Republished on Wednesday, 15th February, 2023: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of February 2023's PS Plus Extra and Premium lineup. The original text follows.
You know what? Outriders is pretty good. Torn apart during our first impressions piece based on the demo, the final version proves developer People Can Fly hadn't put its best foot forward during those opening hours. It's still that same style of game, but the Polish studio cunningly saved a few tricks up its sleeve for the full experience. And while it's not without blemishes — uninteresting characters and the requirement of a constant Internet connection prove especially troublesome — Outriders provides an impressively tempting alternative to the looter shooters some have come to know and love.
At first glance, though, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's an otherworldly knock-off of The Division 2. Both are third-person, cover-based looter shooters. However, that cover isn’t for you. It's for the enemy. This fundamentally changes how Outriders plays, where cowering behind a piece of rubble is more likely to get you killed than anything else. The game thrives when you do the complete opposite and take the fight to the enemy with flamboyant abilities and feel-good gunplay — staying rooted to the spot is essentially a death wish. It's the power fantasy done right.
In fact, People Can Fly's follow-up to Bulletstorm (and the Save the World campaign for Fortnite, but we’ll forget about that) really is all about the feel. Four different classes feel distinct, each equipped with their own skills and roles during combat. The Trickster is all about getting up close and personal with the inhabitants of Enoch thanks to abilities based on speed and quick-fire attacks, while the Pyromancer uses fire to their advantage and operates slightly further back on the battlefield. The Devastator then plays the role of the tank and the Technomancer is designed as more of a support class at long range.
It's here where Outriders sets itself apart from other looter shooters, because Outriders is what Destiny 2 would feel like if you didn’t have to wait minutes for your super to charge. Oh, and you essentially have three of them equipped at once. With cooldowns in the mere seconds, all your abilities can be used liberally to take down enemies. It feels awesome, simply put. The Trickster class really puts that into perspective with a dash that teleports you behind an enemy, a time-limited bubble can then be activated to catch bullets, and an extremely stylish spin named Cyclone Slice that leaves weaker foes to waste. All of them can be activated within the space of a few seconds, and then you’ll have access to them all over again less than half a minute later. We return to the compliment once more: Outriders feels great to play.
The same can be said for gunplay, which is the other half of the equation once your abilities have been set in motion. The typical machine guns, shotguns, and rifles litter the loot pool, but they all pack a punch no matter whether they're common or the best of the best. What keeps combat fresh is a good amount of enemy variety, with new takes introduced at a rapid pace. Humans will constantly try to flank and overwhelm you with their sheer numbers while other species make a beeline for your position in an attempt to deal as much damage as quickly as possible. You never encounter too much of one enemy type before another changes up the approach, forcing you to stay on your toes.
Tying the two mechanics together is, perhaps surprisingly, your health meter. You'll never automatically regenerate HP during the 20 to 25-hour romp through the campaign, which in turn places a huge emphasis on each class' ability to get it back. You recover health by defeating enemies — the Trickster class does it by beating up foes at close range while the Pyromancer gets some back by killing those set on fire. It's why you're not going to get very far hiding behind cover. You need to be aggressive simply in order to stay alive, actively engaging the enemy at all times to get your health back. It sets up a bit of a give and take: you'll likely lose health by leaving cover, but the reward at the end of your risky venture trumps all. An intriguing mechanic that works well and further boosts Outriders' attempt to feel unique.
The game starts to slip, however, when its story and cast of characters come to the forefront. The narrative set-up is actually quite interesting: with Earth deemed uninhabitable far in the future, the human race finds a new home on another planet named Enoch. Dubbed a haven for life, it turns out to be anything but upon arrival. Fast forward 31 years after the player-created protagonist is awoken from cryo statis and it quickly becomes your job to find a way for the human race to survive in this alien world.
What follows is serviceable enough, but the characters fuelling the plot are awful. The protagonist is incredibly one-note and the supporting cast range from generic to putrid. Some pretty bad voice work probably doesn't help the matter, but then that can't even begin to accommodate for the wild mood swings of certain characters which don’t make a whole lot of sense. Other faces are all but forgotten about partway through the story while head honchos for the opposing forces aren't really built up at all. Its commitment to constantly introducing new and varied environments to explore is appreciated, but definitely don't play Outriders for its narrative.
We would prefer to experience it instead of not playing the game at all, however. People Can Fly has shipped its latest project with the requirement of a consistent Internet connection, which has led to many server outages in the handful of days since launch. We expect it to become less of a problem as time passes, but we simply cannot ignore the amount of frustration the prerequisite introduced during our time with the game. There were stretches when we simply could not play for hours on end — even when the US was asleep. Losing progress and loot in the process, it creates a situation where we can't fully trust we'll be able to see a mission through to its conclusion even outside of peak hours. You can't even play offline by yourself with a closed lobby, calling into question why the requirement exists at all. Again, we expect this situation to improve, but there's always going to be that niggling worry in the back of our minds. The problem reared its ugly head far too many times for us to disregard it.
But here's something you can ignore in a positive light: Outriders doesn't have microtransactions and it won't fall into the Games as a Service category according to People Can Fly. It's designed as a one and done experience that has an endgame for those who want more. You can play every single piece of content it has to offer on your own — matchmaking is never required to start a mission or harder activity. There is always the option of playing the entire game with up to two friends, however. It's honestly refreshing to play a game of this ilk in the knowledge that we won't have to commit the next five years of our life to it.
Those endgame quests are dubbed Expeditions, and after spending a few hours getting to grips with them, they prove enjoyable. Essentially a Time Attack mode, completing the 14 missions will net you better rewards should you beat certain parameters. And that's where legendary weapons and armour come into play. The endgame offering isn't on the same level as a Destiny 2, but they'll definitely have hardcore players coming back for second helpings. It's at least a lot more comprehensive than anything ANTHEM had to offer post-campaign, for example.
The visuals aren't really a big talking point for Outriders either — there are some nice skyboxes here and there but this isn't the next PlayStation 5 showpiece. The game doesn't take advantage of the DualSense controller whatsoever while bugs and glitches create further imperfections. Objectives don't always trigger correctly, meaning you'll have to quit out of the game and repeat combat sections. Quest markers then sometimes don't update or are unreliable while random crashes back to the PS5 home screen occurred when trying to team up with friends.
Outriders absolutely excels when it lets combat, solid gunplay, and supremely satisfying abilities do the talking. Its unique blend of aggression really is something to behold in action. Rubbish characters, the requirement to maintain an online connection and couple with servers, and various technical hitches hold it back from greatness, but they don't muddy the picture so much to dissuade a recommendation. Outriders is pretty class in motion.