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After being bashed with a variety of Games as a Service (Gaas) titles, it’s odd to see our own sensibilities slide into an incomprehensible state. Since the release of titles like Anthem, Destiny, The Avengers, and The Division, we have been conditioned to believe that the modern trend of online-focused experiences, featuring prolonged lifespans and recurrent user spending, are the future, and set the status quo of loot-based action games. People Can Fly’s latest title, Outriders, released without a single promise of a season pass or real-time events in conjunction with other developers, essentially solidifying their stance as a one-and-done title. But does Outriders bring that cool glass of water to the table? Does it live up to the games that existed before the invasion of GaaS titles?
Previously, I laid out my initial impressions of Outriders several weeks ago when the demo launched. Some of my core opinions still stand true despite People Can Fly’s consistent updating to the user experience. Graphics and sound ultimately have not changed with issues still rampant, so I don’t think I need to necessarily dive into that once again. Instead, I’ll focus on the bigger picture of what Outriders does. Some additional quality of life features like a motion blur toggle and easier item tagging have been added, but there are still some basic concepts missing like locking items from deletion, which is an incredibly basic concept.
I tend to make it known that Outriders, despite requiring an online connection, is not a “live-service” title in a traditional sense. So, don’t come at this game with predetermined concepts popularized by Destiny. Instead, shove these preconceived notions deep down within the darkened abyss of your soul (for now). Refute the malarkey that you have been fed for the last seven years by the GaaS titles, and accept that what is presented is unlike the season-based recycled crap-fest we have been chewing on for years now. I know that the association between Outriders and other titles is too big to ignore, but it would be incredibly disingenuous to compare those games and expect Outriders to excel to greater heights. With that said, we can properly dive into the anomaly that is Outriders.
The demo set up the necessary pieces of this story. Outriders focuses on humanity’s efforts to continue to live after the destruction of Earth, which brings us to the planet of Enoch. We play an Outrider that gains superpowers thanks to an anomaly storm. With the tone and story elements in place, we are left to continue this dreary plot that’s filled with surprises and anti-cliché concepts that surpass even my expectations. Still, even with the welcomed changes to the typical tropes we are used to, there is still a huge disparaging story that seems to be incredibly disconnected and haphazardly glued together, like a last-minute arts and crafts project. By the time I got to the end of the game, I forgot about my entire motivation and why I was even doing things in the first place.
While you are on your journey which lasts about 30 hours, you are accompanied by a cast of characters that are filled with the angst of an entire high-school anime club. One character seems to be the only smart one with a decent head on their shoulders, while the others embody the edginess of a teenager that just discovered that they can anonymously cyberbully people on Twitter. Character depth is shallow for some, as the game wants me to care about these people, but I cannot muster up a single tear when things go wrong. That is because People Can Fly presents a constant flow of replaceable characters that they seem to kill off prematurely. I don’t care enough about some of the characters because they haven’t done enough to warrant that heart pulling reaction. The only thing it does solidify is how the cast is dispensable without creating tension.
Outriders presents a rather tedious concept when it comes to the world. It is half-linear, a quarter open-world, and a quarter confusing. Each major act comes in the form of a new biome to explore. You will jump from location to location, each presenting a unique style that stands out. These areas are their own confined space with various paths that are specifically tied to side-quests. You cannot enter these areas without accepting the correlated quest, diminishing any sort of “open-world” exploration element. Instead, we have hallways with small rooms that we can easily peer into. The only thing waiting for us in each of these predicable battle arenas are hordes of dog beasts that are more than happy to rip my stupid face off.
Despite the narrow design, each area is beautifully detailed in ways that keeps me immersed in my surroundings. Perhaps my only real qualm with the environment design is how I get caught on some of the random, jagged protrusions, preventing me from easily navigating through the monsters that hurl themselves at me like Walmart customers during a holiday sale. The only thing that could possibly help is displaying some level elements within the mini-map, which would also help assist in navigating the world, as the big map just doesn’t make any sense. Even the pinging system doesn’t work half of the time.
Gameplay is perhaps the largest area that Outriders excels in. The gameplay loop of kill and get rewards isn’t a foreign concept these days. As I saunter into each environment, obviously designed for combat and nothing else, I am washed over by a wave of bullets and what feels like a never-ending army of opponents trained by the best covert ops branch of the US military. How I dispatch these enemies entirely relies on my class. Tactics don’t revolve around the types of enemies you fight. Instead, they focus on the abilities of my class and how my gameplay style revolves around said class.
I spent most of my time with the Devastator class, which makes killing foes incredibly fun. My shotgun blasts shredded enemies to bits and pieces while my abilities allowed me to jump in the air and slam into my opponents, turning them into gooey substances. These abilities also have a fairly short cooldown, allowing me to use the powers often instead of waiting or having my cooldown time based entirely out of stat-focused gear. In these moments of pure adrenaline-fueled destruction, I felt like People Can Fly understood me on a deep personal level and tailored an experience that plays to my sensibilities of mindless fun.
Combat does get rough sometimes. Heading into battle, blasting into a group of enemies often left me dying countless times over. I would often change my abilities to better suit the enemy type. The problem is some abilities tend to be more useful and viable than others. Instead of picking other combinations of powers that I liked or wanted to level up via accolades system, I stuck to the same three or four attacks that seemed to just get the job done more efficiently. Another sudden revelation occurred when I finished the game and swapped over to the Technomancer class, which presented an entirely different way to play that felt truly unique. My sole allegiance to the Devastator lifestyle broke the second I was introduced to the blight rounds ability.
Your classes abilities can be enhanced within the talent tree. Each tree focuses on three different concepts: damage, defense, and anomaly power. Each tree gives you various passive boosts to your weapons and abilities. Reinvesting your talent points is free and great for those who like to get number crunchy and like to experiment. You only get twenty points to play around with by the time you hit level thirty, which makes you really consider what you want to specialize into. Some of the passive abilities are clearly more powerful and useful over others, which has been shaking up the meta within the week that the game has been out.
Each class has this unspoken role within Outriders, as Devastator is an up-close combatant with Technomancer hanging in the back. This doesn’t mean you can’t snipe as a Devastator, it just means you most likely shouldn’t. Your experience with the entire game rests on that initial decision, especially when put up against the world tier system. This system acts as the difficulty slider, and as you progress through the difficulty, you unlock the next tier. That typically gives you a reward while also granting you greater chance to obtain a legendary weapon, but it also limits what you can equip on your character, which in some respects makes sense. It prevents me from decking out my Technomancer with gear obtained on my Devastator.
Perhaps the biggest drawback from the world tier system is if you continue to die too many times due to powerful enemies, you will slide back a level. The good news is that you can manually set your tier when things get a bit hairy, but at the cost of losing the higher tier benefits. But swapping back is just a matter of pressing a couple of buttons. You can actively swap tiers with ease, which is a huge plus when up against some of the tougher, prolonged boss fights.
Aside from abilities, weapons and their modifications make the meat and potatoes of the gameplay. Each weapon has a mod, and by breaking down that weapon you obtain that mod and can install it on any weapon you pick up, giving you precise control over your loadout. Instead of having a billion guns, you will find an array of mods and weapons that you can combine for incredibly interesting effects. Rare weapons tend to have one dedicated modification, with epic and legendary weapons granting two slots. When you replace a single mod on a gun, it will lock you out, keeping you from swapping a second mod. This system is something incredibly unique to Outriders that I thoroughly enjoy.
Throughout your adventure in Enoch, you’ll quickly discover two types of enemy pools, humanoids and beasts. All humanoid enemies share the same exact composition to a point where it doesn’t matter what faction you are fighting against, it is all relatively the same with some of the enemies changing up a specific tactic. You have your typical holy trinity of riflemen, shotgunners, and snipers. In addition, you have captains that are decked out with random abilities akin to elites in Diablo. Beasts come in various shapes and sizes from small dog to big dog, to upright dog with a blade for an arm that can hit you no matter where you are. The minor enemies are fairly easy to dispatch with some captains and big dogs seeming like bullet sponges that take way too long to die. Smaller enemies will rush you, often overtaking you with ease since dodging out of the way is impossible due to the hit-boxes and janky world design. The captains and big dogs have telegraphed attacks that do not give you enough time to dodge out of the way, solidifying yet another death, ensuring a slow decrease in the world tier system.
Whether you are fighting humans or beasts, boss battles seem to be designed to test your patience as they can take up an unnecessary amount of time to complete, with one single boss taking me almost an hour to beat. Other bosses flat-out spam attacks over and over, giving me minuscule windows of reaction time, ultimately leaving me to lower the world tier down to 1 just because I cannot deal with the massive headache any longer. It is even worse when you get a boss down to the last sliver of health, only to die, and restart the entire battle from the very beginning.
Outriders overstays its welcome with gameplay that goes from being really fun to overly generic and boring without introducing many changes to its formula. Legendary drop-rates change the game up and provide moments of pure excitement, but everything about this world structure is fundamentally boring. There are so many frustrating moments within this game, and at times I ponder why some decisions were made in the first place, such as requiring an online connection to play alone. I have so many issues that I would love nothing more but to waste your time naming every single one of them, but we are busy people and I respect your time too much.
Hell, even Outriders’ endgame is nothing but a poorly designed horde mode lifted from other games, except that it is timed. Meaning that you need to prioritize your damage output, making my Devastator class fall short of being viable in these modes. People Can Fly have recognized this, and are currently balancing other classes to fall more in line with the Devastator, but to be honest, buffing the class to meet the others is perhaps be better choice to make as there are not raw competitive concepts within the game. Nerfing the abilities of other classes before fixing the major issues that actually matter.
I do not think I can finish this review without bringing attention to the one major aspect of this title, the networking. As of writing this review, Outriders is experiencing a large sum of issues. Everything from disconnects to entire player inventories getting wiped out. Online components of games have been a staple of this hobby of ours for years. Various companies, big and small, have experienced their fare share of launch issues, but nothing as detrimental to player enjoyment as this. We need to be honest with ourselves for a moment and recognize that the only reason some folks even jumped into the game was because of Xbox Game Pass, and I can only imagine the absolute fury of someone who was willing to shell out cash for this title. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the game when it worked, but the slew of issues continue to hamper the experience of thousands of players. In an interview with Vg247.com, lead designer Piotr Nowakowski stated that they are not going with dedicated servers for this game, and instead will rely on peer-to-peer systems. He went as far as to say, “If something breaks for some reason, I’ll say I was wrong.”
Mr. Nowakowski, it has been 11 days. We’re waiting.