It used to be that developers would make games you could play solo or co-op. But lately what we get are always online co-op-centric games that can be played solo…I guess…but we’re not going to make it easy…or let you pause. What’s worse is that when you play them, you quickly realize that there’s no reason they should be primarily co-op. But while the third-person, sci-fi shooter Outriders (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC) is one such game, it still manages to be an exceptional and inventive shooter, even if you go it alone.
the Earth has been destroyed, and only a single colony ship has made it to the idyllic planet of Enoch. As an advanced scout known as an Outrider, your job is to help prep the colony’s landing zone. Too bad no one checked the weather report, because just minutes after you arrive, you and your coworkers are caught in a powerful electrical storm. Badly hurt, you’re placed back into cryogenic stasis, only to emerge 31 years later, and into a post-apocalyptic nightmare, complete with marauders who look like rejects from a stage production of Mad Max: Fury Road. Good thing you not only have a plethora of guns, but some new special powers you can use to take out the bad guys and maybe, just maybe, get things back on track.
At its core, Outriders is a third-person role-playing game with cover-based shooting combat. And it has all the fun stuff you’d expect from that multi-hyphenate description: tons of shootin’, tons of lootin’, and tons of things that don’t rhyme, including side quests, errands, crafting, resource management, and a multi-faceted leveling up system with helpful rewards.
In other words, it’s like Mad Max director George Miller made The Division 2.
What makes Outriders different from The Division 2 and other gun-based role-playing games is the combat. For starters, while your special abilities are triggered the same way as, say, magic spells are in Diablo III, they recharge much faster. Not enough that you can use them as your primary attack, mind you, but enough that you can use them multiple times within the same encounter.
Shooting in Outriders is also different…
because of where you engage in combat, and the tactics employed by your enemies. A lot of the battlefields are rather large — though more deep than wide — and populated with enemies who prefer to keep their distance, and use the terrain for cover. At the same time, other enemies who don’t like to duck or use guns will instead rush you with melee weapons at the ready. As a result, I often found myself using a sniper rifle and the available cover like when I was playing cat & mouse with Nazis in Sniper Elite 4, but always ready with my shotgun, and my ability to dodge like Kratos in God Of War, when some guys would rush me.
This is not to say Outriders doesn’t have some conventional fire fights. Ones against mini-bosses, for instance, often take place in smaller, more contained areas, and with enemies who are neither inclined to rush you, nor use cover — which means you can’t, either. The same is also true when you fight animals, who tend to rush you en masse without any thought of ducking for cover. Though by being the exception, and not the rule, these normally typical gun battles actually add variety to the proceedings.
Even the health system in Outriders adds something to the combat. Rather than have it regenerate over time, or require you use bandages or eat something, your health is connected to your class, of which there are four options: Technomancers, who use long range weapons and support gadgets; Pyromancers, who use medium range weapons and can conjure fire; Tricksters, who use close range weapons and can teleport short distances like Nightcrawler from the X-Men; and Devastators, who use close range weapons and will, uh, “stand your ground,” which I really hope doesn’t mean he kills unarmed black kids for no reason.
But along with dictating your special attacks and weapon proficiency,
your class in Outriders also impacts how you regain health when injured. For example, if you play as a Technomancer, you get healthy whenever you kill someone, which forces you to think differently when you’re injured and under attack.
Together, the varied shooting, ability to use special attacks so frequently, and unconventional health regeneration system all make Outriders‘ combat feel unique, even when things get as frantic and tense as they do in, say, Call Of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War. And yes, that’s even true if you’re someone who only use shotguns and sniper rifles when playing the Gears Of War games. Or any Mass Effect. Or either of The Division games.
Of course, it helps that Outriders‘ controls are spot-on; fluid and intuitive. And that the cover mechanics have all the same tenets — blind firing, destructibility, moving between them — and work as well as Gears 5 and other good cover-based shooters. And that your enemies aren’t idiots or suicidal or just bad at their jobs. Instead, they seem really, really determined to not get shot. They’ll even, on occasion, move sporadically, like a seasoned running back, juking left and right.
Navigating the world is also done well, as a simple tap on the upward directional button draws a path from you to your objective; think Dead Space 3 or Fable III. More importantly, the line lasts long enough that you don’t have to keep hitting the button over and over to keep from getting lost.
As invigorating as Outriders may be, though,
there are some issues that…okay, don’t ruin things, but they do make this less than ideal.
For starters, the story isn’t all that interesting, or told that well (though they do make it easy to skip the cutscenes). Then there are the utterly ridiculous characters, like the guys who think it’s appropriate to go shirtless when on a snow-covered mountain, or to run at you with machetes at the ready, but first, let’s flex and show off my muscles. And, of course, while most of your enemies do their best to avoid getting killed, there are a couple (as there always are) who aren’t paying any attention to the guy who’s shooting at them.
This also has some rather badly spread out checkpoints. Also, I wish I could carry more bullets; I keep running out. And don’t get me started on the menus, which use the same annoying system as Destiny 2 and Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, one that has you using the thumbsticks like a mouse.
Outriders also has a problem so common that I basically just cut and paste a version of this paragraph into every relevant game review: the text is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have trouble reading the menus, the captions, the instructions, and even the map, and that’s even if you turn on the “Large Fonts” option in the “Accessibility” menu. It’s also doesn’t help that the text (and, while we’re on the subject, the navigation line) is white when you get to the snow-covered Eagle Peaks region.
There are also aspects of Outriders that didn’t bother me,
but will other people, like how this isn’t a loot-fest like Borderlands 3, and doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to mine or harvest natural resources for crafting. It’s also not one of those games where areas are repopulated with enemies after you leave; once you’ve cleared a place out, it usually stays clean. Which, admittedly, cuts down the number of gunfights you engage in, and how much grinding you can do, though it also means you can backtrack without having to fight your way back where you were.
But the most irritating thing about Outriders, which I mentioned earlier, is that it’s designed to be a co-op game that people can play solo, and not a game made to be played solo and co-op. Because of this, you can’t pause the game, even when you’re playing solo and have your privacy set to “closed.” Which is especially irritating if, like me, you’re someone who sometimes uses the restroom. It also has to be online all the time, which is infuriating if you want to play alone but the server is down for some reason.
There’s also no reason why Outriders should be a co-op game you can play solo as opposed to a game playable alone or with friends. There’s nothing about the story, the setting, or the action to suggest this would be anything other than a solo outing. Which isn’t to say playing Outriders isn’t fun when you play with friends — emphasis on the word “friends” — just that there’s no reason why this couldn’t have been built like Borderlands 3, which was built for both solo and co-op play, and without needing to be online all the time.
That said, Outriders is different from such co-op-first shooters as Destiny 2 and The Division 2 in that it thankfully has options when it comes to difficulty. It even scales the difficulty based on how many people are playing. Which means playing Outriders solo, and on normal, isn’t like playing Outriders on hard.
In the end,
Outriders is an excellent role-playing game and a kick ass shooter (and an early contender for Game Of The Year). The fire fights are not only frantic and harrowing, but also nicely varied, and perfectly hit that sweet spot where you feel like a bad ass, but not an invincible one. All of which makes this as effortlessly fun as Fallout 4, Mass Effect 2, and other great role-playing games with real-time gun-based combat. Sure, it would be even better if you could pause when you pick up what might be a cool new gun, or when your mom calls to tell you to not sit so close to the TV, but even with these structural issues, Outriders is still as exciting as it is inventive.