Outriders: Hands-on with Square Enix’s New Superpowered Shooter

Towards the end of January 2020, Den of Geek traveled to a bitterly chilly Warsaw to attend the first major hands-on event for Outriders, an upcoming sci-fi shooter from People Can Fly, the Polish developers who previously worked on Fortnite: Save the World, the Gears of War games, and the incredibly underrated shooter Bulletstorm.

Outriders is a co-op shooter game with a similar gameplay style to Destiny and The Division, but it’s set on a distant planet called Enoch that mankind has tried and failed to colonize after escaping a post-apocalyptic Earth. A sludgy “anomaly” on this planet has gifted some people with fantastical superpowers, which come in handy as there are also massive monsters to contend with. Mankind has split into factions, and there seems to be no shortage of power-mad villains trying to gain dominion over this messy, dangerous planet.

Visually, the game looks pretty stunning – there are detailed landscapes and wonderful blasts of colorful energy during its epic firefights. Outriders is not only launching for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC but also on next-gen consoles as well. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see how the visuals will compare across hardware generations. It seems safe to assume that everything we saw was running on top-of-the-line tech.

As game director Bartek Kmita explains, the motivations for launching Outriders alongside the new consoles were simple: “People are going to look for new stuff with the new, next generation of consoles,” he says. Kmita says that developing a game for unreleased hardware like the PS5 and the Xbox Series X presents its own challenges, since the exact technical specs of these consoles are not yet set in stone. As Kmita puts it, “There is a lot of stuff that is kind of new for us, as well, because, as you know, a lot of technical requirements from next-gen is still, kind of… I wouldn’t say TBD… but it’s [still] coming our way. So we will see how the process is actually going later.”

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Sitting down at a powerful gaming PC to play the game, we loaded up the tutorial. You’re able to design your player-character, who is one of the first “Outriders” that get sent down from a spaceship in orbit to ascertain if this planet is safe for human life. After learning the basic cover-based shooter mechanics, you’re thrust into a fight with a scientist that has already gone rogue and has a militia backing him up. If you’re well-versed in games like The Division or Gears of War, you’ll get to grips with the basics rather quickly – you move from cover to cover, taking out enemies and working your way towards a clearly signposted goal. The gunplay feels tight and responsive, standard shooter fare… but then things start to get weird, in a way that superhero fans will particularly enjoy.

After the aforementioned anomaly hits, coming at you in a thick black gloop, you’re prompted to choose from a variety of classes that will determine your specific superpowers: there’s the fiery Pyromancer that can hurl flames at their foes, the tank-like Devastator that can manipulate rocks and dish out a lot of damage, the Loki-like Trickster that can teleport around the battlefield and freeze people in place, and a fourth class that is yet to be revealed.

Immediately tempted by the possibility of channeling my inner God of Mischief, I chose Trickster on my first playthrough and it didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was ruddy good fun – it doesn’t take long for your powers to charge up, and then you’ll be zipping around the battlefield, sneaking up on people, freezing them, shooting them and/or blasting them with an energy-based melee attack. It actually feels like they’ve made Marvel’s Loki into a gun-toting hero character, and that’s just as fun to play as it sounds.

When I gush about my love of the Trickster to Kmita, he seems chuffed: “I think that our skills are quite unique to the shooter genre because we have imagined it to be the flashier and more fantastical RPG skills [mixed] with the shooters,” he says. “So, we love them, and of course it depends on your character, you will choose them at the beginning – your preferred style and preferred class – but we encourage you to try different classes, because sometimes I think ‘Ah, I’m not a typical sniper player,’ but I start playing with the sniper and now I like it.’ So you can learn something more about yourself.”

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After choosing my class, I linked up with two other players to tackle the rest of the demo in a co-op fashion. We had one Trickster and two Pyromancers as we fought through a few waves of enemies, my teammates dishing out huge blasts of flame to damage a wide range of enemies while I snuck around and took out the strays. We then stopped to watch a cut-scene and pick up a mission in the first of several hub worlds, before rushing out again in search of action. Picking up loot and upgrading our characters’ moves along the way, we ended up going toe to toe with the game’s first boss character. He’s a lightning-charged villain with an array of special attacks, and he took a decent amount of time to defeat. And you have to be tactical, too – attacking while he’s charging up his next move is the key to victory, but it took us a while to work that out.

After beating the boss, we were able to restart the demo in single-player mode and try out the other classes. Playing as the Pyromancer, I realized that this class isn’t just about big showy blasts of flame – you also have the ability that lets you flame-charge towards your foe from a distance, giving the Pyromancer a slight sniper vibe. And with the Devastator, there’s a lot of fun to be had in smashing your way around the battlefield and leaving rubble in your wake – you have a powerful ground-smash attack and the ability to temporarily transform into living rock, essentially making yourself impervious to attacks. The different superpowered classes definitely feel like a fun way to revitalize the multiplayer shooter experience.

During a battle that involved a Pyromancer and a Devastator, the combination of fiery powers and rocky powers made us think of the Fantastic Four. If The Human Torch and The Thing used guns and went into battle on a strange new planet, it might look and feel a bit like this. These recognizable superpowers mean that comic book fans may find more to enjoy here than they would in a standard shooter. And working up the skill trees to develop your superpowered skillset promises an addictive progression system. It looks like your character’s physical appearance will change greatly, too, depending on how much you alter their abilities.

Playing through the same demo three times with different classes meant that I had plenty of time to look around, too. I stumbled into a fully-voiced side-quest involving a shopkeeper and a local gang at one point. It took me into another brief battle and rewarded me with some extra experience points and loot. This mini-mission didn’t take long, but it did make me hopeful that this will be a deep and varied world that rewards you for exploring. Certainly, if the world and the story can live up to the highly enjoyable superhero-style shooter action, this will be a game that I’ll happily ride back into.

Outriders is coming to PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One later in 2020.

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