After rinsing the generous dollop of content that was the Outriders demo, I was left with a question: soldier on when the game comes out, or leave it there?
"I see potential in Outriders' endgame...," I wrote in March. "But it's just so... old-school, I'm not sure I'll be able to suffer it long enough to get to that point."
Yesterday, after downloading the full game on PlayStation 5 and picking up my Devastator where she left off at the end of the demo, I ventured forth from the brown sludge of Rift Town to see if Outriders got more interesting.
Five hours and 10 character levels later, I've got an answer to that question: I'm going to stick with Outriders.
I stand by my demo criticisms of People Can Fly's looter shooter. Much of the level design is last, last generation stuff, that paintball field layout with waist-high cover conveniently stuck in the mud. The demo was a linear, tight-feeling experience, and while the next three main areas offer slightly bigger play spaces, Outriders is so far still very much a linear shooter. When you see a big open space you know a boss fight is about to begin. It's all very predictable.
Outriders also struggles to create a sense of cohesion, to build a world that makes sense. Once you obtain your truck, you can travel to various parts of the alien planet as you progress the story, but these levels do that old-school video game thing of being "that snow level", and "that lava level", and "that forest level", even though they're all within driving distance of each other.
And those cutscenes! Yes, you can now tone down the annoying camera shake everyone complained about of the demo, but nothing in the options menu can fix the awful dialogue, voice acting and audio. The story remains uninteresting, unfortunately. The characters are all over the place, with emotional shifts so violent as to cause whiplash. And, criminally, the main character is boring - an unlikeable action hero who doesn't have more to offer than the odd tiresome wisecrack.
The combat is this odd combination of floaty third-person shooting with an unreliable sprint and janky interaction with cover and ledges, and actually quite satisfying super powers. I've unlocked a few new skills for my Devastator that are a lot of fun: Impale summons a horrible spike from the ground that, if it does lethal damage, literally impales the target, granting armour and health regen to all allies. Tremor is fantastic: this creates a series of explosions around you, each dealing damage and draining health from enemies within range. I snagged a mod that gave Tremor extra explosions, too. It's proper 'wade into battle causing chaos' stuff.
Despite its double-A flaws, Outriders has its claws in me, and that's down to its build game. Once you rescue the doctor you unlock crafting, and with this feature you're able to create some fun combat combinations. I really do like Outriders' mod system. When you dismantle an item, you automatically get its mods to insert into other items. These mods do cool things like making your killing shots Weapon Leech, or create an Anomaly singularity. Some mods change the way your skills work, too. I have the Life Absorption mod on my footgear. This makes my Gravity Leap skill heal for a percentage of damage dealt. But, if my target dies, I heal a huge amount. This turns Gravity Leap from being a cool combat initiator into a potential life-saver as you scout the battlefield for enemies who are ripe for a fatal hit.
The fun of Outriders, I think, is in finding mods that boost your playstyle and equipping them on gear to create as powerful a build as possible. When I'm playing my Devastator solo, I'm looking for a build that boosts damage. But when I'm tanking in a group, I need a build that's big on damage mitigation and health recovery. Fussing over all this is where I'm at with Outriders, and it's fun to test your menu-based experiments out in the field.
The crafting system isn't perfect, though. While you can level up items and raise their attributes, the resources required to do this are scarce. This means my favourite-looking guns and gear fall behind the power level I'm playing at. I snagged the Grim Marrow legendary light machinegun while farming in the demo, and I like the look of it. But I now have green-quality guns that do a lot more damage, which makes it hard to keep using Grim Marrow on my current world tier. Outriders really could do with a transmog system.
Outriders is easily compared to Gears of War - and that comparison makes sense. But the more I play it the more I think it's better compared to Blizzard's Diablo. In fact, I reckon that if you were to take Outriders' camera and shift it to a top-down perspective, you'd end up with a sci-fi Diablo-style game. This is very much a compliment.
So, for now, I'm going to stick with Outriders. Not for the story. Not for the characters. And not for the world. I'm going to stick with Outriders for the stats - and I know that sounds like a boring reason to stay the course, but when you've got stats this good, it's hard to say no.