The first proper gun you pick up in Outriders, the latest looter-shooter where you run around sci-fi warzones blasting everything that moves, detonates enemies’ bones. While perhaps not the sort of thing you would bring up at the school gates, this bodes extremely well. You pick up that gun, read the description, you are excited to try it out, and the results do not disappoint. This game understands what makes the genre tick: the loot needs to be tantalising, adding new creativity to the ubiquitous shooting, which needs to be fun enough to repeat for hours.
Outriders’ underwhelming narrative stakes are laid out across an extensive introduction: humans have fled a dying Earth for a planet called Enoch, but – and this is a bit of a shame – it turns out that Enoch is plagued by storms that cripple electronics, disrupt the laws of physics and turn people inside out.
These storms also imbue some people with supernatural “anomaly powers”, and fortunately you are in this category, awoken from cryosleep 30 years after everyone else to discover humanity at war over scarce resources and trapped by storms and aliens. But that’s OK, because you’re going to sort out all their problems, with guns.
Said guns are uniformly fun to use. There are assault rifles, shotguns, and so forth, but it’s the way that they combine with the game’s other powers and elements that makes them so enjoyable. There are four character classes catering to most action tastes, from fast-moving assassins and pyromaniacs to tanks and snipers, and a huge part of the appeal is concocting recipes from weapons, class skills and mods, then heading on to the battlefield for a taste test.
Take my mid-game build, using the Trickster class, which is all about mobility and deception. The Trickster can do things such as teleport behind enemies or slow down time, and gains health top-ups from kill shots. After poring over skills and mods, I noticed that I could boost my damage by 50% for eight seconds whenever teleporting. I then realised I had a mod that could reduce my teleport recharge time to less than eight seconds.
Taking this into battle resulted in hilarious carnage. As soon as an enemy presents himself, I teleport behind him, blast him and any neighbours into fountains of gore with my shotgun, then as soon as my teleport is back up, I move to my next victim and repeat. While daisy-chaining teleports, I maintain that extra 50% damage permanently. The toughest fights involve elite enemies and bosses, because I need regular kill shots to top up my health bar against a blizzard of incoming fire, so for mixed groups I make sure to leave smaller foes scattered around to snack on.
Moving through fights is like dancing through a rhythm game. Eyes scan the surroundings for enemy types and chart a path between them, zigzagging well-timed teleports in order to sustain damage output and parcel out health top-ups. Death resets the current arena, and retrying is like practising a melody. Rewards play into this, increasing or reducing loot rarity. If you keep hitting bum notes, drop it a notch and belt out an easier tune. If you’re crooning like Sinatra, why not shoot for an encore?
This Trickster build has been intoxicating, but there are completely different ways to play Outriders. Heck, there are completely different ways to play Outriders as a Trickster. The whole thing is elevated further if you engage with online co-op, which is on offer throughout the game. Trying out different complementary powers across multiple players is a hoot. Exploring Enoch as a group, whether tackling story or side missions, is the best way to play.
Not everyone is looking for a game like Outriders, and if wooden dialogue and sci-fi cliches – it’s all commanders with eye patches and mad scientists – are not your thing, there’s no shame in that. But if you’re the type of player who reached a flow state in Doom Eternal, or speaks wistfully of Diablo, or perhaps remembers the rhythmic gunnery of Bizarre Creations’ The Club, Outriders will speak to you.
As you sit through interminable dialogue sequences in the early hours, it may be difficult to imagine sticking with this game. Picking through menus many hours later, devouring loot and crafting new builds, it may be difficult to imagine stopping.