Outriders is what you'd write if you spent 3 weeks holed up in a hotel room with the movie Avatar on repeat on the flatscreen and smoking a metric ton of meth.
I finished Outriders today. I kind of wish I hadn't. Setting aside the game part (which was very repetitive and had a lot of issues, including technical problems with both servers and crashes to the console "desktop") the story was maybe the strangest part of the whole experience.
Outriders is a multiplayer focused third person looter shooter but it has a ton of story. Cut scenes, radio chatter, dialog with NPCs, sidequests with all of the above, journal entries, etc... the game has a massive amount of lore and internal stories in it, and they're mostly kind of bad?
The Long Summary (you may want to skip, especially if you played it)
To summarize the story as a whole (I will not hold back on spoilers) you play as an Outrider (more or less a military scout/explorer), who came to a new planet called Enoch from a dying Earth aboard a ship called the Flores. The Flores was supposed to have a sister ship called the Caravel, but it was badly damaged in an explosion so only the Flores left. The original Outriders from the real military were almost all killed in the explosion, so you and your fellow Outriders were recruited from the mercenaries left on Earth, and were seen as an unsavory bunch who didn't deserve to be saved from the dying planet along with the various luminaries and high ranking politicians etc... who are on the Flores.
When you arrive on the planet it initially seems to be a paradise. There's a strange signal coming from somewhere and the Outriders go to investigate it, but you soon get caught in a weird magnetic storm. That storm starts frying all the electronics and killing people, even vaporizing them. The Outriders tell the bureaucrats not to bring people down because it's not safe, but the bureaucrats ignore you and then order the Outriders killed because they're contaminated. You fight back but you're injured and you end up being shoved back into cryosleep so they can heal you. You wake up 30 years later after a scientist and his friend wake your pod, you go back out into the world and find that it's in a constant state of dirt and war. You are set to be executed and released into another storm, similar to the one you saw before, and it sends a piece of metal through your chest and you kind of die but then you come back to life with powers. After fighting your way across the front you learn that you've been Altered and become kind of a superbeing. There are other Altered around too and they loosely ally with one of the two sides in the war, the authorities who you came down with and an insurgent force of people who felt that the authorities left them to die. Humanity has lost all its electronics to the storms and has been pinned into this valley it can't leave because it's the only safeish place, and everyone is fighting over the scraps as the storms continue to worsen.
You hook back up with two of the people you came down to the planet with, one of whom, Jakub, you've known for a long time, and you go off to track down that same signal you saw 30 years earlier. Along the way you fight in parts of the ongoing war, meet up with one of the last professors, meet up with Jakub's surrogate daughter, and do a lot of stuff that doesn't really end up mattering to the main plot. Your main goal is just to track down the signal, especially because the professor has a device that he thinks he can use to contact the Flores and have a lot of supplies that were stuck up there sent down to the surface.
You eventually leave behind the two warring sides to enter the forest, where nobody has ever come back from, only to find there are people there too, deserters who have found a way to survive the deadly fungus there and create a "peaceful" camp. You then find out that they're not so peaceful because they have to kill people to create the cure, and you shut down their operation when they take your doctor friend, but in doing so you discover the game's big twist. An alien who is being experimented on. You soon leave the forest behind and learn there was a whole race of sentient aliens already on the planet when you arrived.
In exploring THAT lead you soon find two more big reveals. First that in addition to the nice sentient aliens there are evil violent sentient aliens to fight (there are also beasts to fight throughout the game, but they're just big versions of animals twisted by the storm and aren't that plot relevant), and second that there's another group of humans who are on the planet but are not from your ship.
The resolution to these mysteries is that after the Flores left some people fixed the Caravel back up with a faster engine and got to the planet first. There they encountered the peaceful aliens (they called them the Pax, which is a Latin word for a period of peace) and at first things were good, but then their leader, Monroy, found that the Pax could control the storms and he wanted their power so he stared enslaving and genociding and whatnot. You know. Human stuff. This caused them to use their powers to turn themselves into the angry combat aliens (they call them ferals) and they defeated and killed the humans from the Caravel (with the help of a human insurrection), except Monroy who is holed up in his ship. He was the one who sent the signal you saw at the beginning of the game. This is also where the bad storms come from that keep everyone in the valley. The storms were much less horrible when people first arrived, but the Pax used to control them and with them all dead or turned evil there is nobody left to keep them in check.
You get into the remains of the Caravel, locate the signal, which is a distress call from Monroy, find Monroy, who is old but has survived this whole time, watch one of your companions kill him, and then fight off a final attack from the mean aliens while your professor buddy calls down the supplies from the Flores. Then you go outside, meet a bunch of civilians from back at the beginning of the game in the warzone who tell you that you they somehow followed you all this way, which seems utterly impossible because they are not well armed and you've been assaulted the whole time and barely survived the wildlife and the storms despite having god-like powers, but whatever, and then the end game involves chasing down the supply pods and trading the supplies for weapons.
It's all a big story about how humans came to a paradise and screwed it up by wanting to control it, and the Pax kind of look like Na'vi and you will never convince me that this wasn't just an attempt to make an unlicensed Avatar game but with loot.
Why It's Bad
Too Much: I just wrote a massive summary of the game's story and I left a ton out. There's just too much story in this game. Every single area has significant amounts of story, especially if you pursue side quests, but even if you don't. There's so many scenes of chatting between characters, or just characters doing things like hiding from storms or messing around with obelisks, and it's all repetitive and boring and you just want to get on with the underlying mystery of the game and not, for example, spend a bunch of time tracking down spare parts from an old truck only to come back and find out they kidnapped your friend so you have to go rescue them, all the while learning about the culture and rules and processes of this forest enclave that, in the end, doesn't actually matter at all. In fact none of the stuff or people you meet in the first part of the game matter in the second half except the people who come with you. Speaking of which...
Too many dead ends: The whole first part of the game, and we're talking probably 8-10 hours here, is about the Altered and their place in this new society, and your unreliable ally Seth who is fighting a war against another Altered named Moloch, and the ways you as an Altered fit into this war. None of this actually matters at all. You can go on a long sidequest and learn Moloch's origins, and you eventually find Seth dead, murdered by Moloch, and you fight Moloch until he defeats you and then...Moloch disappears from the game only to pop up at the very end looking up at the pods dropping from the sky. The Altered aren't actually important at all to anything that happens in the second half. In fact you don't really find out whether the other humans who got to the planet first actually got Altered, even though there's no reason why they shouldn't. You're constantly looking for more information about the Outriders and if any are still alive and none of that matters. What actually matters is the stuff that Monroy did, which you just read about in journals, and then when you meet Monroy you pretty much just shoot him. Shira's rise to become head of the ECA? Doesn't matter. The politics between Corrigan and the ECA and all that? Irrelevant. The whole fall of the First City and insurgency? Just background noise.
Badly told: One of the biggest problems this game has is that it has so much story, and it's not interesting or involving. The cut scenes tend to be obnoxious with shakey cam and incredibly variable animation quality, and the performances are all over the place too. The real problem is the writing, which is wildly inconsistent and often pretty bad. I generally read journal entries in games but I skipped a lot in this one just because of how long and dry they were. I was tempted to skip some cut scenes and I can't think of one character who I really liked or was invested in.
Wildly Inconsistent: Jakub is arguably the most important NPC in the game. He's the person your character has known the longest and her only tie back to life on Earth. You meet him in the first couple hours and he stays with you most of the game. Chana joins your party because she's his daughter. He's the lynchpin. When he sacrifices himself to save Chana it's the culmination of his character arc. He was an Outrider warrior and over time lapsed into drunken depression and became sort of a washed up flunky for Shira. He goes on this suicide mission with his old friend, begs her to save his daughter's life, reconnects with said daughter, opens up about his past, and then, in the end, summons some of that old Outrider courage to save her, dying in the process. This should be the emotional heart of the game's story. Nobody comments on it after. Chana becomes your driver, everyone else just kind of moves on instantly. There aren't even optional dialog prompts about it. Now it's not like I felt some great connection to Jakub (I snorted at the scene where he dies because it is silly) but the game spends a long time on this arc and then just discards it.
Likewise the whole tone of the game shifts when you are learning about what Monroy has done. Up until then your character is sarcastic and detached, even when seeing the horrors of war. She kills thousands, sees innocent people die, finds a whole blood cult in the forest etc... While the Pax genocide is bad, it's not that different from the rest of what's going on, but she becomes angry and outraged when reading about it. Learning about Monroy changes and matures her as a person. These are not the first slaves you've encountered in the game. After you wake up from cryo sleep you watch a guard murder his own ally and then knife another prisoner in front of you. The story of the Pax is sad but all your character has ever known is sad stories so for her to get super somber and act totally different once she hears it is nonsensical.
Characters just are not consistent in their actions or motivations and it makes it hard to care about any of it.
None of it makes sense if you think about it: In 2021 we have spy satellites that can map out individual roads and traffic patterns but in this far flung future with faster than light drives and all kinds of super tech they miss not only these deadly magnetic storms (which weren't as bad before the humans arrived) but entire cities? The Pax have this whole civilization with massive cities and temples and nobody spots it from the Flores? Also they have probes that land on the planet but no satellites in use before they send people down? None of it makes any sense given how tech actually works. Then there's the fact that Seth is close to a God and the Altered have encountered the forest people before but apparently have never gone beyond the forest for some reason? And the feral Pax have never contacted the forest people even though the Pax all turned themselves evil to drive the occupying humans from the land? The world is a mile wide but has no relationship to logic. Even the fact that early on Shira says that anything more complicated than a grease engine gets cooked, but there are lots of short wave radios and sniper rifles with laser sights (lasers actually ARE electronics, dude) etc... It's all dumb and that ties in to the fact that there's so so much of it.
It is so heavy handed:
Humans are ecologically bad. We get it. We fight each other, we screw things up, we attack things we don't understand, we're jerks. That's a fine point for a video game, but you don't need to walk us through an alien genocide camp to make it. You also don't need 5 different examples of how humans turn on each other. The game wants to make the point that humans are the problem and we destroy things, but it makes it over and over ad naseum. There's a point where the only alien you talk to asks Jakub why the humans are on the planet and Jakub says we screwed Earth up and have no place else to go. The alien asks if humans always screw up their planets and Jakub says that we do. It's a nice exchange, and it states the game's themes succinctly. That kind of thing works but not if every single vignette and moment is about it, from the warzone you start in to the horrors of the forest to the fate of the Pax. The story does not need to be as repetitive as the looter shooter game!
Why it doesn't fit with the game itself
Basically this game is structured as a multiplayer loot focused game but it has the story of a single player campaign. You're supposed to play it with friends and just sort of blow through it, but it keeps slowing down to tell its horrible story. There are long stretches where you're just walking through empty areas so that there's time for your buddies to chatter at you on your earpiece. Meanwhile the game is obviously as long as it is because it wants to throw a lot of biomes and content at people who are going to play this as a long term looter. Basically the gameplay is structured like Diablo but the story is structured like Gears of War and they do not mesh in the least. It's the reason there's too much story (There have to be events that happen in each location) and it also slows the pace of what should be constant exciting action. Bad fit.
Outriders is a mess in a lot of ways, but its story is emblematic of its problems. It has nothing original to say but says it at length (ironic given how long this post is.) It way overrates the quality of its characters, while underserving them at every turn. It repeats all its beats, including the noble sacrifice one, at least twice. It's frustrating because if the story were trimmed down and less obtrusive it would be acceptable if a little bland, but there's just so much of it and it's all so bad and obvious. If developers are going to shoehorn this much story into the game then at least please please please be a little more thoughtful and careful with it. And if your game is meant to be played in co-op it really doesn't need this level of story. Even Gears of War didn't shoehorn in a whole subplot about a woman who works for a local warlord and follows you but then is jealous so she gets angry and when she gets powers temporarily attacks you but then she gets paralyzed but instead of killing her your best friend's daughter nurses her back to health because she's in a vision of paradise and...
It's just too much. It has it's moments but it's too much. It's bad.