Outriders brings the looter shooter to Xbox Series X, sans live service struggles

Outriders Classes
Outriders Classes (Image credit: Square Enix)

Outriders Coop

Source: Square Enix (Image credit: Source: Square Enix)

Beyond the mere promise of cooperative three-player action, Outriders has remained shrouded in mystery since its brief E3 2019 debut. It sets out to tackle the now staple looter shooter genre, channeling years of know-how through a new narrative-bound world. And among the first titles targeting Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 this holiday, it could come at the right time to find its voice. With Outriders now receiving its gameplay premiere, we've spent a few hours on the loot-fueled grind.

Outriders sets out to deliver a different breed of looter shooter

Outriders Trickster

Source: Square Enix (Image credit: Source: Square Enix)

The foundations of Outriders assemble a meeting of genres familiar throughout this generation, defined by the promise of a replayable role-playing platform, led by titles like Destiny or Tom Clancy's The Division. The game simultaneously attempts to distance itself from the template looter shooter, refuting the now commonplace "live service" model with deeper consideration for solo play. And while already laced with hallmarks that define embody those titles today, Outriders looks to take a fresh angle on a tried and tested formula.

Lightweight role-playing augments its third-person combat, forking gameplay roles into three distinct classes, geared toward cooperative harmony. It couples with the constant grind toward randomized loot drops, leveling your character to face new foes. While familiar in premise to the decade's top shared-world shooters, it equally hopes to stand independent from the crowd. My time with Outriders left me keen to explore too, even if mildly clouded by contrasting philosophies surrounding the game's ambition.

Outriders is the latest from Warsaw-based developer People Can Fly, a former heavyweight of the shooter space, attributed to Bulletstorm, the original Gears of War trilogy, and even the first iteration of Fortnite. Prestige in the shooter space defines the studio's DNA, with past projects clearly translating to Outriders' gratifying combat. The team's newfound interest action role-playing now scales a supporting world, taking forward its passion for Diablo and other loot-based shooters.

Outriders serves as its debut project since splitting from Epic Games, now established as an independent studio, and partnered with Square Enix. "[W]e started thinking that after a few years working on Epic IPs, we need to do something, because we are just creating someone else's games. We're following their ideas and we want to do something ourselves," Game Director Bartosz Kmita tells Windows Central. "Of course, shooter was the obvious thing, right? And then we wanted to do something to – I dare to say, disrupt the genre – to add those RPG elements to the existing shooter genre."

Parallel to the gritty, deteriorated backdrops of past studio projects, Outriders follows humanity's struggle to find a replacement for Earth. While the vibrant utopia of Enoch appears fit for habitability, it's found to be the host of a mysterious force dubbed the "Anomaly." Its discovery wipes the expedition crew, conjuring deadly storms and paranormal events, leaving only a handful alive on the surface. Among the select survivors and obtaining supernatural powers, players emerge years later in a terraformed wasteland warzone.

Outriders diversifies gameplay through those powers, carving four distinct classes with respective abilities and skill trees. Each defines unique roles and combat opportunities, with eight abilities per character, three of which can be equipped simultaneously. The Pyromancer acts as a classic DPS damage class, shrouded with blazing tactics and capable of tagging enemies. Close-quarters, high-voltage combat, and teleportation fall under the Trickster, while the Devastator serves as the heavy tank. People Can Fly also promises an unannounced fourth class at launch, with more expected later in 2020.

Related: Everything you need to know about Outriders

Those abilities complement equally solid gunplay, assumed from a studio defined by its shooter heritage. Fluidity extends through all components of combat, leaving each encounter just as satisfying as the last. And as new abilities grow your arsenal, a drive to concoct new synergies and intertwined tactics emerge in time.

Bringing forward the usual mechanics of a now-saturated genre, there's a ton that feels familiar in Outriders on the surface. But from gore-packed combat to a supporting world, it's still a distinctly People Can Fly game, drawing influence from past creatives highs. The delivery now rides on adopting an identity that stands out in its class, while keeping players locked down with a sense of investment.

In a post-Anthem world, Outriders forgoes the live service

Outriders Devestator

Source: Square Enix (Image credit: Source: Square Enix)

And despite bringing forward the fundamentals of the loot-based shooter, People Can Fly stresses Outriders isn't a live service experience. As titles like Anthem and Tom Clancy's The Division 2 garner a middling response, it appears to be distancing itself from the recent industry trend, instead promising a full shooter package at launch.

"[We're] tired of this cut content that other companies are adding over time to games."

While Outriders poses a familiar gameplay loop to live service siblings, it hopes a self-contained offering will help skirt common shortcomings facing rivals. "I think they struggle to do this because they constantly think from day one that they would want an infinite game," adds Art Director Bartek Bieluszko. "We have to story that starts [and] we have to story that ends. We want the player to enjoy this moment."

"[W]e are maybe tired of this cut content that other companies are adding over time to games. We wanted to have the complete experience from the box. I think that was the decision for us. Basically, create the game we, right now, want to play."

Outriders is a cooperative-focused title, still designed to promote replayability, with post-launch content on the roadmap. But while live service experiences prove alluring to publishers, the challenges of sustaining long-term roadmaps have proven increasingly evident. While launch appears far from the end for Outriders, its current focus on a full package could pay off in light of recent mishaps.

Outriders Sniper

Source: Square Enix (Image credit: Source: Square Enix)

You wouldn't be blamed for missing Outriders in the past, with only a mysterious E3 appearance in 2019, and now hurdling toward a late 2020 launch. That ties to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, targeting both next-generation systems, and among the few locked down for the launch. That window could prove hugely lucrative to determine its success, although People Can Fly understandably remains tight on next-generation plans.

"From the creative perspective, the more power we have, the more we can do cool stuff. I'm a really easy-thinking guy," Bieluszko told Windows Central. "There will be consoles with more power; we can put more stuff into it. We can build the game with more beautiful visuals. So I'm not looking for one particular feature this console will give us. Overall, I'm just always happy when the technology is going forward, and [we] have the stronger machines."

While our time exposed us to a small slice of Outriders' offerings, it already shows promise of an alluring cooperative package for up to three. We expect to learn more about People Can Fly's vision over the months ahead, before its scheduled holiday 2020 debut.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.