“Outriders” Game Preview/Demo Review

Outriders Key Art
Official Key Art, used with permission. All assets property of Outriders © 2018 Square Enix Ltd.

“Outriders” Game Preview/Demo Review
by Tori McKenna

Release date: Holiday 2020
Developers: People Can Fly
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Ps5, Xbox X, Ps4, Xbox One, PC
Supports 1-3 Players online co-op (PVE multiplayer experience, no pvp)

Premise: The basic premise of Outriders is that Earth is gone and humanity’s in search of a new home. You’ve found the planet of Enoch, which appears habitable, but is as yet unexplored. Your character is one of The Outriders, an elite group of soldiers & explorers who are sent as the first “boots on the ground” to determine if Enoch is safe and find a good landing spot for the colony ship to make berth.

Upon landing, The Outriders discover a strange signal emanating from the interior of the planet. You go to investigate and everything goes to hell. You’re caught in a strange storm that starts to rip apart your squad. Some people die horribly, other people are somehow infected by this magical storm. You are placed in cryo-stasis to try and halt the progression of your “infection”.

Your Outrider awakes 30+ years in the future and everything has changed. The once beautiful planet of Enoch has transformed into a hostile place, and the wild storm continues to rage across it (now called “The Anomaly”). The colonization efforts failed, the last of humanity is trapped in a single valley, fighting among themselves for resources, stripped of all their advanced technology. Some people die in the storm, but others come back, infused with strange powers. You find you’re one of them, an Altered–granted immense power, but also cursed in ways you have yet to understand.

Enoch before the Anomaly & After
Official screenshot, used with permission. All assets property of Outriders © 2018 Square Enix Ltd.

General Impression: The teaser trailer from  E3 2019 really didn’t give me much idea of what to expect, so I was pleasantly surprised by what People Can Fly has created. It’s really striving to be a genre hybrid between intense shooters and rpgs and I think it mostly accomplishes this. It strikes a pretty good balance between classic rpg elements like skill trees, world building, npcs that you interact with and shooter elements with firearms, ammo resources, speedy combat and level design. The combat is intense and fast, it feels a lot zippier than either parent genre. It’s brutal without feeling over the top, which makes it quite enjoyable to play.

pyromancer outrider
Official screenshot, used with permission. All assets property of Outriders © 2018 Square Enix Ltd.

The storytelling reminded me a bit of games like Mass Effect where your character goes into the world expecting things to be one way but learns that everything is much more complex than it seems. Joshua Rubin (lead writer) expressed that the driving force behind the narrative was to hold a mirror up to humanity and keep players perpetually intrigued by the mystery of Enoch. From the small vignettes we experienced, I think they were mostly successful with this goal. I definitely wanted to know more about everything with each new piece of lore or new character we encountered and felt like it was constantly asking the player to reflect on the new state of the world. 

I loved the “time travel/fish out of water” trope it sets up with your Outrider where it allows you to meet NPCs initially in the hopeful setting and then find them again after the time skip. It created compelling character moments as you reconnect with these people and learn about how they’ve been changed by time and circumstances. 

Official screenshot, used with permission. All assets property of Outriders © 2018 Square Enix Ltd.

Gameplay/Mechanics: This is where the game really shines for me (at least in the demo). The combat mixes traditional 3rd person shooter elements with faster, “magic” powers. The power cooldowns feel balanced so you’re never *just* using guns or powers– it forces you to always be using both. You choose a class at the beginning of the game, and this is the only mechanic decision where you’re locked in- you can’t change your class later (in order to play as a new class, you need to start a new character).

There were 3 classes available in the demo we played, though there are hints that a 4th class may be revealed in the future. Each of the classes is aligned with a different element and has a unique healing mechanic. The healing mechanics influence play style to some extent, with some classes requiring you to be very close range, while others force you to maintain some distance. The designers particularly wanted to avoid the classic rpg trope of the “holy trinity” style for the classes (healer/tank/dps) and instead have each class feel balanced and distinct.  

The Pyromancer: fire based, mid-range combat, glass cannon/fragile
The Trickster: time/physics based, close combat, speedy but hardy
The Devastator: earth/gravity based, close combat, tanky

Official screenshot, used with permission. All assets property of Outriders © 2018 Square Enix Ltd.

All of the classes can wear any of the armor you pick up (which is modular) and wield any of the weapons. Each class has its own set of skills; you always have 3 skills equipped but you can swap them out at any point. Likewise, each class has a skill tree that adds certain buffs to both your powers and weapon usage, so you can very much tailor your experience to how you like to play.  You can reset your skill tree at any point, including mid-combat.

You have 3 weapon slots, 2 main guns of varying types as well as a side arm. The weapons themselves felt pretty good combat wise, I tried a few different types (shotguns, smg, assault rifle, sniper rifle, revolver,etc)  and while I had clear preferences, I enjoyed using just about all the weapons I picked up. We picked up more weapons via enemy drops, quest rewards and from merchants.

Character Creation:  We weren’t allowed to take footage of the CC b/c it’s still under development, so I imagine the final won’t look like what we were shown. I appreciated that you could create masc/femme characters with several types of facial features- different nose types, eye shapes, facial structure, hair types, skin tones, etc. You could definitely create characters who were distinctly of different races, which felt a little more inclusive than many games offer.  So hopefully they keep and expand upon those options. I loved that it had a scars, markings and piercings option, so you could really make your character look like they’ve been living in a dirty, dangerous world. 

single player
Official screenshot, used with permission. All assets property of Outriders © 2018 Square Enix Ltd.

Player Experience: The devs had a heavy focus on making a dynamic game that feels fun in both the solo experience and the small-scale multiplayer (supports up to 3 people). I really appreciated this approach to a game with multiplayer, and I think it will be attractive to players who enjoy single player games as well as those who prefer multiplayer. I found both experiences enjoyable and unique, your playstyle definitely changes depending on how many people you’re playing with/what classes they’ve picked.

They made it clear they want to deliver a whole game as a singular experience and not as service (so there will be no microtransactions or anything like that in the game) which is very exciting. They left the door open for possible dlc in the future, but it would be entirely to expand upon the base storyline, not cosmetic or gear related. 

Official screenshot, used with permission. All assets property of Outriders © 2018 Square Enix Ltd.

The one kind of annoying thing with the balance between solo/multiplayer is there’s no way to pause your game- it wasn’t so much of an issue because there’s generally enough space between combat zones to open up your menus and look at inventory/skills/maps/etc, but still a mild inconvenience. 

I very much appreciated the ability to ping a “this way” arrow for all the quests. I often get lost in open(ish) world rpgs, so having a nice little arrow to point me towards each of my quest goals was excellent.

Difficulty: The way they handle the difficulty levels in this was interesting: instead of having a difficulty that you set when you start the game (easy, normal, hard, etc), everyone starts at “world level 1” and the difficulty levels up with you as you move through the levels. This keeps things suitably challenging without making the game inaccessible to less experienced players.  You can also change your “world level” if you need to once you’ve unlocked it. For multiplayer, the world level is set by the host player. 

Official screenshot, used with permission. All assets property of Outriders © 2018 Square Enix Ltd.

Summary/Conclusion: I think this game is going to be a very exciting addition to the rpg/shooter hybrid genre!  I was immediately drawn in by the world building and the combat really put it over the top for me. I’m still thinking about how enjoyable I found the combat/class skills, and how I can’t wait to play more, try out the other classes, get further down their trees, etc. 

 You can tell that the development team is really excited and passionate about creating a completely new IP.  They’ve built a world that feels appropriately dystopic but it’s still incredibly enjoyable to explore. It never feels like a chore or depressing to exist in this world, even though the premise is kind of grim, you’re constantly wanting to explore more, fight more, find out more information about the world and its denizens. 

More Coverage: If you prefer reviews/reactions in video format, I’ve done a couple of videos of the gameplay capture with a bit more in depth/specific analysis/reactions to a few of the different classes, the powers system, the combat and some of the side quests we encountered in the demo.

Our teaser video on gameplay: https://youtu.be/CiRU59jnl-o

Outriders: General Overview/Pyromancer Class from When Nerds Attack on Vimeo.

Outriders: Trickster Class Highlight from When Nerds Attack on Vimeo.



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