When everything clicks, Outriders is something to behold. Mixing genres like an wild wizard chucking potions into a cauldron, developer People Can Fly has crafted an ambitious standalone game seeking to set a new standard for the loot shooter genre. In a time where it feels like every studio is trying to cash in by shoehorning a loot system into their games, it’s a risky gamble that can easily end in disaster. But surprisingly, Outriders mostly delivers on what it sets out to achieve: a third-person, cover-based action game with much gear and power fantasy.
Offering one of the best modern loot systems in recent memory, players have a remarkable amount of customization options at their fingertips. On paper, this sounds like a game that’s right up my alley. As someone who plays a lot of Destiny, Diablo, and the like I’m no stranger to dumping hundreds of hours into a game just to perfect my character of choice. Yet, for everything it does right, Outriders is a game I just haven’t fallen for like so many others.
The game first places you in the shoes of an elite soldier who, along with half a million colonists, left Earth in search of a freshly habitable planet. After discovering the world of Enoch, you quickly encounter a mysterious storm known as the Anomaly. Naturally, this gives your character some fantastical new powers (depending on which class you pick). But before you can use them, you’re tossed into cryofreeze and awaken 31 years later to the remaining survivors in an all-out war for survival. Tasked with discovering the origin of a mysterious signal you heard before the storm, your Outrider journeys across Enoch for answers.
It’s a serviceable setup. Though it felt severely disjointed over a more than 30-hour runtime. Outriders has a bad habit of introducing what appear to be key characters — only to immediately forget about them a few hours later. This continues for most of the first half, with two major villains getting abruptly sidelined. Things do pick up in the second half, as Outriders pivots from its nasty, ultra-edgy war strewn with video game graffiti that just says “fuck you” to instead explore the more mysterious elements of the planet Enoch. There are some genuinely intriguing moments that I just desperately wish Outriders decided to pay off, but it’s too busy shuffling players from one story beat to another.
Everything crescendos with you facing off against a final boss introduced late in the last act. It’s a very bizarre choice, especially when you consider some of the other major antagonists are reserved for those who invest a decent amount of time into Outriders’ endgame activity: Expeditions. It’s not that each individual story thread is bad or that the writing is poor. It just never gels into an engaging, single story with a beginning, middle, and end. While I always appreciate adding story content to this sort of endgame, it shouldn’t come at the cost of a satisfying main campaign.
Thankfully, the gameplay often makes up for the fractured plot. When you start, Outriders gives you the choice of four different classes — each of which possesses wildly different abilities and playstyles. For example, the Technomancer revolves around supporting their allies or summoning powerful constructs like turrets, mines, and a big-ass minigun. Inversely, the Trickster can bend time and space, allowing skilled players to teleport around the battlefield while decimating enemies. There’s a macabre playfulness to Outriders’ combat that feels at home with People Can Fly (makers of Bulletstorm and other over-the-top nonsense). Enemies erupt into pools of blood, disintegrated skeletons, and chunky bits of gore. Plus, with players able to swap out three of their eight powers and entire skill trees on the fly, you’re always encouraged to experiment with everything each class has to offer.
All of this comes together in Outriders’ endgame, which has players running through 15 unique levels against hordes of tough enemies, while simultaneously vying for the fastest completion time possible. The quicker you complete an Expedition, the better your rewards. It’s a simple system once you grasp how rewards are handed out. However, problems arise due to the sheer repetitive nature of each Expedition. Until that point, Outriders’ entire gameplay structure consists of walking into an area, killing everything, and interacting with a quest item. Unfortunately, Expeditions are pretty much the same — with the exception of occasionally defending a designated area.
The lack of any new gameplay mechanics or challenges is glaring. Outside of enemy composition and setting, nothing truly makes one Expedition feel wholly different from another. Nor from any given story mission for that matter. Instead, you simply wade through the meatgrinder over and over again in hopes of being able to do it just a little bit faster. Some of the monotony can be alleviated by experimenting with the unique legendary weapons and armor sets. Yet it takes a fair amount of time to earn these items since the drop rate is very low. At least until you reach much higher difficulty tiers, of which there are many to unlock in Outriders.
Keep in mind: Outriders isn’t a live service game. At least it hasn’t been billed as one, despite the fact that you need a server connection to play… It’s supposed to be a complete package. This is fine in theory. Honestly, having some semblance of an endgame is refreshing in an era where players often wait for weeks (or months) for added content. But as a whole, the later stuff just isn’t that compelling. It takes a long, long time to craft a build capable of the higher difficulty tiers. The reward for doing so is pretty minimal. Besides resolving a bunch of character arcs, the lack of unique mechanics and deeply repetitive nature of Expeditions can rapidly grow dull.
I want to love Outriders. Truly! It’s an extremely entertaining game at times that allowed me to constantly tinker with a fantastic toolkit without any real repercussions. However, with no other endgame options available, your entire enjoyment will depend on if you want to just keep killing waves of enemies in more efficient ways. This won’t be an issue for some; the simple, repetitive design is both satisfying and, at times, addictive. However, Outriders becomes so consumed on this singular endgame philosophy that it ends up cannibalizing every other aspect in the name of crafting that one perfect build.
Outriders is an enjoyable experience, but not one I see myself sticking with for more than a couple of weeks.