Developed By: People Can Fly
Published By: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S & X, Google Stadia & PC
Reviewed On: PS5
Outriders comes from the same studio which created Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgement and after the demo showing last month, the full game was released on April 1st. Much was said about the transparency and openness of the developers in handling the technical issues that were plaguing users with the demo but a lot of people, myself included did wonder if the full release was going to be a step up and really deliver on the promise the demo did.
I was probably the only one among my peers to see something in the Outriders demo. My squadmates really did not take to the experience and foresaw that it was going to be another Anthem situation. Thanks to Bandai Namco Entertainment Asia we managed to get a review code and I took the journey across Enoch. Outriders managed to be exactly what I thought it was going to be and I had a solid time with it and as usual, I will do my best to explain in this review why that is.
A Brand New Civilization
Outriders is set in a time where Earth has reached the breaking point and is dying. World leaders and the brightest minds on the planet came together to find humanity’s next home. Two ships were built, the Caravel and S.M Flores that will bring a finite amount of humans to Enoch, a planet that is expected to be very close to Earth’s habitable ecosystem. The population is put in cryosleep due to the long journey with the Outriders being the first awoken upon reaching Enoch. The Outriders are basically the frontier men and women who will be the first on Enoch to ascertain its viability before the rest of the colony is established on the planet. A freak anomaly storm then hits that kills or infects members of the Outriders team with an unknown affliction which forces them back into cryo while a cure can be found. The hero the players create wakes up 30 years later on Enoch only to find that humankind have fractured and the promise of hope and a new beginning is long gone replaced with only death and survival.
I really like the story in Outriders more than I thought I would. I mean it starts out in typical fashion and even during the demo I boldly claimed I already knew the twist and that Enoch was Earth all along, but I am so glad I was wrong. One of the most important things for me in games is the level of world-building that goes into them. It is either something just passable or like in this case, there clearly was an effort from the developers to really flesh out the universe the story is set in and I really appreciated that a lot. However, that comes with investment from the player as the game is interested more in moving forward (sometimes too fast for its own good) so to fill in the gaps, players will collect notes that are compiled in the journal section of the menu for easy reading. The journal entries can be very overwhelming to read and even I wanted to disregard them in the beginning but they ended up being worthwhile. There is so much clarity, backstory, and even hilarious backgrounds to certain characters that it really is a disservice not to read up on it. I do wish though that moving forward the developers find a way to strike a better balance with in-game storytelling and journal entries.
It took me around 30+ hours to finish the main and all side quests possible so it was a pretty meaty campaign which I never felt overstayed its welcome. It remains to see how much of that I can cut down with other classes to level them up.
A Second Chance
As good as the ambition for the story is though the game really is let down by the budget or issues due to COVID-19 affecting development. The production values, graphics and sound mixing is just inconsistent. I cannot really speak to how it looks on the PC but on the PS5 the HDR and lighting in general really is one of the poorest implementations in a game I have ever seen. There is only one brightness slider to try and adjust it, but I could just never get it right. I mean it’s just so bizarre as well as sometimes during gameplay the particle effects and certain sections of the game can look really good but most times (especially during cutscenes) it looks washed out for no reason and light sources don’t look natural at all.
Speaking of cutscenes as well, as positive as I want to be the production values for them is quite subpar. Apart from the lighting and voice synchronization issues that were present in the demo, some cutscenes do not play correctly or every scene change rolls in like it was made using PowerPoint. I know that sounds harsh, but I really wish it were not so. For some reason as well the team felt it was necessary to keep every single introductory cutscene for vendors, so you have to keep recycling through them the whole time. I might even have an issue with zone transition cutscenes, but I know that is probably for the benefit of last-gen console owners.
Sound mixing is also another point of contention for me. Powers and guns sound good for the most part but everything else can feel so muted in the background. I do enjoy the soundtrack by Inon Zur but why does it feel relegated in the background, especially on some setups. I am not sure if the game is trying to auto-detect the audio setup and just running with it but it would be great if we could also have some settings to tweak for the best experience possible. I played mostly on my soundbar and when I switched to headphones, I suddenly start hearing a wider range of sounds that I never heard before. I do hope a lot of these issues can be ironed out and improved with time that really would turn this game into a cult classic.
As much as I have an issue with graphically, I do really appreciate the amount of effort that has been put into the different biomes and zones that really make Enoch feel less like just a generic alien locale. As evidenced in my screenshots, there are some really beautiful and interesting imagery going on in this game and I actually cannot wait to see how the team goes from here if they do decide on that.
People Don’t Change
When it comes to the gameplay, I would say that People can Fly took their experience from making Gears of War: Judgement, made it their own thing and it is glorious. There are four classes for players to choose from at the beginning of the game, each with their own distinct abilities. There is the Pyromancer class for midrange battles and strongly associated with fire magic, the Trickster for up-close melee battles and is capable of controlling space and time, the Devastator class which is the tank capable of soaking up tons of damage, and lastly the Technomancer class that is suited for long-range damage and support. Levelling up throughout the game will also provide class points that players will distribute in the class tress that can be reset and reassigned at any point in the game.
Killing enemies and completing quests will also reward players with loot that most players would be familiar with by now. Loot tiers range from Common to Legendary with the distinction of Epic and Legendary loot having two mod slots that can be replaced at one vendor to boost the build players are going for. There is also no restriction on how many Legendaries players can quip so one can go nuts. There is quite a substantial number of quests in the game which are divided into side quests, Assassinations, Hunts and Historical items. The loot drops itself is further affected by the World Tier system that ranges from level 1 being the lowest and level 15 being the highest. Raising the World Tier is simple as the more enemies you kill the more experience you get which contributes to getting to the next level. There is a catch though that if you die your World Tier bar will drop ever so slightly so before you go dying multiple times to a difficult section just do yourself a favour and drop a World Tier.
I really felt that the difficulty balance in the game was tuned almost perfectly in how it really does make the player take a step back, re-spec and try out other builds to push the limits of how far they can go. The only issue I have is how some bosses or enemy types really need to be re-tuned as they can be a nightmare to deal with especially on higher World Tiers like the Shaman Warlord. Damage mitigation can be handled but good lord can they get spongey. In total there will be around 17 zones that players will be battling through to reach the end of the game and that is not even including the Expeditions mode that will open after finishing the main quest. Expeditions are timed missions that players can attempt solo or with a full team to complete in a set amount of time to get a ton of loot. That mode itself also has its own World Tier to push higher and higher to get to the final boss which is quite a challenge to accomplish.
I really enjoyed how different each class feels from each other and the ability to re-spec and readjust easily also makes the addictive gameplay better. However good the gameplay is there are issues that were present in the demo and still has not been fixed to this day. One of the biggest would be just signing into the game. For a game that is described as not a GAAS just getting into it can be annoying. Some players can get stuck on the “Signed IN” screen for a very long time before getting in but luckily using the PS5 activity cards lets me circumvent that problem somewhat easier. Also playing with other people is not at a stable place yet right now. Matchmaking with random people can result in bad connections which when coupled with hectic gameplay can be a really frustrating experience. Even when playing with friends the connection issues is not great. An example would be on the first time I connected to a friend it was flawless, then when the game just suddenly booted me out, reconnecting gave me a poor connection that never went away. I do understand that the developers have been very transparent and forthcoming about solving these issues and I do hope it comes sooner rather than later.
What I Liked
- Story – The story really surprised me with the level of background world-building, humour as well as dark places it went to. It’s not the best place it could be but I appreciate the effort.
- Gameplay – The gameplay is just so damn addictive. Running solo or with a squad, the battles just get so hectic but so satisfying
What I Wished Was Better
- Damage Sponges / Cheap Attacks – Some enemy types are just pain in the asses. The Shaman being one of them or even the flying enemies are just straight-up assholes.
- Characters – I like how there is a lot of characters players meet throughout the story with some getting more attention than others and also risks being taken with some of them ultimately, I always find myself wishing a lot of the backstory in the journals were brought to the forefront as well.
- Technical / Production Issues – There are several things that need to be fixed with the biggest being the network/server issues. If the developers can get that working that is fantastic. The production level especially in cutscenes needs an improvement moving forward.
We Lose Everything In The End, Maybe This Is How It’s Supposed To Be
Outriders managed to be exactly how I expected it to be, surprising at some points and disappointing in others. Unfortunately, Anthem will always be the benchmark with looter shooters like this moving forward and everyone will always be asking the question if it is pulling an Anthem. Marvel’s Avengers was unfortunately one of those games that has a lot of potential, but it’s just straight-up hampered by incredibly repetitive mission design that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be fixed in the near future. Honestly, if the gameplay of Outriders combined with Anthem’s production values happened, this game can absolutely be considered the heir to the throne. In its current state, there are issues and inconsistencies but the core gameplay loop is one of the more fun and addictive of recent years for the looter shooter genre. I am pulling for it and am definitely staying in Enoch as long as there still is something worth staying for.