Warsawfrom a certain point of view, it could seem an inhospitable land: cold, reserved, a bit far from the European capital model that we all know. Yet here you can eat well (I recommend the pieroghi, a typical unmissable dish), people are very kind and helpful but, above all, if you love video games you can find a couple of not bad studies. CD Projekt RED, authors of The Witcher and the upcoming Cyberpunk, and the guys from People Can Fly, the protagonists of our preview.
Famous for having worked on the likes of Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgment, in 2006 they became part of the Epic Games family, to then go back independent so that they could have autonomy in the creative process and therefore create the product of the their dreams. Outriders, published by Square Enix and out in the last quarter of 2020, is the realization of this idea. A frenetic, fun shooter that offers an amalgam that is not too original but certainly impactful; a title voted for the next generation of consoles (will also be released on PC), but which will also be available for the machines currently available (PS4 and Xbox One).
In short, a production that after disappearing from the radar following the announcement at E3 2019 surprisingly puts itself at the disposal of the press: a full-bodied hands-on, of almost five hours, useful to highlight the clear intentions of the project. In short, Outriders is a three-player third-person cooperative shooter, characterized by an ambitious narrative system and a fundamental GDR component as it is integrated within the game design. An amalgam, we said, that draws from a couple of its "likes", trying to find a uniqueness that distinguishes it: from what I was able to try and see, the experiment has a raison d'etre but, more importantly, enjoys potential that should not be underestimated.
There are a lot of things to talk about, on the other hand, the time spent with the game was a lot and the information, consequently, is just as much. So let me start from the beginning: the story, the game universe and everything that moves the player's actions. Enjoy the reading!
New world, new threat
As is often the case with many science fiction games, too Outriders tells of the man looking for a new home, a planet that can host humanity and allow it to continue to thrive, evolve, improve. In this situation, therefore, the expedition of our protagonists is placed: in part military, in part doctors and in part scientists, they will arrive on a new apparently hospitable ecosystem, which vaguely recalls the Planet Earth.
The prologue therefore allows us to experience precisely this first phase, the arrival on the planet and the events that immediately follow. The incipit, long-winded and not very interactive, makes it immediately clear that the narrative part of the title Square Enix wants to be important in the economy of the game: a vehicle capable of transporting players within this new story, treading the hand on the characterization of the characters and everything around them. Despite good intentions, this first part did not seem to me particularly successful, especially for some lengths difficult to digest and not very incisive; when action would be expected, Outriders stalls to put all the elements on the table and make the player participate in the context, even if, as I said, he does not succeed fully.
A different matter, however, for everything that happens afterwards: when the Anomaly – an unknown natural phenomenon – enters the field changing, in fact, the rules of the game, it is launched into the heart. A couple of twists greatly increase the level of attention and in no time at all we find ourselves in the real game. Several years have passed since the prologue, the protagonist survives the cataclysm thanks to a cryogenic cell and wakes up in a completely different panorama.
Man has settled on the planet but the climate is hostile, a group of violent people command the area and use force as an instrument of domination. It is not very clear what the technological progress has been, but the aesthetic adapted by Square Enix recalls Mad Max, in hi-tech sauce. Makeshift armor is combined with lethal weapons, high-performance vehicles form the backdrop to a decadent but futuristic urban scenario. In a few minutes, our character discovers he has supernatural powers, which he will use to fight and try to find the solution to the apparent mysteries of the game: what happened? What is the Anomaly? What are these powers and where do they come from?
So Outriders takes almost an hour to take off, but once you start shooting and slicing enemies with the various special skills, then the quality of production rises.
The classes, the gameplay, the system and the game world
The distinctive features of Outriders are basically four, and I must say that they seem to blend very well with each other. First of all, we have pure gameplay, that of a cooperative third-person shooter that, also thanks to an intriguing level design, proves to have quality, especially if we think about fun and the replayability factor. The roofing system, cooperation with allies and shooting in the strict sense return positive feelings, so much so that I struggled to stop playing: I felt satisfied in the progression and continued to find new approaches to the battle, all spectacular and decidedly dynamic.
Follows the class system, which in fact characterizes the skills of individuals. In the final version there will be four, but we only had three available: Trickster, Pyromancer and Devastator. The first is basically devoted to quick attack and support skills, such as the ability to immobilize enemies or teleport behind opponents to deal more damage. The Pyromancer instead he is devoted to fire damage, with abilities that are very bad for enemy troops and that allow him to engage even from medium distance. The Devastator instead it is the tank of the situation, capable of decreasing the damage suffered, rather than also doing good damage. All these three classes have passive skills that promote health recovery, combined with the progression that we will discuss later.
I must say that the idea works, especially for the scenic factor of the powers, beautiful to look at and very synergistic, also in terms of game design. In fact, the skills if used in combos cause more damage or favor the elimination of high-ranking enemies or bosses on duty. There is perhaps some balance problem, although I have been assured that the months of development that are missing from the release of the game will help to solve these small problems. In fact, going up a level all three variants seem very strong, and unless you increase the "world tier" (we'll talk about it shortly), the difficulty points downwards. Not bad, however, as I said there is a lot of time to adjust statistics and similar, I wouldn't worry too much about it.
The growth system intersects with the previous two, effectively determining the character's strength and abilities. Outriders follows the classic RPG system, with points and skill tree, equipment with improved statistics, vendors scattered around the game world, etc. The loot is present but it is not too aggressive, in the sense that it will not become your only reason for living (a "addict" of rewards says so, trust me). On the contrary in this case everything is well balanced, the amalgam works well and the drive for continuous improvement given to the player is never exaggerated. If you want to deepen a bit of the tree of skills and abilities, it is good to note that the personalization is not really boundless, limiting itself more to increasing the percentage of damage, resistance and similar statistics. The specific skills, on the other hand, can be interchangeable: being able to select a maximum of three, we will have to decide which ones to include in the build, perhaps those that best match the team's composition.
Closes the circle perhaps the most interesting and innovative aspect, what surely surprised me the most. Depending on the performance of the individual or the team, the level of the "World Tier" will increase. What is it about? Basically the general difficulty, which will impact on the number of enemies, artificial intelligence and resistance to our blows. By playing a long time and playing well we will increase this indicator, which will increase the rewards accordingly – both in terms of experience points, and loot rarity. We will therefore be able to level up faster, to improve our character better and to face more difficult challenges. It seems to me a perfect method to balance the experience, which in practice will be calibrated on the skills of the players, without having to go and modify it in a classic way from the menu. I found it amusing but above all satisfying: it stimulated me to play better and better, pushing the whole team to perform more combos, to take less damage and to kill bosses faster. Speaking of the latter, I dealt with a couple during the demo and I must say that they did not leave me particularly speechless, even if the development team has ensured that in more advanced stages there will be particularly bad ones, also characterized by unique mechanics that will therefore require more effort.
Interesting production Outriders, a shooter that is not free from defects but, on balance, works, especially when it focuses on pure gameplay and forgets that emphasis on the narrative part that does not convince much. Many doubts remain to be solved, such as the whole endgame part (about 40 hours to complete the campaign) and the long-lasting experience. The fourth class could also be a nice discussion element, and we are curious to try it perhaps close to the release, which I remember will be around the end of the year, together with the new consoles. I did not dedicate space to the technical side because, given the preliminary build, it would have been superfluous to talk about it, but for the record the version I tested was the PC version, with performance anchored on 4K and 60 Fps (a 2080ti supplied, the only info available) – the game is developed in Unreal Engine
As said, in short, People Can Fly could hit the center, also thanks to the trust of Square Enix which proves to focus on the game. The next few months will be fundamental to deepen the aforementioned elements, in the meantime I can assure you that if you like productions of this type, surely Outriders will attract your attention.