Outriders Demo Impressions – Treads familiar ground, but offers a fun journey that needs a bit more work
The Outriders demo is out now, and if you haven’t given it a go yet, it’s a pretty good way to gauge if the game is for you or not. It features about 3 hours of content per character, across 4 classes that you can try out, and the whole of chapter 1, which is quite generous. You’ll also be able to transfer your save files to the live version should you choose to continue your journey.
Outriders tells the story of a group of space faring humans searching for a new home after an apocalyptic event destroyed Earth. Upon reaching their new planet, Enoch, what awaited them was a lush world of verdant green, open air vistas, and exotic wildlife. Unknown to them, are the cataclysmic anomaly storms that would wreak havoc on their ranks, which completely disentegrates carbon-based lifeforms as well as render electronics useless, driving humanity back to the dark ages.
However, those “chosen” by the anomaly turn into the “Altered”, a evolved human being with elemental powers that put them on an edge against other humans. These humans are revered as gods by some, while others lorded over their non-Altered counterparts.
Your character is part of an elite exploration group called “The Outriders”, tasked to explore Enoch as a pathfinder. Being the last of your group after being surviving the first anomaly storm, you were bestowed upon powers becoming a special breed of warrior: An Altered… and an Outrider.
When Square Enix advertises Outriders as “co-op RPG shooter”, there’s something to that effect that feels a little off. While this may be to distance itself from being a live service looter shooter, from first glance, it practically screams live service looter shooter. I gave this demo a chance to transcend from the preconceived notions we expect to encounter from this genre.
A laundry list of improvements
I accidentally downloaded the PS4 demo instead of the PS5 demo from the PS Store due to PS5’s problematic PS Store UI, which is a blessing in disguise because I can make a comparison, with loading times, overall combat performance, and textures having the most noticeable differences, as expected. Loading times, specifically, is one area where the PS5 experience is greatly justified. The PS5 load times are almost instantaneous but the PS4 load times can be between 10-20 seconds long creating a terrible amount of dischord between story immersion and returning to the game.
Outriders has a strange design choice to separate the game world and the cinematic cut scenes. While this is to make the co-op play experience uniform, every story dialogue no matter how short becomes part of that cinematic cut scene, even if it’s five seconds long.
One of the biggest offender of Outriders is its shaky camera, especially during cutscenes. It seems that the game uses a handheld camera as a cinematic choice, to a very dizzying effect. Right now, I think the better choice is to just remove it, because it does not make for a pleasant experience at all. Remember all that shake in the Avengers demo?
Outriders also seems to lack the heft and impact that you would expect just from looking at it. This gritty and visceral shooter looks heavy, but the movements and gunfire don’t have the same oomph to them. Automatic rifles all feel the same, shotguns lack that big punch of satisfaction, and the audio for these weapons could use a bit more work. It doesn’t feel as crisp and as satisfying as Destiny, but it isn’t bad, and is something that can definitely be improved over the course of a few updates.
Small immersion breaking quirks are also littered throughout. There is inconsistent lighting during dialogue where one part of the frame is well lit and the other half will be completely dark. Spoken dialogue is out of sync with the video, and this may be a feature but going to the menu while standing next to an NPC would have them repeat the same line of dialogue on loop, which gets annoying.
Just as a side note, while I don’t exactly expect the game to utilize the Dualsense controller to its fullest, the rumble function actually doesn’t feel jarring. Also both the Dualsense and the Dualshock 4 controller would glow with the color of your character class. If you’re a Pyro, there will be a red glow on the Dualshock and the lights on the Dualsense will glow the same shade of red. The same could be said with green for Techno, yellow for Deva, and blue for Trickster. Pretty cool little detail.
Fast-paced combat, and faster playthroughs
While I’ve tuned out the novelty of unique character creation to customize it to our look, it has to be said that Outriders feature a very basic character creation module. You’ll be able to change your hairstyle, face, add makeup / facial scars… that’s pretty much it. Players looking for a much more detailed creator will want to look somewhere else, but that’s fine in the grand scheme of things because your armor and weapon pieces will be the most obvious character differentiators when playing in multiplayer.
Character level and world level caps are also seen, capping you at character level 7 and world tier 5. By the time you complete the demo along with all the side missions, you will most likely end up at character level 6 and world tier 4. Trying out new classes would add to that playtime count, but since you could skip dialogue and the entire prologue upon your first playthrough, it’ll only get faster everytime.
The combat is a mix of cover-shooter and boomer-shooter. It also depends on your class how you want to engage, but the action will be frenetic and fast-paced with your powers. The game, through its use of a lot of cover, seems to make you want to play it like The Division – throw all skills, use cover, fire and reload, throw all skills, repeat. Surely you can go this route, but to maximize the fun out of the game, a run and gun type of playstyle with a few cover breathers in between definitely feels the best. Each skirmish is a good 1-2 minutes of battle on solo, and even on world level 5, the challenge isn’t too great as your fights with Altered are few and far between.
The different classes here compliment the style you want to play, and while they aren’t groundbreakingly original, they serve the purpose. You can be a tank with a Devastator and are able to take a lot of damage up close, a Trickster class works as a close-ranged DPS that work as a boss killer. The Pyro works as your crowd control, able to spam skills on a whim. While Technomancers are sniper/support types that uses gadgets and are adept with long range attacks. This demo is definitely a good time to figure out what you’ll want to be and the demo succeeds in this objective pretty well.
Combat can be completed entirely on solo, so you don’t need to participate in a three-person squad if you really don’t want to, unlike Ghost of Tsushima Legends where you’re forced to join a matchmaking session because good luck taking on swarms alone. The thing is, multiplayer in Outriders is really fun, and playing with a group really makes the differences of the classes shine, prompting for combos that will really tear the enemies a new one.
After playing through the four classes, it feels like the Technomancer is one class that stands above the rest in terms of how fun it is, whether solo or as part of a team. That’s not to say that the other classes don’t make for a good choice, and it would be unfair to really make a definitive callout with just 3 abilities to judge from, but the Technomancer feels like a class that is almost a necessity in future party compositions due to its utility.
The Technomancer is similar to the Pyro in terms of crowd control capabilities, but stands out because they can be a tactical long-range player using turrets and proximity grenades as a distraction, while the Pyro is a more offensive-based crowd control class. The Devastator and the Trickster can be interchangable and could only be differentiated on how many hits one could take and how aggressive you want to play. While the Devastator feels that you can do more close-range damage, the Trickster’s precision playstyle work better against bosses.
Outriders is easy to pick up especially if you already know your shooters. You got the basic cover and cover-move mechanic while shooting using the L2 and R2 triggers. Switching to your secondary and backup primary is quick and easy by either tapping or holding the triangle button. I also appreciate that if you push the L3 button on your analog stick, that you can change your orientation from left to right to lessen the gyrations of your R3 button to look to the other side.
Yet in terms of gun physics, unless you’re switching between rifles, automatic weapons, and shotguns, there’s really nothing to differentiate them from each other. Even Control‘s service weapon’s forms each have distinct characteristics that differentiate Grip, Pierce, and Surge for example. In Outriders, I could not tell the difference between an assault rifle, a submachine gun, a light machinegun besides the magazine count and the range.
It’s also strange how regenerative abilities work when you start out. I also noticed that there’s no sure way of knowing when you actually die in this game. While being in the crossfire can surely kill you, there are times where I’m swarmed by multiple enemies and by suddenly activating a power, I’m alive again. Sometimes the same thing happens and I do the same technique and I just die. It’s a strange dynamic, but each class has a way of regenerating health since there are really no health orbs or medkits to pick up.
This World, It Seems Strangely Familiar…
The story of Outriders is intriguing, but it’s not original, and that’s ok. While I’m intrigued with interacting with the wildlife of the world as well as higher level Altered who definitely have some original character designs, the entire synergy of the game strikes me as generic and overly familiar.
Immersion with the world is solely limited to lore collectibles that frankly most players don’t read unless they’re interested or through expository interview questions with NPCs. The historian vendor is also nice touch supplementing that lack of immersion with the world by collecting items and hearing her commentary.
As an exploratory enthusiast, there are so many games that already made leaps and bounds with making exploration and “virtual tourism” a key component in their games. Every Final Fantasy game does this well with having enough interactivity between the world by allowing you to examine objects or talk to specific non-vendor NPCs. Also by separating cinematic and game proper, the world is relegated to being nothing more than a glorified backdrop. Even Cyberpunk 2077 excels in this front, interweaving story and gameplay into one seamless one-shot cut.
One thing I do appreciate is that while the narrative flow is problematic, Outriders has a lot of lore that could be gleaned from the world even if it feels that they’re relegated to the backdrop. It is a beautiful looking game especially on 4K. I can’t wait to see how other wildlife interact and become part of combat. The world tier system is also a nice touch, allowing us to take advantage of the loot drops and hopefully rewarded with legendary loot later in the full game. We didn’t see any crafting on this build, so I’m also curious about that.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves
Overall, I feel that Outriders is a serviceable looter shooter that ticks all the expected boxes from a demo, which is quite meaty. If you’re looking for something purely original, this game will not be it. Yet, for what it is, it’s really loads of fun either on solo or in multiplayer if that’s your thing.
My fear for this game is that the repetitive game loops where you repeatedly receive a mission, clean out an area of enemies, collect a key, and beat a boss/collect collectible/watch cutscene, can get old quite fast. This was a real concern for similar games, and it’s the same here, since there’s almost no indication of how the later parts of the game may look like.
Outriders does not hold back with its loot and equipment progression which is a good thing, showing marked improvements in gameplay and abilities once you get the good loot, but it begs to ask the question how the later levels and higher leveled loot will play out.
I’m severely underwhelmed by my first few runs, but the more I play it, the more I appreciate what they’re trying to do. I just hope that the final build of the game fixes the issues that we’ve laid out and hopefully the cinematic cutscenes of the final build actually are improved and as we pick up momentum in the narrative, the story gets better and we actually get invested in the characters.
Gameplay-wise, the frenetic action isn’t a bad thing, and combining the boomer shooter with the cover-fire mechanic keeps me interested. In RPG terms, “the story may be shit, but we can still grind the characters and make the most of the gameplay”. So far, I see more shooter than RPG and hopefully we get to see the RPG in the final build. Plus, I’m starting to warm up to the different character classes and how they work with the ecosystem the developers have built.
Outriders is out on April 1 on PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.