The thirst for new video games is very real at the moment, especially with so many delays. Outriders is no stranger to delays mind you, originally intended as a next-gen launch title and then dropping back again when its February date just didn’t make sense. Plenty of us ran straight to the demo back in February to get a taste of Outriders, and the promise it showed has definitely propelled it to some insane heights and metrics. Sales are only one piece of the puzzle however, and how Outriders plays, functions, and ultimately is as a game is what we’re here to discuss. So strap on your space suit, buckle up in your starship, and let’s head to planet Enoch.
For this review we jumped in on PC, PlayStation 5, and Stadia, getting a wide variety of looks at the game. Naturally PC sports the largest array of bells and whistles, and none more impressive than Deep Learning Super Sampling. Deep Learning Super Sampling, or DLSS for short, works by sampling previous frames, feeding them through an AI supercomputer, and then displaying a “perfect” frame. It repeats this process constantly, giving us an incredibly sharp and clean image without jagged edges. It also has a secondary benefit — it’s practically free frames. For Outriders I was able to hit around 35-40 frames per second on an RTX 3060 Ti at 4K resolution and Ultra settings, but enabling DLSS allowed me to jump to a very stable 60fps at 4K! On the other end of the spectrum, with an RTX 3080 I was able to hit around 70fps at native 4K, but enabling DLSS shot this all the way up to 95fps. 1440p seems to be a real sweet spot if 95fps isn’t enough for you, with a native fps of around 140 and DLSS-enabled pushing past my monitor’s max refresh rate at just over 170fps. For those still working at 1080p, enjoy an eye-watering 235fps.
On PS5, the game still looks and runs wonderfully. Able to output 4k (dynamically of course) and 60fps stably is an amazing thing, and it let’s you shoot up a bunch of bad guys very smoothly. Even when a lot was going on, whether it be combat or other players, everything still functioned in a crisp manner, and that says a lot about the tech behind it. I am disappointed however in Outriders being another game which doesn’t use the Dualsense, although this one goes further in that it doesn’t utilize anything about the controller. There are no specialized haptics or adaptive triggers used, and given the awesome abilities available I sure would’ve loved to feel the pinpoint rumbling of a wave of fire flowing away from me. The haptics work in the same way as rumble motors, and unfortunately that’s what I’m going to have to deal with.
So, enough technical talk, just what is Outriders about? Well, you’re a space marine/mercenary/henchman who is part of a colony looking for a new home. Earth is no more, having reached a point of no return when it comes to the climate (thanks boomers) and the planet Enoch has been chosen as a substitute, given its similar life-supporting environment. That’s the thought at least, until you land and get caught up in a tempest known as The Anomaly, an energy storm ripping through everything. In the process of panic (and the governmental corporation deciding to silence your team by killing them and landing the colony ship anyway) you get injured, and your friends shove you into a cryochamber in hopes of saving you later.
Of course, it wouldn’t be nearly the same story if your buddies didn’t completely forget about you, and your pod accidentally gets opened thirty-one years later. Even worse still, you’re stuck in the middle of what seems to be the bad guys, who decide to drop you outside and leave you for dead as The Anomaly rages towards the city. But no no, that’s not the end of this story, because you’re one of the few humans who have been changed by the storm into an Altered, an immortal being with some ridiculous powers.
One of the coolest parts of the game is the character customization, and of course you’re going to do a lot of that when choosing what abilities you’ll be using. Outriders features four classes, but don’t think of them as hard archetypes. Ultimately each is a sniper, gunner, magic-slinging badass with multiple builds to mix and match to handle any situation. Parallels to games like Destiny aside, all four classes feel unique and powerful after just a few levels, and it’s likely you’ll play each one very differently. Let’s dig into the classes and see which one might fit you best.
Devastators are your tank class, able to crush opponents at close range, but don’t think they are slow or simply walking shields. As you’ll see below, Devastators live up to their name by being highly mobile, able to fly into the midst of scores of enemies only to watch them explode into a paste of meat and bones. Many of their powers revolve around absorbing, reflecting, and otherwise mitigating damage, but there’s plenty of offense on the table as well.
Pyromancers are, as the name suggests, masters of fire. More midfield battlers, Pyros can immolate enemies in a variety of ways, even lifting living enemies into the air and causing them to go supernova before exploding in a flaming mist. If you need somebody to bring the fireworks, the Pyromancer does exactly that.
Technomancers fill the long-range support class role, focused on taking shots from a distance while a variety of various turrets do their dirty work for them. Freeze turrets, flame turrets, rocket launchers, and more are at the Technomancer’s fingertips, and all of them are devastating.
The final class, Trickster, is your hit and run character, able to manipulate time to confound the enemy. Their powers are centered around being a battlefield spoiler, stopping foes in the open where they can be wounded or killed. They also have a number of blade-based attacks that are fantastic for disrupting enemy attacks and powers.
All of the classes have three different class trees, each with a number of powers to unlock. Using the Devastator as an example, they have a Vanquisher, Warden, and Seismic Shifter subclass, each with a different focus. As you can respec at will and without cost, respeccing to fit the battle ahead is quick and easy.
These explanations of what Outriders is brings us to two different questions: How is the story and how is the gameplay? Probably the most interesting thing here is that both reside in different locations. Starting with the narrative, the one thing I’m disappointed in is that I have a really hard time taking it seriously. When I play something like Destiny, there’s a somber tone behind it, almost like I’m the reluctant hero. With Outriders, it begins with an almost campy space marine kind of story, and some of the things that happen leave you laughing even if you’re not supposed to. I know GameRanx pointed it out on one of their recent list videos, but there’s a moment in the beginning where you’re trying to save a fellow Outrider who is getting pulled into the storm. When you fail and they disappear, your character lets out this guttural yell that comes across as hysterical rather than tragic. This litters the story, and moments where you should probably be more sympathetic you aren’t. The main character’s deadpan animations and voice also don’t help either.
That doesn’t mean the story is bad, in fact it actually gets more interesting as you go along. There’s a few points where you start talking to Seth, another Altered, regarding your place in all of this where it will spark your interest, and by the time Moloch hits the scene you’re paying attention. Given Moloch is an engaging boss battle, I have to say this is another spot where Outriders does a fantastic job, giving you a fun diversity of enemies to fight with a great rogues’ gallery of bosses. In the end, I feel like the story, while decent, suffers more from taking a backseat to the gameplay.
Which is where the latter question is answered, how is the gameplay? I’m pleased to say that while it may start slow, the gameplay is arguably the strongest part of Outriders formula. I didn’t expect at the beginning for it to be able to continue to keep my attention, but the more and more I play, the more and more I like it. Now, Outriders doesn’t do much that you don’t expect. In fact, it borrows a lot of elements you’re going to be familiar with from other games. For example, I feel like I’m playing a Gears Of War cover shooter in a Mass Effect Universe with Destiny-like customization and powers. But… it works. Somehow all of the pieces of this Frankenstein get stronger and stronger the more you play. There’s something about shooting up a baddie with your assault rifle, finishing him off by summoning a wall of fire, launching an underground fireball that turns his buddy into a bomb, and then blasting a third with an automatic shotgun that freezes him in place with ice. The game is definitely playing off people’s love of power fantasy, but it functions beautifully.
Now, the cool thing is there is a point to all of your running into the thick of the conflict like a bat out of hell. Outriders rewards aggressiveness, and to do that your health is directly tied to your abilities. There isn’t regular health regeneration, or medical packs to recharge, instead wanting you to fight back to regain. I play a lot of Pyromancer, and that means making sure I light a bunch of dudes on fire before I finish them off if I want to refill half of my health bar. I can do that with whatever ability I want, it just matters that I use them in order to get the best results. You can also utilize specific weapons with mods to replenish your health, but we’ll get into that in a bit.
This is even more fun in the engaging environments you’ll be exploring. Not only are they superbly crafted, but they are packed with enemies to battle with. These enemies are as aggressive as you are, and while they can annoy me a bit with constant grenades, there’s an appreciation for encouraging you to move instead of sit back. I mean, several of the “captain” characters can have abilities as well, and as such come after you with abandon and just like I would imagine a powerful character should.
These environments also house plenty of side missions, and if you want to fill up your stash with a bunch of great gear you’ll want to find every extra errand possible. Some stuff will be as simple as finding something for somebody (while most likely having to shoot your way through or out of a situation), others with a couple of stages, but most are a quick jaunt and reward you with cool stuff. My favorite so far (as is Ron’s) is the hunts, which come across like a Monster Hunter fight where you take down a big creature and turn it in. While it’s usually just a boss creature, it’s a good way to break up the main story and the bosses are just a fun brawl.
Just like Destiny and other looter-shooters, you’re going to spend a lot of time picking up gear and weapons. While initially you don’t understand much, it gets to a point where you’re comfortable with what you’re looking at for the most part. I’ll be honest, I still don’t understand all the “leech this” and “anomaly power that”, which is pretty evident when you break down a gun only to find you lost a third of your health stats because of it. We’ll talk about it a bit later in the review, but Outriders doesn’t do much to teach you why certain things are important besides an occasional few sentences of tutorials, so maybe this would’ve been a good thing to have added. Even so, these deep gameplay systems divulge into even more systems, like crafting and the world tiers.
Outriders is a looty-shooty game at its heart, and that means farming gear like nobody’s business. Using a slightly “altered” version of the tried and true rarity colors, you’ll find vendor trash with no powers, blue items with a single power, purple gear with two powers, and so on. Gold legendary items usually carry with it additional goodies like life steal or causing a small explosion on reload, for example. While each class starts with a handful of powers, you’ll get the most bang from your weapon. The powers they unleash can be devastating, but what if you want that power…on a different gun or piece of armor? Well, here’s where Outriders puts their own spin on things.
While the game does a terrible job of explaining any of how it works, your power “bank” is earned by dismantling pieces of gear with powers you want on it. If you like the pistol that lets you heal on every reload, but wish you could put it on your shotgun, you’ll need to first dismantle the pistol to “learn” that power. You’ll then pay a small fee to your resident gun doctor and he’ll slap in that new power for you.
If you like a particular weapon or piece of armor and want to stick with it there is also an option to “level up” those items. Paying either iron (which you mine throughout the game), leather (which you get from beasts), and shards (which you earn by breaking things down), you’ll bump up that piece, keeping it relevant until you find better equipment. You can also mod in the aforementioned powers, changing the firing type (e.g. full auto to semi-auto) and more. Since your inventory is plentiful, you have a stash, and weapons and armor don’t drop constantly, it feels like a good balance of keeping items relevant without making the player feel unrewarded.
With a clear inspiration from Diablo III, Outriders features a 15-level World Tier system to keep players coming back. While the campaign will take you around 30 hours to complete, plus a few more if you do the bounties and monster hunts (and I highly recommend that you do!), coming back to try for better loot at higher tiers is where it’s at. Just like Diablo III, bumping up to Tier 4 pushes to “hard” difficulty, granting enemies additional levels, but also giving you better drop rates. You have some control over this as you can change world tiers at any time, but just a warning — if you go down a tier mid-mission, you lose any rewards you’d have gotten from the higher tier. No cheating!
If there’s one area where Outriders lacks, it’s solid explanations of its mechanics. The UI is lacking, and the game does very little to explain itself. By way of example, discovering that you can’t stack the same power twice to make it more effective is demonstrated by putting a reddish bar and a red square icon onto that power on a piece of gear. What that’s poorly conveying is that you already have that specific power equipped elsewhere. What it doesn’t explain is that this doesn’t preclude you from using a different variant of the same power. This means you can build your leap power to unleash additional damage on your boots, but also apply a leap power that makes everyone you hit vulnerable. Similarly, the game doesn’t teach you how crafting works, so you’ll have to stumble on the knowledge that breaking down a weapon with a particular power is how you’ll gain access to that power to put it on another weapon. We could spend time on how titanium shards and shards are two different things, or how applying a new Tier 2 power onto a gun locks the secondary power slot forever, or a million other little things, but I think you get the point.
While Outriders has received its first major patch, which did fix crossplay between PS4/5 and PC at the very least, there are still a number of bugs present at launch. Cosmetic defects, havok weirdness, lighting, performance wobbles, and crashing are all present and accounted for, even after the first major patch, but thankfully they aren’t as bothersome as they were a week ago. During a three hour play session we also experienced audio clipping, and even a few crashes. Thankfully the game seems to handle re-joining a session in motion well enough, but one can imagine losing progress or an important weapon (this happened to us) due to a crash.
Crossplay with Stadia has not been fixed as of yet, so the experience right now is largely the same as Avengers on the platform. There’s just not a lot of people playing on this platform, even at launch, but if you do eventually get into a match there’s a very cool feature Stadia takes advantage of. With a setting enabled, your party members’ screens will be streamed to yours, menus and all. The one time I was able to take advantage of this feature though was to watch someone else quit the game, but I’d imagine it would be very useful and allow players without voice chat to work together better. While I requested Stadia Pro for this review, my internet connection sadly isn’t fast enough to take advantage of that 4K streaming, but the game still looks great at 1080p. Stadia does seem to have gotten a bit more stable since we last checked in on it, and I can now play from Google Chrome on my phone, so this is still a great version of the game to play if you don’t have a console or PC to run it, with the picture in picture feature being a big selling point once crossplay is fixed. Even on my desktop, which doesn’t have the best connection to Wi-Fi, the game overall felt more responsive even when the visuals got more blurry than usual. Cheers to the exactly one other person playing this on Stadia with me though!
Outriders is a multiplayer game, no doubt about it. What’s baffling, then, is why developer People Can Fly chose to ship the game without in-game chat crossplay. Sure, you can talk to your own “family” of consoles, and naturally PC works like it’s supposed to, but talking from PC to consoles is a no-go. Other games do this just fine, but it does mean that stacking up with your friends for a game means joining something like Discord for voice, and then using something else entirely for audio on a console.
Let’s address the 8000 lbs Brood Mother in the room, shall we? While Outriders isn’t pitched as a Games as a Service title, it very much is. While the game can be played in single player, it’s all locked behind an online service that has, until recently, been fairly unreliable. The team is working hard, and I have to commend them for how fast they’ve reacted to the situation, but the laundry list of cross-play and client-side bugs remain. Reports of players losing their entire inventory at over 100 hours invested are concerning. All of this has been done in the name of “stopping cheaters”, but in a game that’s entirely PvE, that seems unlikely. Similarly, the developers have addressed the non-stop interstitial cutscenes as “synchronizing players”, but this still happens every few minutes in a single-player campaign, and games much bigger than this one have done it seamlessly. It’s 2021 and we are still doing the slow-squeeze between rocks trick. C’mon guys.
With all that said, the co-op is ridiculously fun. Playing this game along with two other friends is something you’ve got to mess with to understand its draw. I thought the gameplay loop was enjoyable before, but adding in other Altereds just enhances the experience. It also makes the World Tiers more manageable, considering while I played on my own I’d be taken down quickly at times, but with a squad we could call out foes and play around each other’s strengths. Another benefit? If all your health goes missing, you fall into a downed state, with either a single self revive per battle to utilize, or calling out to a friend to give you a hand. It just works, but I don’t like the fact that being downed doesn’t allow you to move around the battlefield. Especially since nearly every game allows that at this point, even a very slow crawl would be appreciated.
Despite all of the ways that Outriders is stuck in the past, the moment to moment gameplay is so compelling that it’s impossible to say it’s not a blast -- especially with friends. It’s also remarkably expansive in its crafting and skill trees, with plenty of ways to customize your playstyle. I may not be that invested in the story, and this certainly isn’t that different from most third person shooters, but Outriders is well worth the time and effort. Even if there may be extra effort put in because of crappy server connections.