Outriders New Horizon has given us a new perspective on People Can Fly's multiplayer shooter. Despite the unenviable pressure of that wobbly launch – which, ironically enough, left us feeling like Outriders very much was a live service game, given the fact its servers melted under the strain of expectant players – Outriders proved that at its heart sat a tough and competent looter-shooter, with scope to surprise in all the right ways.
But while I can understand developer People Can Fly's hesitancy in aligning itself with the soiled reputation 'Games as a Service' has generated, I suspect that if all studios approached Outriders' myriad issues as thoughtfully and proactively as the developer has done, the model wouldn't have such a sordid reputation in the first place. Who knows what might have happened had launch day not been so troublesome for the studio, but the Outriders team and its publisher, Square Enix, have managed the situation with a refreshing honesty and a resolute willingness to listen to its players.
Within the first 15 seconds of its reveal trailer, New Horizon, Outriders’ new expansion, will tell you it’s not a live service game. And yet in the next breath, it informs that the team has "constantly updated and improved the player experience and focused (their) attention on the core game to ensure players receive the game they deserve and we intended".
Which certainly sounds like a live service game, right? And a good one, too.
Learn to fly
From an orderly, if candid, press roundtable with lead game designer, Piotr Nowakowski, creative/game director Bartosz Kmita, balance designer Łukasz Osiński, and CMO, Mateusz Kirstein, it's clear People Can Fly is acutely aware of its missteps. The team talks at length about the lessons it learned from its bungled launch, but it also reflects positively – and transparently – on Outriders' future, acknowledging that originally, its end-game content "didn't align with what players wanted".
But living as neither a true offline game nor an ever-expanding Games as Service offering, I suspect Outriders' unique positioning left some players confused on what to expect – and perhaps even made it more difficult for its community teams to properly manage fan expectations.
New Horizons, then, is a welcomed do-over. Those who stuck with Outriders will know firsthand that its inventive gunplay and delightful assortment of skills and abilities keeps the combat feeling dazzlingly fresh, even during its most challenging missions. New Horizons – which the dev describes as "massive" and "completely free" – on the other hand, is a chance to welcome back players who fell away in those early, uncertain days.
Today, Outriders purports that its multiplayer experience is much improved, and now features fully-functioning crossplay across PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X and Xbox One (including Xbox Game Pass), PC (via Epic and Steam), and Stadia, with sturdier matchmaking rules to locate and retain better connections to avoid disconnects, lag, and rubberbanding – something I experienced frequently back when the game first launched. The new rules also check for AFK players, too, and, of course, the team has now implemented kick protection to avoid the unbridled pain that some players felt after completing a hard-fought expedition – only to be intentionally kicked before securing their spoils.
Talking of expeditions, our hands-on session with Outriders New Horizon gave us the opportunity to sample all four of the new, and also free, expeditions – Molten Depths, The Marshal's Complex, City of Nomads, and the punishing Wellspring.
There are no time limits to get expeditions done by now, by the way – People Can Fly flatly admits that the original awards system was "wrong", and funnelled players into a particular playstyle geared to damage-per-second that stifled experimentation and combat diversification – so while finishing the mission is still key, its move away from time limits is more "respectful of time as a player". You can still choose to run a timed challenge, should you wish – there's even an option to do so in the HUD menu – but it'll only be "for bragging rights".
Plumb the depths
It took about 16 seconds for me to die the first time I ventured into an expedition. It wasn't even the hardest one, either – Square Enix kicked us off on the forgiving World Tier 4 offering, Molten Depths – but I'd forgotten just how tough Outriders' combat can be. For all its comparisons to Destiny 2 – and there are a lot of them, especially now Outriders' has implemented its own transmog system, albeit one with "no convoluted systems, microtransactions, or in-game resources required" – Outriders behaves first and foremost like a cover-based shooter; something that slipped my mind entirely during my time away from it.
Despite its name, Molten Depths kicks off on a snowy vista and pits you against some tanky beasts, some of which fly. Later, when you're taking on gross, pulsating spiders – or, more accurately, when my awesome squaddies were taking on spiders while I ran away (there's a fab in-game exchange about how one half of every married couple on Earth is trained in "disposing" them) – the muscle memory returns, and I start to remember just how much fun it is to pierce enemies with a giant stake, or freeze them in place with my cryo-tastic tools, whilst peppering them with a hail of bullets.
Remote tech woes kept me from immersing myself in Outriders' world as much as I'd have liked – it's not Square Enix's fault, but I suffered from a lot of lag that day, which is my excuse for the state of my gameplay – but all four expeditions offered delightfully diverse backdrops to fight against, and all provided plentiful low-slung walls to cower behind. Maybe it's my lack of recent practice, but I'm not sure I'm in complete agreement with the developer’s assertions that players should now feel "tankier and deal more damage", though. For the first three expeditions I felt competent, if rusty, but The Wellspring? The only tanky thing there were the monstrous beasts we were tasked with taking down.
Consequently, we became miserably over-familiar with the confines of The Wellspring. It's a bloody tough one, this – intentionally so, at World Tier 12 – with the jump between City of Nomad's 8-Tier and Wellspring's 12 sharp enough to leave a papercut. The diversity of weapons, however, and the ability to switch up your class-specific powers on the fly gave me endless opportunities to tweak and amend my loadouts for different enemies, making every attempt just that little bit more satisfying and a little more successful. I can confidently predict that those Shaman Warlords will trouble you as much as they did us, though. We got there in the end, but bloody hell, it takes a sustained, aggressive, and coordinated effort to best those mofos.
But the rewards for getting through tough challenges have never been better. Acknowledging that the game's original RNG rules left some players feeling a tad cheated at the end of a difficult run, People Can Fly has already increased the drop rate of legendary gear by a full 100 percent, as well as implement a pick-and-choose reward at the end of the final mission, Eye of the Storm, to let you choose from three high-tier items rather than select one for you. There's also a nifty anti-duplication system, too – one I think every other looter-shooter should be scrambling to emulate, actually.
People Can Fly’s ardent dedication and careful curation of fan feedback – from its new transmog system to the fact you can now skip that opening cinematic given you've seen it eleventy gazillion times before – has been supremely successful. Yes, okay, we believe you, Outriders isn't a live-service game, but if People Can Fly keep serving up meaty, satisfying updates – for free, no less – I don't think any of us are going to care what the hell Outriders calls itself, so long as it keeps delivering like this.
Need some Outriders tips, do you? Look no further than that there link.