Raynor’s Raiders, roll out
There’s a good chunk of games (especially from big publishers) I kind of avoid until they’re basically out. “No, I don’t want to watch this NPC backstory video. Call me when it’s out!”
Our own Jordan Devore can’t count the number of times I’ve asked “is [x] out yet?” whenever he’s tasked with covering a specific beat. It’s weird to think about now, but Fortnite was a big one. When it was just the “Save the World” edition I never really bothered to pay attention to its development process until it was finally out.
Outriders is another big one. It’s one of those huge releases that is whispered in the wind, and I’ll see it when I see it. Well, I saw it! And it’s better than some of the other ill-fated looter shooters in recent memory, but it still has plenty of issues.
Outriders (PC, PS4, PS5 [reviewed], Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Developer: People Can Fly
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: April 1, 2021
MSRP: $59.99 (also on Xbox Game Pass)
It’s been a while since we’ve seen what People Can Fly can really do.
Their last major original game was….probably Bulletstorm in 2011, in earnest. So when Outriders was announced, I was curious. But what is it, exactly? Well, it’s a co-op third-person cover-based shooter with RPG elements; with a Mad Max meets Destiny theme. Full stop, it’s not even a proper live service game, it’s a complete shooter with a baked-in endgame that has an actual end.
It takes place in a world (Planet Enoch, which humanity flocked to after the destruction of Earth) shaken by “the anomaly,” which created evolved versions of man and beast alike. And given that the main language People Can Fly speaks is “shooting,” that’s how most of the tale is told. There is a story, but you’re chiefly shooting stuff while people bark at you. Outside of a fun little twist at the start, you’re mostly going from place to place, shooting, listening, then shooting new threats.
Although it treads on gritty cringe at times, I dig the whole “Raynor’s Raiders of StarCraft fame” vibe. It’s sci-fi western, it’s “meat hooks as fashion accessories,” it’s…weird sometimes. And that’s mostly where Outriders‘ world shines, when it gets weird. Especially since the entire framework of the game involves you waking up 31 years after a cryo nap to a gigantic war on a planet you scouted.
Part of that flair is presented within the four classes: Technomancer (long-range support), Pyromancer (medium-range), Trickster (close-range damage), Devastator (close-range tank). Four is a good number as the team made all of them shine in their own way, and didn’t bulk up everything with bloated skill trees and a billion abilities. Things are streamlined, but builds are open enough where you can feel like you put your own spin on your character.
My “main” for the purposes of this review has been the Pyro class, which has Metal Gear-like burnination powers. I had a ton of fun learning the ropes, chaining my burn abilities into one another to feed into the life leech system: the lifeblood of combat. Think medikits for kills. Instead of slowly healing or injecting yourself with rote healing powers (or the catch-all regenerating shield), you’ll get skills healing for kills.
No, it’s not a perfect system, but it helps keep things interesting even in trash fights as you powerfully command the battlefield and stay in control at all times. It’s a mechanic you can ease into to learn but feel Machiavellian with when you master it. There’s a lot of potential for combos, especially in multiplayer, as well as stylish stuff like “no look” kills when you whisk an ability off to someone out of view to blow them up.
That’s basically what you’re going to be doing most of the time too, blowing stuff up. The story has promise, but doesn’t really deliver on anything it sets out to do. Which is fine by me! Because you can completely ignore it if you want. But any attempt to emotionally connect players to the world mostly fails. It’s simply too hyper, too eager to move to the next big plot beat before wrapping up what it already presented. By the time I was done, I had completely forgotten about a huge chunk of the setup.
The linear nature of maps (which are basically bespoke sandboxes) forces you through and doesn’t allow you to linger. Once you start getting off the beaten path and doing sidequests though, you get back into that comfortable “blow stuff up” state of mind and it all comes flowing back: the reason why you continue on with Outriders in the first place. Gunplay and cool-looking magic powers.
Outriders knows what it wants you to focus on: the action, not the busywork. For those of you who crave more on a macro level, you’re going to be disappointed. But so many times when I felt myself slipping and not caring about the world, I dove into a random matchmaking session with two other people and starting going HAM. The boss fights, which are more nuanced affairs, are easily the best delivery system for the action, but a lot of scrappy bouts on higher world tier settings (the sliding difficulty scale that also rewards better loot) can also have an air of strategy to them.
When you add in a fun accolade system that basically works like a free, non-scummy season pass, a flashy but function HUD (that can be customized), and fast load times on PS5, all of the “extras” fall into place. But not everything is going swimmingly in Enoch. The launch weekend was peppered with connection issues, stemmed from the always-online nature of the game. While I was able to get in 90% of the time, my experience wasn’t common, and a lot of folks are rightfully pissed that they can’t access their single-player experience offline. Which makes perfect sense.
You can finish the main campaign in around 20 hours with some sidequest play, at which point you’re funneled into the endgame activity: Expeditions. These are mostly survival-tinted affairs stretched through old environments with new layouts, that are mostly geared at three-player squads. You rank up, it gets harder, you get better loot, and then you face the final mission and essentially “win the game.”
It’s a lower bar to clear to be sure, but People Can Fly delivered what Bungie and other studios can’t seem to do these days: a complete $60 game. Outriders is a flawed looter shooter that can fall into a rut with its core looting loop, but the gunplay is fun, and that’s a decent-sized win. If you can grab two other people to recruit via Game Pass, it’s a great way to spend some time.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]