games / Previews

Outriders Preview

February 14, 2020 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris

Recently, 411mania was on hand for an early gameplay preview of the new upcoming Square Enix release, Outriders. Developed by People Can Fly, Outriders is a new, upcoming co-op shooter RPG. Basically, it’s an online co-op third-person shooter that People Can Fly says is meant to have deep RPG mechanics. There are definite shades and ideas with Outriders, a brand-new video game IP, that resemble Destiny and Mass Effect Andromeda, but it also has a dark, rough post-apocalyptic edge to it, almost like Mad Max on another planet.

Square Enix invited me personally to check out the game on behalf of 411 for a special advanced gameplay preview in Los Angeles. The gameplay demo essentially had two sections: a solo prologue and then a portion of the multiplayer campaign. For the preview event, the People Can Fly developers explained this was not a pre-prepped show demo. Rather, it was an actual build of the game straight from the studio. As such, there were a few bugs in the gameplay experience. For example, when it was time to move to a new screen and area, it wouldn’t always load properly, and the game would take you to a screen of the player character probably standing idly around when it should be moving into a cutscene or the loading screen.

Also, the preview demo did have multiple crashes and connection losses. Thankfully, the demo was good at saving progress, so the developers were able to restart the gameplay so items and progression were not massively lost. Considering this did appear to be an early build of the game rather than a show floor demo, hopefully these are minor bugs that are not prevalent when the final product releases.

Before diving into the playable portion of the event, the staff at People Can Fly ran the attendees through an introductory presentation on Outriders, describing it as an “original, dark and desperate sci-fi universe.” Humanity is on the edge of extinction. The last vestiges of mankind have evacuated to the stars after the Earth was no longer habitable.

The last salvation for mankind is the alien world Enoch. Players will take the role of their own Outrider they will customize and create (both male and female options). The Outriders are essentially an elite class of advance exploration scouts for the planet Enoch. In the solo portion of the demo, the advance party of an interstellar ark lands on Enoch to gather data and do reconnaissance. Essentially, the advance Outrider party is looking for a safe place for the ark containing Earth’s last survivors to settle.

This is where the premise starts out a bit like Mass Effect Andromeda, where there’s an ark traveling the stars to find a new home and planet to colonize. However, the situation is a lot more desperate. Here, the people who have left Earth did so because there was no other choice. There is hope among this group, but it’s very much a Hail Mary play. Dialogue, cutscenes and codex entries suggest that just getting off Earth was a by the skin of your teeth effort, and many innocent souls perished. Two arks containing a fraction of humanity’s population traveled to Enoch, but one was already lost in the process.

The introductory prologue segment sets the player up with active tutorial segments to show players the gist of the gameplay. There’s some minor exploration elements and also a tutorial section on the shooter combat. After retrieving some satellite data, something goes wrong. The Outrider party suggests to the mission brass not to land the ark, but jerk in charge refuses to listen. However, this is when the game sort of started to feel like Anthem. Enoch is plagued by these alien storms called the “Anomaly.” It vaporizes one of the player Outrider’s comrades and seemingly infects the others. The mission brass want to quarantine the advance Outrider party by executing them, and this brings the game to its first sort of boss fight. While seemingly battling this strange new infection caused by the storm on Enoch, the player Outrider is placed into cryostasis and not wakened until years later.

Upon awakening, the player is thrust into a world that’s gone mad. The Outrider has been asleep for 31 years. In that time, the remaining humans have descended into tribal barbarism. The Outrider wakes up to see a hellish, brutal wasteland, and suddenly, it looks like Mad Max on another planet. At this point, the Outrider’s special powers kick in. The exposure to the Anomaly storm grants the Outrider with special powers, and from there is when the co-op segments kick in.

From there, a team of three Outriders has to fight their way out of the Wasteland and make their way to a bunker. One of the factions of remaining humans is led by Shira, one of the scientists for the initial landing party, who isn’t too happy to see the player is still alive. One of the Outrider’s old friends, Yakob, is still alive, so the next mission is to go and save Yakob. From here, the player takes a route from the hub base to free Yakob from his imprisonment.

The next section offers more details on what’s been happening since the Outrider has been asleep. The humans are stuck in a valley due to the Anomaly storms. They appear to randomly either kill people who are exposed or alter them and grant them special. The game is scheduled to launch with four player classes for your Outrider character. Three were available to play in the demo: Pyromancy, which has fire-based abilities; Trickster, which has reality-time/space-warping powers; and Devastator, which has ground and rock based powers.

The fourth player class will be revealed later on. Each class its own pros and cons. My personal favorite for the demo was Trickster because it appeared the most versatile with its starting ability set. The Trickster class can slow down enemies with a giant shockwave attack, and there’s an ability to teleport. There’s a running melee attack for this class that basically resembles the Titan Smash from Destiny and can take out multiple enemies. Pyromancy is fairly self-explanatory. The attacks did damage, but they aren’t quite as good for spreading around to multiple enemies at once like with Trickster.

After rescuing Yakob, there’s a bit of a stronger sense of navigating through the hub area for the players. The developers at People Can Fly definitely mess around with some modern gameplay tropes. At one point, it appears a sidequest opens up to meet a mysterious vendor, who is about to show the Outrider some “good stuff.” Rather than a whole sidequest branch opening up, the would-be sidequest ends rather unceremoniously. Outriders appears to have a very dark, rough edge to it. Rather than the game giving players an option to spare someone or not, it often takes a much more direct, darker path. It doesn’t appear that Outriders is set in a world that will be offering players a lot of “Paragon” options. Rather than wasting time to decide whether or not a prisoner will be executed or spared, the prisoner just gets executed without a fuss.

The combat and controls remind me the most of The Division. There’s a run and gun, cover-based shooting style. Of course, there’s a bit of Destiny in there with the team squad dynamics and special abilities. Each ability class also has its own skill tree. Within the skill tree are three different builds for which players can distribute their skill points. Players will not be able to unlock every skill, so they will have to pick and choose which ones they want. However, based on some exploration of the menus, it appears you are free to reset and redistribute your skill points whenever you wish.

There’s a definite looter shooter aspect to the gameplay as well. As you make your way through the different levels and combat engagements, enemies will drop new gear and weapons. There were a few different types to choose from in the demo, including a shotgun and a heavy machine gun. It appears the really good, high-level and legendary weapons are only available later.

The developers present during the gameplay preview were adamant that Outriders will not have any type of lootbox features. That includes any type of in-game purchases. So, at they very least, they are promising no lootboxes, no pay-to-win and no micro-transactions. That said, the grinding aspects that are often present in looter shooters definitely appear to be there, not to mention the tedium of random loot drops.

As players progress through Outriders, they will be able to continue customizing their gear and guns. Guns are mod-dble, and there looks to be a lot of mixing and matching for the gear too. The gear loadout reminds me a bit more of The Division than Destiny.

In the final mission for the demo, the three-person team of Outriders is sent in to take out a brutal enemy altered soldier. In the process of this quest, there’s a side-quest players can take part in. So, while there are co-op missions with a boss fight, within these missions are side-quests the team can take part in before they proceed to the final boss. People Can Fly wanted to imbue Outriders with “deep RPG systems” for the experience. The ideas seem interesting, but I’m curious to see how this format will work further in the final product.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the games-as-service online shooter experience. Early on, I was an early adopter of Destiny and The Division. But after a while, I grew somewhat bored of those titles and how repetitive and cyclical they became. Outriders, while it is a a seemingly hodgepodge of many different gameplay styles and titles, doest at least have a few things going for it. While the premise isn’t wholly original, it does seem very committed to having a rough, dark and bleak edge to its experience. I found some of the ways it subverted a game cliches and tropes rather clever and refreshing.

Overall, the combat and controls were fairly functional after a quick learning curve. I played the PC version using an Xbox controller, and the controls were fairly responsive. That said, I’m not that huge a fan of the looter shooter dynamic and the bullet sponge type of style. That said, the way the game is set up, it looks like there will be a fair amount of content to keep the players busy with its PvE campaign. At this point, while I wouldn’t rate the game must-buy or pre-order now, I would be willing to give it a further look and check out the final product.

Outriders is currently in development for a holiday release for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and and Windows PC via Steam.

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Outriders, Jeffrey Harris