Outriders is a game in the throes of an identity crisis. It's an interesting amalgamation of Gears of War, Destiny, and Bulletstorm, with gameplay that oscillates between surprising and same-y. It has moments of rare beauty, offering up sweeping vistas of gorgeous alien monoliths surrounded by swirling blue clouds, and then it has you trudge through seven hours' worth of muddy brown landscapes. There are flashes of variety mixed with pangs of repetition.
It's hard to pin down Outriders, a game that's constantly pinning you down in open areas littered with chest-high walls. It shines when it leans into how it was marketed: as a bloody, messy, foul-mouthed looter shooter that lets you beat the piss out of aliens. However, Outriders has so many other moving parts that make it muddier than the majority of its landscapes.
That doesn't mean it's not fun - quite the opposite. Outriders is thoroughly enjoyable. Even playing through the entire campaign solo and getting my ass whooped by unfairly challenging bosses didn't stop me from forging ahead. In fact, I only wanted to power down my PC and take a walk around the block when the damn game kept crashing on me (six times in one sitting).
Outriders isn't the best game you'll ever play and it's far from the worst. While the squandered potential can be frustrating, there are still 30-40 hours of enjoyable gameplay waiting for you past the main menu. Outriders is fun, foul-mouthed, and rough around the edges.
Meet the Outriders
It's funny that Outriders will be so frequently compared to Destiny 2 when you consider the games' respective plots. While Destiny 2 makes you search far and wide for a crumb of lore and often leaves you wondering why the hell you're chasing a four-armed alien who speaks in clicks through a snowstorm, Outriders' story is pretty clear. It's just not that interesting.
Humans have arrived on a planet called Enoch after Earth was destroyed by - you guessed it - humanity. As soon as they land, however, they encounter a deadly storm called the Anomaly that fries all of their electronics and kills most of the people it touches. Except those who become Altered, like you, and end up with some pretty gnarly powers.
Those powers depend upon which class you choose: Trickster, Devastator, Technomancer, and Pyromancer. You'll use these powers to (reluctantly) help the humans who have managed to survive on Enoch for the last 30 years that you were in cryosleep. And while the first few hours of Outriders offer up some strong, fleshed-out characters and clear-cut stakes, the addition and subtraction of several big bads and allies as you travel across Enoch muddies the water. For a game so keen on giving you the reins of a human imbued with godlike power, a simpler, streamlined plot would be way more effective.
The second half's story beats are half-baked and the voice acting seems like everyone was handed different assignments. My female Outrider sways back and forth between emotionally distant and emotionally invested, and delivers both emotions with the same hollow flatness of Tommy Wiseau. The number of times a character said "what the fuck" with all the intensity of someone on Benadryl is astounding. If People Can Fly committed to the brash scumbag energy that permeates Outriders' marketing materials, we'd have something that feels more like Suicide Squad and less like the guy at the gym slamming around weights he can't lift.
To be fair, Outriders really isn't about the story. It's about thrusting you into a raucous looter-shooter that rivals Borderlands 3 - and in that way, it certainly delivers. Whereas Gears of War demands you use chest-high walls to keep yourself from getting your head popped off like an overripe cherry, Outriders puts those walls there as more of a suggestion. Your enemies need to cower behind them more than you do.
As an Altered, your class-based abilities make combat encounters sing with the vocal range of Ariana Grande, which is great considering the gunplay often falls flat (especially earlier on). I chose to play as a Trickster; a close range, hit-and-run class that lends itself well to my frenetic, in-your-face gameplay style. I built my class around a skill called Hunt the Prey, which lets you teleport behind enemies and temporarily stun them. It's easy to daisy-chain this skill so that you zig-zag across a combat area, popping up behind some big ugly dude and slashing him with your Temporal Blade before he has time to reconsider his life choices.
After a few encounters using Hunt the Prey, I started to get more granular with it. I chose a trait that lets me boost my damage by 50% for eight seconds after teleporting, and one that reduces its recharge rate. Coupled with a late-game Legendary weapon that liquifies enemies into a blood mist with one shot, I can now paint Enoch red without breaking a sweat. And that's just my Trickster build - thanks to Outriders' extensive skill trees that you can reset with a button press, there are myriad ways to build out each class.
If you start to feel too OP, that's when World Tiers come into play, which let you choose the difficulty of the enemies you encounter. World Tiers work similarly to how they work in The Division 2 - you unlock new tiers by playing the highest currently available tier. While the higher tiers will offer you a serious challenge (I had to drop to World Tier 3 about midway through the game just to get through it), you'll get some serious rewards for your trouble, such as a rarity modifier of +500% at the highest possible 15th Tier, known simply as Madness.
We're in the endgame now
People Can Fly wants Outriders to be your new hobby, the kind of game you boot up to blow off some steam after a long work week. Making numbers bigger is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in a game world without flexing too many mental muscles, and with the wide variety of loot and class builds at your disposal, it's easy to get lost in the looter shooter sauce. However, in order for Outriders to have as much endgame longevity as a game like Destiny 2, it needs to offer a fair chunk of endgame content. Spoiler alert: it doesn't.
After beating the campaign, you're introduced to the only current endgame content: Expeditions, or missions that send you to retrieve weapons and resources by fighting waves and waves of enemies until you reach the goods in question. Much like the aforementioned World Tiers, Expeditions allow you to choose a Challenge Tier, with the higher tiers doling out some seriously sweet loot. And since you're rewarded with even better drops for how fast you can get through an Expedition, there are myriad ways to ensure you get some sick rewards for your efforts.
People Can Fly cleverly stacks the Expeditions with far better gear than you'll get in the main campaign, which will certainly entice the loot obsessives. However, Expeditions get real repetitive, real fast, and I quickly found it hard to care about what waits for me at the end of yet another wave of grunts. This sense of pointlessness is exacerbated by the game's upgrade system, which is fantastic for the most part, but in this case kneecaps the post-game content. Outriders lets you upgrade a weapon with relative ease (you can even change the rarity of a favorite gun if you have enough of the right currency), and with an inventory management system that should make Bungie angry, you can easily select multiple weapons and armor at once to break down for currency. Sure, you could go get a Legendary shotgun since it looks way better than most of the game's rather drab weapons, but you can also just upgrade a shotgun you already have until it's better than that Legendary.
Which brings us to Outriders biggest problem: it's not a live-service game. Despite forcing you to play online even when you're playing solo (a choice that sullied the game's launch as server issues flourished from the jump), People Can Fly doesn't want Outriders to be a games as service situation. While the Outriders devs are considering "big expansion packs", players will likely have to wait quite a while before this game gets any new content. It's unlikely that Expeditions can keep people satiated for very long, as their repetitive nature will inevitably make your new hobby feel like a new chore.
There is some gold glistening at the core of Outriders, which boasts a rock-solid combat system that will keep you entertained for well over 30 hours. But what happens after you're done riding out? Only time - and People Can Fly's work pipeline - will tell.
Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.