries are a confusing mess of bone, flesh, and repulsing design. I haven’t found one that reached out and grabbed me like many of the exotic weapon designs of Destiny 2.

SOUND

    Much like the graphics, the sound design fell short for me. A lot of the soundtrack is largely forgettable with generic orchestral music creating swells for action, but nothing for quieter moments. Gunfire is forgettable. When compared to games like Destiny or even Call of Duty, so many of those guns have an iconic sound and are recognizable. Not so with Outriders. I have yet to find a single gun that has wowed me with the sound design.

    On a more technical aspect, the sound is a bit of a mess. Gunfire doesn’t always ring out and the whizzing of bullets is nearly non-existent. Part of this is due to the insane accuracy of the AI, and the other due to audio just not playing. Footsteps will randomly go missing and kicking in doors almost always results in a delay of the crackling of wood and shattering of stone.

CONCLUSION

    Like so many others that have come before in recent years, Outriders is a game that gets so close, but ultimately doesn’t reach the mark. Unlike other games that were over ambitious and failed to deliver, Outriders accomplishes what it sets out to do, but fails in the consistency.

    Despite the design aesthetic not being my cup of tea, I loved the world that PCF built here. It’s engaging, the characters have real depth, and it’s a place I genuinely want to know more about. It’s such a shame that it is hampered and plagued by so many bugs this long after release. Even if PCF can right the ship, I’m worried that the damage has already been done and there will be no choice but to let it sink.

UPDATE

    The inventory fix has rolled out. Even though I wasn't impacted by it, I received several versions of weapons I already had and recreations of those I had deleted.

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