Gut Check: Outriders Demo

Recently a demo for the upcoming Square Enix game, Outriders, was released to the public in what I can only assume was to get people like myself to finally stop asking, “what the hell is Outriders?” Seriously, I had no idea what this game was or when it was announced or who was making it, but ads for started cropping up everywhere so I figured I’d just try the demo and seek out the answer for myself.

Outriders is a cooperative third person shooter with different classes, skill trees and a heavy focus on getting loot. The immediate comparison one could draw from that description would be to liken it to Destiny, but that would be unfair to Destiny. Sure they’re both loot focused shooters that have big skill trees within various classes, and yes, Outriders also uses that stupid cursor-based menu system that’s infuriating for anyone using a controller, but a lot of games share at least some of those elements these days. My understanding as someone who doesn’t play it is that people enjoy Destiny for a multitude of reasons, chief among them being that it feels really good to shoot stuff in that game. Outriders however, isn’t particularly fun to play. It isn’t bad, but mechanically it’s completely unremarkable.

The biggest issue with the Outriders demo is that its intro and tutorial sequence are so abysmal that it’s quite honestly amazing that I managed to get through it at all. The demo starts off with an incredibly generic and tired story that’s repelling in almost every way. Earth is dead so they launched a bunch of military types and scientists into space in order to colonize what they initially believe to be a vacant planet, but in a shocking twist, it isn’t.

You get down there and are forced to interact with the blandest and most uninteresting characters in existence, like no nonsense space cowboy guy who is a father figure to your character, or the science lady who is so smart she doesn’t get obvious (yet bad) jokes, and you’ve even got an evil British (I think?) guy who is at odds with the mission for some reason. And you have to talk to each of them for way too long in order to progress to the next bad story beat, with the game even having the guts to offer you additional dialogue options so you can get to know more about them, something I wholeheartedly suggest you do not engage with.

In my eyes, Outriders commits the cardinal sin of making you watch an extended cut-scene, then dumping you into a “gameplay” section where you walk to another point where another cut-scene will start, over and over again. It’s like 30 straight minutes of you walking from cut-scene to cut-scene and it’s absolutely miserable.

But then the game tries to be interesting by changing everything up on you.

Within that first 30 minutes of tutorial hell, the game basically plays out an entire bad video game story from start to finish. Spoliers for a demo, I guess? Basically the British guy is in charge of making sure colonists can land on the planet safely, something your character and their team are there to confirm. Some wild magic murder storm comes through and starts icing everyone on your team, something which space cowboy uses as a justifiable reason for these colonists to not land here. British guy says no and that it’s too late to halt the landing procedure, the two of them get into a shouting match which ends with space cowboy dad getting shot by the British guy. A firefight ensues in which you end up getting mortally wounded, something which science lady responds to by putting you back into the cryogenic sleep pod you initially emerged from to buy time for the medics to come and help you. That never happens, but you’re apparently cured anyway when you emerge from the pod 31 years later.

That’s right, Outriders does a big fucking time skip that honestly turned me around on the game a little bit. You’re then introduced to the world as it is now where the colonists landed and had to carve out a meager existence similar to what they had on Earth. Now it’s all this dystopian, post-apocalyptic looking world with different factions all vying for control of the little resources that are available. You get immediately captured by a bad group of nasty boys and are sentenced to death in “No Man’s Land.” Oh by the way, all this time, I’ve maybe played the game for about 5 of the 30 minutes of intro that led up to this point. This all ends with your character dying out in “No Man’s Land.” The lights start to fade and your character drops to their knees, desperately trying to grasp at another life-sustaining breath that will never come.

And then a menu pops up and asks you which class you want to choose.

That’s right, nearly 40 minutes since starting this demo I finally got the option to pick a class. Classes seem fairly basic with you basically choosing between a sniper class, a balanced class, a shotgun class, and I guess some sort of glass cannon styled close up class that’s all about getting in and out quickly, all of which have magic powers associated with them. I went with the balanced class and the fire magic that came with it. That particular magic power allowed me to cast a wall of fire emanating from me in a line igniting enemies, with the added bonus of regaining some health for killing any enemy that was actively impacted by my magic.

I played through a lengthy shooter sequence where I learned that the cover mechanics both aren’t necessary for success, nor do they work reliably at all. Sometimes I would be mashing the “get into cover” button only for me to just stand in front of a stack of boxes while getting lit up by gunfire like an idiot. That sequence ended with me arriving at what I’m assuming is the first hub area where I’m sure vendors and stuff will all be hanging out eventually, and that’s where I called it.

It took so damn long for anything remotely interesting to happen in Outriders that I’m certain this demo is ultimately going to do a disservice to what might be a decent game. Something I learned later on through reading and watching some coverage about Outriders, was that it isn’t a live service game like Destiny or The Division. Apparently Outriders has a full story that eventually ends, which considering I don’t really want a live service game in my life right now, actually sounds appealing. It’s also a cooperative game that ostensibly, if I enjoyed Outriders a little more, I might trick my friends into buying and suffering through it with me.

Just from the little bit of this demo that I’ve played, I really don’t think I enjoy what Outriders is doing. I might put some more time into the demo just to see what the game is like after the bloated tutorial nightmare, but I don’t know if that’ll actually happen. All I can say for certain is that if you are going to play the demo, you can skip cut-scenes and dialogue pretty easily which will save you a lot of grief.

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