‘Outriders’ a surprising loot shooter that has darker moments

Game pushes players to be more aggressive than do others of its kind.

Outriders review
Players can take on 'Outriders' in teams of three or go solo. (Square Enix/TNS)

Shooters don’t usually handle touchy subjects. They’re usually bubblegum blockbusters with explosive set pieces and larger-than-life heroes. “Outriders” seems that way on the surface.

As the last of the titular troopers, players find themselves as a pioneer on the planet Enoch. Humanity has destroyed Earth and a colony ship has traveled 80 years to the new world, but upon arrival, everything goes wrong for the landing team. A deadly alien storm called the Anomaly wreaks havoc on the settlers. A panicked executive calls in a mass landing too early.

During the first expedition, the Anomaly injures the Outrider and the hero is put into cryo. That character wakes up 30 years later and finds the dreams of building a paradise all in ashes. The Anomaly has driven humans to living in protected ravines. Worse yet, the survivors of the botched colonization have been driven to war.


But there’s a new weapon on the battlefield. Both sides have been killing each other with help from superpowered humans changed by the Anomaly. Called the Altereds, these people are like mutants who can call forth fire or have power to distort space. Fortunately, the Outrider who survived contact with the Anomaly has abilities as well. Players determine what kind of power they have by choosing one of four classes — Devastator, Pyromancer, Technomancer and Trickster. They each have a distinct team role and playstyle.

As the Outrider, players embark on an adventure to save what’s left of humanity. At first, it seems as though players will be helping the Enoch Colonization Authority beat back the savage Insurgents. Those expecting a conventional epic where players make a difference in a grand war will be surprised by how the narrative shifts. The setup is window dressing for a more fascinating and darker story that explores the deeper problems with the planet and what happened to the disastrous settlement.


Of course, that’s told through missions where the Outrider is sent to different locales. Similar to “Tom Clancy’s The Division” series, the game is a cover-based shooter with heavy loot elements. Players engage in battles with hordes of enemies who annoyingly spawn out of nowhere, and to win, they’ll have to outflank or outsmart them. Enemies drop gear such as weapons and armor and those are used to power up a character to take on more difficult challenges.


What’s different about “Outriders” is that the developers at People Can Fly pushed the combat in new ways. In most shooters of this type, players end up turtling behind cover and picking off enemies when they see an opportunity. With this game, the studio actively pushes players to be aggressive by tying healing to attacks. They bolster this concept by giving players faster cooldown times on their powers to ensure they use them more often.

Cover is still important in “Outriders” but the developers incentivize players to push forward more often and to constantly attack because that’s how they regain life. With the different classes, that’s done in different ways. Devastator and Tricksters deal damage up close and have powers based on causing bleeding damage and slowing opponents, respectively. Pyromancer attacks from midrange and gains health every time the hero hurts adversaries with burn damage. Lastly, Technomancer is a support class that specializes at dealing freezing or toxic damage from a distance with rifles or gadgets such as turrets.

Players can go it alone and adapt to the different playstyles for each class. If they do so, Trickster or Devastator are the easiest to pick up. Ideally, “Outriders” is meant to be played in teams of three. Each class has a role in gun battles and they work in concert when going up against the different enemies and scenarios.

Some missions will require teams to fight hordes of monsters that swarm the group and attack in waves. The pyromancer or technomancer skills work well for crowd control. Other scenarios are more technical and require teamwork to outflank enemies taking cover and sniping at players from the high ground.

Whatever the case, the encounters give players ample opportunity to explore the depth of “Outriders.” Each class has three variations that players can specialize in and their gear can be modded to accentuate a specific talent or loadout. It takes time to decipher the benefits and disadvantages of these choices, but it gives players a tremendous layer of control to how they craft their character.


As good as the combat and character progression feel, the mission design feels flat. People Can Fly creates smart levels that have good cover spaces and intricate layouts, but everything feels static. The maps don’t change or evolve as a confrontation escalates. The developers just send more difficult enemies at players if they want to increase the challenge. A more dynamic battleground, where new cover emerges or where players can interact with places, could make the fights feel more modern.

When it comes to boss battles, “Outriders” is a mixed bag. The confrontation against Enoch’s big monsters is thrilling, but the fights against gun- and power-toting adversaries are more frustrating. They require more coordination, and sometimes when playing solo, the confrontations can feel unfair by forcing players to lower the difficulty by dropping a setting called the World Tier. Still, the enemies can be beaten with the right skills, gear and technique.


“Outriders” as it stands now is far from perfect. The game has plenty of bugs. It’s sometimes hard to log on and players will experience glitches that take away from the experience. But if players can look past the bugs, they can discover a compelling campaign. The intriguing story swerves from epic war tale to a darker story about the impact of colonization. It echoes the impact of Western European colonialism on the rest of the world and how civilized people treated natives across continents.

“Outriders” applies our history to the planet Enoch. People Can Fly brings up the issue but doesn’t handle it too well. Instead of hammering home the darkness of the tale and what humanity can do to atone for its wrongs, the game takes the easy way out and focuses on broader horizons and the slew of major adversaries waiting in the wings.

It’s not a satisfactory answer to the issues the game brings up, but perhaps People Can Fly can make amends in the inevitable sequel.


3 stars out of 4

Platform: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Stadia, PC

Rating: Mature

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Outriders review
In 'Outriders,' players will face several intimidating creatures on the planet of Enoch. If they kill some, they can earn valuable items from a bar in Trench Town. (Square Enix/TNS)

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