When you get down to it, there’s a ton of things about Outriders that could use a bit of polish. Every character is a complete arsehole. The game has a bizarre tendency to stutter. The writing ranges from cringey to real cringe. The crafting has been basically irrelevant for my entire playthrough, and crossplay is still broken. And despite all that, it’s still some of the most fun I’ve had all year.
It’s not as if there’s something about Outriders that hits substantially differently to other shooters. The setting is this weird mix of post-apocalyptic Mad Max but on an alien world, so you don’t have access to electricity. But being one of the few Altered around, you’re the only one with access to magic. So while you’re running around swamps, forests, tunnels, disused labs, ruins and other bombed out areas, most of your interactions have this kind of vibe:
There’s all kinds of weird conflicts in Outriders, narratively or otherwise. It’s weird searching for lost iPhones to help power your shitty Cybertruck knock off to push the plot forward in a world where electricity is a literal luxury, for instance. It’s odd going into a new area and watching a five-second cut scene of your Outrider jumping over a gap, or opening a door. Wasn’t that the sort of transition the next generation of consoles (and NVMe drives on PC) supposed to eliminate?
But then so much of Outriders feels like it was built for a bygone era. The cover system is the biggest symbol of this, even though the cover is more useful for your enemies most of the time. The crafting mechanics can be functionally ignored completely until you hit the end game, because you’ll always get something bigger and better ten minutes later.
There’s these weird two second cut scenes whenever you complete Outriders‘ bounty quests. Once the main boss goes down, they sit there, frozen on the battlefield, as you run around mopping up the rest of their goons. You then return, hold down a button for a second, only to watch your character fire a pistol into the camera like it’s Pulp Fiction. And all of the quests have the same structure: anyone who’s not an Altered is functionally useless on Enoch, so could you just run and kill that thing/connect that wire/pull that switch? Thanks Altered, but also you’re a freak and I don’t quite trust you.
Coupled with the UI which it’s learnt lessons from Destiny — but only partially — it gives the whole experience this kind of scrappy, eurojank charm. And you know what? I’m absolutely loving it, warts and all.
There are some games out there that, for whatever reason, they have the one thing that just papers over all the other cracks. Let me give you an example. Counter-Strike is notoriously full of arseholes. It feels like you hit a cheater every second or third game sometimes. The second anything goes wrong, someone inevitably emerges on your team as a genius coach with the perfect strategies if only you’d done this one thing. That they inevitably forgot to tell you about, but you should have known anyway. Because you’re shit at the game. You know that, right?
And yet, it’s all worth it for that one round when you whip out the desert eagle and four bullets send four heads flying in quick succession. That combination of a team game that allows for just enough individuality that you can always make a difference, no matter how small the chance, is magic. There’s more to it than that, obviously, but it’s just an illustration of what I’m getting at.
Outriders is in a similar spot. Despite the rough edges around just about every part of the game, it’s hard to beat a game that has a core loop that involves you maniacally laughing as you burn an entire row of enemies, turn the entire screen to ash, and then watch a screen full of bodies literally pop in an instant. And that’s just solo. When Outriders is played in co-op, with any number of players, the combination of abilities popping off in symphony transforms the game from a AA-esque Gears of War into a weird world where Doom and looter shooters had a love child.
The enemies are largely irrelevant: It’s really just about how efficiently you can wipe the floor with them, and how few bullets you can do it with instead of how many.
And it’s not as if Outriders doesn’t have some neat moments of its own. The boss fights are good fun alone or with friends, but then so much of that applies to Outriders as a whole. It’s perfect if you just want something to keep yourself engaged mechanically, especially if you’re just hanging out with friends. The endgame is a bit different, pitting you against harder and harder enemies as part of an ongoing loot progression system.
But unlike Destiny or The Division 2 — or maybe Borderlands 3, which hits a similar loop without quite as many as the games-as-a-service trimmings — Outriders has a definitive end point. And it doesn’t wait until that end point before you start getting the kinds of combinations and synergies that make these class-based games really click. Outriders offers you that loop basically within the first three hours, and you, the player, get to spend the rest of the experience mercilessly abusing that.
You know how people sometimes ask whether a game is fun, without sometimes really knowing what they want, or clarifying what they mean by fun.
Outriders is that kind of fun. It’s catchy. Entertaining. Familiar. Definitely not perfect, funnier than it means to be half the time, and definitely in need of a few patches. But is it worth it? Totally.