‘Outriders’ Delivers Fun in a Familiar Shooter Setting (Video Game Review)

Polish developer People Can Fly toss their assault rifle on the looter-shooter pile with Outriders. A new franchise (fingers crossed) is always welcome in an industry with far too many sequels and spin-offs. Plenty of videogame series often get better with multiple installments. Still, it’s refreshing to watch an opening cutscene and create a character that holds my attention with the promise of the new. Although with Outriders, the word ‘new’ is purely a matter of semantics as the story is yet another post-apocalyptic tale featuring gameplay that’s a weird hybrid of Mass Effect’s RPG mechanics, Gears of War’s third-person cover, and Doom’s close-up carnage. So no, this will not be like the first time you booted up those three titles many years ago but darn it all, there is definitely, something here that has kept sinking countless hours into this past week. Like the space magic… yeah.

The single-player campaign took me about 12 hours to finish on the normal setting. In that time, I also did plenty of side missions. While I’m certainly not blown away by the dialogue, I also wasn’t put off. I’m not ashamed to admit that I kind of dig that my FemShep, er, sorry, my female Outrider sounds likes Olivia Benson from Law & Order: SVU (voiced not by Mariska Hargitay but the also talented Mylène Dinh-Robic). This is, essentially, a covered wagon tale set on a planet named Enoch that humans have traveled to after Earth is rendered unlivable. Like Mass Effect: Andromeda, you’re part of a squad (the so-called outriders) who were put in cryo for decades before arriving on the new homeworld. Also like Andromeda (and many other tales of the frontier), the new world is not at all what you expected. By “not expect,” I mean filled with crazy lightning storms and monsters. Okay, I guess monsters were kind of expected.

What’s refreshing about all this isn’t really the plot as much the take on such a situation. Most stories, be it about the American’s heading west during the Gold Rush or any number of sci-fi that sees the citizens of Earth leaving the third rock from the sun, are optimistic. Outriders pretty much not only dashes our hero’s hopes of a better world quick but dares to suggest that maybe the humans of a dying world don’t deserve another planet to ruin. While the optimist in me might not like this cold splash of water to my face, the pragmatist in me gets it. The plot has you and your team exploring the ravages of Enoch to find a better life, but the narrative is constantly demonstrating that we really/probably/most likely will mess things up again and again. I’m not saying the writing suddenly becomes Cormac McCarthy-esque, but hats off to People Can Fly for having that kind of ambition.


The gameplay loop is a mixture of very satisfying shooting mechanics with robust gear perks, challenging but fair leveling up options, and the previously mentioned space magic. After a violent weather strike dubbed “The Anomaly” gets you zapped and pretty much left for dead, you wake up as an Altered. If you’re playing on a console like yours truly, that means accessing your newfound powers via the shoulder buttons. There are four classes you can choose from. I picked Pyromancer since burning baddies never gets old. The favorite online seems to be Trickster, which allows you to slow down time and teleport behind foes Nightcrawler style but sans a devilish tail. There is also Devastator (the powerful tank class) and Technomancer (granting access to more powerful weapons like mines).

Speaking of online, here’s an odd thing: Outriders is not a “games as service” like, say, Destiny or Borderlands, but it is made for you and up to three players to playthrough and thus needs to be always online to play even solo (Note: there have been many issues of players losing connection with the developer’s servers which, sadly, is expected with releases these days). Each level is very segmented, so players can hop in and out. While Destiny 2 has gone above and beyond to keep players invested in the world while also allowing clans to band together or split up, Outriders’ online component feels dated. It reminded me most of Resident Evil 5 (from 2005!), except thankfully, there isn’t a statistics break after each completed level. Still, many cutscenes dip to black before and after, even if your character is just walking over to talk to someone. These kinds of technical decisions took me out of it, not the story. There are plenty of fast travel points (and mercifully, on my PS5, the load times are quick), but this too makes the world of Enoch feel bite-sized instead of truly open.

With all of that being said, I’m still not done with it. Not even close. At this time, though there are no plans for DLC, and I’m not really interested in playing online, I am still invested in my rag team of caravan heroes. I like hanging out with my scrappy mechanic, the hyper-focused medic, the wise older sage dude, and the cranky world-weary war vet. These are, at best, stock characters, but it works better than expected.

Think of it this way, we’ve all kind of accepted as a culture that the Resident Evil franchise (mostly) embraces its artifice of hammy dialogue and the like. So why not a title like this? Outriders is probably more a proof-of-concept at this stage than a fully realized game, which has been the case with many new IPs (like nearly every one made by Ubisoft), so that puts People Can Fly’s entry to the looter-shooter in good company. Hopefully, being released in a slow month for games means Outriders will find an audience. If and when a sequel arrives, the newness might have faded, but the level of craft might be darn impressive.

Outriders is available for PS4, Xbox One, PS5,  Xbox Series X|S, Google Stadia, and Microsoft Windows.

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Note: PS5 code supplied by the publisher.

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