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Outriders review: Turning a page for looter-shooters

Outriders stands out in a crowded genre

outriders review
(Image: © Square Enix)

Our Verdict

Outriders takes what previous looter-shooters have done well and adds its own RPG flair. The result is a game with a good story, fun gunplay and a staggering amount of build diversity.

For

  • Fun gameplay
  • Interesting story
  • Plenty of build diversity
  • Cross-platform co-op

Against

  • Always-online requirement
  • Not well-balanced for solo play

Outriders is a timely addition to the looter-shooter canon. Ever since Borderlands, we’ve seen many a new game try to become the new king of the genre. Some have succeeded, only after much effort, such as Destiny 2 and The Division 2. Others have failed. There seems to be a curse on the genre.

Then Outriders came along. It balked at the idea of a live service model. Instead it claimed to offer a cohesive single-player experience with RPG mechanics, plenty of loot and an endgame to keep people interested. It even allows for co-op with up to two other people.

Outriders impressed me where the likes of Anthem and Godfall did not. It gets the gameplay elements right. The story is good, and the game showers you with loot. More importantly, all that loot is worth collecting. The game overall seems to break free of the looter-shooter curse, even though it does stumble in spots.

Read on for our full review of Outriders.

Outriders review: Gameplay

Outriders is a third-person cover-based shooter with RPG mechanics. You create a character known as an Outrider, and choose from one of four classes during the prologue. Each class has three different skill trees that you can mix and match to create an Outrider that fits your playstyle. Each class has unique abilities, strengths and healing mechanics, so choose wisely.

outriders review

(Image credit: People Can Fly)

When I played the Outriders demo a little while ago, I drew comparisons to Destiny, Gears of War and The Division. Outriders blends all of those gameplay styles together into something new. It tries to be a jack of all trades and a master of none, which works relatively well. The game consists of different areas on the world map, with various local zones in which you complete quests. You’ll fight in a series of shooting galleries, complete with an abundance of enemies. It admittedly starts to feel repetitive after a while, with the same enemy types (with different skins) over and over.

Like other looter-shooters, you can play Outriders with friends or strangers, teaming up against the hordes of enemies. You can, of course, also play solo — however, solo play can be quite challenging at higher difficulty levels. The game operates on World Tiers: levels that you rank up to increase difficulty while improving loot drops. Outriders defaults to using the highest World Tier available. 

outriders review

(Image credit: People Can Fly)

At higher difficulties, even the most basic enemies can easily kill you. Their aim is on point, cross-mapping you with an assault rifle at full strength. You’ll also have tank and melee enemies that rush you, snipers that always know where you are and uncannily well-thrown grenades to flush you out of cover. Mini-bosses absorb your bullets like sponges, and your supposedly god-tier powers feel underwhelming in the face of what they can do. Boss fights are more often than not a war of attrition, making for artificial challenges.

Outriders can be a lot of fun, with plenty of rewards. But it can also frustrate you to no end. If you’re anything like me, you’ll refuse to lower the World Tier, instead throwing yourself into battle over and over, trying new strategies each time. On one hand, I enjoy this, but that enjoyment and thrill tends to wear off in the face of the next challenging battle. This bittersweet cycle continues for the entire game.

Outriders review: Story and setting

Outriders takes place on the planet of Enoch, humanity’s last hope of survival after life on Earth crumbles. You play as an Outrider, a vanguard meant to establish the first bases on Enoch. After landing, however, things go awry and you meet what people later call the Anomaly. This electro-magnetic storm kills people instantly, destroys electronics and causes certain doom. In a strange twist of fate, the storm spares you.

outriders review

(Image credit: People Can Fly)

You become an Altered, gifted with god-like powers. You then engage in the brutal conflict between two rival factions as you pursue your own goals.

Outriders’ story isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s quite serviceable. I enjoyed the lore and exploring Enoch — there’s a lot to see and plenty of side-quests to add personality to a drab world. I remember one quest where you’re sent to find a woman who had been carried off by another Altered. You come to find them later, arguing. I found it amusing.

A lot of what you do in the main quest feels mundane, but the promise of more backstory, information about the conflict and loot kept me going. The dialogue isn’t the best — it’s downright awkward at points — but it gets you from Point A to Point B well enough.

Outriders review: Visuals and sound

Outriders looks alright on PC, but the port seems unoptimized. I played on an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti at 1440p with DLSS on. I experienced noticeable glitching, stuttering and frame drops, even with different graphical and DLSS settings. 

Sound is also decent, although it's nothing spectacular. I can hardly remember much of the music score other than the main menu theme. Some sound effects in-game are great, like heavy footfalls, shield damage and power activations. Others sound less than stellar, like gunfire. Some guns sound like toys and lack a sense of weight.

outriders review

(Image credit: Square Enix)

My colleague Marshall Honorof played the game on PS5 and noted that it looks fine. He noticed consistent frame rates (more than I can say for the PC version), though nothing else stood out to him. Outriders adopts a very drab color palette, opting for greys and browns over bright colors in armor and vegetation.

Outriders won’t win awards for exemplifying “next-gen” visuals, but it looks pretty good.

Outriders review: Verdict

Outriders excels at many things, though its always-online requirement holds it back. I lost a significant amount of my review time to server issues, even though I played solo. I know the sign-in menu theme music very well at this point. The development studio behind Outriders, People Can Fly, has been quite transparent on Twitter regarding server status and planned fixes, especially for known bugs.

outriders review

(Image credit: People Can Fly)

This game has a solid foundation and I really enjoy it when it works right. The always-online requirement is a huge downer for a single-player game, though. Outriders’ launch woes go to show why such an approach remains unnecessary. The game should have an online component just for the multiplayer features — this isn’t a live service experience. The online woes soured my enjoyment of the game, especially when I’d get kicked from it in the middle of a mission or boss fight. 

All that said, Outriders is a great looter-shooter. It won’t unseat Destiny 2, but I don’t think it means to. The game stands on its own merits and earns its place, rather than trying to copy something else. Yes, you can see the influences (especially in the loot color scheme and cover system), but as I said earlier, Outriders is a jack of all trades. People Can Fly can address most of its faults, but the game does what it needs to do. It breaks the looter-shooter curse.

Jordan Palmer

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. It's hard to nail down one thing that Jordan is passionate about, since his attention span for a single given topic or activity doesn't last long. Jordan tends to lurk on social media, but you can best reach him on Twitter.