It’s usually a good sign when a game studio lets members of the media play their game long before it’s out or it even has a release date. Which bodes well for People Can Fly’s upcoming shooter RPG Outriders. Slated to be released this holiday for Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC by Square-Enix, the third-person sci-fi shooter was the subject of a hands-on preview event last week in Los Angeles, where members of the game and geek press got a chance to play the game’s opening hours.
What follows are my impression of the game, which I played on a “high spec” PC, but with an Xbox controller. Suffice it to say, spoilers follow.
you’re part of an advanced team of colonists on the planet Enoch. While the rest of humanity remains in orbit, and in cryostasis, you and your coworkers are sent to the surface to secure the landing area. But while out looking for probes that scientists sent to Enoch during survey missions you’re caught in a massive electrical storm that kills some of your teammates and badly hurts you. With no medical team available, you’re placed back in cryostasis until help can arrive.
When you wake up, though, you find that you’re not in a hospital or the hands of trained medical professionals. Instead, you’re in a make-shift village full of Mad Max rejects, and being tossed out into what they call No Man’s Land. Once there, you find a gun, get into shootouts with the locals, and learn that you’re not the same person you used to be. Apparently that electrical storm — which they now call The Anomaly — not only destroyed all technology, but it’s also given you special abilities you can use, along your gun, to escape the No Man’s Land and make your way somewhere more friendly.
While you get a taste of Outriders‘ combat and controls during the above sequences, it isn’t really until you go on your first mission, to rescue an old friend, that you really get a sense of how this game works. For starters, while the gunplay is cover-based, and has all the required elements (blind firing, automatically going from cover to cover, etc.), the movement and shooting controls decidedly feel more like Mass Effect than The Division 2 or Gears 5.
What makes Outriders‘ gun battle feel differently from all of those games, though, is that some enemies start shooting at you when they’re still a good distance away, and often while taking cover. As a result, I found myself relying more on my sniper rifle than my assault rifle, machine gun, or the twin pistols I carry as my sidearm (the game allows you to carry two main weapons and one side one). Though, admittedly, that may also be because I spent the previous weekend playing the sniping-centric third-person shooter Zombie Army 4.
Further complicating combat…
in Outriders are such enemies as the Berserkers, who don’t use cover and instead rush at you with melee weapons drawn. Good thing you can hit a button to roll dodge like you’re Kratos in God Of War before unloading on them with your gun.
The difference in battle distances isn’t the only thing that makes combat in Outriders feel both familiar but fresh. As I mentioned earlier, that electric storm — which is still going on, and is keeping everyone trapped in this valley — gave you powers. What powers, however, is somewhat up to you. Outriders has four different combat classes (though only three were playable at the event): Pyromancers, whose attacks are fire-based; Tricksters, who manipulate time to be sneaky; and Devastators, who uses brute force.
Health regeneration is also tied to your class. Pyromancers recover health when they burn someone; Tricksters get healthy and an extension on their shield when they kill someone in close proximity; while Devastators also get healthy when they slay someone close to them (physically, not emotionally).
In the case of my playthrough, in which I chose to be a Devastator, that meant I restored some lost health by using Earthquake, a strong ground pound that can hurt or kill enemies even when they’re behind cover, and the Gravity Jump, an aerial ground pound that has you targeting one unlucky recipient. Devastators also have a skill called Golem, which serves as a temporary shield, as well as a slightly more powerful punch than Pyromancers and Tricksters.
Your special attacks…
in Outriders also work differently than they often do in role-playing games. Not only are they fairly powerful when you first get them, but they also recharge rather quickly. So much so that they’re more useful than similar abilities in Mass Effect, The Division 2, and even Diablo III. Or even grenades in most shooters. Together, the mix of guns, powers, and dodging make for combat that’s frantic and nicely varied, especially when you have a good sniper rifle, a solid shotgun, and all three powers at your disposal.
As for how your combat skills will be tested, Outriders makes some interesting changes in this regard as well. Instead of letting you chose how tough the game will be, it starts you off on the easiest setting of what’s called the World Tier. You’re then required to do well before bumping you up to the next level, which increases both the strength of your enemies and your rewards for taking them down. Though you’re not required to stay there; you can always go to a lower Tier if, like me and Lisa Simpson, you like a challenge…just a challenge you can do.
Even navigation in Outriders has been reworked from how it normally works in games where there’s lots of backtracking. When engaged in missions that have you traveling great distances, you will occasionally find spots to plant a flag. You can then use these flag spots to fast travel. Which means that if, say, you’re doing the second major story mission, in which you have to make your way to the Solar Tower, you can easily go back to the main hub, sell off the guns you don’t need, and then jump back to where you were.
Similarly, while Outriders lets you hit a button to locate your objective, it takes a page from the Dead Space game by drawing a solid line along the shortest path you can take. Except it’s a lot more helpful than Dead Space and other games with a similar waypoint mechanic since this line stays active for a good long time, which mean you don’t need to keep hitting the button.
All of which…
came in handy during that aforementioned story mission to the Solar Tower. Not only did it have a good variety in terms of where I was attacked — including open battlefields and the insides of bombed-out buildings — but it also gave me my first look at bosses and mini-bosses. In the case of the former, it was a guy who died but resurrected himself twice before finally giving up. As for the latter, well, let’s just say he’s a real meanie who wouldn’t let me win. Jerk.
While Outriders seems like it’s going to be fun in the same way as Mass Effect, The Division 2, and The Outer Worlds, there were some aspects that I hope will get changed before the game comes out…especially since members of the dev team did say this was still a work in progress, and the feedback they get from this event would be taken into consideration. (Hi guys!)
For starters, Outriders — like The Division 2 and Destiny 2 — is being built as a co-op game you can play solo, and not as a solo game or a solo game you can play co-op. Which unto itself is weird, since the story and setting suggests this would be much more effective and immersive if played solo. But the real problem with making it a co-op game you can play solo is that you annoyingly cannot pause the game.
That said, Outriders does not have the same problem as The Division 2 and Destiny 2 in that its difficulty is set for three-player co-op, not single player, which made playing those games solo more difficult than it should be. But that was not the case with this game, which even at this early stage felt nicely balanced for solo play, but would clearly work for teams of three thanks to the World Tier system.
Managing your inventory in Outriders was also problematic, in that you can’t deconstruct items you didn’t want, or mark them as junk so you can easily sell them later. Hence why I almost accidentally sold my good shotgun. It also didn’t help that the menu navigator works with a cursor system that’s similar to, and as counter-intuitive as, the one in Destiny and Destiny 2.
These issues are hardly deal-breakers, though.
If I could get through multiple playthrough of both Division games and both Destiny games, I can easily get through this. And am eager to try. While the game won’t be out for months, the little of the game we got to play — the first of twenty-odd chapters — was impressive. We’ll all know for sure when Outriders comes out at the end of the year.