Outriders is just one of those releases that just splits people and produces varying opinions; searching for the game online, you’re just as likely to find a scathing breakdown of all the game’s failures, and a praising critique of all the things it got right. Nothing exemplifies this more than the launch period, where the game’s servers crashed for days, the PC port showcased some ludicrous bugs, and issues that have still not be fixed like entire inventory wipes; at the same time, this is one of the first modern looter-shooters to launch with a full campaign and hours’ worth of end-game and a progression system that does not need an entire dev team working on it for months. I am caught in the middle of this: Getting as much frustration as enjoyment, falling in love with the customization and progression, before falling a victim of its shortcomings and grinding my teeth to get through the frustration, trying to figure out the way to get the best out of the good and the least amount of bs out of the bad. I haven’t gotten there yet, but the fact I’m still trying says something about the game; even if I do get there, however, I’m not sure that there is going to be enough to validate all the bs I endured to make it worthwhile.
At this point, I would have to come up with a way to set up the game’s premise, but Outriders is best served as a mechanical and gameplay driven experience, so the best set-up is this: Outriders is a co-op focused, third-person looter-shooter, that serves up a linear campaign to ease you into end-game content. That’s not to say that there is no story or set-up, but don’t go into the game for the story or the world and its characters – you’ll just be disappointed. It is a typical People Can Fly story and writing; edgy, a lot of swearing, a lot of camera shaking, not a lot of substance, unlikeable characters (including the customizable protagonist). It is a sci-fi setting that has you shooting guns, using abilities, and meleeing your way through a boring and predictable story; I went in for the solo-campaign experience, but stayed for everything else, and would only recommend Xbox Game Pass owners (for console only) to give it a shot for the single-player campaign, however I would personally recommend The Division 2 for a better single-player experience, if Game Pass is not an option.
What is “everything else” for Outriders? Loot. Not just any loot, but a really fantastic implementation of neat ideas that make the loot grind/systems much more accessible and fun, especially coming from someone who rarely sticks around for that type of experience. Besides the various gun types (ranging from close-range SMGs and shotguns, to mid-range Assault rifles and LMGs, all the way to long-range Sniper rifles of many variations) that all feel like valid choices (with the double-gun as the only type that I found to be pretty useless) and standard rarity groups (common, uncommon, rare, epic, and legendary), Outriders brings a streamlined crafting system to the game that I am really impressed by. Essentially, each gun and armor piece above uncommon rarity comes with a mod slot (or multiple) and randomly-generated perks (like crit damage boost, etc.), but the mods are extra passive additions to your arsenal that can severely change your playstyle, even from the very first tier (of three); for example, you can get an epic drop of a gun that has a mod that makes you deal 20% extra damage to enemies afflicted with bleed and that makes you build towards inflicting bleed status on enemies and finishing them off with your new gun. Moreover, the whole progression system is designed with these possibilities in mind; class points are easily (and freely) reset to allow you to spend them for notes that enhance your current build; dismantling equipment will add the mods they have, alongside shards for specific perks, to your inventory and are able to craft them on different weapons (for mods only, shards is a finite resource that you need to grind); the inventory is pretty big and it allows players to have several weapons and armor pieces for different builds. Finally, the actual shooting felt really satisfying most of the time – some types are less impactful than others and the sound design is not that great which really hurts the overall satisfaction of shooting the guns. However, when the gun mods start popping off and your build works as intended, you start melting enemies away and that feels brilliant to pull off, especially when the environments and the particle effects look as good as in Outriders. Even beyond the equipment, Outriders classes are super fun to play; I main Devastator, the “tank” of the 4 classes (Pyromancer is the caster, Trickster is the rogue, and Technomancer is the support). All classes have unique abilities, skill trees that optimize specific builds/styles, and tactical uses in co-op. None of these classes are one to one with other games, but they fit the same generic type.
When all these features are used to create that engaging loop of fighting bad guys/monsters, looting, crafting, improving, and getting back out doing it all again; that is where Outriders shines. Unfortunately, that is not all in Outriders and the game suffers in the most basic concepts. In particular, what started out as high points in the game design, actually ended up being some of my most disliked features, like the health and world tier systems. Health is pretty simple; each class has a unique way of regenerating lost health, either by killing enemies, by shooting them, or by the damage done to them from abilities. World tiers are the difficulty tiers for the game; there are 15 in total and the higher you go, the higher the level of enemies and loot you will get. I have no idea how this works in co-op, but solo in the highest tier available to me, is either a recipe for disaster or a finely tuned challenge that doesn’t really make sense to master. Either you level up the world tier or your character before you get a chance to get better loot and you’re stuck behind bullet-sponge death machines, or you bring the difficulty down to get lesser loot for a better scaled challenge; there is a third option where you go into the best paced parts of the game, without bad boss design or bullet-sponge enemies entering every 5 seconds, that give the player a good challenge and according rewards. However, the third option feels like something each time I level up, I risk losing to the former two options, and this is especially true for boss battles; it varies with each reviewer or player, but the number of good boss battles varies between two and four, with the rest being so bad I stopped trying before the 1st major area of the game was done. Thankfully there are ways to cheese them (this is a weird thing to be thankful for) and also…the challenge of high tiers becomes increasingly apparent that is sub-optimal.
At first, I tried keeping the challenge to the highest tier possible, but then I realized that each time I died some of my world XP was lost and was making little to no progress (even regressing at times), which forced me to come to a highly problematic conclusion; if I died more than twice at any encounter, dropping the tier to one or two levels below was more beneficial for me. Sure, I got less useful gear, but it was still gear I could dismantle or sell to progress through the game. Obviously, that is not an oversight from the devs but as someone who is in the game for the campaign, it sure feels like it. This is where I’m at with Outriders; I like the game a lot sometimes, I hate it some others, but mostly I just find that it doesn’t deserve all the time I’ve given it thus far. There are better suited shooters for me that don’t have the various problems of Outriders, but they also don’t have the good parts; I’m still playing it and I have spent almost double the time of other player’s completion time of the campaign (around 60 hours) doing everything I can find and spending a lot of time tinkering my loadout and abilities to suit my style and what the loot gods have afforded me. This is before the end-game too, which I’ll likely be done with after a few missions (at least that’s what happened with most looter-shooters for me), but that is a lot of time spent on a game I have so many problems with.
Unfortunately, that is my terribly anti-climactic resolution for Outriders; there are parts I love, there are parts I hate, and in-between a lot of bland or uninteresting filler. I’ve come up with a way to get some of the better parts more often, but I also find this solution to be incredibly disheartening; I don’t want to drop world tiers or cheese boss fights; I want to get the best loot and have ever changing loadouts and abilities. What I mostly get though is a sigh of relief every time I’m done with an encounter, because I’m done with another part of the game that could be some of the most frustrating gaming I have done all year, but there’s always the hope that rarely gets matched where the game would give me some of the good boss fights or the drops and ensuing moments where my build clicks together and I melt the enemies that troubled me so; mostly though, it is another generic, arena fight.