Visit Enoch, become Altered, and decide the fate of humanity.
Developer People Can Fly has turned out two very different shooters: Bulletstorm, which was heavy on creative kills and run-and-gun action, and Gears of War: Judgment, which makes use of that series' cover-based mechanics and slower movement. With its next game, Outriders, People Can Fly is marrying the two approaches, creating a cover shooter that also incentivizes getting out from behind the chest-high walls and wrecking your foes with a number of cool abilities.
We recently played the first few hours of Outriders at a preview event for the game in Los Angeles, where we got a taste of the new game. It's not just adding elements of different shooters to the mix, though; Outriders is also heavy on RPG features. The result is a game that feels like Gears meeting Mass Effect, complete with sci-fi story and a whole new planet to explore.
Outriders takes its name from a group of military types and scientists who have been doing their best to protect people and save humanity in the last days of Earth. In the game's prologue, you learn that things didn't go so well on our home planet, with dwindling resources and other issues leading to war and chaos. The Outriders were seen as heroes who did their best to help the innocent, but in the end, there was just no saving the planet. At the start of the game, you create an Outrider character who has left Earth and traveled some 80 years in cryostasis to a new planet called Enoch, with plans for colonization. On this mission, the Outriders are tasked with securing colony sites ahead of the rest of the survivors. But of course, things don't go so well.
It turns out Enoch is the home of a mysterious and deadly storm called the Anomaly, which you encounter during the prologue. It rips through the Outriders, killing most of them--but a lucky few survive, and end up with special powers, with you among them. As you cling to life after encountering the Anomaly, your friends throw you back into cryostasis, where you sleep for another 30 years. When you wake up, you discover that life on Enoch has changed for the worse. The Anomaly has ruined the colonists' advanced technology, and now life here is as bad as it was on Earth, with factions fighting over whatever resources they can find. Adding to the troubles are the Altered, a small group of people who have been given god-like powers thanks to the Anomaly, with many of them being corrupted by their capabilities.
"The Altered are the most powerful beings on the planet, and you will meet some who are allies and some who are very much not," explained Joshua Rubins, Outriders' lead writer. "One thing that they have in common is this idea that power corrupts; that it is very, very difficult to become godlike and still be a beneficial god. You have this power, and what do you do with it?"
"What is important is that every Altered will have his own vision of what is going on around him in his own story," Creative Director Bartosz Kmita added. "They're not creating, like, a force of Altereds. Every one of them is basically above human, and everyone has his own thoughts about how to survive on this planet and what we should do to progress."
Your powers kick in after the prologue, and we played a couple of hours of Outriders with a look at these spiffy capabilities. You choose from one of three classes at this point: the Devastator, a close-range tank class that uses seismic attacks to shred enemies; the Pyromancer, a more mid-range fighter that can manipulate flame; and the Trickster, a class that can teleport and slow enemies to execute fast hit-and-run tactics. Choosing a class locks you in for the rest of the game, but one of the big pushes of Outriders is that it features drop-in, drop-out co-op, allowing you to team up with up to two other players and use your skills together.
Powers all come with cooldown timers, but People Can Fly has purposely made their durations pretty short, allowing you opportunities to get out of cover to use your abilities pretty often. We played as the Trickster class, which wielded a close-range slash attack that could explode multiple enemies, a dome-shaped field that slowed everyone in it to a crawl, and a teleport ability that put us directly behind enemies just about anywhere on the battlefield for up-close blasting. In addition to your powers--you'll unlock eight in all as you level up your character--each class also has a particular healing mechanic that encourages you to use your capabilities creatively. With the Trickster, close-range kills trigger health regeneration or, if you're full up, give you a shield that resists damage. That made getting in close and using powers all the more important, because there are no healing pickups, and automatic health regeneration only restores some of your life.
We are giving the tools for you to even take the same class in different directions, because the class is the beginning, but then you can define all the play style for yourself
When you're zapping enemies with any of your cool superpowers, you're blasting away at them, and this is where Outriders' Gears-like feel comes into play. The cover shooter mechanics are similar to what you'd have found in Judgment, and you'll generally duck behind walls to avoid fire before popping your head up to take shots at enemies. You can carry three weapons at a time, and we saw a few different varieties, including assault rifles, and shotguns. The shotguns in particular have an extremely Gears feel, blowing off limbs and taking apart enemies at close ranges. You'll constantly be restocking ammo from enemies and chests as you fight, but if you're ever running low, you also carry duel sidearms that carry infinite ammo.
The cover-shooting side of Outriders feels pretty standard for that genre, but mixing in your Altered powers helps pick up the game's action significantly. Running around as the Trickster, teleporting behind enemies and annihilating them with a spectral blade or a burst from a shotgun, was where the ideas of Outriders really started to gel. The game uses the cover aspects of its shooter side more as tactical support for the riskier, more aggressive approach, and balancing the two means you're constantly thinking about how to mix positioning, weapons, and powers to most effectively clear out enemies while keeping yourself alive.
Solving that puzzle in each combat encounter is a lot of fun, and with each class's different health-restoring mechanics, you're rewarded for thinking creatively, rather than hanging back and taking the safe route.
Looting And Shooting
When it comes to guns and armor, Outriders draws from its RPG inspirations. Some weapons have special perks--we snagged an assault rifle that could cause people to blow up upon death, for instance--and you'll also use mods to upgrade and change your guns, as well. There's also a loot rarity system in place, tied to Outriders' "World Level," which takes the place of traditional difficulty. As you level up your character, you also increase the World Level, which makes for harder battles and rarer loot drops. You can't increase the difficulty until you earn a new level, but you can always back it down if things get too tough.
"Some people will be more interested in the story or just easy progression, and they can keep the World Level low enough to just have entertainment from fighting," Kmita said. "But we really encourage people to go higher and higher. You have to earn that."
You'll also scale up your character as you progress using a skill tree. The choices you make along the way will help dictate your play style, Kmita said. We didn't get far enough into the game to dig into the skill tree, but what People Can Fly showed of the system suggests it's pretty extensive. You might play co-op as the same class as a friend, but your take on the Trickster could be pretty different from theirs, and Kmita said the classes support a variety of play styles.
"We are giving the tools for you to even take the same class in different directions, because the class is the beginning, but then you can define all the play style for yourself," he said. "So [how you play] depends on your luck, it depends on what you will find in the world, and it depends on what choices you would make in the progression tree. This will define your real play style, your real gameplay. It can be totally unique for different people."
While taking down enemies in the war for Enoch is your central purpose, Outriders also seems to possess a pretty extensive story. The conflicts raging around you are a big focus, but there's also a strange signal out in the wilderness that seems tied to the Anomaly, and you'll eventually work to track it down and figure out its secrets.
Talking with NPCs involves conversation menus that can expand dialogue and help you learn more about the people you meet and what's going on, and in the prologue, we spent a fair amount of time talking with other Outriders before getting into the action. Don't expect a branching story, though--there aren't dialogue options for your responses, just prompts to get more out of a conversation if you want it.
There are side missions, though, which can also add to the main story and give you more opportunities to earn loot and learn about what's going on on Enoch. Those will add to the main campaign, which People Can Fly said will last you about 25 hours.
We played Outriders on PC, and it's also coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One--it's also confirmed for the PS5 and Xbox Series X. Expect it to release in holiday 2020.