Square Enix's Outriders: First hands-on impressions and gameplay footage
Square Enix’s other major release scheduled for publication in 2020 — no, not Final Fantasy VII Remake or Marvel’s Avengers, a little to the left— dropped its full reveal trailer Tuesday, granting players a more in-depth view of the world of Outriders. Developed by People Can Fly, the Polish team behind Bulletstorm and Painkiller who recently bought themselves out from under the corporate umbrella of Fortnite’s Epic Games, Outriders feels like it could be the narrative-focused, co-op shooter-looter experience EA and BioWare had hoped last year’s Anthem would be. EW was invited to play the first three hours of Outriders at an event in Los Angeles this month, and despite going in relatively blind, I came out with the game firmly on my radar as one to look out for in the 2020 holiday season (Outriders will be released on PS5 and Xbox Series X in addition to current gen consoles and PC, but Square Enix hasn’t confirmed whether it will be a launch title for those systems).
Outriders begins, as so many space-faring sci-fi adventures do, with the end of the world. Humanity, having ravaged the Earth, sends two ark ships to colonize a distant planet called Enoch. Eighty years of cryo-sleep later, just one of the two passenger ships has successfully crossed the void, and communication with Earth has, as expected, ceased in the post-apocalypse. It is the duty of the Outriders to be the first boots on the ground on Enoch to secure the landing zone for the last vestiges of mankind. Shortly after arriving on Enoch, however, the Outriders encounter a mysterious Anomaly that injures or kills most of their number, disables advanced technology, and forces the player-character back into a cryo chamber to heal. When the player’s Outrider wakes up 30 years after that, the once-peaceful Enoch valley has become a warzone, and the Outrider has gained superpowers from his or her exposure to the Anomaly.
These superpowers fell into one of three available classes in the demo build, with a fourth still in the works. The Pyromancer summons flame attacks for a mid-range combat style, the Devastator has rock-based, tanky powers, and the Trickster alters space and time for a more assassination-focused playstyle. Each of these classes can equip three special combat abilities at a time, and each has a unique mechanic for self-healing in prolonged fights. The Pyromancer, which is the class I spent the majority of my demo time with, heals after killing enemies who have been marked by one of his fire abilities. The Devastator, on the other hand, heals any time an enemy dies nearby.
Gameplay is engaging in the early hours of the story, with battle that takes the combo of cover-based shooting, low-cooldown powers and RPG customizability of something like Mass Effect and spruces it up with fluid action that brings to mind Gears of War, another franchise People Can Fly has worked on in the past. Having played both solo and with a partner, the current build feels balanced slightly more in favor of co-op play, but there was nothing in the demo that felt frustrating or overly difficult to tackle on my own. It’s too early to tell how the gameplay will age 10, 20 or even 50 hours into the experience, but hopefully there’s enough variety in late-game abilities, skill trees and gear to keep things from going stale.
Likewise, I haven’t seen enough of the story yet to get a complete read, but assuming it veers to the right side of the scale between innovative and derivative, it should be a good complement to the action, if not an earth-shattering revelation. The main character, from what’s been shown so far, feels a little more defined than the typical blank slates of some other RPGs, which seems like a positive comparatively speaking.
In general, Outriders shows a great deal of promise. With the next Sony and Microsoft consoles looming, it’s nice to see some quality cross-generational third-party titles popping up to make that transition run smoother.