Outriders was one of my most pleasant surprises at PAX East 2020. Not knowing anything about the game, I signed up for a demo, and found myself really getting into the game’s tight gunplay and better-than-it-has-to-be narrative. Since Outriders is one of the few confirmed games for the PS5 and Xbox Series X, it’s worth taking a closer look to see how the next generation of looter-shooters might play.
For those who haven’t heard of it before, Outriders is a third-person shooter in which you team up with other players to take on missions, earn experience, level up and get better gear, then repeat the process until the end of the story — and beyond. It’s comparable to something like Destiny 2, except that the shooting feels better, and the story is more comprehensible.
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We have a lot of information about Outriders available, including its release date, its gameplay structure and its early story beats. Read on to learn more and see if this game deserves a spot on your radar for later this year.
Outriders release date
At present, Outriders doesn’t have a hard release date, but Square Enix has promised the game in “holiday 2020.” Typically, this means late October at the earliest, and mid-December at the latest. Part of the reason for the game’s late-year release is because it will debut on PS5 and Xbox Series X at the same time as PS4, Xbox One and PC.
It’s not clear whether gamers who buy Outriders on the Xbox One will also get an Xbox Series X copy from Microsoft’s Smart Delivery system. Smart Delivery isn’t guaranteed for third-party titles, and Square Enix has yet to confirm it for Outriders.
I took a deep dive into Outriders’ gameplay at PAX East 2020, and the pitch is pretty straightforward. You customize a futuristic soldier, choosing your name, sex, skin color and facial features. Then, you set off to explore the planet Enoch, where local fauna, enemy soldiers and ancient protoplasmic nightmare goo all stand in your way.
Third-person shooting is at the crux of the game, so gathering weapons, choosing loadouts, finding cover and prioritizing targets are all important gameplay factors. But Outriders also features RPG elements. As such, you’ll choose one of four classes, then level up your character, becoming more powerful and learning new abilities as you go.
With four different classes, Outriders is geared for multiplayer. While it will presumably be possible to solo most of the game, you’ll have an easier time if you find other players whose abilities can complement your own. Teaming up with other players will probably also be necessary for certain missions and end-game content.
One interesting feature of Outriders is that you’ll be able to set your own difficult level with the game’s World Levels. Those looking for a casual experience can dial the World Level back to 1, and pretty much breeze through the game, taking in the story and setting. Masochists can set it up to 5, where enemies can mop the floor with unwary players. Higher world levels give more experience and better gear, of course, so finding one that works for you and your party will be part of the game’s fun.
While the general setup of Outriders is not so different from a series like Destiny, what sets this game apart is how good the gunplay feels. Developer People Can Fly always puts a special emphasis on weapon variety and moment-to-moment shooting, and that polish is on display in Outriders as well.
People Can Fly has revealed all four of the game's classes: Pyromancer, Trickster, Devastator and Technomancer. I’ve personally gone hands-on with the Devastator class, and can say that it’s a good choice for people who like to get up close and personal with enemies. You can knock enemies over, shield yourself from incoming damage and blast enemies from close range to regain health.
The Trickster can slow enemies down and backstab them, while the Pyromancer is more of a jack-of-all-trades.
I was also able to go hands-on with the Technomancer class in a more recent demo. The class is an enticing mix of healing, turrets and status-inducing attacks. You can play the Technomancer as either a support class or a frontline fighter, making it a good choice for players who enjoy backing up their teammates.
The Outriders announcement trailer from E3 2019 doesn’t show off any gameplay, but it does give players a good idea of the story setup:
If you're curious how Outriders plays, you can take a look at the game's official gameplay debut from earlier this year:
One area where Outriders distinguishes itself is by having an interesting setup for a story. The game’s prologue is pretty straightforward: Humanity wants to settle on the planet Enoch, and has to deal with the planet’s dangerous native wildlife first. As an Outrider, trained to deal with colonial missions, this is where you come in. But a strange dark substance also inhabits Enoch, which puts you in suspended animation for 30 years. It also gives you incredible powers.
Flash forward to an Enoch where half of the settlers have turned into lawless bandits, and the other half have been desperately clinging to civilization. It’s up to you to save the day, even though your former friends no longer trust you, and you no longer really know them. The story is neither too simple nor too convoluted, and has some potential for interesting developments later on.
As a cooperative multiplayer shooter, Outriders look good. But as one of the first games on the next-gen roster, a lot of people will use Outriders as a barometer to see how well the PS5 and Xbox Series X perform. They’ll be able to find out for themselves late this year.