Is Square Enix’s Outriders Worth Your Time?
I woke up early this morning and thought, “I need a new game.” Luckily, the free demo for Outriders—an upcoming open world co-op adventure from People Can Fly and Square Enix—released yesterday on February 25, perfect for a weekend binge in the vestigial winter of the pandemic. I played it for 1.5 hours and took to the internet to tell you if you should try the Outriders demo.
What’s the Premise of Outriders?
With no spoilers: You play a gun-for-hire on a distant planet. Earth has gone to shit, a la R-rated Wall-E (happens off-screen, told via dialogue and lore clips), and so a couple thousand civilians, scientists, and corporate soldiers are shipped off to colonize a new planet. You play a character of your own design, affectionately (and conveniently) called “Outrider” (the name of your exploratory merc unit) by other characters.
You land on this beautiful new world called Enoch. Within 5 minutes of landing, a background NPC says, “I don’t know, I don’t like it… it’s too easy.” Having seen the trailer and hundreds of movies, I thought, No shit, Sherlock, y’all def about to die! Crazy, sometimes a little gross, stuff happens, and then your character essentially gets superpowers (1 of 4 classes you can choose from) and you go shooting across the planet.
How Gameplay Works in Outriders
The prologue is efficient, which I appreciate. It’s useful for setting up plot context and emotional stakes effectively, and then it gets you into the real gameplay. As soon as my character got her powers, I out loud said, “Sick.” (I picked one called The Trickster, which is good for close-up combat and uses “space-time.” Whatever that means.) So far, it’s really fun, and I can tell I’m just getting started. It reminds me of Mass Effect Andromeda’s third-person shooting/cover-based combat plus a good dose of biotic powers, but with more of a Fallout 4 or Outer Worlds approach to gunplay and dialogue.
Here are some other thoughts on various parts of the demo:
Some moments are great, some are a little stilted. I don’t think this is going to win any Pulitzers, but it really doesn’t need to. This game is a classier Borderlands, from what I can tell, and that means it’s just encouraging you to have some fun. Additionally, the world changes significantly after you finish the prologue, so it makes sense that the early aughts are especially space-adventure-cheesy. I’ll give the writers the benefit of the doubt that they spend most of their time in the lived world of the game. So, smile through the dorky bits and keep playing it!
You spend the bulk of your time with your character, the Outrider. The Outriders character creator was a pleasant surprise. You can name and customize your character. There are limited options with four overall categories: gender, body (face, skintone, eye color), hair (about a dozen styles and five colors), and markings (about a dozen piercing, tattoo, and eye/face make-up options). But you can do a lot with what’s there, and given the sparsity of options, it’s decently diverse, which I appreciate. Furthermore, how your character looks in game actually reflects how they looked in the creator (a big problem in Cyberpunk 2077; Outriders also lets you change all these looks in-game, another thing Cyberpunk doesn’t do). Your Outrider pretty much has her own personality (i.e., no choices in dialogue type), but luckily, she’s cool.
Overall, the friendly NPCs are interesting and entertaining for a post-apocalyptic story; I explored all the optional conversation options to learn more about them.
[Author’s note: added after four hours in with the demo]
I do have one standout disappointment here though and it’s that the darkest skintone option in the character creator is not very dark at all. Furthermore, so far, I haven’t seen a Black NPC. This is made worse by the fact that, in my opinion, there’s one “in town” that feels very coded as a person of color and I don’t see why they’re not. So far I’ve seen one Asian man named, offscreen, as “Chang” (comically stereotypical characterization, and died almost immediately) and one light-skinned Latina. Come on, it’s 2021. Be better.
What I’m really excited for is that, after you get through the prologue (about 40-60 minutes—I took a break to make coffee), you can co-op with 1-3 friends. And in theory, via cross-platform play too! Which is crazy! So I’m writing this so, that way, my friends try it and come space raiding with me. Allison, looking at you.
[Author’s note: added after four hours in with the demo]
I tried to match make with randos and it took several minutes for me to find a group, and when I did, they immediately booted me. There’s no in-game chat that I can see (it’d be nice to have the kind of brilliant ping system that Apex Legends has), which makes it difficult to communicate with others.
The Graphics, Music, and Tech
I’m enjoying the set pieces, but they’re nothing new so far. I imagine Outriders looks great on next-gen consoles, but I’m playing on Xbox One and enjoying it just fine.
The music is aggressive, but is fun for this kind of demo. It’s definitely a lot (it wakes my dog up every time) so keep the volume a little low when you turn it on for the first time.
Very few glitches (impressive for a demo) and relatively short load times.
Should You Try the Outriders Demo?
Hell yes! Not only is it free, but it’s actually good so far! Here’s a phone pic of what the game announces you can do in the demo (a decent amount). Best of all, should you decide you love the game, all of your progress crosses over to the full release version. I’m not sure yet if I’ll buy the whole thing, but I’m enjoying it for now. Hit me up if you’re playing.
Outriders releases on April 1 for Xbox One, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, PS5, PC, and Stadia.