Outriders (Xbox Series S) Review

Outriders may not be the most polished or next-gen looking game, with many gameplay elements feeling older still. However, the fun weapon- and power-based combat, coupled with generous loot drops and robust crafting mechanics, make for a compelling cooperative looter-shooter.
Outriders Header

Despite lifting the foul-mouthed and stupid characters from Bulletstorm, the 3-power mechanic from Borderlands, cover-based gunplay from Gears of War, mutant battles from Lost Planet, and the loot system from Diablo, Outriders still offers two things many modern looter-shooters fail to provide: a steady sense of progression and respect for the player’s time. 

In a single playthrough, Outriders’ wants you to blast through the story (preferably with friends), get tons of loot, and use the robust crafting system to play around with dozens of builds. Once you’re done with the campaign, there’s an extensive Expeditions-based end-game to tackle, with an even greater focus on improving and perfecting your favourite loadout. Better still, this end-game system is already in place – not some vague post-launch promise or locked behind a season pass. 

However, Outriders is also a game that feels slightly out of time. Many gameplay elements, especially the level design and combat arenas, feel like they come from the end of the Xbox 360/PS3 era, while the visuals rarely scream next-gen.

Outriders dev: You’ve played for 6 hours, have an epic piece of loot.
Destiny fan: Are you sure, I mean, I could grind for another 10?
Outriders dev: We insist. We want you to play around with diverse builds and tactics.
Destiny fan: But… if you make me grind for another 5 hours it will mean more value?
Outriders dev: Can’t you just enjoy the weapon- and power-based combat?
Destiny fan: Maybe I can give you more money for it?

People Can Fly want the players to appreciate the world and lore they’ve created. Unfortunately, this results in a particularly dull prologue – which you can mercifully skip in subsequent playthroughs – and an unremarkable first chapter that limits your weapon and power choices (given your low character level and world-tier). In fact, for the genre, Outriders has an absurd amount of lore to read through but none of it is essential to understand the plot.

Stick with it, however, and you’ll soon forget those slow opening hours as you settle into a nice rhythm of picking up missions, following the quest marker, using cover to get close to enemies, tearing into them with a mix of firearms and powers, then mopping up the dropped loot and assessing if it can boost your character.

You get to play through the opening hours of Enoch’s colonisation in a prologue packed with lore but little excitement.

Outriders’ takes place a hundred years into the future after a mix of natural and manmade disasters render the Earth uninhabitable. An ark ship, the S.M. Flores, arrives at Enoch seven decades later with 500,000 survivors in cryo. The initial landings swiftly devolve into chaos when the titular Outriders – a militarised group dedicated to scouting for new settlements and resources – encounter a mysterious signal, deadly fungus, and a violent energy storm that were not detected in initial scans. 

Your character – male or female with some basic customisation options – is placed back into cryo to survive life-threatening wounds, only to wake up 31-years later and discover humanity is back to doing what they do best, killing each other over limited resources. The colonisation efforts did not go to according to plan since the anomaly storms have wrecked most technology. It is now up to you to assist your old teammates against the insurgents, discover the source of the signal you encountered decades before, and find a new home for the survivors away from the anomaly storms. 

There are a surprising number of narrative beats and frequent cutscenes in Outriders, so it is a pity most characters – including your protagonist – are all broadly unlikeable, and not always in a self-aware way like in Bulletstorm. The game switches between gleeful irreverence and grim fatalism from scene to scene, with a big reveal around the two-thirds mark, shrugged off by most of your team despite massive implications.  

Outriders’ doesn’t put its best foot forward, but soon you’ll be travelling through diverse environments across Enoch on the hunt for the mysterious signal, with many violent diversions on the way.

Thankfully, saving the remnants of humanity is made considerably easier thanks to your newfound elemental powers and enhanced survivability – unexpected benefits of being one of the few to come into contact with the anomaly storms, not disintegrate, and emerge as an “altered”. As your character gains levels, you gain new powers and perks in addition to new gear.

There are four classes to choose from that will dictate your playstyle. The Devastator is a close-range tank, with earth- and gravity-based abilities for crowd control. The Pyromancer is a mid-range conjurer with a focus on fire. The Trickster is also built for close-range but focuses on hit-and-run tactics with spacetime powers to slow and trap enemies. Finally, there is the Technomancer, a long-range character that relies on supporting gadgets, poison, and ice powers.

The way powers synergise – within the same class, with other class skills, and with gear – make for a compelling metagame that adds depth to the otherwise rote cover-based third-person shooter formula. When you factor in multiplayer, generous loot drops, and complex crafting, Outriders is a game that encourages the player to experiment with build diversity and team play, rather than repetitively grinding activities for the exact gear they want.

Each class has a subdivided skill tree, giving players further build options (and it can be reset, without penalty, at any time).

Basic cover-shooter mechanics – that have changed little since 2006’s Gears of War – form the foundation of Outriders: move between cover, pop out to empty a clip into approaching enemies, prioritise threats like charging melee attackers and long-range snipers. However, once you’ve got a few powers under your belt and come to grips with the fact healing is tied to dealing damage, gameplay becomes far more flexible and fluid.

Using cover is still essential against any human foe with a firearm, but most enemy types – grenadiers, anomaly-infused “captains” (think elites), and powerful altered insurgents (think bosses) – excel at flushing you out. Staying on the move, alternating between single-target high-damage or AOE powers, managing cooldowns, and constantly doling out damage will keep you alive. The range you engage at is dependent on your class, but all weapon types are available regardless, giving solo players the versatility they need.

The difficulty is governed by the “world-tier” – which adjusts maximum enemy and gear levels, as well as loot drop rates – that you can either toggle to stay at the max unlocked tier or adjust manually (at any point). Gaining XP in the highest world-tier slowly unlocks the next one, with deaths subtracting from your XP gain. Difficulty feels balanced, even when playing solo, up until world-tier 10 – so long as you’re constantly swapping out for higher-level gear. Once you hit world-tier 10 – which brings with it a steady stream of Epic gear from elites, bosses, and quest rewards – world-tier 11-15 feel skewed towards multiplayer.

In the opening hours, before you’ve unlocked numerous powers and high-tier gear, combat plays out like a typical cover-shooter – just chunkier, with a ton of gore.

In Outriders, weapons and gear follow the familiar tier-system – common, unusual, rare, epic, and legendary – each offering higher base stats and more modification slots. Any modification found on a weapon can be added to your crafting pool when you dismantle it and used to replace a modification slot on another weapon. The same applies to armour pieces. However, you can only modify one of the two slots on high-tier weapons, so some RNG is present if you’re looking for the perfect combination.

Given the basic crafting material required to make these changes is abundant – and high-tier loot is dropped more generously than other games in the genre – you have ample opportunity to play around with different weapons types, multiple firing modes, and power-altering modifications during a single playthrough. You can even raise the level and rarity-tier (up to epic) using crafting resources, but I found this was best saved for the end-game as you’ll rapidly get higher-tier loot drops throughout the campaign.

It is only when you find yourself requiring titanium – for levelling up epic and legendary gear – that the crafting system begins to feel restrictive and geared toward end-game expeditions with greater rewards. At launch, the Expeditions offer 15 missions – set in unique locations with a minor narrative component – with its own tier system, pushing the maximum gear level up to 50. In addition to tier-related rewards, completing expeditions quickly will get you a gold, silver, or bronze rating. This strikes a good balance between punishing difficulty and optimising your run for maximum speed when hunting epic and legendary gear.

I just hope more looter-shooters learn from Outriders fantastic crafting system. You’ll quickly learn not to hold onto your favourite guns and armour, rather dismantling them to add abilities to newer gear.

Unfortunately, Outriders is not without its flaws. First up, you could criticise the visuals. The opening chapters, in particular, feel distinctly last-gen (maybe even late 6th gen), both in terms of scene complexity and animations but later environments are far more diverse and visually impressive. That said, presentation is the least of Outriders concerns. It aims and mostly achieves 60fps on the next-gen consoles, the controls are fluid, and important visual information is clearly displayed to the player. The voice work is solid, albeit saddled with awful writing, and the music is bombastic during battles but mostly unmemorable.

Outriders biggest problem is the world structure and level design that feels pulled straight out of 2006. Gears of War demonstrated how hard it is to create a believable word when 50% of it is chest-high walls and Outriders suffers the same problem. Sure, the environments are massive, often contain striking landmarks, and playing cooperatively highlights the multiple paths available for different classes, but when they’re all connected by transition areas (that you can just skip?) the world doesn’t feel as cohesive as it should.

Going hand in hand with the world design is the quest design: enter an area, travel to an arena, kill everything, travel to the next arena, kill everything and an elite/boss, trigger cutscene, quest complete. It’s a double-edged sword as a string of shorter missions make Outriders a distinctly moreish experience, perfect for multiplayer sessions but becoming increasingly repetitive for solo players. At least every mission is rewarding – doling out loot and experience – so every session is bookended by modifying and equipping new gear.

Wow… I wonder what’s about to happen next?

Outriders’ straddles an awkward middle ground. On one hand, you’ve got an enjoyable weapon- and power-based third-person looter-shooter, that’s great in co-op, packing a generous loot system, robust crafting mechanics, and extensive end-game. On the other hand, you have distinctly dated level design, repetitive quest structure, variable presentation, and the seemingly pointless always-online requirement that has caused more trouble than it’s worth.

That said, I’ve happily sunk a ton of time into Outriders over the last week, trying to complete the extensive campaign and a few Expedition runs. Ultimately, it’s a lot of fun and while it may lack polish in certain areas, it has more soul than the majority of looter-shooters that attempt to convince you tedious grinding is worth your time.

Outriders Review

Outriders Review
7 10 0 1
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    6/10 Normal
    There's a ton of lore and an intriguing central mystery, but the bland writing and tonal whiplash make for a jarring experience.
  • Gameplay
    9/10 Amazing
    The highlight of Outriders is the excellent coop-focused combat and an engaging crafting system.
  • Visuals
    6/10 Normal
    Outriders can look great at times, but there are rough spots, wonky animations, and an abundance of chest-high walls that destroy any sense of immersion.
  • Audio
    7/10 Good
    Guns and powers sound impactful, the soundtrack is bombastic albeit unmemorable, and there's decent voice work making the best of a rubbish script.

The Good

  • Fun, tactical combat system that blends weapon and powers effortlessly
  • Plenty of content to tackle in the campaign and a well-developed end-game
  • Generous loot drops and an engaging crafting system

The Bad

  • Dated gameplay elements and world design
  • Visuals and animations can look rough at times
Total
9
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