Outriders is an extremely uneven game. Its story is all over the place, oscillating between good and confusing, its different combat encounters often stretch on far too long, and a lot of features are covered in a thin coating of jank. And that's without even mentioning all its launch issues, including offline servers, a bug that wiped a few players' inventories, and co-op multiplayer that I still can't get to work. And yet, here I am still playing 20 hours later even after I've beaten the main story. For all Outriders can get wrong, it gets one thing very right: loot.
This really hit home for me near the tail end of the campaign. Like Morgan, who reviewed Outriders, I spent a good many hours feeling like I was woefully underpowered against the enemies I was fighting. I died more often than I have in any shooter campaign in recent memory. Instead of giving up and dropping the difficulty down (my pride, after all), I began tinkering with Outrider's crafting system. The more I tinkered, the more I realized the genius behind Outriders' loot and how it enables different playstyles. And then I found a build that turned me into an unstoppable, fiery god of war.
Grind my gears
In a lot of ways, Outriders resembles other loot shooters like Destiny 2 and The Division. You go into combat arenas, pump enemies full of bullets, and sometimes those enemies drop color-coded loot that'll subtly change how you attack. But most loot shooters are live service games that want to keep you coming back often, and playing indefinitely. As a result, they tend to give you very limited control over how to tweak your gear, and crafting is intentionally expensive so you have to grind. Fortunately, Outriders is not one of those games.
You're still beholden to fickle gods of randomness in a few ways, but Outriders also gives you a ton of options to customize loot for your exact needs. And it's all practically frictionless. If you take the time to theorycraft a bit, you can make some wickedly fun builds without much effort.
This is all because Outriders wants you to experiment often, and the whole system is built to support that. Every gun and piece of armor you find above a certain rarity has mods on it that augment your abilities or give you powerful passive buffs. But what feels amazing is that if you disassemble a piece of gear, that mod is automatically unlocked in the crafting system and can be applied to any applicable loot at small cost. And you can do this as many times as you like. Hell, you can even strip ultra-rare Legendary items of their ultra-powerful mods and stick them on something else. No other loot shooter let's me do that.
This effectively turns Outriders crafting system into a game of Pokémon, where I'm trying to collect every possible mod so that I have more tools to play with. And there's well over a hundred of them that can drop. Instead of just hunting for more powerful gear, I'm also looking for gear with mods that I can recycle and use later. Because crafting is cheap and easy, I can easily experiment with these mods without having to take detours for pointless grinding.
This honestly is surprising to me. I'm so used to games—especially live service loot shooters—treating this kind of customization as a carrot to be dangled on a stick. Something I have to grind continually just to nibble at. But Outriders isn't stingy with making you feel powerful.
Early on, I was stuck with a handful of basic mods that weren't very exciting, but the further I played, the more zany they became. I found a mod that strikes enemies with divine bolts of lightning whenever I shoot them. I found a mod that makes my bullets ricochet between enemies in close range, a mod that blasts nearby foes every time I reload, and even a mod that makes bad guys' skeletons explode after kill shots, pelting their friends with bone fragments for massive damage. My favorite mod, though, actually sounds a little boring and forgettable. But it played a key part in making me unstoppable.
The little mod that could
In the second half of Outriders' story, I was really beginning to struggle with different encounters and feeling like my character just wasn't strong enough. There are four classes in Outriders and each can equip up to three unique abilities to use in combat. There's an art to deciding which three to use. Some abilities can heal you while others might interrupt powerful enemy spells. You need a good strategy. So I spent some time experimenting with different mods and ability combos and stumbled upon one that made me a god.
The key was an ability called Overheat. When triggered, all enemies in a massive radius around me are dealt a little bit of damage and staggered. If I inflicted them with the Burn status effect first, however, that damage is greatly increased but the Burn effect is consumed immediately. It's a cool skill because it encourages me to try and ignite as many enemies as possible in order to maximize the effect.
That turned out to be pretty hard. With enemies hiding behind cover and often spread out, I didn't have many great ways to set them all ablaze. But then I found a mod that augments Overheat so that instead of doing extra damage to enemies with Burn, it does extra damage to enemies inflicted with another status effect called Ash.
A lightbulb went off. Pyromancers have an ability called Ash Blast that inflicts the Ash effect on all enemies in a small radius around me. I could charge into a group of enemies, Ash Blast them and then use Overheat to deal massive damage. Using the rest of my available mod slots on my armor, I threw on some extra mods to further improve both skills. I made Ash Blast's range much bigger while another mod made Overheat ramp up my armor each time I used it on an Ashed enemy. I could run into a room full of baddies, Ash Blast and Overheat them and become a walking tank for about eight seconds.
One thing I struggled with throughout much of Outriders was a need for more healing. So I took a mod that gave me a tiny amount of health back for each bullet I fired and slapped it on an SMG with an extremely high rate of fire and a very large magazine. Normally, the healing effect wouldn't be that strong, but in tandem with the armor boost I was getting from Overheat, it made me borderline unstoppable. I even got a mod that increased my armor by an absurd amount whenever I killed an enemy while aiming down my sights. The rest of my available mod slots were spent on my third ability which makes a volcano erupt out of the earth and vaporize nearby foes. Yes, it's as cool as it sounds.
Below: My build is good, but there are plenty of others that are just as or more powerful. Here's a great one.
Going into combat with a fully fleshed out build was thrilling. I had spent the entirety of Outriders' story being terrified of its elite enemies because they were just so tanky and powerful. I had to run and hide and chip away at them slowly. Now I could fight them head on, standing out in the open. Any damage they did to me I'd almost instantly heal by shooting them. And if I got surrounded, I'd just Ash Blast everyone and then Overheat them.
For a little while, it felt like I had broken Outriders—and it was so much fun. Because so many loot shooters are also live service games, it feels like I'm always stuck on a treadmill running at the exact same speed. The numbers on my gear go up, but because enemy stats go up at the same pace, it feels like I'm going nowhere. Experiencing wild power spikes as a result of my own strategizing in Outriders was liberating.
People Can Fly's weird blend of Gears of War and Destiny is messy, but it also upends some of the most exhausting traditions of the genre. It's why I'm more than willing to forgive it for all the little things it does wrong.