Coming from People Can Fly – the developers of one of my favourite shooters, Bulletstorm – is Outriders. Now, it’s fair to say that this game has been on my radar for a little while, with a gritty, end of the world feel, and mutated humans with new and exciting powers to experiment with. The thought of mixing People Can Fly’s shooting expertise with the RPG genius of Square Enix makes me giddy with excitement, and so when a demo was announced I just knew I had to dive into it and gather what secrets I could. So, come with me to Enoch, a brave new world with its share of the same old problems you’d have hoped we’d have left back on Earth!
Yes, in case you didn’t know, the opening of Outriders is as follows: humans have ruined the Earth, until it isn’t capable of supporting life any more. Two huge colony ships are built, filled to the brim with the brightest and the best that the planet has to offer. One takes off for the distant planet of Enoch, the other falls prey to an accident and is destroyed. We, and the game, awaken when we finally reach Enoch, 81 years after leaving Earth behind. We are Outriders, a group of soldier/scout-type troops, first into danger, last out, hoorah – that kind of unit. As we land on the planet, the first thing we have to do is make sure we still know how to shoot a gun, then set off in pursuit of probes that were dropped from orbit. It’s fairly important we get this right, as there are about half a million sat in orbit waiting to see what happens when we land. No pressure.
Of course, it isn’t long before the idyllic world we’ve chosen decides to show its savage side and a violent storm blows up out of nowhere, blasting some Outriders to pieces, turning them inside out almost, before we manage to escape. The civilian leadership of the mission then decides that the best they can do is not cancel the thawing of the colonists in light of the new evidence, but attempt to silence the people bringing said evidence. After an enormous gunfight, our character is affected by the storm, but not in a bad way, and before we have chance to breathe, we are injured, bundled back into stasis by a girl called Shira, and left to our own devices again.
When we are awakened, again, some number of years later, we find a completely different world. There are two factions at war, and to top it all off, those have been affected by the storm, but not killed, have become Altered, gaining access to powers far beyond what a regular human has. To cut a long story short, we come to realise that we are an Altered, and it’s here that the story begins. Yes, the whole landing and exploring part of the game we have just lived through is only the prologue, and so now we have to begin the game proper, where our first big decision lies before us.
We are Altered, but what kind? There are four classes to choose from; Technomancer, who fights from afar and controls the battlefield with technology, like little turrets. Pyromancer controls fire, and gains health from enemies that are killed while on fire, for instance. Trickster is a rogue-like character attacking with speed, dexterity and just a twist of time control, and finally the Devastator is a massive Tank character, built to take and dish out huge amounts of damage, all up in the enemies’ grilles. Personally, I went Pyromancer for my first class, but they all play very differently, so there’s a good chance you’ll find something that you like.
Speaking of play, how does Outriders pan out in this demo form ahead of full release? Well, if you imagine that Gears of War and Destiny had a baby together, the resulting offspring would look a lot like Outriders. It’s a cover-based shooter with strong magic elements, and as such is a great deal of fun to play. Enemy cowering in cover? No probs for the Pyromancer, who can send a wave of fire rolling across the battlefield, setting cowering enemies on fire, and forcing them into the open for some bullet-based justice.
In this game, in direct opposition to most others, the more aggressive you are, the more you will stay alive. Hiding in cover and taking the odd pot shot will see your health pretty much stay where it is, but using your powers, killing bad guys and generally being awesome will see you healed for each kill, so a certain amount of gung-ho gameplay is encouraged. Finding better armour and weapons, equipping them when you have a second to breathe, then beginning the whole cycle again is a great deal of fun.
As you raise the world tier you’re in – a la The Division 2 – you will get better loot but tougher enemies, so the risk/reward mechanic is already there. You have access to a few main missions, and four side missions in the demo, which is enough to give a good flavour of how Outriders is going to play. Based on my experiences it’s going to be awesome. Of course, I was keen on Anthem too, and look how that turned out.
For the duration of the demo, you are limited in what you can do, as you’d expect. You can reach a max level of seven, and progress through the story until just after you have killed the first boss – a massive Magneto wannabe with fierce electric powers. The good part of this, however, is that the progress you make in the demo will carry across to the real game when it releases on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, PC and Google Stadia on April 1st 2021, should you purchase it, so there’s nothing to stop you maxing out one character, then going right back and making another, maxing that, and so on. Soon you’ll have all four classes represented, at level 7, and this is a pretty good basis to start the full game on.
There is a proper RPG-style skill tree to work your way through, with lots of different nodes to unlock, whether that be extra health or additional special power strength. If you do all the missions you will get a couple of skill points to invest, so it is pretty in depth as far as the game mechanics go.
Now, this is as much as I’m going to write about the demo, as I can’t get too opinionated in a preview piece – it’s all about the facts. And the facts are these: Outriders is fast, furious and brutal, with well-balanced gunplay and superpowers, and it is a good amount of fun, especially playing with friends. Yes, the full, drop in, drop out, cross-play enabled multiplayer aspects of the game are on display, and the frame rate and everything stays impressively rock solid throughout. The switch from single player, to multiplayer and back is impressively smooth, and while I feel the voting interface for fast travelling could be a lot smoother, it isn’t a game breaker.
All in all, after taking in everything that the Outriders demo has to offer (grab it from the Xbox Store if you wish), I am cautiously excited to see what the full game brings. Bring on April 1st! And that’s no joke.