Earlier this month we were invited to attend an Outriders preview event in Warsaw, the hometown of Polish developer People Can Fly (Gears of War: Judgment and Bulletstorm). Outriders is a mixture of RPG and third-person shooter and it's set in a dark, post-apocalyptic science-fiction universe with up to three-player online cooperative play. We had around three hours to try out the initial stages of the story, which allowed us to gain a better understanding of what it was all about.
Outriders takes place in a future where Earth has been reduced to an apocalyptic state, caused by war and pollution. In order to ensure our survival, a group of around half a million people have been transported aboard a massive spaceship - a sort of space-Ark - called the Flores. Only the best and brightest of Earth's remaining population were offered a spot onboard; people trained as engineers, doctors, architects and scientists. However, protecting the civilians aboard this colonisation ship is a contrasting force of former mercenaries, ex-military personnel and other veterans of Earth's devastating wars: the Outriders.
During the preview session, we were able to play the game's prologue and the initial stages of the main storyline. Space probes from the Flores have identified the planet Enoch as mankind's best chance for a new home world. When it starts, we found ourselves part of the initial landing force that was exploring Enoch, serving as mankind's vanguard force in space. Flores remains in orbit around the planet, waiting for the Outriders to complete checks on the probes below so that the main group of cryo-sleeping colonists can be sent down from space.
While exploring Enoch, we found ourselves walking around a forested green environment similar to Earth, with colourful fields full of flowers, and towering old trees in the distance. High plateaus with deep valleys below are also etched into Enoch's surface. When we approached a riverbed, we observed a herd of large hyena-like monsters running across our screen. Some slender goat-like horned creatures and big birds flying overhead revealed themselves later. The prologue also introduces the game's slightly atypical controls, which take some time to get used to. There are buttons for getting into cover, climbing over things, switching weapons and using your powers, and we kept getting mixed up in the beginning, but ultimately they seemed to work well.
When we were sent to retrieve information from a probe, the storyline takes a turn. Instead of transmitting its own data, this probe is relaying a mysterious signal from the allegedly uninhabited planet. Soon there are lots of bright lights, debris rising up from the ground, and chaos surrounds us - we're running for our lives. This is the so-called 'Anomaly', which is in some way connected to the mysterious signal.
Despite the warnings from the Outriders, the commander of the landing party pushes the landing of the Flores ahead, after which we are once again overcome by the Anomaly. A firefight with the commander's forces ensues and we're running for safety back to our landing pod. At the last moment, one of our fellow Outriders saves our life by pushing us back into our cryo-cell. Thus, the Prologue ends.
Thirty years later, our character is awakened from cryo-sleep by a bunch of armed figures, and we're hauled into the back of a truck and driven across a barren landscape where there's a major war raging around us, corpses hanging everywhere. Gone is the green landscape and instead, there's bunkers, gun emplacements, underground tunnels and other combat-oriented structures. Then we meet some old Outrider comrades and we start to learn more about what has happened.
Apparently, the landing was pushed ahead but the colonisation has resulted in infighting and war, while the dangerous Anomaly dictates daily life on the planet. Moreover, some people have received mysterious powers because of the Anomaly, including our main character. These are called the 'Altered' and they seem to dominate the wars on Enoch.
According to the developers, players will see the backstory to how Enoch ended up in its current state while playing the game. It features codices filled with lore that goes back a hundred years. Our impression was that the story is captivating in a number of ways, including what the signal and the Anomaly are and how the colonists ended up fighting each other. At the end of our play session, it was revealed that there's one extremely powerful Altered who's a danger to everyone on Enoch.
The story might have got us curious enough at the start, but we must say the combat was actually what drew us in the most.
Combat in Outriders is about as dark and dirty as Enoch's general atmosphere. It revolves around a combination of using your guns and Altered powers. Altered powers differ depending on which of the four classes you choose. During the preview, three of them were playable, with another still in development. First there's the sniper-like, fire-controlling Pyromancer. Then there's the Trickster, an assassin-style class that can slow down time. And then there's the tank, the Devastator, which uses the ground to damage enemies and regains hit-points while attacking. Each one can unlock additional powers and specialise their skill tree across 40 levels. In co-op mode, there's a maximum of three players, meaning players will be forced to pick their own class combinations. Couch co-op won't be a feature, sadly.
The developer aims to find a balance between using guns and special powers. The weapons in Outriders fire bullets and reminded us of guns in the Gears of War series. We played with machine guns, sub-machine guns, rifles, sniper rifles, dual pistols and our personal favourite: shotguns. All of the weapons allow you to perform bloody dismemberments, blowing off heads and, with the shotgun, you can shoot enemies into a big bloody pulp. The weapons are a lot of fun to play with, much more so than those in Anthem, for example. All classes can use all types of guns, but they're able to specialise differently through their skill trees.
Looking over the shoulder over your character in close third-person, you're moving into cover, rolling each way to dodge attacks and assaulting or retreating in conjunction with your teammates in some pretty intense firefights. Combine guns with your special powers and you're shooting up burning bodies or targeting parts of an enemy's skeleton while they're being electrocuted. All of this requires a level of coordination with your teammates, as your powers reinforce each other. Slowing down time for everyone with the Trickster class is the simplest example.
Both guns and armour will be customisable in the later stages of the game. We saw images of weapons that seemed overgrown with bone, wood and other mysterious materials that indicated higher-level weapons will harvest the powers of the Anomaly. Developers at the event told us weapons will get "more twisted as you progress", which hints that more bloody ways to kill enemies are coming. The armour in the game is comparable to that in other space-themed shooters, with a variety of hoods, face-covering helmets, cloaks, heavy armour suits, and boots or gloves providing bonuses. Even though the developers at the event insisted Outriders isn't a 'loot-hunting' game, scavenging for better gear is obviously a big feature.
Navigating your way around Enoch happens in much the same fashion as it does in Destiny. For example, there's a hub where you start out. Players explore different areas based in this central location. After the first chapter, the player's hub will be a big truck that's customisable but that apparently can't be driven around by the player. You are able to team up with friends and form a convoy though, which will be shown during cutscenes (although this felt like something that has more potential than it will probably turn out to have).
Interestingly, Outriders is not an open-world game. The main quest and side missions will take you to new linear locations that you have to clear of enemies. Each section we played ended with a boss of sorts, but the developers told us that in the full game, these wouldn't count as bosses yet. This means we can expect even bigger adversaries that might require a bit more strategy to take down than just pumping them full of bullets. At the end of our play session, we chose to walk back a bit to test some of the powers. Unexpectedly, we saw a huge alien creature standing on four spiky legs in the distance, and it was vaguely reminiscent of something from Stranger Things. This might've been an indication of the real bosses to come.
Apparently it will take around 40 hours to complete the main storyline, but side-quests can be started again indefinitely. Adding to the challenge and replayability is a 'World Level' system alongside your character level, which increases the strength of your enemies and the level of loot drops. From what we've been able to see in the preview build's menu, there's going to be at least 81 different types of enemy in the game, spread around 20 checkpoints, of which we played only the first. This took us around 1.5 hours the first time. Replayability also comes in the form of making characters from different classes.
Regarding the environments we might expect, the developers were not giving away much yet. But with 20 checkpoints, we're hoping to see a big variety in terms of the environments and enemies, for example, seeing the return of some of the alien creatures from the prologue. Most of the enemies were human or Altered, but in the Prologue, we fought one of the hyena-like aliens that had been altered by the Anomaly. The images revealed so far also show some bigger cities in ruins and the wreckage of the Flores on the planet surface, so there's a lot of potential locations that People Can Fly can use to draw players in.
From what we observed, Outriders manages to create a dark and bloody sci-fi atmosphere supported by an interesting and credible storyline. Shooter fans will most likely appreciate the level of grittiness, the general weapon handling, and special powers you can use in combat. From what we've seen so far, the game feels like it has a lot of potential. We're just hoping there's going to be enough variety in Enoch's environments. It could also use (boss) fights that require a bit more strategy than just shooting them until their HP runs out. Outriders is coming out later this year, with releases confirmed on PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
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