Outriders (PC) — A Review (in progress).

For context I am somewhere around 50 hours into Outriders. I finished the campaign on World Tier 15 with a friend. I was playing as the Devastator and landed on the same bleed/anomaly/seismic build seemingly everyone else did. We have since made it to Challenge Tier 12 (out of 15) in the Endgame mode, Expeditions, before mostly giving up because it became an unbearable slog.

Alongside that I have been working on solo levelling a Pyromancer (I am up to level 16), which has been pretty rough, as the solo experience is about as ass as it is in all of these games, which are designed top to bottom for multiple people, despite the developers continually telling us they aren’t. However, I have been enjoying the Pyromancer’s kit and supporting skill tree significantly more than I did really anything on the Devastator. Although I wish they’d tweak the healing mechanic, to make it more reliable. If the Technomancer returns ranged damage back as health and the Devastator can spec into healing off of applying bleed, why doesn’t the Pyromancer heal based on burn ticks? Just seems like a no brainer. Whatever.

I just recently began the process of levelling a Technomancer with a friend, as well, too. So basically, I feel like I have more than enough authority at this point to put a review together. However, I am classifying it as “in progress” as I appreciate I am technically not “done”. I haven’t slogged to the final Endgame mission, plus I have only made it to Endgame on one character, so maybe somewhere along the way, my feelings will dramatically change.

As it stands right now, however… I am, deflated. The demo was extremely rough around the edges, and borderline broken at times, but got almost everything right, in terms of what I wanted out of the game. From the loot, to the power fantasy, to the core loop, I was hyped as fuck.

…Sadly, that momentum, as you transition into the main game, dies surprisingly fast. This seems to be, in part, down to a series of inexplicable stealth nerfs, given what happens at Endgame. But also, just in general, it seems bizarre the demo allows you access to almost every mod available for your first five skills (out of nine), and really a large collection of available mods and loot. You see very few new things for the first ten or so levels as you come out of the demo, really until you start reliably getting purple items which is probably around 15 levels out from the demo.

The first few hours of the campaign were a real rollercoaster of crushing highs and lows. I had played the demo almost as much as I have done the full game at this point and I was riding high, itching to see more of what the game had to offer. Finally seeing new locations, new enemies, new skills and class definition from the tree after so long, was an absolute treat. Plus, the mod system was one of the coolest things I’d seen in a looter. The idea you could scrap loot and bank their mods in a library, freely swapping things around and making effectively new items out of old, useless, ones is just a magic idea. There was seemingly no limitation, either, you could only change one mod on a piece but there is no limitation of say… having only one Tier 3 mod on a gun, for example. If you want a gun where, as you fire, you both summon bolts of lightning down on enemies and also rain meteorites down onto them at the same time, well, you can go right ahead. Tanking framerates, be damned.

Sadly, so much of this in practice just wasn’t ever as exciting as the idea of it. The mod system, for as fun as it is, takes away a lot of the excitement, identity and connection to your gear. Pretty much all items eventually become an interchangeable grey mush once your library is filling up. For some, they may love that, but for me, I appreciate a uniquely curated item, like a lovingly handcrafted exotic you may find in say Destiny. It is an especial shame they just made every item a vessel, as some of the Legendary designs in this game are just gorgeous and I really wish there was more reason for me to keep one around. Really the best thing you can do as a Legendary starts to drop behind is take it’s mod and stick it in a more current, and probably significantly less interesting looking, item. And that is just sad.

More than this, it is seemingly becoming apparently that each class really only has one truly viable way to play at Endgame. This means once you “bank” the specific mods you need for the build, the chase is effectively over. You won’t really find anything exciting or new, just things with bigger numbers on. Once you get that item, you juggle around the same mods you’ve been using for hours and then proceed to do the same old gameplay loop, again because… reasons. You won’t suddenly find your whole gameplay experience turned on it’s head, like the demo suggested.

Now, this isn’t necessarily true of the Legendary tier of gear - their equivalent of exotics, as used by most other games -there really does appear to be a whole new world waiting for you, when it comes to those items. However, I think I maybe got one world drop throughout the entire campaign? All the rest of mine came from specific campaign rewards or milestones reached. This drop rate hasn’t seemed to increase in Endgame, either, despite being only three Tiers away from max level. I know some people love grinding away for hundreds of hours for a tiny chance at an exotic, but that kind of bullshit drove me away from Destiny and meant I will never touch World of Warcraft. You could argue Borderlands 3 is too far in the other direction, but I’d rather have too many, than relying on something that may not drop for dozens of hours, with my progress completely stalled until RNG rolls in my favour.

While I recognise why they did it, having all of the Tier 2 mods accessible by the end of the campaign immediately sets the Endgame on the back foot. While I can see arguments against the choice, I really do feel specific mods tied to tiers of Expeditions exclusively, would be a much more compelling chase through the Endgame mode. You would need to be very careful on how you balance these, but it would give you some sort of motivation to slog through until that next Legendary drop.

But I think it is more than that, having all of the Tier 2 mods by the end of the campaign wouldn’t have inherently been such a bad thing, if the chase for those Legendairies was held in a compelling, enjoyable or fun, gameplay experience. However, none of those words can be used to describe Expeditions. Imagine a Destiny strike, only completely hollowed out, until the skeletal remains are left, before the carcass is flooded to bursting point with seemingly endless waves of bullet sponge enemies who do not seem to correctly scale with each new Challenge Tier. They make astronomical leaps, as you make each incremental step forwards. You never once feel powerful but you always feel bored as fuck, shooting the same three bullet sponge enemies for what feels like an eternity. I’d even take the Anthem strongholds over this.

They also chose to make the Endgame all about time trials, which pretty much everyone in the audience knows is a bad idea. You make a game about build variety, classes, roles etc and then throw it all out of the window by making everything a time trial. The fastest time is not going to be set by a defensive tank or a supportive medic or a crowd controller, it is going to be set by DPS. So whatever build got you to the end of the campaign, if it wasn’t centred on DPS, time to throw it in the bin. If you aren’t hitting gold or silver during the Expeditions, they are basically not worth doing. Just a complete awful, counter intuitive, system.

It all creates a chase that just isn’t compelling enough for me, to keep me grinding. This is pretty much a death sentence for a game like this and looking elsewhere, it doesn’t seem I am alone on this. Time will tell whether this drives players away. The devs will either die on this hill, or admit that a lot of the core pillars of entire systems of their game simply do not work. All the potential in the world is meaningless if the execution itself is bad. And this of course doesn’t mention at all the various bugs, some completely game breaking and the myriad of server, matchmaking and connectivity issues that still plague the game at time of writing.

I know I have talked extensively around the Endgame, as that is just what is more relevant to me with the game right now. But I honestly have a lot of problems all the way through the game, so let us break those down.

Firstly, the character creator sucks and most of the armour sets are really ugly. I love third person shooters and I love the fashion game of a looter, god I wish Destiny 2 had a third person mode so I could actually see my Guardian in action. They answered that here, but then proceeded to make me spend the entire game in a collection of rags, some waterproof trousers I guess I got from the discount rail in Go Outdoors before I left Earth and some toy looking helmet. Given all of the gear are basically skins, there are also remarkably few unique designs. There are probably a good half a dozen variants of some kind of brown rag, hanging off a waterproof or shiny looking tracksuit. My friend found some much cooler looking pieces along the way, but as the numbers went up, he had to leave them behind and by the Endgame we somehow both looked like vaguely homeless astronauts, with bits of trash layered onto us. Given the Legendary guns are the best looking things in the whole game, and you can barely see them in combat, this might be the first third person game I wish I could play in first person instead. I’d be happy to see my awful looking character in the menu and then never have to think about it again.

Okay, I guess that is a pretty petty, shallow and personal, criticism so let us talk about something more universal — the difficulty, encounter design, AI design and general experience. It is bad.

Me and my friend chose to ride the World Tiers all the way through, something that really has little purpose other than inflating our stats and giving us a few Legendairies for the final reward ranks. This system is completely thrown out of the window for Challenge Tiers at Endgame and if ending on World Tier 15 gave us any kind of advantage going into the Expeditions, we didn’t notice.

The journey from World Tier 5, out of the demo, to maybe World Tier 9 or 10, at least for me, was pretty miserable. It only got better, once I started filling my library with those Tier 2 mods and was funnelled into basically the one viable build the Devastator currently has. Before that, however, I suffered through the absolutely all over the place tuning.

Human enemies are generally just completely insufferable, they seem to all have some kind of tracking aimhack, so all of them can hit you basically all the time, regardless of where they are positioned or what they are doing. They also tend to either do one of two things, relentlessly run into your face or sit back as far as they can. Both of which don’t really work within the wider context of the gameplay rhythm and lead to lots of extreme frustration.

This is then exaggerated by very limited visual and auditory feedback for the enemies guns, which is so lacking in fact, I am convinced it must be bugged, because I just can’t accept it was designed this way. You remember in Anthem when you’d just get one shot out of nowhere? Well, it is that shit all over again.

Over time they introduce beast enemies, who are genuinely significantly easier for no real explainable reason, other than it seems the balancing is bad. Or maybe it’s just because they can’t just sit at the back of the map, forcing you to fight with the clunky movement systems as they fire upon you with the same silent sniper rifles with invisible bullets that hit with the same force as an anti aircraft gun, that the human enemies use.

However, they introduce their own problems, as well. Flying enemies just simply do not belong in this game, many skills cannot target flying enemies, so if that is what you have built yourself around, you’re just shit out of luck . Standing there getting spammed by some cunt in the sky, who has way too much health and does way too much damage, when just by existing it counters about 90% of the things in the game.

You’ll also get lots of bullet sponge beasts, who quickly become immune to status effects, which can make certain abilities completely redundant. They also can just instantly land in front of you, spam some sort of stun lock bullshit combo on you in the corner until you die. Again, the game gives you pretty much no real way to counter this, but still despite this they give these enemies absurd amounts of health and damage, that doesn’t seem to properly scale with the World Tiers at all. I really do think World Tier 5 through 10 would benefit with being retuned to make them easier and the final five could honestly do with being a bit harder, for a more even, natural, curve and flow through the game.

Oh and those fucking interrupts. Fuck me. Yeah, so basically every enemy attack works as an interrupt, stopping you casting skills and causing your Outrider to stumble all over the place, usually resulting in your death. There is almost no way to avoid this, as the game floods you with enemies that can immediately close the gap. Not every class has a crowd control or interrupt move, or at least not a reliable one, and the enemies become immune to them so quickly, you quickly lose sight of their viability. Now, maybe it is because of the sheer volume of enemies, but if you gain any kind of interrupt immunity like the enemies develop, you don’t notice it. Again, it just feels really shit to be getting ragged all over the screen, with nothing to do. You die and you have nothing to learn or work on, you’ve just been cheated.

Overall, I just think it is the shittiest, laziest, bullshittiest way to design enemy encounters. To lock the player into a series of ridged rules and then break all those rules for the AI, rather than actually creating challenging encounters through intelligent AI, instead. The Division 2 does this all the time and it just fucking sucks, however, this also doesn’t have any of Division 2’s variety of enemy types or dynamic encounters, either, so it is just the worst of everything. Hell, I am not sure if this game even has more variety than Anthem and for anyone who has played Anthem… yeah, how the hell is that even possible?

Then there is the “story”, something the developers hyped a lot. This is also bad. Like you could argue it is serviceable, there is some interesting world building along the way, but so much of it is borrowed and basically none of it is new. I know it is a lazy way to criticise anything, but I couldn’t tell you the amount of times we remarked as we played just how much a certain section felt like X game. I don’t remember a time where either of us remarked on the game introducing some actual innovative new idea.

Further to this, they make the choice of fragmenting it over a road trip structure, which branches off into various side quests. This meant that by the end I’d lost all grasp on what the story was, who anyone was or what our goal was. The story drops some “oh shit” moments along the way, which may have been genuinely cool or emotional, had the game put in any work at all to make me care. Which they didn’t, basically ever.

It is also funny, in the sad way, just how little there actually is to the campaign, in practice. You can quite literally shave off hours upon hours off of the campaign by skipping the cutscenes and endless dialogue exchanges the second time around. The campaign is about half the length they promised with all the cutscenes and dialogue exchanges watched, without them I’d be amazed if there is even 10 hours of actually playable content in the campaign. Especially if you are playing at a lower World Tier all the way through. I think a good chunk of hours were due to us getting bottlenecked by the World Tier system and waiting until we got the drop we needed to push our build over the check threshold to clear the next encounter.

It all makes me sad, because after months of excitement, a demo that suggested maybe it would all live up to the hype, I am now sat here kinda scared it might already be all over. I don’t want it to be over, but once I get my Techno or Pyro to Endgame, if I just have the same experience I had on my Devastator, then I don’t really see myself having much reason to stick around. Especially if my friends also fall off, one of which already seems to be on the brink of quitting already.

I still do believe in the foundation they have built here, even with the myriad of issues woven into those foundations, but as they have made it clear, this is not a live service. If that is the case, maybe we’ll be waiting for an Outriders 2 in 2031 to really see this properly realised.

And if I do end up dropping off in the next couple of weeks to a month, then so continues a depressingly dry 2021. That Mass Effect collection is suddenly looking more enticing than ever…

— Locke.