As a general rule, I’m not a fan of reviewing a game, or even analysing it, as the type of game you want it to be. There’s a whole variety of games out there, and if a game is a different genre or style than I typically prefer, that’s a ‘me’ problem, it’s not the fault of the game. Even then, it’s not really a ‘me’ problem anyway, because there are so many other games out there I can play. So when I look at Outriders, with its gorgeous environments – when they’re well lit, at least – and fun gunplay, I do kind of wish it could be a story-driven, single-player space RPG. But alas, it’s not, it’s an always-online looter shooter. I guess I should just go and play Mass Effect again.
However, while I’m content with it being an online shooter game, it still feels like Outriders is missing a trick by making everything so linear. I know it’s just a demo, but it’s not like the demo is giving us a mini chunk of the world to go and explore, it’s giving us lots of very straightforward skirmish arenas followed by a hub to chill out in. I don’t want to kick Anthem when it’s down, but I’m getting a bit of an Anthem vibe from the world design, and that’s not a vibe any new game wants to be giving out. I actually really liked Anthem’s world, and how we were given a bit of permission to explore it in the Javelin suit, even if it never fully cut us loose. Anthem’s hub was less exciting – mainly just a long corridor with a few little passages coming off it. Outriders’ hub feels a bit more alive and vibrant than Anthem’s does, but outside of the hub, Outriders’ world is so much worse.
It’s not even like what I’m asking for is unrealistic. The story of Outriders so far seems like flavourless sci-fi gruel, so I get that asking for developed themes, nuanced characters, and a twisting space opera melodrama is going against the core of the game. Outriders is just supposed to be fun, with the characters and dialogue propping it all up only when they absolutely need to. But the exploration is within our grasp. The world already exists, we’re just being hemmed in and forced into tight valleys and trenches to keep the gunfire contained in a single space.
In an online shooter like Outriders, the ability to explore adds a level of unpredictability and extra variety to the game, even without needing the open world to be that developed itself. Take Destiny, for example, where the exploration usually just means wandering into vast spaces. The world itself doesn’t offer much to see or to do, but you can stumble across other players and cooperate or take part in public events. Outriders is still just a demo, but it’s very close to launch now and I’m worried that we might not get anything like this at all.
There are a couple of free-roam sections along the missions, but as far as I can tell they’re just the game being patient with me. They’re like my nan waiting while I play aimlessly in the dirt before I get bored and she can drag me off to the shops, or in Outriders, into the next generic gunfight. There’s nothing to do in them and they serve no purpose other than to offset criticism like this; clearly, they have been unsuccessful in their goal.
Outriders is never going to be the perfect game for me, and it’s foolish for me to try and criticise it into being something more palatable for my own personal tastes. But its rigid structure seems like a real wasted opportunity right now, and perhaps it could learn from slightly different games in order to become better at what it’s trying to do.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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