Since seeing our first hands-on preview of Outriders last summer, I’ve been cautiously optimistic about People Can Fly’s new co-op shooter/RPG. I was disappointed by the latest delay, but as a consolation prize, Square Enix has released the first act on schedule as a demo for us to start forming impressions off of. After spending the last day or so wreaking superpowered havoc on PS5, I’m still not sure whether the final game will end up being the Mass Effect/Destiny/Gears of War mashup I’ve been hoping for, but it’s definitely sold me on the fun of its sci-fi setup.What I find most engaging about the Outriders demo – which covers its prologue and first chapter and has kept me going for about six hours so far – is its insistence on more closely resembling a single-player RPG than a “shared-world” shooter in the vein of Destiny and The Division. I may not be able to make huge, story-altering decisions like in a classic BioWare RPG, and they’re still yet to crack the code of making every player the story’s Chosen One simultaneously, but being able to have optional conversations with almost every NPC I interact with and seeing tangible in-world consequences to my actions – like unlocking a new merchant with a permanent discount by completing a side quest – goes a long way toward getting me invested in Outriders’ post-double-apocalypse world.
Though maybe “post-post-apocalytic-apocalypse” is a more appropriate way to phrase it, because while the planet our crew of survivors from “Earth that was” land on was originally full of verdant forests and bizarre fauna, by the time the story kicks off in earnest it’s become anything but. The world dubbed “humanity’s last hope” quickly goes awry for our titular customizable character and their friends, and an unexpected lengthy time jump (which is a trope I’ll admit I’m a sucker for) sends things into territory that would make even the maddest of Maxes wince.
Its writing may not win any awards this year, and cutscenes suffer from some unfortunately out-of-sync audio, but it does a serviceable job of moving the story along and endearing its NPCs to you, whether they’re novel takes on established archetypes or making good use of People Can Fly’s affinity for self-aware banter. The latter can create some clashing tones, though. This is clearly a story that wants to address serious themes like humanity’s penchant for conflict and overconsumption, but it also kicks off with a somewhat bombastic attitude that doesn’t really let up, especially in the first chapter showcased in the demo. It sort of feels like hearing someone yell “YEE-HAW” during the somber acoustic part of a country set; it’s not entirely out of place, but it doesn’t quite fit in, either.