Having a new Square Enix game launch on Game Pass (console) with all the other platforms was big news and judging from the amount of people I see playing Outriders already it was a very savvy move for establishing the new IP. Created by People Can Fly, the studio behind Bulletstorm, Gears of War: Judgment and Painkiller I think you can see some of that DNA in their latest game. If I were to describe it in a single sentence it might be “Gears of War: The RPG”. It’s a third person shooter with a strong focus on character customisation and leveling up your chosen class. You take on the role of an Outrider – a specialist operator who is part of the initial landing party of a ship colonising a new world. After things take a turn for the worse your character is put to suspended animation only to wake up decades later in the middle of a warzone dominated by The Altered – those who’ve developed powers from the world’s extreme environment. Joining up with what remains of your former comrades you’ve got to try to help straighten out the mess you’ve found yourself in and learn more about the world you’re stuck in.
Gameplay wise Outriders is much like you expect from cover based shooters with you having to push your way through areas leveraging the environment to outflank and outfight enemies. Players familiar with the genre will feel at home here and the level design does well to push players forward with enough destructible cover and grenades thrown to keep you moving. The developers have created plenty of variety in both the level structure and the enemies you face with a fair share of boss types to stop it being too predictable. What’s been great to see is that your abilities can upend the cover mechanic and actively encourage you to be more aggressive than usual. You can still get away with hiding and popping out for the occasional shot but the cool stuff happens when you use everything at your disposal. Completion of missions, taking down bosses or open chests gets you a pile of goodies including gear and weapons which can be used to boost your character. Seeing as every player gets their own items it won’t be long before you are carting along an arsenal of useless guns with you.
Though the Gears style controls make the game fairly accessible, and the abilities are easy to use too, there are still some negatives. Close quarters combat is not something that works as well as I hoped and the moment enemies get in close behind you it can be really difficult to reposition your character to get some distance between you and the enemy. But this was also a problem in Gears too where I often resorted to activating the Lancer’s chainsaw bayonet to get me out of that situation. Activating your abilities can help here but it can be frustrating to use them more for defensive means when you’ve been wanting to get more aggressive in your fights. I do wish that grenades were part of your arsenal too – enemies are happy to send plenty your way but you’ve got nothing to return the favour with and that seems odd. I’m guessing your abilities are meant to overcome that but it would have been nice to have the option. The weapon crafting and upgrade system let’s you tweak your guns using a number you can find or collect from dismantling loot but I’ve not yet seen a big reason to invest time in it early when you find or buy better guns regularly. Even then, having to grind away for a slightly better version of the gun you already have I think could have been handled better as I find the loot economy more a distraction than anything.
There has been a few issues in relation to co-op multiplayer and while it’s not fully resolved (had a few crashes and logouts) when it works it’s been nice jumping into the game with friends (all Xbox here) to take on the world together. And it looks like the game scales nicely to ensure it remains a challenge no matter who you join up with too which is key to making it work. You can even dial the difficulty down yourself if it becomes too much and there’s a fair degree of granularity in that as well. I’ve spent half my time so far in co-op and jumping in as a team starts taking the experience into The Division or Destiny territory with each character’s build and appearance bringing something unique to the game. There’s certainly enough cosmetic items in there as well to make sure players rarely look the same.
Visually the game is pretty good and reminds me a lot of Bulletstorm with plenty of wrecked settlements and wild looking enemies filling them. There’s some good detail in many of the characters you see, even those that you might encounter only briefly, and while this may not sound all too different from what the developers were also doing with their earlier Gears of War entry, I think there’s a much more diverse palette of colours in use here and as you travel further that variety does help keep things interesting. So will it be the next big thing? I don’t know if it has everything yet to take on the established franchises like The Division but there’s a lot to like in Outriders and it’s easy to pick up and play in small doses too thanks to the mission structures not requiring extensive amounts of time to complete. And if you’re a Gears fan I think it might be worth checking out as it adds a different spin on that familiar formula which may just be what you’ve been looking for.
Outriders is out now for PC, Xbox and PlayStation platforms. Played on an Xbox Series X via Game Pass.