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Outriders Demo Impressions – The Division Meets Destiny

Positively Altering my level of excitement

Any WellPlayed regular will know that we’ve been following Outriders closely since it was announced. We’ve covered every new trailer, dived into each Broadcast and I even got the chance to speak with the game’s Creative Director Bartek Kmita early in 2020. It’s no secret that Outriders is one of our most anticipated games of 2021, which is why we were a bit devastated when it got delayed by almost two months. A silver lining has come in the form of a free demo, however, giving us all a chance to dip our toes in before the game’s full release on April 1.

The fairly generous demo gives players a chance to get to know each of the four classes and play through roughly the first three hours of the game, with replaying missions being an option. Jordan and I have both spent a good amount of time with the demo and have decided that two heads are better than one (though I’m Tasmanian, so three are better than two in this case). Though we have plenty of positive feelings about the demo, it’s not all sunshine and radioactive, cell-altering rainbows.

Gameplay

Adam: I’ve seen a fair few folks on the good old internet criticise Outriders for looking like another generic third-person cover-based shooter that would be comfortable back in the late 2000s. Seeing as though People Can Fly were behind Gears of War: Judgement, I can see where this worry would come from and if I’m being honest, the first half an hour of the demo did have me slightly worried, but past that my fears were swept away.

Gunplay is tight and each weapon is not only fun to use, but feels unique to its class and holds a certain weight that guns of that size should (they are so large lads). Even when using standard assault rifles and SMGs I never got sick of the core shooting mechanics, but getting up close and personal with the beefy shotguns and turning grunt enemies into a crimson mist does stand head and shoulders above everything else. 

Cover is serviceable if not a little inconsistent. Snapping to, running between and shooting from cover is all pretty much what you would expect and want, but vaulting is a mixed bag. There were some small ledges that I couldn’t scale, then others that I could that were double or triple the size. It makes for awkward battlefield traversal so I mainly ignored it. Luckily, ignoring cover is a very viable option with your abilities in play.

Hot. Damn. The Altered abilities are fantastic. Tied to the shoulder buttons are three different combat moves that change the makeup of whatever fight you’re in immediately. Between the four playable classes, there are a huge variety of abilities that I can’t wait to get into. The Trickster can create a time-slowing orb around themselves, the Devastator can leap into the air and crash back down with huge amounts of force, the Pyromancer can spew out walls of fire and I could go on and on, just about the small snippet available in the demo. Each of your powers makes you feel like an unstoppable machine and using them in tandem with other character’s abilities opens up even more possibilities. The best part about all of this is the frequency in which you can use them. The cooldowns are generously short, inviting you to experiment and allowing you to constantly have something up your sleeve. This kind of ability management is far closer to Diablo than Destiny and it’s more than welcome and I love it.  

Jordan: I like to consider myself somewhat of an expert on looters. I’ve been through the Borderlands games, countless hours of Destiny and Destiny 2, both The Division games, Anthem, Diablo III, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and Godfall – I have a great understanding of what is good and bad for a looter. With this, I’m glad that Adam allowed me to play Outriders (previously he said that if I played it he would get my FFXIV account banned and we can’t have that) as I was very interested to see how People Can Fly would create an entirely new looter-shooter IP with a lot of the DNA derived from their time making Gears of War: Judgement.

Outriders’ general gameplay loop consists of three core pillars, all of which it nails to varying degrees. The gunplay is surprisingly decent. It’s definitely not on the same level as games like The Division or Fortnite, but the guns are satisfying enough that you don’t get bored of the shooting like in Destiny. A cool mechanic that is also tied to the shooting is vampirism. Each gun has a stat that dictates how much health you recover from shooting enemies, so you are encouraged to move around and play smart rather than just hunkering down shooting at one enemy for 30 minutes (I’m looking at you The Division). You have your standard cover-based shooter mechanics that function well enough to the point where if there were no abilities, it would just seem like a competent enough shooter, which may sound like an indictment but in this case, it is not; it actually works in the game’s favour. Why? Well, where Outriders really shines compared to the current competition is in its power fantasy. 

Most games rely on making you feel powerful through a singular ultimate ability; like the Nova Bomb in Destiny. While these other games do succeed in a momentary power fantasy, Outriders is a power fantasy all the time. You have three equipped abilities (which can be changed) and they all synergise nicely. In some way, it feels like People Can Fly looked at the one thing Anthem did well (it’s prime/combo system) and designed something similar, but in a way that doesn’t punish you for playing by yourself. It’s a very difficult line to walk but, at least in the early stages of the game, Outriders does this superbly. What also helps with the power fantasy is the incredibly short cooldown for each ability. I played the Trickster class, as I like really aggressive, agile gameplay and the longest cooldown I had for the abilities I was using was 30 seconds, something which didn’t even feel that long because I could fit in other abilities during that cooldown. There is a lot of ability weaving and chaining that felt almost similar to traditional MMO design, in the best way possible. Even some MMO ideas like ability interrupts help make the game feel fresh in a genre that was feeling tired and stale halfway through the previous console generation.

The biggest sigh of relief this game gave me, however? That has to be the loot. Looters live and die by how interesting the loot is. Destiny’s Beyond Light expansion suffered from incredibly boring loot and Anthem barely even had loot that you could actively look at because someone thought it was a good idea to only allow gear changes in the hub (I’m still mad, if you couldn’t tell). Outriders has loot, even in the early game, that can augment your abilities in small, to major ways. You can be granted additional charges of your abilities, new behaviours and even reduced cooldowns. This is just for the armour, mind you, as the weapons themselves can also have unique abilities that range from standard effects to unique traits that can synergise really nicely with your own abilities, once again meaning you are not punished for playing by yourself. It’s hard to say how the later stages of the game handle this, but given that PCF have made it abundantly clear Outriders is a 40-hour game and nothing more, I can see all of these great things being fairly consistent because there isn’t some arbitrarily long endgame to worry about.

The Trickster’s abilities are just so damn satisfying to use

Story/Narrative

Adam: Something that I always struggle with when it comes to games like Destiny is that their setting and characters look amazing, but are ultimately shallow in the story department. It might be my own fault, but I always find myself wanting more than I’m given in a narrative sense. 

Going off what’s shown in the demo, Outriders looks like it might actually buck that trend. Now I’m not saying that the writing deserves an Oscar nomination, but the characters that you’re introduced to are interesting and have a personality; something that can’t be said for many of the characters in similar games. 

Sure, it falls into the whole “you’re the last of your kind/the chosen one that will turn the tide of battle”, but it seems to approach it in a fairly self-aware manner. Your protagonist has been in cryo for over 30 years and has woken up in a vastly changed, alien world and it’s not a kind one at that. As dark and gritty as it may appear, there are quite a few moments of humour mixed in, which could either get old quickly or provide some much-needed levity in an otherwise serious campaign, we’ll have to wait and see.

Jordan: I’m just going to be blunt here, the story kind of sucks. Yes, I know that’s the pot calling the kettle black when I’ve loved Destiny for so many years, but Destiny’s story also sucks too. This isn’t to say that there are not points to love about. It’s campy, cliche and contrived in the best way. It knows it’s not going to win any awards for its story and so it doesn’t try to be some needlessly convoluted narrative where a god has sent you from some random realm or the world has been flooded while you were asleep after a game of a made up sport. It just tries to be similar in its story to something like something like Starship troopers, if there was a mildly self-aware, overpowered godlike character as the main protagonist. The lowest point though? The voice acting.

Good lord, I don’t think I’ve heard voice acting this bad in a new game since The Division 2 launched in 2019. From woefully drab expressions, to some painfully put on accents, I’ve never wanted to skip through cutscenes so much in my life. In saying this, there are some little lines and quips that I enjoyed. For instance, there was a quest I was tasked with rescuing a Sergeant or Lieutenant or something, and at the end of the quest, everyone involved dies and your character just says “why do I ever bother?” in a mildly annoyed tone. I know, quests like this don’t respect the player’s time but it’s also a nice change of pace.

Look at that sexy gear and that legendary assault rifle 

Presentation/Performance

Adam: I played the PS5 version of the demo, that’s important to note from the offset. Right, dealing with the egregiously bad straight out of the gate, the cutscenes in this demo are rough as guts. The framerate during gameplay sits comfortably at 60fps which is great, but during cutscenes this number is, at least, cut in half. Throw in some wonky lighting, out-of-sync audio and, oh good god, the shakiest camera ever known to man and you’ve got a recipe for a shit time. This is a shame too, as I wanted to invest in the story but the quality of these scenes had my thumb hovering over the circle button to skip them every time.

Outside of these woeful segments, the game’s performance held up really well. I’ve heard from a few mates that their experiences weren’t as favourable, but I didn’t run into any hurdles at all. The motion blur when running is a bit distracting, but that will be a toggled option come the full release.

The game doesn’t look bad, but graphically it doesn’t blow me away. Some cool effects aside, the world is a bit boring, though the devs have said that we can expect plenty of unique biomes in the full experience. That’s one issue with the game only containing early content I suppose. I’m pleased with how smooth gameplay is, but holy smokes those cutscenes need some immediate attention before I can give Outriders a full tick in this department.

Jordan: Why do I do this to myself? Why do I expect new games to perform well? Anthem, Cyberpunk 2077, hell even Horizon: Zero Dawn was bad on PC. To start things off, I had a really bizarre issue where the game would not launch and, according to the error code, there was no reason in existence for it to be doing that. After I did some workarounds which involved me cleaning my registry to reinstall GeForce experience because NVIDIA software is half-arsed at best I was able to get in and was treated to graphics settings that barely made a difference and a lack of motion blur toggle. I later come to learn that, currently, motion blur is tied to post-processing effects and the only way to turn it off currently is to modify the game’s ini file (a trick I’m familiar with as most Unreal Engine games have an ini file which can be edited for varying results). To PCF’s credit, they have addressed this issue and will be adding a motion blur toggle, but the game still runs quite poorly on PC and I noticed that it doesn’t really use a whole lot of my PCs resources, both in the CPU and GPU side, which would explain its subpar performance. It does support ultrawide, however, which is more than can be said about some games in the modern-day. I’d like to see the performance cleaned up because even running at 1080p ultrawide, with a 1080 Ti at medium settings, I was still sitting well below 60fps in a lot of cases when it should be considerably higher.

Also, the framerate in the cutscenes sucks but PCF have also said this is a bug and the cutscenes will run at your game’s framerate at launch.


So there you have it, a (not so) quick look into what Jordan and I thought of the Outriders demo. The biggest takeaway, for us at least, is that after playing through this pre-release slice, we’re keener than ever to get our hands on the full game. Not only is that a good indication that we’ll enjoy Outriders in its entirety, but it’s indicative of the power that demos, when done right, can have. 

Outriders releases on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC on April 1.

That’s enough of us droning on though, what did you think of the Outriders demo? Will you be picking it up come April? Let us know.

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