Outriders Hands-On Preview: Four Classes, Gear Score, and Cross-Generation Gunplay
After months of silence following the first reveal at E3 2019, People Can Fly's cooperative shooter Outriders has finally been shown off to press and influencers. We recently traveled to Los Angeles to check out the first hands-on gameplay sessions for Outriders alongside some of the bigger influencers for Destiny and other cooperative shooters.
People Can Fly and Square-Enix opened the preview with a brief rundown on Outriders and what the team has been working on since shipping Bulletstorm. While this was the first time that Outriders has been publicly available for press and influencers, development has been a long time coming with People Can Fly working on the project for over four years. Bartosz "Bartek K" Kmita, Game Director on Outriders, touted having over 230 developers and 4 studios across two continents along with outsourced partners, although it was unclear just how many of these developers were actively working on Outriders.
After showing off the reveal trailer that went live on February 11th, Bartosz gave us a bit more insight on Outriders. To start, they're targeting an obvious PC release (which is what our hands-on demo ran on) as well as both current-gen PlayStation 4/Xbox One consoles as well as the upcoming Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. According to Bartosz, Outriders is created with 'traditional video game sensibilities'. But, what does that mean to People Can Fly exactly? No loot boxes or pay-2-win shortcuts and Outriders isn't considered to be a part of the growing Games as a Service platform. Outriders will take place across a number of biomes, from desert landscapes to overgrown cities, in a world that's been overtaken by a supernatural force known as the Anomaly.
Outriders opens (after a brief character creation where players create their male or female avatar from a number of presets and customization options) during an initial encounter with the Anomaly. After sustaining mortal damage, they're dragged off to a cryosleep pod and put to rest until they can be successfully healed back to fighting shape. During this time, the Anomaly advanced across the landscape of planet Enoch, rendering the advanced tech of the Outriders all but useless. The player is then forcibly taken out of cryosleep and forced back into combat before having an unfortunate run-in with the Anomaly.
Being subjected to the Anomaly has a number of permanent and damaging effects on the human body, provided the user can survive long enough to stay alive during their exposure. Most notably is the absorption of elemental powers that imbue the user with new supernatural abilities. These manifest themselves into abilities that make up the four classes of characters in Outriders. After the initial exposure to the Anomaly, players make a permanent choice to take one of these four classes. Only three were shown off during the preview event for Outriders with the fourth remaining a secret for the time being.
Of the three classes available, I was first drawn to the Devastator. This hulking archetype makes up what would be the tank class of the holy trinity, using the power of the earth to create bullet-deflecting armor or shockwaves that pass through enemy fortifications. The second class is the Trickster, a mobile assassin type that specializes in slowing down time or teleporting into more advantageous positions (I didn't have enough time to demo this one). Lastly, the Pyromancer takes care of the medium range encounters with Area of Effect skills that can turn enemies into walking bombs. Each class is set up with unique skills and powers, but more importantly: unique ways to recover health. Rather than relying on health packs consumables, each Outrider class heals by killing enemies in certain ways. For the Devastator, kills made in close range (ie: shotgun blasts) recover health, while the Pyromancer heals by killing enemies that are under the effect of one of their explosive abilities.
Each of the Outriders can equip any weapon they come across, although I noticed that skill trees, especially at the later levels, confer bonuses to particular weapons and tactics that are unique to that class. While you can certainly have the flexibility to play how you see fit, endgame builds will surely rely on focusing upon specific weapon types to output the most damage.
Outriders does feature an obligatory cover system with the usual magnetic attachment and automated vaulting players should come to expect from a third-person shooter. However, I found that cover was merely there as a place to hang out while your powers recharged. Even towards the end of my hours-long gameplay demo, I had no issue charging into enemy groups and taking them out from close range, minus one particular boss that marked the end of a side quest that could summon out roaming columns of flame. It's during this one specific encounter that taking cover to heal was essential but even then, I couldn't stick around for long before these flame pillars would seek me out and decimate my remaining health.
What sets Outriders apart from other class-based shooters that I've played of recent years is the emphasis on individual powers. In a game like Destiny or The Division, players often only use their class powers once or twice in an encounter due to the long cooldowns, relying instead on gunplay to get them through an enemy fortification. With Outriders, People Can Fly wanted those powers to be an integral part of gameplay and used almost as frequently as you reload a magazine. Since I spent so much time as the Devastator, I grew attached to his power set and utilizing them up close with a mix of revolvers and shotguns. Players can only equip three powers at a given time, so I went with a medium-range earthquake that could damage enemies even behind cover, a passive armor boost, and a leap-and-crash move that could jump me safely from one bit of cover right into a group of enemies and start blasting away.
Outriders' gunplay, beyond the immediate use of character powers, follows a similar gameplay progression to that of the other looter-shooters on the market. Each individual piece of gear, from your three weapons (two primary and a secondary pistol that never runs out of reserve ammo) to the various pieces of armor that cosmetically change your character's appearance, funnels into one of two power levels, one for general gunplay and the other based upon the class powers. Whether this affects damage sustained as well as dealt is yet to be determined, but I look forward to digging deeper into the mechanics at a later date.
One interesting feature that People Can Fly teased for Outriders is the forward-operating base that will serve as the hub of operations for players. Rather than moving from building to building as players work their way closer to the source of the Anomaly, the Outriders will move forth as a convoy of vehicles with the player taking ownership of one of these convoy trucks. They'll be fully customizable with achievements unlocking visible trophies to adorn your truck with like a Texas cow skull.
Outriders already looks like what a cross-gen shooter should be aiming to achieve in 2020. Particle effects scatter about with each explosion or glorified headshot, character models look almost as good in gameplay as they do during brief cutscenes, and it all runs smoothly on the high-end PCs we ran our preview demos on, even if the pre-beta build isn't optimized yet. With Outriders being one of the first cross-platform games to bridge the game into the next generation of PlayStation and Xbox, this is one title to keep an eye on once People Can Fly is ready to talk about their plans for next-gen console gaming.
This certainly won't be the last time we hear about Outriders. Expect to see plenty more coverage in the coming months, as the game's release date nears.