It's not a good sign for a loot shooter when I'm tired of shooting stuff by hour three. I went into Outriders ready to be surprised after its disappointing demo, but it turns out those first few missions are representative of the final game—flat arenas connected by uneventful hallways, underpowered abilities, and guns that aren't much fun to shoot. Outriders plays like it was raided by the fun police. The story treats your character like some godlike force of destruction, but you're so fragile that I spent most of my time fighting for scraps of health.
People Can Fly seemingly wrote itself into a corner when it set the game in an alien world where only humans make guns, because its arsenal of standard assault rifles, shotguns, LMGs, and sniper rifles are so needlessly dull. The numbers go up, sure, but my level 3 shotgun shoots exactly the same as the one I killed the final boss with. Instead of modifying the gun's behavior (bullet spread, rate of fire, and other stuff meaningfully explored in Borderlands, for example), rare weapons and armor pieces come with random mods that amplify your magical powers in minor ways, like boosted damage or cooldown reductions.
It wasn't until I scored my first Legendary that I finally found a gun that wasn't putting me to sleep. The Thunderbird, an assault rifle carved from bones that popped out of the corpse of a giant shark monster, strikes lightning down on my targets with every shot like Mjollnir's long-range cousin. It's as sweet as it sounds. I loved it so much that I hoped to ride my luck and use it for the rest of the story, but its power level was outpaced by another boring-ass rifle within two hours. The path to upgrade weapons requires so many crafting materials that I'd have to grind for hours to boost my Thunderbird back up to relevancy. Even that would only buy an hour or two more before it's weak again.
I could look past Outriders' rougher details if the shooting felt really good, but it's as flavorless as the loot suggests. The third-person perspective means a lot of the satisfying gun feel you get out of Destiny's punchy shotguns and Scout Rifles is lost. Outriders' LMGs and silenced rifles sound good enough to carry impact, but everything else sounds like it's pressing sheet metal instead of firing bullets. The only part of combat that still hasn't worn out its welcome is the Trickster's main damage ability, the Temporal Blade. It's less of a blade and more of a shockwave I send out, but anyone caught in it melts down to a skeleton before their flesh is reconstructed and then explodes.
Each of the four Outriders classes relies on a unique mechanic to gain back health. I mained the close-range specialist Trickster, which builds up a shield by killing enemies at close range. The way Outriders pushes aggression against enemies is clearly inspired by Doom 2016's glory kills. I can easily keep a shield up while wiping out low level enemies, but the whole system breaks down when stronger foes enter the mix. Whereas Doom's demons sprint straight toward the Slayer like health piñatas eager to burst, I have to root out Outriders henchmen from the waist-high walls they're hiding behind. It can be so hard to counteract the massive damage that tougher enemies deal that I've filled two out of my three ability slots with powers that generate free health in a pinch. The Technomancer support class does have a global heal ability that could help in these scenarios, so hopefully I'll be harder to kill as I dive into more co-op this weekend.
And god forbid I actually use cover myself. Every time I take a breather behind a wall, two-to-three grenades land perfectly next to me within three seconds. Basic enemies that otherwise never throw explosives suddenly become Tom Brady the second I touch a piece of cover—I could laugh at the funny programming if it hadn't gotten me killed multiple times. I fared better when I stood behind a wall without pressing the cover button.
When co-op works, it's definitely the best way to play. Every encounter and boss fight becomes considerably easier and getting the chance to be revived can make even the most frustrating fights manageable. The real shame is that, at launch, server trouble has been so frequent that co-op sessions are often interrupted by server degradation. Crossplay is also completely broken right now, but People Can Fly is working on a fix. Even worse, frequent server errors are sending me straight back to the main menu even while I'm playing alone. I had two consecutive disconnects yesterday during a late-game boss fight that I had to completely retry both times. If I weren't reviewing Outriders, I probably would've uninstalled it out of spite. I see no reason why this won't be a temporary issue, but a proper offline mode should definitely be an option regardless.
As I stare down the beginning of Outriders' endgame, I'm hoping that People Can Fly is finally ready to cut loose and let me be powerful. Beating the campaign earned me a second Legendary rifle that I'm excited to try out. I see a map of new "Expedition" missions with time-based objectives and promises of greater loot, so we'll see how those work out. If my first 13 hours in Outriders is any indication, I should set my expectations low.
Note: A previous version of the story suggested the Expedition missions revist old locations. I've since learned they're bespoke missions, so I'm even more excited to try them out.