Outriders Demo Impressions – Great Fun Despite Itself

Outriders is an upcoming third person looter-shooter, developed by People Can Fly and Square Enix and also published by Square Enix. If the developer, People Can Fly, rings a bell then that’s probably because they were heavily involved in the Gears of War franchise prior to Xbox acquiring the license from EPIC in 2018. They co-developed Gears of War 2, 3, and fully developed Gears of War: Judgement. Outriders, likely as a direct result, looks, feels, and plays like an offshoot from Xbox’s cover based shooter. I’ve put 8-10 hours into the demo and have completed it on every class, so I’m here to share my first impressions of Outriders!

First Impressions Matter

Outriders, much like it’s Xbox cousin, is primarily a third-person cover based shooter. It also happens to share the same mature approach, with guts and expletives out as often as you’d expect. You’d be forgiven, on first impressions, if you thought that Outriders was simply a Gears of War rip-off; albeit a lower budget one. 

Despite being co-developed by Square Enix and despite having the Outriders development team more than quadrupled in size early on, there’s no doubt that Outriders is a lower budget experience. Don’t worry, I’ll get into why I genuinely had a great time with Outriders soon, but I should talk about the problems here. The intro to Outriders, which you can thankfully skip on subsequent characters, is mostly cinematics and personal conversation with fellow Outriders. For the purpose of this demo, I do wonder if the prologue needed to be included. 

Perhaps it’ll be better in the final retail version of Outriders, but the prologue just highlighted the bits that aren’t as good in the game super early. Kinda just put them front and centre, which might tarnish the game early for those not willing to stick it out. Unfortunately for Outriders, most of the ‘production’ aspects are lacking. Things like cutscenes are fairly janky, with a decent amount of stutter. The awkward fade in and outs of cutscenes constantly cut dialogue off, resulting in a disjointed feeling narrative early on. 

Most of the dialogue is poorly animated, with lip syncing quite frankly nowhere near what’s coming out of the characters mouths, and can be quite jarring if you notice it. On that same note, the voice acting is suspect almost across the board. The best performances, from your character and the main supporting cast, aren’t even particularly consistent either. 

Early on, especially in the prologue, I noticed weird lighting issues, flickering, and general texture issues more often that I’d like. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the demo version of Outriders is the version that will arrive in player’s hands on April 1st. But it’s likely pretty close, so the ‘rough around the edges’ areas of the game could well remain that way. In a similar vein to some of the above, I found the game’s constant need to pull you out of the action extremely jarring. Mini cutscenes for every simple action like opening a door, climbing a small ridge, or jumping a gap. I’m not sure if it’s to disguise some loading, but I’m used to games with as little loading as possible by now and this isn’t that.

Fortunately the genuine load screens are rapid, barely a few seconds. The rest of Outriders performs well too, running a ‘slightly too much motion blur’ 60fps. There’s no quality options in the demo for Outriders, so I can only assume that they’ll be included in the final game, but what you get is native 4K and 60fps gameplay on both PS5 and Series X. As of right now, most outlets are reporting more stable frame rates on the PS5, but the slight drops on the Series X do not affect gameplay in any way. Obviously, People Can Fly are targeting 60fps on pretty much any PC in the last decade, and you can investigate that more yourself as things will change based on your specs. 

Cutscenes on console are wildly inconsistent when it comes to frame rate, and I don’t think I made it through one without seeing some kind of hitch or stutter. I’m confident that the Outriders team will clean this up before launch though – as the final date is still two months away. I only hope they can tackle the facial animations and intermittent load cutscenes. But that’s enough about the complaints I have about Outriders, let’s get onto the good stuff.

Gear, Guts, and Gore

To start at the beginning, the narrative set up for Outriders is fairly intriguing. You are an Outrider, part of a group of mercenaries that made it onto the final shuttle leaving a destroyed and uninhabitable earth. You and the rest of the Outriders are tasked, after a long journey in space of course, with exploring the planet Enoch and establishing the first habitat for the thousands of people asleep in cryo. That’s where the game starts, and things go downhill from there. Turns out the forecasts for the planet weren’t entirely accurate, and a mysterious storm quickly whips up and erases almost the entirety of the Outriders. A little dash of mutiny here, some death there, and you get stuffed back into cryo until things are back to normal. 

You get rudely awoken 31 years later, and thrown into a completely different version of Enoch. As it turns out, the valley you land in is surrounded by an “Anomaly” that traps the people there. Any attempt to leave results in the storm tearing them apart or, in rare cases, granting people near immortality and bonafide super powers; dubbed “Altered”. Which, of course, the lead character now possesses. Multiple factions and gangs control parts of the demo world, and in the few hours of gameplay you get you’re tasked with clearing the nearby battlefields and re-opening a supply route. As it turns out, the Outriders were all killed trying to leave the valley and you’re pretty much the last remaining survivor. No pressure. 

That’s about the gist of the setup for Outriders and even though it’s not hugely imaginative, it manages to be interesting enough to actively engage in. On my first run through the demo I made sure to talk to anyone I could to find out more about what was happening. Given that looter-shooters often launch with narratives barely worth mentioning (looking at you Destiny 1) I’ll give credit where it’s due for providing the setup needed to get me invested early. 

Whether or not the story has legs, I’m less confident in predicting. I have trouble seeing how the main lead, escaping the valley, will last the 35 hours that Outriders claims to provide but I’m at least curious to see how it all pans out. Unfortunately that’s about where my interest in the story and characters ends. To put it frankly, I don’t care about any of the cast in the slightest. That might change when the full game releases, but the combination of flat voice acting, poor writing, and hokey animations doesn’t do anything to get me invested in their development. A lot of it feels like lines that didn’t make it to the final script of a Terminator movie, or DID make it into Terminator: Salvation. Either way, not a good comparison. 

Fortunately I don’t see the story, or the writing and acting attached to it, being the deciding factor in my final verdict of Outriders. Because the gameplay slaps. The game will inevitably draw comparisons to Gears of War, if not for the developer attachment then the gameplay. But honestly I think that might be doing Outriders a disservice.

Played solely as a cover based shooter Outriders isn’t particularly entertaining, or even that polished. There were multiple occasions where the game would just refuse to let me take cover and I’d get shot a whole bunch as a result. Other times the mantling simply wouldn’t work, or I’d get stuck. But Outriders shouldn’t be played as a cover based shooter, at least not in its entirety. In many ways the child of Gears of War and Destiny, Outriders is propped up by a robust gear system, excellent classes, and a tangible and complete progression system. Let’s tackle gear first.

Outriders – putting the looter in the shooter.

Loot, or gear, is the easiest thing for a looter-shooter to screw up. The failures from potential titans like Anthem and Marvel’s Avengers are proof enough of that fact. Outriders starts off well by doing the most important thing: gear is cosmetic. Anthem and Avengers made the mistake of splitting cosmetics and power level, meaning that the gear attributed to your power level didn’t change the way you looked. This creates a dysfunction in looters where someone can have an amazing piece of gear, but you wouldn’t know unless you looked at their character screen.

Outriders goes the classic way, and the better way at that, and ties cosmetics and power level together. So every new piece of gear you get will look different (to a point anyway). Legendary weapons look impressively unique versus the standard quality of weapon you can find. This is already a strong start. There’s no word on transmog or fancier cosmetics yet (like skins or the like), so I can’t comment, but as of right now I’m happy with the way that gear affects the way you look.

The next thing that looters screw up is not allowing enough agency for the player to min-max and build out their character for their playstyle. Or, and this might be worse, the game doesn’t give you enough reason to experiment because the gameplay is too easy or too dull. Outriders smashes both of these as well. Not only will your weapons and armour increase your overall power level, the higher level gear will also come complete with perks and modifiers to really spice up your gameplay. There’s worldwide stuff that applies to any character, there’s class specific stuff, and there’s even team-buffing abilities. Anthem specificallqy made the mistake of not going wild enough with its perks and passives, to the point where guns were nearly useless. 

Here’s some of the most interesting perks I’ve seen, most of these I personally haven’t found in the demo but do exist in the game:

  • Activating Slow Trap (a skill) replenishes ammo for the current weapon of all allies in range.
  • Slow Trap – Allies within the sphere receive significantly less damage.
  • Shots bring down lightning onto an enemy (from the legendary AR Thunderbird).
  • Reloading restores a portion of health for each enemy killed since your last reload (from the legendary shotgun Paxian Blessing).
  • Shots regenerate some of your health.
  • Moving grants a significant damage bonus.
  • Swapping weapons grants a fire power bonus.
  • Shots have a chance to deal explosive damage within a small radius.
  • Killing shots have a chance to turn enemies into bombs.

Our other writer Kyle stumbled upon a poison effect assault rifle, and an armour piece that allowed him to use an ability twice before needing to recharge.

These are some of the coolest I’ve seen, via a reddit post on the official reddit in 2020. Some of these are class specific. The first two, relating to Slow Trap, are unique to The Trickster. Obviously legendary gear gets the coolest perks, like the Thunderbird perk above, but it doesn’t end with these. There’s elemental modifiers like Freeze, simple stat buffs, status de-buffs, and more besides. Loot variety and, more importantly, giving the player reasons to engage with that loot is key to a looter-shooter’s long term survival and Outriders is making all of the right steps. 

Drop rate is fairly important as well, and something Anthem dropped the ball on immediately. It shouldn’t take dozens upon dozens of hours to gain a single legendary, and it shouldn’t be immediate either. In my 10 (ish) hours with the demo so far I’ve located one legendary and I haven’t ‘grinded’ for them either. Content creators are already creating guides for the most efficient ways to gain the best gear and this is a good thing; it means the systems are working and they’re working well enough to be intriguing. 

World Tiers

World Tiers are something that seem like an evolution of the difficulty tiers found in something like Diablo 3. Simply put, you’ll start Outriders at World Tier 1 and, after some XP and murdering, you’ll level the world up to Tier 2. This will bring the enemy levels closer to you and increases the likelihood of rare loot by 10%.

The demo allows a maximum world tier of 5, which will increase the loot rarity by 60% from where you start, and increase the legendary drop rate by 25%. It’ll also make enemies 2 levels higher than base; thus making the game more difficult. In the final game, World Tier will go up to fifteen and, judging by the increases we see in the demo, will make the game extremely difficult. Once unlocked, World Tiers can be changed at any given moment; helpful for those who just wanna play the story instead of grinding for gear or wanting something more challenging. 

The World Tier system is another win for Outriders, granting the kind of variety that is crucial for games like these. The harder tiers are there for those who want the best gear or bragging rights, and the lower tiers are there for those who couldn’t care less. It’s a win win. It’s also another carrot for the more dedicated players to chase, and should open up vastly evolved grinding methods down the line.

Interestingly it would seem you can’t progress to the next World Tier unless you’re on the one directly underneath it. I didn’t earn any XP toward World Tier 5 while I was on World Tier 3, for example. I’m unsure whether this is intended, but if so I would guess it’s to prevent players from playing at the lowest level in order to unlock the highest. It’s this sort of thinking that’s actually standing Outriders out from other looters of note; People Can Fly have clearly considered the habits of the players that engage in this sort of experience.

Progression

Looter-shooters are invariably RPGs hidden under fancy words and cool gameplay. Which means skill trees, abilities, and other such shenanigans. With XP driving the progression here, your character is split into gear (covered above), Skills, and ‘Class’.

Skills

Skills are your bound abilities, unique to the class that you pick near the start of the demo. Here are the four classes and their descriptors:

  • Devastator, close range, tank, stand your ground.
  • Trickster, close range, hit & run, spacetime
  • Technomancer, long range, support, gadgets
  • Pyromancer, medium range, conjurer, fire

Each class has access to 8 abilities, unlocked at levels 1, 4, 5, 9, 13, 17, and 22. You can only bind three at any one time, accessible via your shoulder buttons on the console. This is the area that Outriders impressed me the most, and it’s the reason I kept playing the demo when I probably didn’t need to.

Outriders - Which Class Should You Choose? | Attack of the Fanboy
Image Credit to Attack of the Fanboy

Each class feels entirely different, and each skill within that class feels different in the same breath. It’s easy to see how Outriders would be a lot of fun with regular teammates. 

Devastator is the class that makes the game the easiest, in my humble opinion. With an ability that grants 65% damage reduction for a time, and two AoE attacks (one of which can cross arenas in an instance) it’s easy to plough through dozens of enemies without flinching. 

Trickster was probably my favorite, mostly because it reminds me of Vanguard from Mass Effect. There’s a skill that will teleport you to an enemy, and behind them, for a free hit. There’s a short range katana swipe that will literally disintegrate enemies stupid enough to stand in front of you.

Technomancer is probably the most… generic class here, feeling like something ripped out of The Division. Armed with a grenade, turret, and long range missile launcher, this was the class I had most trouble soloing the demo with. It’s the class with the most raw DPS for sure, but also doesn’t have any easy ways of staying alive in a pinch. 

Pyromancer was the class that felt the coolest, mostly because you’re controlling fire? It doesn’t get any cooler than that. It’s also the class that feels most suited to Outriders as a world and concept. With rampant self healing and strong burst damage, this is a character that I had a very fun time with.

I had a hard time wrapping my head around how well People Can Fly and Square Enix have done with the classes in Outriders. Each one made me play differently, no matter the weapon I had. But they also, unlike Anthem, didn’t make the various guns you’ll use feel peripheral or useless in the grand scheme of things. I wasn’t running around just waiting on cooldowns, I was constantly engaging and pushing back. 

Class

The Class Tree could also be referred to as your class specific perks. Each one is unique to the character you’ve picked, but will offer broadly the same progression. There’s three paths, the top is damage, the middle is your ability to survive, and the bottom is the power of your abilities. Each node will offer a stat buff to something, such as 8% increase in weapon damage, or 20% reduction to reload time.

In terms of the demo, the Class Tree was a lot less interesting than the outright skills you could use, but that’s because you can’t progress very far down this tree; I only unlocked one skill point per playthrough. I’m also not 100% sure whether you can unlock every node in a single playthrough, which might yet add more replayability to an already tempting package.

Final Thoughts?

I like Outriders. In fact, I might even like it a lot. From demo impressions it might be the best game of it’s type to launch since the ever monolithic Destiny 2. Anthem and Avengers categorically failed to be engaging looter-shooters/ brawlers, and Outriders is learning from their mistakes. 

Curiously, Outriders isn’t being pitched as a service game. This means that the final game will likely be the only game you get. There’s been no mention of future new classes, or story expansions, or raids, or anything of that ilk. Just a narratively driven looter-shooter. This will be of massive value to anyone that simply doesn’t have the time to keep up with constant updates, season passes, expansions, side quests, and new loot drops. Outriders is promising a 35 hour campaign, complete with cross-play and drop-in/ drop-out multiplayer. That’s it. 

Outriders has multiple progression loops that already have their hooks sunk into me. By the end of this weekend I will have spent more time in a damn demo than I do many full length games. Not only that but the gameplay is a damn blast. Each ability feels satisfying to use, weapons are immediately gratifying (although feedback is a little lacking), and fighting the waves of enemies thrown at me hasn’t got boring. 

I don’t know if Outriders is gonna be brilliant. It’s probably not gonna be GOTY. But my god is it a lot of fun. Enjoy this article? Check out our other reviews here! Alternatively head to our Twitter and Facebook! Until next time, have a fantastic week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *