Outriders is a sci-fi looter shooter in which you play as an Outrider, a member of an elite expeditionary force with superhuman powers. Earth has become a desolate wasteland, and humans have fled to the alien planet of Enoch, where they face adversity from the planet’s lifeforms, and infighting amongst themselves. Frankly, I did not care for Outriders. Right away I could feel the lack of polish overwhelmed any of the game’s better points. This is a always-online looter shooter, and from the get go there were significant problems. Even playing this game initially was challenging - with faulty server issues plaguing the first weeks at launch. A lot of the discourse and criticism surrounding this game in the initial months centered around these pain points, which while bad, are not the only flaws in this uneven experience. From the severely repetitive firefights, to the embarrassing cutscenes and story, and just overall jank, Outriders is a massively flawed game that fails at high level.
As a looter shooter, it is important that the overall gunplay and combat are tight and engaging. Unfortunately the first and biggest sin that Outriders commits is that it is not fun to play. There are two hooks to this game that differentiate it from contemporaries like Destiny. The first being the heal mechanic, where players can heal themselves by damaging enemies. Enemies are so numerous and dangerous that putting out significant damage is the player’s only option to sustain. If you aren’t dealing damage at all times - you will die. It’s an interesting mechanic but does not actualize into something that is enjoyable to play. With sheer amounts of enemies who constantly put out insane amounts of damage, players can never catch their breath, to the point where I felt taking time to reload was a significantly risky maneuver. Taking cover is not an option either. The second you crouch behind cover, enemies lodge grenades with pinpoint accuracy and multiple snipers pin you down with tracking lasers which I don’t think are programmed to miss. The game provides all sorts of waist-high cover, assuming players will use it, but it’s completely untenable. I don’t think the developers realized that this was not a viable way of playing their game.
This makes most firefights stale and repetitive. There are no tactics, one must just rush in to put out as much damage as possible for the dozens of waves of enemies the game throws at you. If you stop moving or shooting, enemies will surround you and stagger you to death, and this inflexibility makes it so that high volume magazine weapons like LMGs are really the only useful weapons and more stationary guns like sniper rifles completely useless.
The second hook is the “World Tiers” system, which allows one to increase the difficulty through dozens of levels, which in turn gives one access to more and greater loot. This difficulty system was a bit of a problem throughout my entire play through. The game encourages players to continue increasing difficulty to continue to get better goodies, but my character never kept up with the ever increasing enemies and damage that was being thrown at me. Honestly, for a game about being a superhuman war machine, I felt pretty weak through most of my playthrough. I spent the majority of the game going from full health to the brink of death in the matter of seconds. You can certainly turn down the difficulty, but at lower tiers players are missing out from the interesting loot at the higher tiers, one of the better parts of the game. I never felt like I found a good midpoint between being on a frustrating difficulty or one that was too easy and with boring loot.
I could not look past the insane amount of jank I encountered throughout my 20 hours with Outsiders. The UX is a complete failure, and the game seems almost determined to give you as little information as possible. Particularly, the map system is perhaps the worst I have ever seen in a game. You cannot tell which direction you are facing, it takes forever to load, and there is no shortcut to access it, meaning you constantly need to flip through menus just to get your bearings. Since this map is so needlessly opaque, you will be spending a lot of time banging your head against this inane process. Bugs plagued my entire playthrough, making me unable to fast travel or letting enemies clip through geography, effectively making them invincible and forcing me to hard reset. And overall, the game is just not graphically impressive. Some of the character models seem distinctly last-gen. Last gen being late PS3 and Xbox 360 era.
The map is completely unintuitive and needlessly vague
While the gameplay and presentation are bad, the story is probably the most embarrassing aspect of Outriders. In a bizarre directive choice, cutscenes are constantly cutting after just a couple of seconds, which just becomes incredibly uncomfortable. Scenes will just consist of two characters saying hello to one another, then cutting, then showing those characters getting into a vehicle, then cutting, then showing them driving, then another cut. You get the point. It’s as if the team wanted to deliver an animated slideshow. Either that, or this presentation is the result of some sort of technical limitation, which would be a complete failure in itself.
The dialogue is just flat out cringeworthy. Most characters in the game speak as if they are thirteen year olds who just discovered expliciatives and sprinkle them in every other word of their sentences. The plot does not go anywhere, and while there is some interesting world building around the alien planet of Enoch, it isn’t explored in interesting ways and players spend most of the game going from point A to point B to activate a satellite. It’s just not that interesting.
There are aspects this game gets right. The loot is interesting on higher world tiers, and legendary items don’t feel like reskins. One of the guns I found had an ability that made enemies explode on death, and would in turn do the same to any enemy in the blast vicinity. Guns like this do get you excited for the next drop, especially when they have cool designs like they do here. Guns and gear are also highly customizable, and weapon mods allow you to really develop your own unique build whether you play as a tank, pyromancer, technomancer or trickster.
Unfortunately, the things Outriders gets right are vastly outnumbered by what it gets wrong. Even looking past the obvious flaws in UI, story, and dialogue, the frustrating gameplay loop left me drained after each firefight and dreading the next room of fifty enemies waiting around the corner. When your game is all about looting new guns to shoot enemies, that is not a winning formula. My time with Outriders felt like a burdensome chore, and one I won’t be returning to any time soon.