Platform(s): Google Stadia, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: People Can Fly
Release Date: April 1, 2021


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XSX/XOne/PS5/PS4/PC Preview - 'Outriders'

by Redmond Carolipio on Feb. 13, 2020 @ 10:30 p.m. PST

Outriders is a 1-3 player, drop-in-drop-out, co-op RPG shooter set in an original, dark and desperate sci-fi universe.

Pre-order Outriders

We didn't know too much about People Can Fly's Outriders coming into 2020. All I knew about it was a trailer from E3 2019 confirming that the Bulletstorm developer was working with Square Enix to put out a game that involved badass men and women with guns force-feeding heaps of bullets and doom to foes unknown. It was short, one of those trailers you see, nod and mutter "cool" to before moving on to the rest of the show.

Earlier this month, Outriders was the show during a reveal gathering in Los Angeles, where we joined other gaming press brethren is getting an hours-long, hands-on look at what People Can Fly had been working on for the past four years, according to studio head Sebastian Wojciechowski and other People Can Fly developers speaking at the event.

Outriders, at its core, will be a co-op action hybrid that aims to have "the intensity of a shooter, with the depth of an RPG," according to developers. From what we saw, that doesn't mean simply adding more dialogue and cinematics to a cocktail of wild action and shooting. Rather, there are elements of in-depth character creation and development (people you care about!), intricate attribute and equipment management, and storylines that could branch off the base of a colorful sci-fi story of epic tragedy.

The story of Outriders starts with Earth's impending death in the future, brought on by decades and decades of war and climate change. Humanity needs a new home. To search for one, a pair of giant colony ships is sent out in the year 2159 to the planet Enoch, which carries a lot of promise. Sadly, only one of the big colony ships actually makes it to Enoch and lands there.

This is where the "Outriders" come in. Think of Outriders as essentially well-armed and heavily trained explorers and pioneers, people whose main job is to be the first point of contact for humanity upon entering a new world. As such, they have a sort of revered, mythic quality to them when we meet them for the first time (following a solid character-customization screen that has all the trimmings). When they land on Enoch to investigate a mysterious signal, they encounter an Enoch that's colorful and bounding with life.

Naturally, Things Go Wrong for the Outriders, as a mysterious energy storm overwhelms Enoch and our heroes, tearing up the landscape and either disintegrating or washing over everyone in its wake. The retreating Outriders head back to their cryopods to wait out the storm and regroup until help arrives. That doesn't go according to plan, either: They wake up 30 years later to an Enoch still blanketed in the energy storm (now called the Anomaly) and people embroiled in a civil war when they aren't trying to rob and pillage the remaining colonists. Also, people kind of hate the Outriders now, because from their perspective, they weren't given ample warning that Enoch wasn't safe and that landing there would subject them to all kinds of horrors. That seems fair, but they've sort of managed to survive for 30 years, so … props to them? In any case, they're not hearing it.

When all seems lost from the newly awakened Outrider perspective — you wake up, only to be found by Bad Future People who want to imprison you — an outburst storm the Anomaly strikes again, wreaking havoc to others, but imbuing you as the player with newfound abilities. This makes you (and your fellow players) what the game's lore calls "Altered," which is another way of saying "powered." The signal that brought everyone to Enoch in the first place is still out there, and you (and your pals, if you wish) can now take your superpowered selves into the fray, kick some ass and get some answers.

That whole scenario is outlined in the game's prologue, which familiarizes you with the controls and eventually asks you to choose from one of what will be four different player classes. We only had access to three at the event, and they were the Devastator, Pyromancer and Trickster. For the next couple of hours of early play, I was able to mess around with the Pyromancer and Trickster personally and witness some of what the Devastator can do.

The Pyromancer is a medium- to far-range specialist who has a variety of creative ways to immolate the enemy, and the methods become available as you level up. My personal favorite was the ability to target someone, even if they were behind cover, and set them on fire with a small flame column burst from the ground.

One goofy-but-cool dynamic I noticed about that attack is that if it completely drains the target's life meter, they rise into the air and explode, which can damage or kill any enemies close to them. For tougher enemies, if you let the fire do its thing, it whittles down their life meter, but they'd still be able to fight if there was a little bit left, and I'd have to kill them with guns or a melee attack. What this showed me is that if an enemy was still on fire at the moment of death, they'd blow up. This led me to use a technique of setting an enemy on fire and shooting them while they were bathed in flames to trigger explosions. It sounds simply fun and nasty, but with the hordes of opponents the game can throw at you, this led to some Doom-like on-field, on-the-run strategy.

My short run with the Trickster style involved a lot of teleporting behind enemies and turning them into chunks with a shotgun. It's as if you gave Nightcrawler from the X-Men a gun and the ability to occasionally slow down time. From what I saw, Devastator is the human tank class, with a lot of room-clearing power attacks.

If you remember Bulletstorm, then it'll be no surprise to anyone that the action in this game moved at a fast, almost slippery, speed. No matter the class in Outriders, the abilities for the Outriders have short cooldowns at varying speeds, leaving room for a little of that in-the-moment critical battle thinking. There's ordnance of every kind to be found or purchased, all with varying "grades" to amp up your gear level. When you level up, you can build up your skills through a large, mapped-out skill-tree menu. Another intriguing bit was the concept of "world tiers," which is a dynamic difficulty setting that can tangibly adjust to how well you're doing. If you're awesome, the world can sort of "level up" to match you. It's a feature you can switch off if you want to feel like an angry god and peel through swaths of bad guys.

I'm most excited about the promise of the story, which feels like it could be a solid science-fiction show someone could binge upon, with its own fully realized concepts and lingo that this early build did a good job of laying out.

For anyone interested in exploring along with the Outriders, Square Enix is targeting a holiday 2020 release for the PS5 and Xbox Series X, but also for PS4 and Xbox One, with a hi-spec PC version also en route.

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