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Outriders Review: Just Skip All The Cutscenes

Outriders would have been much better off as a live service game. The 25-hour campaign is an overstuffed slog with an excruciatingly slow leveling process that never allows you to engage with the crunchy RPG systems in a meaningful way. Once the story is over, the end game systems kick in and Outriders finally hits its stride — though with only a limited amount of content to engage with. Outriders is a game that wants to have its cake and eat it too. It overestimates the value of its art and narrative to an audience that, more than anything, just wants to see numbers go up. Ultimately, Outriders has slick, fast-paced combat and incredibly robust RPG systems that allow for plenty of unique build potential, but those qualities are buried under a bloated campaign that, at its best, is schlocky sci-fi, and at its worst, is tasteless and offensive. I am having a blast gaining power and experimenting with builds in Expeditions, but it almost wasn’t worth what it took to get here.

Outriders takes place in the distant future on the planet Enoch. After consuming all of Earth’s natural resources, the last survivors of the human race chart a course for Enoch, expecting to settle there and restart society. Unfortunately, the planet is overrun with hostile creatures and is constantly under assault from a magical storm known as The Anomaly. Your character is altered by The Anomaly and given magic powers, which you use to fight monsters, warring factions, and other altered beings as you lead a small group of survivors on a mission to track down a mysterious signal.

Along the way, you’ll meet a lot of characters and learn about everything that has transpired in the two decades since humans settled on Enoch. The survivors quickly broke up into factions and went to war with each other over what little resources remained. The first half of the campaign is especially unfocused as your character gets wrapped up in the ongoing conflict between these factions. Every character is Outriders, especially the PC, is an unlikeable, edgy, foul-mouthed asshole with a chip on their shoulder and a nihilistic attitude. The whole story has a relentlessly grimdark tone that I found grating at the start, but really wore me down after 20 hours. The first time a brand new character gets shot through the mouth, it’s a bit shocking. The fifth time it happens, it’s hard not to roll your eyes.

Your character does some exceptionally deplorable stuff throughout the story. At one point while defending a mining operation, you encounter one of the company’s slaves. After telling him he’s free now, the slave explains why he prefers the simplicity and security of being a slave. Your characters essentially responds with “suit yourself, loser” before returning to the salver to collect their reward. In another quest, a character tries to trick you with a rigged game of Russian Roulette. When your character survives, they force the opponent to turn the gun on himself and watch him commit suicide. There’s no consequences for any of your character’s behavior and no examination of these events. The game simply presents these scenes as if to say, “Isn’t the world of Outriders fucked up?” And the answer is yes, but so what? The Outrider is somewhere between neutral and lawful evil, and while that could be an interesting moral space to explore, they’re still the hero of the story that ultimately brings hope to Enoch. There’s nothing thematically interesting about Outriders’ story, yet the story accounts for a massive chunk of the game’s content.

The actual gameplay content is all combat. Every time you leave camp or travel to a new zone you’ll be faced with wave after wave of enemies standing between you and your goal. This is all Outriders ever is: move from point A to point B and kill everything that gets in your way. And for the most part, it works great. There’s a Doom 2016 sensibility to the momentum of combat that incentivizes you to use all of your abilities in every engagement and to always keep pushing forward. It may look like a cover shooter, but you will almost always be rewarded by running headfirst into a hail of bullets and unleashing all of your magic powers on the enemies and creatures that swarm around you.

The combat is incredibly satisfying at lower difficulties and requires clever tactics and efficient resource management at the higher difficulties. Different combat scenarios favor different types of abilities, and I found myself switching and experimenting with new powers all the time. If I was constantly getting assaulted by snipers from a distance, a movement ability like Trickster’s Hunt the Prey would allow me to teleport behind them and quickly eliminate the threat. Otherwise, if small monsters were surrounding me, an ability like Cyclone Spin would allow me to shred through a dozen enemies at once. Each of the four classes feels powerful in their own ways and it doesn’t appear like any one class or ability is outperforming the rest by a wide margin, which is an impressive feat in a game like this.

While I enjoyed pushing the difficulty as high as possible throughout the campaign, I think Outriders does a disservice to players by poorly communicating the purpose and function of the game’s difficulty system, World Tiers. World Tiers automatically increase as you gain experience and complete missions, constantly making the enemies stronger and the rewards for killing them greater. The problem is that the benefits of always pushing the World Tier higher are fairly negligible throughout the entire campaign and players would be far better off setting the difficulty to a “fun” level and leaving it there. Because the difficulty is always automatically increasing, it feels like you have to admit defeat and lower the difficulty to continue enjoying the game. People just aren’t accustomed to a system like that, and many (myself included) will stubbornly push forward, suffering death after death against enemies with unbelievable amounts of health. There are some particularly egregious difficulty spikes around WT11 and 12, and unless you got extremely lucky with gear, you just won’t be strong enough to continue playing through the linear campaign. It’s not a matter of skill at all, and I think the game should do a better job of communicating that fact, especially because as soon as you finish the campaign World Tiers don’t even matter anymore.

Ultimately, my big problem with Outriders is the length of the campaign and leveling process. Power upgrades are non-stop throughout the entire campaign, so it’s useless to get attached to any weapons or armor you find because you’ll be replacing everything you’re wearing every ten minutes for over 20 hours. While you can (and should) switch out one mod on every piece of gear you get to better compliment the abilities you’re currently using, it isn’t really feasible to invest more into the gear you have, as it will always be replaced. This is a normal part of the leveling process in any ARPG, but there’s no excuse for making players wait until they’ve finished the campaign before letting them dig into the more interesting builds and RPG mechanics that the game has to offer. I was ready to start getting deeper into customization halfway through the story, but the leveling process didn’t end for me until right before the game’s final boss.

The end game activity, Expeditions, has been great. These are like Strikes from Destiny that offer greater rewards for faster completions. New elements of the in-game economy get introduced at this point that leads to some interesting choices about how you engage with the content. You can push for higher Challenge Tiers to get the highest level gear, or you can grind out a lower Challenge Tier that you’re more comfortable with for extra gear that can be broken down into crafting materials or sold for resources. Unfortunately, the end game doesn’t seem to have an especially long tail. Once you work your way up to Challenge Tier 15 all that’s left to do is to farm up your best-in-slot legendary gear. You can play the game again with each of the four classes, but I don’t expect the end game to offer most players more than maybe 10-15 more hours of gameplay.

Outriders would have been a much better game had the campaign been half as long and the end game had twice as much content. I had fun exploring the dozen or so environments throughout the story mode, but the game doesn’t start firing on all cylinders until the gear you get becomes meaningful. The disposable nature of gear during the campaign/leveling process makes the game feel a lot more shallow than it actually is, and getting players to that end-game grind sooner would likely have exposed a lot more players to the best that Outriders has to offer. I hope that Outriders gets DLC, but only if it’s content that builds out the end game even further. If an Outriders expansion is just another story-driven campaign, I likely won’t even bother playing. If I do, I’ll almost certainly set the difficulty to easy, skip all the cutscenes, and rush to the new end game. If you’re playing Outriders for the first time, I highly recommend you do the same.

Next: Outriders Complete Guide And Walkthrough

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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.

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