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Outriders Demo Impressions: A Solid Looter-Shooter in Need of Some Fine-Tuning

First impressions are everything after all.

by Brandon Adams

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Outriders is a visceral, bloody good time, but it’s not without its faults. When the game is at its best you’re popping heads like overripe cherries with a long-barreled sniper rifle, incinerating whole mobs of goons into ash, or disintegrating their flesh from their bones with lightning in a bubble that slows time.

It’s also harassed by a handful of annoying quirks and a lack of polish in many areas, which left me feeling conflicted after playing the recently released demo over the weekend. I enjoyed my time with Outriders, and I’m excited to play the full game when it launches April 1st, but I have concerns.

It’s the end of the world as we know it . . . again.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: despite all of the complaints I’m about to list below, I genuinely liked the Outriders demo. The abilities were interesting, with low-cooldowns that allowed me to experiment, each further augmented by equipment mods and skills that made me feel like a literal god on the battlefield despite my low level.

The gunplay itself felt good (despite some questionable audio; more on that in a bit), and I had a good time shredding unfortunate goons into a pile of meaty bits whenever I pulled the trigger on my Howitzer of a rare shotgun. Paired with the abilities that were on offer I largely had a great time plowing through the forces of Apocalypse 2: Electric Storm Boogaloo.

Mix in an already compelling loot grind – with both easy to understand stats and game-changing mods – and I can see myself and others dumping a hundred hours or so into Outriders when it comes out in a month (and maybe more if the endgame is as robust as advertised). But, you’ve no doubt seen some of the more negative opinions about Outriders at this point, and I can’t say they are entirely without merit.

Despite all of the complaints I’m about to list below, I genuinely liked the Outriders demo.

As captivating as Outriders’ core loop can be, there are a myriad number of issues bogging it down. For starters, let’s talk about the story, or at least the opening bit featured in the demo. Frankly the narrative thus far seems . . . it seems s’okay. The main thread is a bit cliched at this point – humanity flees a dying Earth only to repeat the mistakes that led to them leaving in the first place – but the mystery revolving around the unknown frequency looks to be the real star of the show, so things could improve down the line.

Characters are a mixed-bag altogether. The voice-acting itself is fine, yet even the best talent in the industry will struggle to carry wonky writing. There’s an abundance of attitude and grit in most of the dialogue, and the player character oscillates wildly between empathetic and sociopathic in any given scene. It’s not necessarily that the writing is bad per-se, just inconsistent and stilted.

Everything in the opening act of Outriders feels rushed, intent on getting you through the world-building and to the actual meat of the game, but the swift tonal shifts do make it hard to latch on and enjoy the tale People Can Fly are clearly trying hard to tell. This problem may resolve itself after the first chapter, when the game is able to stretch it legs a bit, but it doesn’t make for the best first impression.

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Not quite a cover-shooter.

Speaking of first impressions, the actual level you get to play around in (the brown, Mad Max-esque hellscape) is simply not all that great. In fact, it’s pretty bad from an aesthetic and level-design point of view. Visually it’s the same ho-hum end-of-days muddy wasteland we’ve seen time and time again, with very little to distinguish it from other similar end-of-days muddy wastelands.

But that would be forgivable if the level-design was at least competently slapped together, which is certainly is not. Outriders is sort of a cover-shooter, insofar as cover exists and there’s a system in-place to use it (which we’ll discuss further below). Chest-high walls line the landscape as far as the eye can see, which is about 50 feet because the first level is nothing more than a collection of narrow hallways leading to small combat arenas.

Not only does this repeating level-design outstay it’s welcome, but cover placement sometimes makes little sense. It’s important to note that Outriders, despite having a cover system, doesn’t actually want you to use it. You heal by being aggressive, and it’s one of Outriders’ best design mantras. But, there’s so much cover sprinkled about in any given location it’s not hard to find yourself having to circumvent it all just to get right in your foe’s face to trigger a health-restoring melee kill or pop an ability.

It’s important to note that Outriders, despite having a cover system, doesn’t actually want you to use it.

This quirk wouldn’t be all that bad if the cover system wasn’t as mediocre as it is. I was a bit surprised to see the cover system in the state it’s in, considering People Can Fly worked on the largely good Gears of War: Judgement, but here we are.

Cover in Outriders isn’t all that sticky, and basic concepts like rounding corners are cumbersome in execution. What can or can’t be climbed is often anyone’s guess, and you frequently have to mash the cover button to enter cover since the game doesn’t always register the prompt, all because multiple keybinds in Outriders are often mapped to a single button.

Thankfully, the problems with the cover system mostly come down to fine-tuning and minor adjustments, and I doubt People Can Fly will leave them unaddressed before launch considering the sheer volume of complaints leveled at the system. It also helps they had the foresight to allow us to not only remap keys, but to have double inputs per action, which is always appreciated.

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Some smaller gripes with Outriders.

There are two remaining faults I’d like to discuss before we depart the Negative Train (which I’d like to do, because honestly I did enjoy my time with the Outriders). Audio, especially for weapons, lacks punch. Shotguns don’t have that throaty roar we’re accustomed to, instead sometimes sounding like someone rapidly shooting staples out of a stapler. Machine guns and SMGs sizzle instead of crack with the din of distant thunder. Snipers sound like I’m launching bullets out of a PEZ dispenser.

To put it short (and to say it less floridly): most guns lack any real oomph in the audio department. This is another problem I foresee People Can Fly addressing eventually, though I doubt it’ll be done by launch. That said, this could also be a classic case of “early game guns are meant to sound like hot ass”, since Outriders is a looter-shooter after all, and the few Legendaries people have found tend to skew more on the impressive side of the aisle. Time will tell.

To put it short: most guns lack any real oomph in the audio department.

Then there are the obnoxious number of fade-to-black load-screens in Outriders. Want to access your inventory? Fade-to-black. Talk to a vendor? Fade-to-black. Jump a 5-foot chasm? Fade-to-black, watch a 2-second cutscene of your character leaping over the gap, then fade-to-black once more.

I’m not sure what the hell is going on with the Unreal Engine that People Can Fly are struggling to reel in here, but going in and out of my inventory should be snappy and quick – the same goes for vendors and crafting (the latter of which wasn’t in the demo, but I sincerely doubt this problem is not present there). At a bare minimum remove the awkward transition cutscenes and use a standard loading screen. My eyes will thank you.

Speaking of my eyes, the graphics in Outriders are good. Not great, but they’re pretty enough to net a date to the prom if you catch my meaning. That said, PC performance is middling at best, and I wish the graphics settings had more granularity to them. Hopefully a month of polish, more driver support, and the implementation of DLSS will help bolster performance, but it does need additional love before the game ships.

Update: Turns out DLSS is on by default, and it can only be configured within Outrider’s config menu. Hopefully People Can Fly can get the setting into the game’s settings by launch, and not just as a simple “On/Off” toggle.

Despite the all the problems Outriders has potential.

I know, that was a healthy helping of negative feedback, but I bring it all up because Outriders has a lot of potential. It nails the conceits of a looter-shooter with solid gameplay, varied build diversity, and interesting loot driving it all. It also cuts out all the bullshit we’ve seen in looter-shooters lately thanks in large part to People Can Fly’s commitment to not make Outriders into a live service game.

Therefore, it would be a disserve not to call attention to Outriders’ faults. I am eagerly awaiting its release in a month, but I also like a well polished and fine-tuned product as much as the next person. Not everything I mentioned above will be addressed by launch, nor do I expect as much, but the handful of things they can tweak – cover, audio, performance – I pray they do so.

Outriders has the bones to be one of the more compelling and engaging looter-shooters on the market, but it’s in need of some much needed fine-tuning to reach that point. Outriders has the potential to be great, but right now it’s merely good. Whether or not that’s good enough to warrant the AAA pricetag is up to you, but as Outriders currently stands it feels like a AA game a few tweaks shy of breaking into the AAA sphere.

Outriders releases April 1st for PC (Steam and Epic), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Stadia.

- This article was updated on:March 1st, 2021

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