Hands-on: Outriders is a fun sci-fi RPG shooter from former Gears of War devs

During E3 2019, Square Enix announced Outriders, a new game developed by People Can Fly, the same team who helped develop the Gears of War franchise, Fortnite, and Bulletstorm. Since that announcement last summer, we haven’t heard much about the game until this week when Square Enix dropped a reveal trailer.

Last week, however, Square Enix invited us out to get hands-on with the game to get a taste of what to expect when it launches later this year.

A whole new world

Outriders is an RPG co-op third person shooter. Set in 2159, the game takes place on a mysterious planet called Enoch. Humans have left Earth in an effort to find a new world to inhabit, since Earth is pretty much gone thanks to climate change and war. You play as an Outrider, a human who is basically at the frontline of exploration. Outriders are the first people to step foot on the new planet and investigate its environment, plants, and creatures as well as to make sure it’s safe for the rest of the population to set up shop.

In my playthrough, I played solo through a prologue that allowed me to create my character, land on Enoch, and learn the basic controls through a quick exploration of the nearby area. When creating my character I had the option of choosing three of four classes, Pyromancer, Trickster, and Devastator. The fourth class will be announced at a later date. As you can tell from the names of the classes, they each focus on a specific elemental power - fire, time & space, and land. I chose Pyromancer.

I was introduced to a few characters where I was able to converse with them through dialogue trees to learn more about them, their experience, and what they thought about the current mission.

I got a very Mass Effect feel to the style of dialogue trees, but the game remains very linear, as your choices in conversation don’t affect any story outcome. They’re just there for you to learn more about the backstory of where the human race is at the moment and the background of that character.

In terms of gunplay, there’s a bit of a training sequence in the prologue, and you’ll notice the Gears of War influence, however it feels a bit more quick and free than Gears of War. You can easily snap in and out of cover, aim, shoot, and notice the impact you make. Gears of War can sometimes feel like a slog when it came to battles, Outriders feels a lot more agile.

After the training, I was tasked with finding a signal coming from probes in the area. During the prologue, Enoch is gorgeous. Lush with plant life and weird alien animals running around the planet’s plains. There are mountains and lakes and huge trees. All of that changes.

Once we find the first probe, there’s a second signal. During the journey to the signal, I get in my first battle with a huge hostile alien mammal thing. I dodged his charging attacks and poured ammo into it until its death.

Once I reached the probe where we thought the signal was coming from, there was some sort of elemental storm approaching that was basically a mix of an electrical storm, fire hurricane, and worm holes, or something to that effect. Either way, I was running for my life while watching it destroy everything around me.

And it’s during this storm that one of the leaders of the mission decided to betray the Outriders and try to leave them on the unsafe planet. I said not today, sir. I took out all the enemies and I made it back to the ship, but not before being hit by some force of energy from the storm. Luckily, I was able to make it back to my cryo-sleep chamber where I’d be able to heal from my wounds.

31 years later

Although I made it safe and sound to my cryo-sleep chamber, someone forgot to wake me up. For 31 years! The ship never left the planet and I was woken up by a couple of scavengers rummaging through what was now some ancient wreckage.

Just as I was getting my bearings, I was kidnapped by a group of humans who looked like they were living their Mad Max fantasies. Unfortunately, that weird elemental storm was coming back so the thugs threw me in a truck and were trying to drive back to their home base to get out of the storm.

During the chaotic ride, you notice Enoch has changed. No longer is it a beautiful landscape with mountains, trees and lakes. It’s a desolate and barren land that looks like it was ravaged by years of war. Once my kidnappers got to their location, they threw me out into the desert to watch me die in the storm.

At this point, I picked up a gun and joined two other players for my playthrough. I was also able to use my elemental power of fire. This power was earned thanks to my injury in the storm 31 years ago. Playing with an Xbox One controller, my first skill, Thermal Bomb, was mapped to LB. My character punches the ground and the flame travels across the ground through walls and barriers to burn up an enemy I targeted. If you’re able to shoot them at the same time they’re burning up, they’ll explode. That was fun.

Later on I was able to pick up a couple of more skills, like Heatwave, that would send a wall of fire damaging multiple enemies and an Ash Blast that would immobilize enemies. Each time you used your skills to kill an enemy, you’d heal yourself, so it’s encouraged more often than not. There looks to be a total of eight to unlock as you level up.

The battles as a whole are pretty exciting, especially with two other people. For the most part, the game frowns upon the camp behind cover and shoot for the entire fight as the enemy sends continuous grenades and big charging enemies. There’s lots of dodging and shooting, and using your powers is a must.

On a side quest, my team and I battled a boss that not only had an entourage of goons chasing us around a small area, but would send whirlwinds of fire that were hard to avoid and dealt massive amounts of damage. After dying a handful of times, we finally were victorious. While the weapons seem to be limited to assault rifles, shotguns, and pistols, the developers say there are modifications for weapons that change the entire aspect of their use. We didn’t have time to experiment with that.

The RPG elements of the game are in-depth but simple and accessible. Depending on what class you’ve chosen, there are three path trees that add to your overall power. Playing through the game earns you class points and you can use those points to add a new attributes to your arsenal. Some of them increase damage when you use a particular skill, or shorten your skill refresh time. You won’t be able to acquire every attribute in the game, so you have to choose wisely. You’ll also be able to collect and improve your gear, which improves your health, and you’ll also collect resources that we believe you’ll be able to use for trade or crafting, although we didn’t get that far.We quickly walked around a hub area where we could shop at stores and meet characters to get side missions.

The interesting thing when it comes to co-op, players have to agree on an activity before participating in it. So if someone on your team wants to a side mission or fast travel back to a previous location, the team is given the option to vote on whether to do that activity. If the vote is no, you’ll stay on the path that you’re currently on. The game isn’t required to be played in co-op, you can play solo, but it doesn’t seem as fun. The difficulty also increases when you join players, to give you more of a challenge.

Overall the game is a blast so far and may draw some comparisons to games like Destiny or Anthem because of the powers aspect but there’s no flying or even jumping, but to me it felt more like an amalgamation of Mass Effect and Gears of War. I’m looking forward to trying out the other classes when the game launches later this year.