It is easy to look at Outriders and want to compare it with a game like Destiny, but People Can Fly has obviously taken more inspiration from games like Diablo.
Outriders is set in a pretty dark universe. After thoroughly destroying Earth, a last-ditch effort to leave the planet and make a new start elsewhere is kicked off, with many winning a lottery or bribing their way into the massive colony ship that would span the distance between stars. But when arriving there, the planet is nothing like the survey scans showed when the journey was planned and disaster strikes.
Welcome to Enoch. Welcome to Hell.
Stuck on a hostile planet without enough food, water or supplies, with anything electronic fried in a massive alien EMP storm, things are pretty bad on this new planet. Trenches and no-man’s land reminiscent of Earth’s world wars dot the landscape, and things have been this way for decades. Some are born into this hell, their only purpose to become grist in the grinding gears of the war efforts. Those that survive are at best traumatised and hardened, and at worst, homicidal zealots. Time is running out and it is up to you to try to finish your initial mission: to scout out the area and find a way for people to escape a war-torn valley before all supplies are exhausted.
Sure there is cover, but the best way to play involves hardly ever using it.
So off you venture away from this valley, a truck trip through the outskirts of humanity, towards the forest that nearly killed you the last time you were there. Good thing you have powers, right?
Near the beginning of the game you get to pick from one of four classes, sealing which type of Altered you are. Do you armour up by drawing stone to cover yourself, before knocking enemies flat as the ground trembles, or do you set everything on fire? Each class has three class trees, which roughly improve your skill power, your damage with weapons, or your ability to withstand damage. Thankfully switching between class trees is quick and easy, as is picking which three of your skills to take into battle.
I still wish we could take more than three skills into battle, and I feel like it would have made for some interesting interactions and fun combos. On top of that, a few skills have been made with interesting choices. One that comes to mind is that skill cooldowns start ticking down when the effect of the skill ends, rather than from when the skill was first used. This odd choice breaks some of the basic mental arithmetic players will be doing when looking at skills.
For example, let’s say Devastator’s Stone Skin lasts 10 seconds and has a 20-second cooldown. So that means I have a 50% uptime with that skill, yeah? No, because the cooldown only starts once the spell is over, meaning you will only cast the spell again 30 seconds after casting it. So instead of having 30 seconds of Stone Skin a minute, I can have 20, which is only 33% uptime on the skill.
Combat is an aggressive mixture of using your powers, shooting things and getting healed by your class mechanic. There are no health packs here, or hiding behind cover to regenerate. Sure there is cover, but the best way to play involves hardly ever using it. Here you wade in and hope you can out heal whatever gets thrown at you. At lower difficulty levels, this works as grunt enemies do very little damage and take very little to kill them off, generating health for you or your party if the correct conditions are met.
The problem comes at higher difficulty levels and as the elites and bosses arrive. The game’s difficulty revolves purely around enemies doing more damage and having more health, which means eventually even the lowliest enemies will be able to take you down in seconds. Bosses are massive healthsponges, made worse by having resistance to your powers, your bullets and even your debuffs. It feels a lot like having your toys taken away from you in solo, or a long emptying of clips with friends.
A good first attempt
Playing Outriders, I am quite aware that this is People Can Fly’s first attempt at a game in this genre. While it is really well made, there are many elements that lack the variety and granularity that players want in games that are all about picking up loot to be stronger.
Enemy variety is pretty low, with any armed group somehow managing to have the same archetypes of units in each. For intelligent enemies, there is always a melee person charging at you, an armoured enemy with a shotgun, a big heavy with a minigun, a sniper up high lining up a shot. A little variety would really help make the various factions you fight feel different, instead of being approximate reskins. In the end game grind, I hardly notice which faction I am fighting anymore, with the only big difference being fighting enemies with guns or big alien monsters that charge at your face.
Similarly, weapons are pretty lacklustre and hardly ever change. The shotgun you liked at level 3 will fire the exact same at level 30, except maybe you have better mods in it. Even the legendary weapons don’t offer different handling or clip size or choke width, they just give you three mod slots and one of those is a tier III mod, where all the best mods in the game lie. Most of my legendary items I have disassembled for parts, stripping the mods out to add to my library, where I can copy them onto other weapons.
As much as I bemoan the game’s method of increasing difficulty and its lack of variety, the game’s story is pleasantly well-written and a joy to work through. Enoch is a fascinating place and while a lot is shrouded in mystery, you learn a lot about the events and history of the planet you on, where many sci-fi games would just handwave everything with “ooh, mysterious!”. I found myself drawn to finish the various sidequests not just for the rewards, but for the morsels of story that would be delivered to me, either in conversation or the many journals you find in your travels. Learning about what happened to Earth and seeing so many parallels with our own trajectory of ruining the planet is a tough pill to swallow and instead of paradise, the remains of humanity have fallen into a war so long and bloody, many don’t even know why they are fighting, just that fighting is the only way to survive.
Outriders had a very rocky start with its always online to play requirement, even if you want to play single-player, and I still find that getting a group together without someone battling to connect or getting stuck in a loading screen is more of an achievement than pushing the end game content. If this issue can be sorted out, and in future we could see more variety in enemy types and weapons, I think People Can Fly is off to a great start.