Everyone loves a redemption story. Outriders, a third-person loot-shooter released earlier this year, seemed poised for a good one. Like many online-only games, it launched with a raft of problems, obscuring the fact that under all the disconnects and server failures was a pretty solid game. Many of those woes persisted for more than a month, a first act that all but teed up a No Man’s Sky-style comeback.
So, did the game pull one off? Here’s the arc of its life-cycle to date:
- In 2018, People Can Fly, the developers of Bulletstorm, announced it was working on a then-unnamed third-person shooter to be published by Square Enix.
- That game went on to be Outriders, first revealed at Square Enix’s E3 presser in 2019, where it was given a Summer 2020 release date for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC.
- Following a preview event in early 2020, Kotaku’s Ethan Gach described an early taste as a hodgepodge of various influences: video games like Mass Effect, Destiny, and Gears of War; films like Avatar (the James Cameron one) and Heart of Darkness.
- In October 2020, People Can Fly pushed Outriders back from a 2020 release to February 2, 2021, partially citing the difficulties from working during a pandemic. Outriders was soon after delayed again, slated to come out on April 1, 2021.
- But! On February 25, 2021, People Can Fly made a meaty demo available for free, and allowed players to seamlessly transfer any earned gear from the demo to the main game. Obviously, players instantly started farming for legendary weapons. The week it was released, the demo clocked as one of Steam’s top downloads.
- Two weeks before launch, Microsoft announced that Outriders would come out on Game Pass day-one, ushering a wave of new attention to the already buzzy game. Also, wise Xbox players cancelled their unwise preorders.
- That attention might’ve been a double-edged, as players flooded servers that weren’t able to handle the influx. The demo was plagued by some connectivity woes — including some seriously busted crossplay functionality — but nothing on the scale of the full launch. And since Outriders, despite being fully playable as a single-person game, requires constant internet connection, many players were left out in the cold.
- Players ended up stuck at a sign-in screen that would last for what felt like an eternity. (Fact check: Anywhere from five minutes to roughly half an hour.) Even worse, the hack that fixed a near-identical issue from the demo — the trick of “turn it off and back on again” — no longer seemed to work. Outriders was also plagued by the standard issues that come with online games: poor connections, dropped connections, total failure to make connections.
- During the game’s second game day, People Can Fly publicized a website that allowed players to check on the real-time status of Outriders. At 4:00 p.m. ET, People Can Fly took the servers offline for several hours.
- The downtime didn’t fix much. But Outriders faced a more pressing issue: During its second week, players started reporting a serious bug in which they’d log in (after a wait, in some cases) to find their entire inventories eliminated. Not great for a game based on gear! People Can Fly said it would likely only be able to restore high-tier gear.
- The first patch, which dropped about a week into Outriders’ life span, didn’t fix any connectivity issues or whatnot. Instead, it nerfed abilities for the temporal space magic-using Trickster class, and also made it so you couldn’t earn legendary weapons from certain side-quests.
- Outside of server woes, players balked at a line that certainly sounded like a real-world reference to terrifying events on January 6, 2021: “More like that time I had to save your sorry arse from that redneck mob storming D.C.” Turns out, it was pure coincidence.
- Players who were able to tolerate the turbulence quickly found a new thing to hate: The fucking snipers. In the initial build of Outriders, snipers lined up shots instantly and seemingly never missed. If they didn’t kill you in a hit or two, they’d stagger you
- People Can Fly addressed that, and other issues, in a major patch that came out about a month after release. Still, one month into launch, People Can Fly had nothing to say about the more egregious flaws: the unpredictable connectivity, the wholecloth inventory wipes.
- In early May, People Can Fly started restoring wiped gear, but it wasn’t a full restoration. You’d only get your 20 most recently lost items back.
- Around the same time, a standard patch introduced a bug in which players would die instantly.
- A late May patch was supposed to address the problem. It did not.
- In June, as an appreciation for players who stuck through the worst, People Can Fly gave everyone a “frustration” emote, plus a legendary weapon. I got a shotgun. It kinda sucks.
- Even the game’s success comes double-edged. Though Outriders was played by millions of people, the studio said last month that it hadn’t received any royalties from the publisher.
- Lately, People Can Fly has opted to release a steady trickle of micro-managed balance patches rather than new content or total overhauls. As Forbes’ Paul Tassi noted, that’s consigned the game to a limbo where it’s both a live-service game and not at all a live service game.
For its six-month mark, I so, so desperately wanted to write an “Outriders Is Really Freakin’ Fun Now” post. I wanted Outriders to stage a full-throated comeback along the lines of No Man’s Sky or Fallout 76.
I’m not so sure it has, though. Yes, Outriders is technically “fixed.” Provided you have a decent internet connection, you can load into the game just like any other. When you match up with friends across platforms, you’ll actually be able to play without concern that the game will kick you to the lobby. Outriders no longer feels like it’s held together with double-sided Scotch tape.
But it’s still an often frustrating experience, which obscures what Outriders does well: the shooting, the breadth of powers, the varied and lushly detailed environments. Sometimes, when you’re knocked over by a series of attacks, you’re fully unable to move until, eventually, you just die. Few things are more maddening than plugging 15, 20 minutes into a boss fight only to die at the very last moment because you’d wiped out all the cannon fodder that could heal you. The endgame is mostly a repetitional grind, certainly not as varied and ever-changing as a similar loot-rooted game like Destiny 2 (or, hell, even Borderlands 3). And no amount of patchwork could fix the game’s fundamentally useless map.
Normally, these would be faults that a developer tackles within ongoing updates, but not here. People Can Fly has never billed Outriders as a constantly evolving live-service game. In fact, the studio is on record saying that it a “complete experience out of the box.” This game is meant to be a linear, one-and-done experience. By that metric, Outriders is the best it’s ever been — even if you haven’t thought about it since launch.