(Pocket-lint) - If you were to pick out a gaming genre that's hard to break into right now, online looter-shooters would be high up on the list. High-profile attempts like Anthem have shown how difficult it can be to upset the hierarchy.
That's just what developer People Can Fly is trying to do with Outriders. And to its credit there's clearly a solid foundation here. It's built a looter-shooter that feels punchy and rewarding, with an endgame that has promising depth as it stands.
A survival story
Outrider's framing story is refreshingly straightforward and intelligible. Escaping from a dying earth, your colony ship reaches its destination, a lush new planet called Enoch. However, all isn't well and, after a scouting expedition on the surface goes awry, you wake up to find that decades have passed.
Enoch hasn't been the welcoming paradise that was promised, and is instead home to a bizarre anomaly that's altering the planet and its animals to fight back against the invasion of humans. The world you wake up to is war-torn and fractured, with factions battling over resources and a scarce few mutants gifted extraodinary powers by the anomaly, yourself included.
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It's hokey stuff at times, but anyone who's tried to understand just what on earth is going on in the Destiny universe will appreciate that simplicity can be a good thing.
People Can Fly previously made the raucous shooter Bulletstorm, so some of that game's brash humour can be traced through to Outriders - but it sadly doesn't always land. Your player character is, straightforwardly, a bit of a misanthrope. That attitude can make for pithy lines, but it can also mean a baffling lack of empathy and/or sympathy for non-playable characters (NPCs) that you're supposed to care about.
With acres of extra lore added into your codex at all times, there's plenty of world-building to dig into here if you like, but keeping things simple in broader story terms is a welcome choice, in short. That said, Outriders could do without so many interrupting cut-scenes, given the hitch in loading that these seem to entail at present.
The core of the Outriders value proposition, though, isn't really in how it delivers its side quests. It's in how it feels to play, and this is an area where you can feel People Can Fly's experience shining through.
Given the studio also worked on Gears of War Judgement, it's no surprise that this is a third-person cover shooter that feels polished and fluid. After the game's prologue, which you can later skip to create new characters quickly, you choose one of four classes.
Pyromancers have flaming abilities that mark enemies for death; Technomancers can create turrets and heal allies; Devastators can tank loads of damage and hold areas more easily; and our personal favourite, Tricksters, can zip around the battlefield slicing and dicing foes.
There's no swapping between classes other than by changing characters entirely, but running more than one character is very straightforward and well worth trying. This will help you get to grips with which you most enjoy, and each path offers up multiple skills to choose from to tweak your loadout.
Then you've got the actual guns, which are multitudinous and offer increasingly enjoyable modifiers as you progress. Things start off grounded but pretty soon you'll be freezing enemies with bullets, or shooting an SMG that has explosive rounds, or any number of other variables.
These can be relatively easily mixed-and-matched using the in-depth crafting system, too, letting you find your favourite mods and keep them in your arsenal. One miss at the moment is the lack of transmogrification, a big word that basically means letting you keep exotic weapon skins while changing what they do, but it's reasonable to hope that might come with time.
For now, guns and powers come together to make for a cover shooter than can also be plenty mobile and reactive, and kinetic when you find a power-set that agrees with you. That said, if you're playing alone, we'd recommend you opt for the Trickster for your first character. Some of the other paths are a little harder to manage early on without backup keeping you healthy.
There are periodically large bosses to contend with, which do a decent job of offering a different sort of battle, at scale, even if they can tend to be slightly bullet-spongey in practise. These fights still give a climactic feel to key moments.
It's also up to you to decide what level of difficulty you want to set your game world at, with rewards corresponding to how far you can push yourself. This is another smart choice that lets you easily strap in for a more chilled session if you want to kick back with some friends, or make it tough as nails if you're in it for top-tier loot.
Playing in solo mode is plenty fun and fairly well-balanced, but the game is really aimed at trios, where three players can pick loadouts that complement each other and dominate the chest-high cover battlefields that most fights take place in. Played like this, Outriders can be frantic good fun.
Smooth in patches
As with many cross-generation releases, the visual side of things is a mixed bag for Outriders, which largely depends on your platform. Playing on PlayStation 5, we had nice quick load times and the whole game plays at a smooth 60fps with only very rare stutters, just as it should on Xbox Series X and S.
On older-generation consoles the game runs at 30fps, something that's hardly new for those platforms but still feels signficantly more sluggish when you try it. However, there's no difference in what you can do and how you do it - it's purely a visual disparity, also reflected by lower resolutions.
In art direction terms, though, Outriders posts solid results without much to write home about. Enoch might be a raw alien world but the spaces it offers up to fight in, at present, aren't the most visually ravishing you've ever seen.
Its encampments and forts are straight out of Gears of War, as are the chunky oversized weapons and, while you'll fight across different biomes, none of them are all that fresh. You'll see ice levels, forested areas, built-up ruins and lava-strewn wastelands, and it's all serviceable without being memorable.
That's not helped by the fact that every arena will inevitably need to feature the age-old maze of chest-high walls to fight around, something that really hamstrings any attempt to make levels feel really naturalistic.
Enemy design is also pretty ho-hum, with a whole bunch of burly blokes in armour sets charging at you for most of the game's span, interrupted by occasional beasties.
Still, the particle effects that your powers summon up look vibrant and jazz things up, and running on next-gen hardware the game can look great in big battles, especially when you're in the more colourful locations.
As an always-online title, though, Outriders launched with some technical issues that were disappointing to say the least. With player numbers presumably inflated by its late-notice inclusion on Xbox Game Pass, server outages have been frequent since release, although the situation is improving all the time. Launch problems are nothing new for online titles, but that doesn't make them acceptable, especially for those who paid full price for a game they couldn't access.
As it stands (and assuming the servers straighten out after the launch troubles), Outriders is a good bit of fun for anyone who's into third-person shooters or light role-players.
In a time when co-op experiences are thin on the ground it offers up a lengthy campaign you can play through with a couple of friends, and there's a bombastic, if simplistic, time to be had while doing so.
With a loot and crafting system that can potentially offer up real depth for those who want something to sink into, there's also plenty of promise in the endgame here, even before you unlock expeditions that offer up high-tier loot for the most dedicated players.
The fact that it's a complete package is also a tonic compared to a full live-service offering, although whether it's enough to keep people playing much beyond the campaign will remain to be seen.