William: Outriders is a game that becomes more difficult in about every way the more you play it. Not only for the scaling in difficulty, but just how to feel about the game period. The more of the game you’re exposed to, the more the things it handles in excellent fashion or imprinted on you. And the things that frustrate you about the game continue to magnify. Make no mistake, I still think Outriders, when balancing the good and bad, still finds itself in the black. But there is an exacerbation of its flaws as the game demands more of you. Whether that be farming legendary items, going for gold on expeditions, or the still ever-present crashes that can strike in the lobby or mid-battle.
Mikkel: For the past month, I have affectionately been calling the game the bastard child of Mass Effect and Anthem that has been raised by Borderlands, although the developers (People Can Fly) themselves, say that Outriders’ roots are founded in Diablo which is a very much an apt comparison as well. The ability-centric, carnage fueled looter shooter is a dungeon crawler by any other name and 50 some hours deep, I definitely feel like I got my money’s worth from my stint in the edgy hellscape of Enoch in this “Explicitly not a games-as-a-service” game. I also don’t know how long I’m going to be staying there.
Outriders: The Story of Enoch
William: I’ve now done a stroll through the story in Outriders a couple of times now via playing with multiple characters. It’s not great. Or rather, it’s very uneven. Buried under a lot of weird pacing, technical hiccups with cutscenes, and wildly inconsistent writing is at least an intriguing story. Like many RPG type stories before it, Outriders sees your lone wolf, mercenary type accumulate more and more team members. By games end, you have the semblance of a family that has seen Hell (or, the Gate) and back to the point where you know these characters who began as strangers, now will fight tooth and nail for each other. That part is interesting. But how we get there is a lot less so. As seen in the demo, the tone of the writing never really balances itself, vacillating between edgelord and buddy cop quirks and shenanigans. While the fusion of your crew is intriguing, there’s nothing particularly memorable about any of them as individuals. There will be no top 10 Outriders companion lists in the future. They are all milquetoast archetypes who don’t deviate much from their programming, which is a shame because the bones are definitely there. The resolution and the unfolding of the mystery is actually good. The problem is, you very well may have skipped all the previous cutscenes in your boredom to know what the hell is happening in the end or to give a damn in general.
Mikkel: I tried watching the cutscenes at the beginning, but before the end of the first act, I found myself smashing the ESC key as quickly as humanely possible because I just did not care. And it led to moments like Will mentioned where suddenly I was fighting someone I wasn’t expecting to fight and it wasn’t until I had to replay the fight because it was during the initial week where server instability was (even more) rampant and even then, knowing why I was fighting the person didn’t really change my feelings one way or another. I was just here to shoot and loot.
To their credit, there were a couple moments (specifically in the side quests) that elicited a chuckle or smile, but it did not offset the fact that the campaign was fairly paint by the numbers and the world was nearly interesting enough for me to get invested.
There’s a lot of lore, a lot of things, but it’s offset by the genericness of the different RPG biomes (Snow world, jungle world, ruin wold, jungle world) and the extreme violence of our protagonist. It cannot be overstated, but the main character is violent. Shoot first, no need to ask questions violent. Excessive force in an excessive world that’s still somehow excessively violent.
All in all, the campaign is easily one of the weakest parts of the game, which is a shame because again, there are glimmers of something worth caring about, but they fade fairly quickly.
Core Mechanics Built to… Loot/Kill/Frustrate
Mikkel: The foundation of Outriders is solid as it can be. Four different classes, each with a branching skill tree with different specializations, and eight different skills as a baseline to create your Altered with a reasonable degree of customization (the strict DPS meta notwithstanding). The buildcraft in this game is absolutely outstanding, with various stats, armors and weapon mods drastically changing your character play and it starts out being very accessible (i.e. this piece is a high level, but I want to keep my Earthquake mod) from the get go to being very convoluted in the best way (I need to dismantle the Tier III mod from the Marshall set so I can use it in my Seismic Commander build), and the interactions and synergies are virtually endless.
They aren’t a lot of games that allow you to combine potent powerful mods quite like Outriders does (although, we’ll get to acquiring those mods later).
That said, while the gun mods are incredible, the guns themselves are only passable and the other features of the game are a little wonky. Initial server stability aside, the load times, loading screens are frequent, partly because of how the map with 17 some nodes functions. The quest-tracking UI is atrocious. The sound mixing is inherently way too loud for inexplicable reasons and as a forewarning, go to your settings as quickly as you’re able to turn on the cinematic screen wobble. The last couple of patches have been rough.
Furthermore, the disjointed difficulty scaling is an interesting design decision. The campaign is built off of World Tiers (that scale up to 15), which can be adjusted at a whim, netting you on par for your experience gear. And then it’s completely invalidated by the Challenge Tier for Expeditions (the activity you’ll actually want to play) almost immediately, to the point where the “correct” way to play Outriders is to set the difficulty to the lowest level imaginable for the campaign and start doing expeditions. Learn from our hubris. Start playing expeditions.
William: The gameplay loop is pretty addictive and there is always a quest to find that perfect piece of loot. I think the RNG may be a little too much though. Each armor piece has three stats boosts to it out of what, 6 or 7? And then once you level it up to epic, you’re looking at two mods. So to get a god roll armor piece, you have to win the lotto a least three times over (for the stats and then each mod)? I think if there was a bit more leniency on drop rate or more flexibility with a piece of gear, this might help. But there really isn’t much you can do with a piece of gear dropping what you need, outside of manipulating saves. And listen, when whole builds are built around that, you might have an RNG problem.
Legendary drop rate is another complication. It is pretty damn low. I ran three Challenge Tier 15 expeditions on Gold. Two of the runs had no legendaries drop, and one had two (both of which I already had). That doesn’t feel great. And that loop you were on climbing to CT15, there’s less incentive when you not only don’t get the piece you wanted, you don’t get a legendary piece at all. Considering how many endgame builds are kind of dependent on tier 3 mods or legendary set bonuses, its deflating. And don’t get me started on the economy of the game and how crazy expensive it is to upgrade a piece to max level. Again, when the overwhelming strategy is to find rare gear and level it all the way up vs the epics that drop for you because they are much more expensive to upgrade, I can’t imagine that’s how the devs intended the path of your progression.
All in all, it can be rewarding and the gameplay is never old, but the frustration of getting the right loot at the right level feels grindy to the point of extending your playtime more than it feels grindy to have a satisfying payoff.
Mikkel: I have over 100 odd hours in the game. About a fifth of that was playing the Campaign and another 10 or so grinding side quests for legendaries thinking that legendaries were more important (they were not). The majority of the time was spent in Expedition, Outriders timed end-game content.
Depending on the day of the week and the groups I (struggle to) match with, expeditions are literally the best thing ever or the most frustrating experience that make me want to drop the game. Outriders is seemingly balanced on the assumption that you’ll have high level mods to finish high level content, but that’s contingent on getting very specific pieces of gear to meet your very specific needs (although, certain classes have a bit more freedom than others), which leads to this 5 years of job experience for an starting level position scenario.
It does not help that each of the 15 expeditions are essentially the same, a timed run where you have to kill everything as quickly as possible, occasionally defending a control point. This informs the meta which favors burst damage / sustain damage above all else. It also means that expeditions never feel relaxing because in order to get a chance at the coveted legendary loot, you have to always be on, keeping up your actions per minute at a moderately high pace.
This DPS focused activity results in a somewhat stagnant meta (and for a brief window in time, Devastators getting kicked out of groups completely), but once you find the right combination of things for you, it becomes an almost soothing experience getting to the extensive post-game data breakdown.
The thing about Outriders is that it is fun, and the dopamine hit when something goes your way is a great feeling. But it also suffers from poor loot duplication protection and Tiago, the one vendor that you can spend the end-game currency on, does not rotate gear that you actually want and inexplicably get duplicates of both frequently than anything else. But given that solo is stressful and squading up is a veritable roulette of competencies and connections, my play sessions rarely exceed an hour. It’s not a game you can play straight for an entire day, although I’m sure one could if one disliked themselves.
This isn’t Even Our Final Form
Mikkel: I have managed to “perfect” my build where I have three charges of Earthquake and Impale and two charges of gravity leap. I have two different mods that improve damage to bleeding enemies that sticks with my set bonuses and have modded my gear to give all my abilities bleed and massive damage. I have a LMG that generates a kinetic stomp and a shotgun that deals an AoE when I reload. I guess I also have pistols. But being at the pinnacle is fun. Getting to it, moderately so.
William: Let’s be real, the most fun part of Outriders is having a fully kitted set up that allows you to stomp on those Alphas that made you miserable so many Challenge Tiers ago. I appreciate that it takes work to get there, but I’m not sure about the time invested / reward ratio. I too have 100 hours in and not getting lucky with RNG can mean ramming your head against a wall for long durations, even when you’ve hit max level. Which kind of brings back an earlier point: how long *should* we be playing this game. I think of a game like Tsushima and its Legends mode, where there was a grind up to max level and getting all the gear you wanted, but the end game content at the highest level is so satisfying that the majority of my game time has been at the summit. You still might be chasing a god roll (and also, you can reroll items!!!) but if you spend 50 hours in Legends, then I’m guessing 25-30 of it you’re playing the hardest encounters while your character is max level. That’s a very different experience than if 70% of your game time is dedicated to the climb and the struggle.
Drop Pods Away
Mikkel: Outriders is worth the $60 I spent on it. It’s also a game I see myself just stopping playing any day now because the plateau to reach the final level of mastery is out of reach for a wide variety of reasons. It’s a game that I would buy DLC for if it ever dropped, and I’m mostly glad to have it during this lull before the next Destiny 2 season. In many ways, this is 2021’s Borderlands 3 for me: a distraction that I very much enjoyed and recommend. I just wish there weren’t so many caveats.
William: Agreed, Outriders is worth the $60 if you enjoy looter shooters at all (and also, don’t care about aesthetics cuz why is the gear so ugly?!). I think the strengths definitely outweigh the weaknesses but that doesn’t mean the weaknesses aren’t glaring.
I think the game may ultimately be at the mercy of Games as Service becoming a dirty word of late and the People Can Fly strenuously professing this game isn’t that. But…ya know, it kind of is. The required online connection to play, the forever (and I would say artificially prolonged) grind, and the very open door of more content on the horizon? Let’s just be honest about what we’re doing, ya know. Which for me isn’t a deal-breaker, I too play an ungodly amount of Destiny 2. But I think this is the meta commentary on this game. What it says it wants to be versus what it wants to be versus how it wants to be seen. Those ideals don’t always align themselves, but we’re still left with a pretty fun game regardless.