You have to admire the sheer tenacity of People Can Fly. After developing one of the most underrated first-person shooters ever in 2011’s Bulletstorm, the Polish studio was quickly snapped up by Epic Games to help ship a small indie title called Fortnite. You may have heard of it.
However, Outriders is the developer’s opportunity to once again shine on its own. The team’s latest is a co-op shooter that takes heavy inspiration from The Division, Destiny, and Mass Effect while adding its own flourishes to the sci-fi shooter formula. During an online virtual demo earlier this month, I got to play three hours of fresh mission types and try an all-new character class called the Technomancer.
We previously previewed Outriders back in January and found it to be a “shooter that seems tailor-made for superhero fans.” This is still the case seven months on, with the game’s unique mix of supernatural powers and tight cover-based shooting delivering all the thrills appropriate for an original sci-fi universe looking to engage you and friends for potentially hundreds of hours. Taking down legions of monsters as part of a battle-hardened trio offers up a lot of variety and chaotic action on par with the studio’s past shooter work.
Set on a ruinous planet called Enoch which humanity has failed to colonize after fleeing Earth, Outriders wastes no time in setting up a murky and dystopian atmosphere. My gameplay demo took place roughly 15 hours into the base campaign, yet judging by the amount of dust still present and the blood orange sky leering over me, it didn’t feel like humanity was any closer to claiming this world.
So, after picking my preferred weapon loadout and popping some class points into my desired upgrades, my team of three players hit the road towards one of the game’s main locations, Trench Town. Our initial objective was to reach the hub town while simultaneously defending an RV, which, in addition to being a cool-looking cyber truck, serves as Outriders’ main mode of transport.
This mission may have been simple, but it was a great scenario to truly take the new class for a spin. Unlike the Trickster, who touts a wide range of time-orientated melee abilities, or the hulking Devastator that specializes in rock manipulation, the Technomancer shares more in common with the flame-powered Pyromancer class in that it can deal a lot of ranged damage. Unlike the Pyromancer, though, this fourth class is the only one able to heal others – a handy function to be sure.
The team I played in was made up of two Technomancers and one Pyromancer specifically, meaning we were most successful in keeping the hordes at bay when shooting and playing strategically from afar. The demo let me take three of the Technomancer’s supernatural powers for a spin, the most effective being the ability to summon what’s called the pain launcher. This essentially operates as a futuristic rocket turret primed to rain hell on enemies from above. Using the Pain Launcher to bring down chaos on my enemies when things got a bit hairy was satisfying, to say the least. Setting this beauty down at the right moments granted me and my team enough breathing room to turn the tide of battle every time.
Teamwork is vital to succeeding in Outriders, and it was impressive how The Technomancer’s powers cleverly combined with the Pyromancer’s. I lost count of how many times I froze our enemies into an ice block using my Cryo Turret ability, only to have my fire-focused co-op partner send a ripple of flames their way to finish them off. I’m hopeful that all of the game’s classes will work as well with each other as the Technomancer and Pyromancer did.
Despite there being only four classes in the game, they can all be further customized toward a specific playstyle. There is a skill tree that allows you to unlock and improve certain abilities and you can also mix and match the powers you have equipped. This meant it didn’t matter that there were two Technomancers in my group since both played differently enough to from each other.
Of course, we can’t forget about the weapons themselves. And luckily, the game doesn’t look to disappoint on this front either, with everything from shotguns, RPG launchers, and even handguns to play with, each packing their own gratifying punch. Enemies did feel worryingly spongey at first, which led to an overreliance on supernatural abilities on our part, but eventually, things leveled out when my team acquired new artillery, taking Outriders from The Division-level of sponginess to that which is more in line with Destiny 2. We progressed through two World Levels during my three-hour stint with the game, always finding and equipping better gear as we pressed on.
I was relieved to discover during my playthrough that Outriders in no way resembles a live service game, with People Can Fly reaffirming that this sci-fi adventure will have a definitive beginning, middle, and end. It’s structured similar to Borderlands and Diablo in this way, with the story advancing naturally as you venture to various hub-like towns to help factions in need. This might disappoint players wanting a regular stream of non-stop content, but there is a confirmed endgame loop to Outriders waiting to be revealed. How this will explicitly be handled is anyone’s guess, though there appears to be enough content here to keep things fresh at launch.
Following the initial escort mission to Trench Town, we made it to this hub location, where I got some time to look around and engage with the locals. But it wasn’t long before my team took on a Bounty quest involving a decrepit individual known as the Bloody Baron, whom we were required to hunt down and kill. Doing so involved taking a short detour away from the next main campaign mission, mowing through as many foes as possible on our way to kill the target. Side missions like this seem like a nice distraction, but it was a little disappointing to see that enemy encounters didn’t change much between the trip to Trench Town and the bounty.
This goes doubly so for the next full single-player mission. After claiming our reward for slaying the Bloody Baron in Trench Town, our next goal was to find a missing faction member and pull him out of what’s called the Wreckage Zone. Thankfully, it’s here that were introduced to a new enemy type known as the Broods, which play a lot smarter and swifter compared to your typical human foes. This Wreckage Zone portion of the demo showed how different combat in Outriders plays when you’re not just taking on enemies at ground level, but above you as well. Suddenly, ground cover wasn’t as effective, forcing our team to pop out and play more aggressively.
My preview culminated with a mission called Onslaught, which looked and felt very much like a futuristic take on a WWII skirmish – not least because trenches played an important role. Capturing the insurgent bunker at the other end of the field proved quite a challenge, so much so that all my team members were downed at one point. We considered dropping the mission down a difficulty level before eventually giving it another crack as is, this time making sure to take out any large enemies before making a run for it.
Even in just the three hours I played, the importance of teamwork in Outriders was evident at every turn, leaving me to wonder how successfully these same scenarios will play out for solo players. We’ll have to wait and see.
In the end, there are the makings of an enjoyable co-op shooter in Outriders. It may not be doing anything particularly new gameplay-wise, often feeling like a melting pot of mechanics and concepts from other franchises, but they all coalesce in a decent manner and the ability to switch between superpowers and shooting on the fly helps give combat an edge. Should the story live up to People Can Fly’s original sci-fi concept and the endgame also be well thought out, we could be looking at another excellent loot shooter to kick off the next console generation.
Outriders is out later in 2020 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC, and Google Stadia.