Outriders has been in a precarious position since its launch. The game combines a traditional third-person shooter with a lengthy story-based RPG. On top of that, it layers a loot shooter formula that gives you weird, goofy, frequently awesome weapons and armor to chase as you progress through its campaign. When I reviewed Outriders at its launch, I pointed out that it should be thought of more as an RPG than the loot shooter live game it appears to be.
But it's impossible to deny that Outriders also has a live-service game's endgame, meant to keep players busy as they challenge themselves with tough content and chase ever-better loot. With that endgame comes the same problem that all live games deal with: the struggle to keep players engaged long-term.
Developer People Can Fly is addressing the endgame issue head-on with Worldslayer, a big Outriders expansion set to launch on June 30. From the sound of things, Worldslayer complements the various big improvements added to Outriders with its free Frontiers update to create something of a whole new game. The expansion makes major adjustments to character progression, the difficulty-tuning Challenge system, the loot chase, and the endgame, reworking a lot about how Outriders works to make it a game you can sink more time into--and that's to say nothing of the expansion's new story.
We played about 90 minutes of Worldslayer, although that was entirely too little to actually get a real sense of the expansion, both because it adds a lot of content, and because its changes will take time for players to really sift through.
Worldslayer starts with a campaign that continues the story players wrapped up in the base game of Outriders, picking up almost exactly where it left off. The Worldslayer story assumes you've been doing Outriders endgame activity, which has you running around the world, picking up drop pods falling from the colony ship still in orbit around the planet Enoch. The good news, however, is that you don't have to have done those things: You can boost your character up to the base game's level cap and start the new content immediately, so if you're new but have friends who are Outriders vets, you can join them in Worldslayer without waiting.
Anyway, hunting down those pods has also supplied new data for Abraham Zahedi, the scientist you recruited to your band of heroes in the main game, and with it, he discovers some new, upsetting information. The Anomaly is a strange, deadly storm that routinely ravages Enoch and vaporizes people--although it also occasionally mutates them into godlike superhumans, of which you are one--and it's growing in both size and power. All the work you've been doing to capture pods filled with information, weapons, seeds, and other incredibly useful items that can help humanity survive will soon be for nothing, because if the Anomaly keeps growing, it's going to wipe everyone out.
We immediately saw the threat of those new storms in an icy level at the expansion's start, where the volatile weather was so powerful, flying creatures were freezing and falling out of the sky. Not long after, the player's group returns to Rift Town, the primary home of their allies, to find it wrecked by storms.
The story quickly becomes one of trying to find a way to do something about the Anomaly, after Channa, another of your team, experiences a vision of the future that provides a new lead. We learned a lot about the Anomaly and its origins in the base game of Outriders, and with the survival of humanity on the line, there's not much choice but to go on another road trip across Enoch in an attempt to save the world. That's going to put players at odds with a new big bad, an Altered called Ereshkigal, who looks pretty scary but who didn't pop up in the portion we played.
The next level we saw takes the Outrider and their team to an abandoned fishing village as Tiago, another teammate, provides information about how we might reach a fortress controlled by the enemy Insurgents. The village itself has a spooky history--Tiago tells a ghost story about how a night fisherman returned to the village to find that everyone within had been slaughtered by Insurgents. Sporting a raincoat and a bloody hook, the fisherman tore through the soldiers, and the village remains haunted by his vengeful spirit. The opening portion of the level plays into that spooky feeling as we walk through the empty village, but before long, we learn the truth: The fisherman isn't a ghost, he's a towering Insurgent boss, and the empty village is actually the site of an ambush.
Worldslayer doesn't drastically alter Outriders' moment-to-moment gameplay, so these levels will feel similar to what players saw in the base game, although you should expect a host of new enemy types and bosses to freshen up combat a bit along the way. The big changes coming to the game in the expansion are actually somewhat more subtle.
Worldslayer's additions are aimed at giving you more to do over the long term, like the addition of new PAX progression trees. Outriders already included three skill trees that allow you to unlock abilities for your character. You pick a class at the outset of the game, like Demolisher, which controls rocks and gravity, or Trickster, which is all about slowing enemies and teleportation, and then use the skill trees to further specialize with specific abilities or stat boosts. Wordslayer throws two more trees at you for each character, allowing you to specialize even further, or to cherrypick elements to build a character that conforms to a specific playstyle. You unlock skills and upgrades on the PAX trees with their own special PAX points, which you earn by progressing through the Worldslayer story.
But maybe the most interesting and meaningful addition to Outriders overall is the Apocalypse system, which upends the endgame as it's been established up until now, and of which we only saw a brief glimpse. When Outriders launched, it included a system that let you set difficulty with "World Tiers" and "Challenge Tiers." World Tiers were settings for the story campaign that gave you better loot as you turned up the difficulty; Challenge Tiers were a set of 15 additional difficulty tiers that kicked in during Expeditions, the endgame activity that followed the story. Apocalypse Tiers replace Challenge Tiers, expanding the optional difficulty tiers from 15 to 40.
Apocalypse Tiers add a lot of flexibility in making Outriders tougher to give you a reason to keep playing. You'll be able to set your Apocalypse tier throughout all Outriders content, including the original campaign, and the payoff is in the loot. Apocalypse Tiers drop Apocalypse guns and armor, which is a new set of amped-up gear that's even better than the best weapons and armor previously seen in Outriders. This big difference is the addition of a third modification slot to those weapons and armor--in the past, all Outriders gear topped out at two mod slots--which means Apocalypse gear is more customizable and will come with more unique perks. The best part of Outriders in the past were its ridiculous guns and armor with their own special perks, like my personal favorite, a shotgun that also causes meteors to fall out of the sky and hit your target. Expect Apocalypse loot to add even more weird, awesome elements like that.
In addition to your PAX progression, there's also a new Ascension progression system to go along with the increased difficulty of the Apocalypse Tiers. Ascension kicks in after you've maxed out your character at level 30, the previous character peak from the Outriders campaign. After 30, you earn Ascension points that you can spend in various areas, which give you small but stacking boosts in four areas: Brutality, Endurance, Anomaly, and Prowess. Each of those categories has five subcategories into which you can bank points, giving you upgrades like boosts to your special attack damage or your overall health. Ascension theoretically allows for even greater specialization, with an aim at collecting all 200 Ascension points to give yourself significant boosts across the board--but People Can Fly says it'll take a huge time investment to unlock them all, giving players something else to chase throughout the endgame.
There's also a new endgame activity to go with the Expeditions of the base game, but we don't know anything about it yet. Called Trials of Tarya Gratar, it's apparently completely different from the Expedition missions Outriders veterans have already seen. Square Enix and People Can Fly say more information about the endgame activity is headed our way in the coming months ahead of the expansion's release.
The time I spent playing Worldslayer was a good reminder of what I liked about Outriders--fast-paced shooter combat that mixes taking cover and planning with busting out powerful, ridiculous superpowers and crushing enemies to recover health. The additions to the overall formula, like Apocalypse Tiers, Ascension Points, and PAX trees, all sound like significant improvements, but in practice we only got a small sampling of these. They're the sorts of additions that snowball over time, starting off as incremental additions like buffing weapon damage by a couple percentage points, and slowly turning into meaningful ways to sculpt your play style as they pile up.
The opportunity to spend more time in the weird and expansive world of Outriders is a strong draw for Worldslayer, and all the new additions make it sound like People Can Fly has looked at its game and tried to identify ways to enhance all of it--the RPG, the story, and the loot shooter endgame. But we'll have to see what those changes bring to the game overall, because while a snapshot is promising, it's the whole of Worldslayer that's going to reveal if this expansion brings the game what it needs to endure.
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