Square Enix and People Can Fly step into the looter-shooter arena with their sci-fi game, Outriders.
When Halo veterans, Bungie departed Microsoft and the franchise that made their name, we all wondered what would come next. The answer was Destiny, a cross between the first-person shooters that Bungie was famous for and a persistent multiplayer online game. This first game did well, despite its faults: lack of story and infamous moon wizards. The second game, the imaginatively titled Destiny 2, established the franchise as a modern classic, defining the multiplayer looter-shooter genre.
EA Games, never a publisher to pass up an opportunity to make a buck, charged Bioware, a studio famous for its tightly-scripted solo role-playing games, such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age, to create a similar offering to Destiny. The result was Anthem– an interesting but fatally flawed game that has as good as been abandoned by the publisher.
What’s this got to do with Outriders, you say? Well, People Can Fly, another developer famous for a single-player game, the OK-ish shooter Bulletstorm, is taking on Destiny 2 with their new game.
The only thing is, as I started playing, Outriders felt more like Anthem than Destiny 2.
The game starts with a colony ship en route to an Earth-like planet called Enoch, the intended new home of the human race. Earth has been devastated by global warming or whatever, so this mission is a last-ditch effort to save humanity.
Players take on the role of an Outrider, a member of an advance party sent to the planet from the orbit colony ship to scope things out. The rest of the colonists remained on the ship in cryogenic suspension.
It’s a good sci-fi premise.
Players get to customise their character before exploring this new world. But, as you’d imagine, things don’t go as planned. The planet is actually far from being a benevolent surrogate Earth. On confronting a dangerous alien storm, they name the Anomaly, the Outriders advise the leaders aboard the orbiting ship that the colonisation must be aborted. Instead of heeding the warning, security forces are dispatched to the planet in order to silence the Outriders.
The player’s character is mortally wounded, but not before being exposed to the Anomaly. The player’s character is placed in cryogenic suspension, only to be reawakened thirty-one years later.
At this point, the game starts proper. During the intervening years, the colonisation of Enoch has all gone to hell. The colonists have broken up into factions and the local fauna has mutated into dangerous monsters. Thankfully, the player’s character has been granted special abilities, but so have some less-savory types.
The scene set, the game becomes a co-op mission-based third-person shooter/RPG, with main story missions and side quests.
The game uses a series of hubs each with vendors and mission givers. These main hubs seem larger than they need to be, reminiscent of Anthem, and suggesting that the developers have future plans for the game. As players proceed to explore, more and more hubs are revealed, some being settlements, and others just temporary camps.
Missions involve travelling from A to B, either solo or with up to two other players co-operatively, engaging in firefights as you go. The gunplay is very similar to the likes of Gears of War, with the player’s character able to duck behind cover and automatically move from cover position to cover position.
As with Destiny 2, the combat is rather fun. But it’s not necessarily the multitude of weapons that are the focus of the fun.
Having been affected by the Anomaly, the player’s character has unlockable abilities based on the class that the player chose at the beginning of the game: Trickster (who manipulates time), Pyromancer (the same with fire), Devastator (Seismic attacks), or Technomancer (who uses technology and devices). A skill tree allows these abilities to get upgraded providing some interesting gameplay.
The abilities are the star of the game. I played as a Trickster, whose time effects came in really handy when overwhelmed by attackers. The abilities add a depth to a game that elevates it from just being a series of missions with rather repetitive firefights, one after the other, and punctuated with a boss at the end.
As you’d expect everything drops weapons and armour, continuously allowing players to upgrade their kit as well as their primary and secondary weapons, and their pistol (which has infinite ammo- very handy). As well as obtaining loot from the bodies of the fallen, crates are lying around full of extra goodies.
Extra items can be obtained by fulfilling contracts to take down fugitives and hunting specific unique creatures. These can be turned in at one of the outposts for loot.
As players progress, there are opportunities to claim areas, which creates a fast travel point. At strategic intervals, there are also crates for resupplying weapons, which also hint that things are going to start to get dicey. Obsolete or unwanted guns and armour can be broken down for crafting or upgrades.
The game is very accommodating when it comes to difficulty. Players that just want to enjoy a casual experience can play the game’s story mode. As you progress, harder difficulty World Tiers unlock which if used to grant better rewards. This can be set to automatically be selected as they unlock or adjusted at any time by the player.
Enemies range from human grunts, specialists, and heavies to Enoch’s bizarre hostile fauna. The AI isn’t bad and not afraid to flank you. They present quite the challenge, especially on the harder difficulty tiers.
Playing on a very high-end gaming PC rig I was treated to a top-level game experience. The game uses Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) to provide a better framerate via this AI-based upscaling technology.
The graphics are very good, but they don’t really do anything to set them apart from the high-quality visuals achieved in most modern games. The level design is that of a branching linear route to the various mission areas from the hubs. Whilst this is less than an open world, you are not going to get lost in a labyrinth.
Outriders is a rare thing in that a series of reasonably good gameplay mechanics together make for a very good gameplay experience. This with an interesting story elevates the game a lot higher than it probably deserves.
Whilst not as polished as Destiny 2, unlike Anthem, Outriders is a sound concept that I can see only getting better as the developers refine and add to the game post-launch.
It’s pretty clear to me that we are only just seeing the start of the Outriders story. I can see this game getting better and better. If you are into RPG looter-shooters, Outriders is definitely worth taking a look at. If you have Xbox Game Pass, Outriders is free for Xbox console owners, so giving it a go is an absolute no-brainer.