Outriders Review: Fun Co-Op RPG Shooter Gets in Its Own Way

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Outriders — the new co-op RPG shooter from Poland-headquartered People Can Fly, the studio behind Gears of War: Judgment and Bulletstorm — is an always-online experience. That’s not new for video games in today’s day and age, more so when you’ve got a co-op title like Outriders that allows friends and/or strangers — depending on your in-game settings — to drop in and out. But always-online games are a two-fold problem: they not only require gamers to have an uninterrupted Internet connection, but they also demand the game’s servers to constantly function at the highest order. And in the week of Outriders’ launch, People Can Fly has really struggled with the latter. In my time with the game since last Thursday, I’ve been kicked out of Outriders more times than I can count.

The most common technical problem I faced in Outriders was a dialog box that reads “Internet connection error”. Rest assured it has nothing to do with your Internet connection. In fact, it’s a server issue. Every single time it happens, you’ll be thrown back to the main menu. Following that at times, Outriders will bug out and promptly crash. It’s very much possible I saw more server errors than missions I finished on Outriders. Sometimes, you’ll even be confronted with “Internet connection error” on the Outriders start screen itself. The game also takes forever to start, with a tiny ring spinning next to the words “authenticating and “signing in”. People Can Fly have themselves admitted that it might take 10 minutes. In the realm of waiting, that feels like forever.

Outriders is not as bad as Cyberpunk 2077

Playing Outriders for the past few days has felt like a déjà vu of my time reviewing Cyberpunk 2077. But thankfully, the game’s core itself isn’t broken. The fault seems to lie with People Can Fly’s servers, which yes, technically are a part of Outriders since it’s an always-online game. You could argue that the game is broken; after all, there is no offline mode on offer here. The server troubles heavily impacted my game experience — and even my progress. Outriders dropped out during a cutscene following a boss fight, and I discovered that it hadn’t been saved when I returned. I even got the achievement but Outriders believed I never killed the boss. I gave up — and would have likely uninstalled if I wasn’t reviewing the game — though weirdly it fixed itself when I booted up Outriders a day later.

The game’s recurring server troubles have also limited the opportunities I had to play Outriders with friends. While one of us might be able to get into the game, others wouldn’t have the same luck. On other occasions, the drop in feature would throw up a “party failure” error, prohibiting you from teaming up. Or Outriders would freeze guest players in-game after throwing up a “host connection problem”. Sometimes it would fix itself, but then the frozen players might be immediately kicked out. In a couple of cases, a frozen friend who saw no error screens was invisible to the rest of us, and had to log out and log in again. This is all naturally very frustrating, and it made us give up after trying a few times. The best session lasted around two hours before it too went bust.

The situation with Outriders’ servers is bad enough that the game’s official Twitter has been full of just troubleshooting info, with People Can Fly’s support team providing players with all kind of creative ways to get around recurring problems. Some missions require you to drop certain items at a camp, for instance. As for the signing in troubles, gamers are being asked to power down their consoles for several minutes before turning them on again. Playing a game shouldn’t be so much work, but with Outriders, that’s what it is right now. This all reflects a game that has been released before it was truly ready, which is funny because a demo was released back in February, giving People Can Fly over a month to work out kinks during what was essentially a beta period.

And Outriders’ servers aren’t the only thing that’s suffering from beta hangover. Outriders supports cross-platform play across all devices, but the game notes that the feature is currently in beta. At least in this department, Outriders has some sort of defence for its flaws. Cross-play is broken for PC players at the time of writing — but hey, it’s in beta. Those aforementioned bugs that freeze players? That too happened during cross-play. Though there are structural concerns too. Cross-play needs a unique game code that has to be generated every time you log in. There’s no cross-platform ID (like with Rocket League) and the friend system doesn’t work with cross-platform friends either. That said, I’m happy it exists — cross-play ought to be the standard in 2021 — as it allows my friends and I to play Outriders across three different consoles.

The different character classes in Outriders
Photo Credit: Square Enix/People Can Fly

Outriders the game

When the servers aren’t bothering you, in Outriders, you’ll find yourself traversing an alien wasteland, filled with insurgents and giant otherworldly creatures. Played from a third-person perspective, Outriders places you in the role of the titular elite soldier — playable as a man or woman — who is part of the last vestige of humanity. After you land on an alien planet called Enoch, you inadvertently gain supernatural powers thanks to the Anomaly, a massive energy storm, but are mortally wounded in the process. You wake up three decades later from a cryochamber, with Enoch now resembling a hellscape, divided between colonists and rebels, all stuck within the Anomaly. As one of the superpowered “Altered”, you’re tasked to figure out a solution.

Before you set out to fix Enoch, Outriders will have you pick from four character classes: Technomancer, Pyromancer, Trickster, and Devastator. Most of these are typical for a role-playing game: Devastator is the close-range tank with powerful gravity powers, Trickster is akin to a thief or rogue and can teleport and freeze enemies, Pyromancer wields fire from mid-range, and Technomancer is the long-range support and can call in turrets, rockets, and poison. Co-op allows for teams of three — People Can Fly said four led to overcrowding — which means you and your friends will have to pick which class to drop. All of them have three ability slots that allow you to choose what superpowers you wish to wield. The powers come with cool downs, but that’s not all you can do to take the fight to your enemies.

Each character has guns too. There’s room for three in the loadout: two main weapons and a pistol sidearm (with infinite bullets). Outriders is fairly liberal with new weapon drops, which means you’ll constantly be jumping into the inventory menus to switch up your loadout. On top of a base firepower value, weapons have a bunch of different properties: range, accuracy, stability, and rarity. The last of those is especially important as it impacts special abilities. Depending on how rare the weapon is, you can slot in one to three status effects such as leeching health, boosting health with killing shots, and freezing or lighting up enemies. You can also upgrade weapons and craft modifiers with resources you get from the world or dismantling items you don’t need. But the crafting system is quite demanding, which essentially means you’re looking at a grind.

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A couple of weapons from Outriders
Photo Credit: Square Enix/People Can Fly

It’s easier switching to new more powerful weapons though sure, they might not have be as special (read rare) as the less powerful ones. Outriders’ quality of loot — weapons or armour — is directly tied to the difficulty. Unlike other games, this isn’t a setting that you pick in the beginning. Outriders has a system called “World Tier” which defines how powerful the enemies are and how rare the weapon drops are. World Tier goes up to level 15 but new levels only unlock as you level up yourself. The idea is that Outriders will stay competitive as you progress through the game. It also means that you can easily switch down to a lower World Tier if you’re stuck, but that does mean your item drops won’t be as nice. This might cyclically force you to remain on that level, so you’ve got to use it wisely.

Outriders gameplay

In certain ways, Outriders draws on People Can Fly’s own past work (à la Gears of War) and some of the most popular games of its ilk (Destiny 2 and others). It’s part cover shooter, with an assisted cover system helping from run from over spot to the next. Depending on the character class you pick, you can hang back or sneak up next to enemies. That allows you to bring your powers into play, in addition to picking out weapons that work best for the scenario in front of you. Attack is the best defence on Outriders as there are no health drops; you’ve to kill others to survive and come out on top. But you do have to pick your time. Some enemies are very powerful (read bullet sponges) and Outriders can throw a lot at you at times. It can get overwhelming, which is where the World Tier system helps.

You might be tempted to play hide and shoot but but People Can Fly has a lot of ideas to pull players out of cover. The favourite choice for all combatants is to lob explosives and mortars at players in cover with precision and frequency. What makes it annoying is that players don’t have any access to grenades themselves. Outriders’ message is simple: don’t hide. Add to that a variety of enemies, like in Gears of War. Some pick you out from afar, some load on you from medium range, other heavily-armoured ones nonchalantly walk towards you in the open, and yet others wielding dual axes or curved blades sprint at you full speed. Some may even try to flank you, though they are much more likely to throw a grenade to push you into the open where someone can take an easy shot.

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A enemy combatant in Outriders
Photo Credit: Square Enix/People Can Fly

That’s not all. In Outriders, you’ll also face “Altered” enemies who have superpowers just like you do. They might teleport around the battlefield, fire electric bolts at you like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, or have a lava vortex chase you continuously. Staying out in the open against other Altered individuals usually results in a quick death. If you’re playing with friends, it’s good to flank and rotate roles, which lets one of you absorb damage for a bit while others recuperate. But that’s easier said than done. When Outriders overwhelms you, each of you will have a lot to deal with. Once, with both of my teammates down, I found myself running around the battlefield to distract the enemies in order to make time to revive my friends. It’s a comical bit of game management to say the least.

But it’s not always an option either. Outriders may look like an open world but it essentially functions like a linear corridor shooter — you move from one arena to the next clearing out enemies. If you run too far back after entering a new area, Outriders will throw up a 10-second countdown before the combat resets. And since the arena size varies widely, it limits what you can do. You can’t run away. You can’t stand your ground because they are bullet sponges. You can’t run deeper into the arena because there’s too many of them. And the rate at which you’re losing health outpaces the regeneration, with your superpowers unable to cope/ stuck in cooldown. At times, you might end with your back to an (invisible) wall, wondering if lack of skill is truly the reason behind your loss.

You can counteract some of this by teaming up with others, but co-op can only help so much in Outriders. What I noticed most during our Outriders group sessions is how the play styles change depending on who you have in your squad. While I’m a Pyromancer, my two friends are a Technomancer and Trickster, respectively. A boss mission with a giant spider became more manageable with a close-range player (Trickster), while a vast snowy arena was fertile ground for my long-range friend (Technomancer) to whittle down the numbers from afar. There were times when we wondered if having a tank (Devastator) to absorb damage might have come in handy, which is what People Can Fly wants you to ponder — and why it allows you to create up to six characters.

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A Trickster in Outriders
Photo Credit: Square Enix/People Can Fly

Outriders review

When it all comes together, Outriders can be good fun. The gunplay felt a little stilted and laboured to me early on, but I’ve found it to be really satisfying at times, especially when you empty a volcanic-charged cartridge into an enemy’s head — and they plop to the ground. And Outriders keeps you on your toes as you’re constantly balancing various elements: where to find cover, dodging grenades, when to jump back out, who to target first, how to maximise your powers, and working with your squad. Outriders was built with co-op in mind and that’s when it comes alive. It’s nice to have a friend to lean on, and that goes for Outriders too, as they can help revive you. In fact, some of our most intense conversations have come out of debating when it’s a good time to attempt to revive someone.

Yes, we have had our share of frustrations. We were unable to figure out some levels, even though we knew each of us was maximising our abilities. That forced us to drop the World Tier down a couple of pegs. It felt like Outriders was essentially telling us to grind elsewhere before returning to that point. And of course, we have faced all sorts of server issues. Our play sessions haven’t organically come to an end as much as they’ve been brought to a halt on their own. And that’s when we actually got past the start menu. I do hope that People Can Fly can improve on this as soon as possible, because it’s not straightforward to recommend a game in this state. More so if you’re paying full price for it. Outriders keeps getting in its own way right now — but despite the numerous server troubles I’ve faced, I can’t wait to jump back into Outriders with my friends.

Pros:

  • Best with friends
  • Powers are fun to use
  • Keeps you on your toes
  • Different classes, different playstyles
  • Scalable difficulty
  • Variety of weapons
  • Universal cross-play

Cons:

  • Always online
  • No offline mode, not even solo
  • Long loading times
  • Combat can get overwhelming
  • Crafting, missions require grind
  • Server troubles at launch
  • Game-crashing bugs
  • No cross-play ID, friends

Rating (out of 10): 7

Gadgets 360 played Outriders on the Xbox One X. The game is out now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Stadia, and GeForce Now.

It costs Rs. 2,980 on Epic Games Store, Rs. 2,999 on Steam, and Rs. 3,999 on Microsoft Store and PlayStation Store. Outriders is also available as part of Xbox Game Pass (on consoles-only) that costs Rs. 699 per month.


PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Which is the best “next-gen” console in India? We discussed this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.

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