When Outriders launched back in April, there were questions as to whether it could live up to its potential. The 3-person co-op looter shooter seemed to want to combine frenetic, superpowered moves with fast-paced shooting, and promised that it wouldn't be a live service title. In previews, it seemed like it might work. Unfortunately, the game at launch was riddled with problems, including server issues that prevented some from engaging in cross-play, and some bugs that would wipe a player's inventory, enemies that would fire invisible bullets, and frequent crashes, among other things. Other great games on Xbox pushed it to the backburner quickly.
There were also balancing issues among the four classes that forced players into just a couple of small boxes in terms of playstyle, despite the game purporting you can play as you wished. Bullet builds were all the rage, which was unfortunate when classes like the Devastator had few options to get creative with damage. This became a huge problem when reaching the endgame, which featured difficult and timed expeditions that only rewarded the good loot at the very end. Since you had to do damage as quickly as possible, this meant players favored bullet builds.
Overall, while the game was playable, it left a lot of players feeling disappointed. Where was the variety? Why wouldn't the game just work as intended? While the People Can Fly team has released multiple updates since launch, there hasn't been a lot of news on the future of the series, or whether it had addressed any of the most serious issues to lure old players back.
On Nov. 15, however, People Can Fly and publisher Square Enix debuted its latest Outriders broadcast (the last one was pre-launch) to announce some massive changes coming to the game. The free update is called New Horizon, and it's set to not only add more content, but to fix a lot of the balancing issues and other problems that players have had with the game in the hopes to keep it all going.
"With New Horizon, we want to give the statement that we fixed the game and added new things," said Game Director Bartosz Kmita during a pre-broadcast press event. "It's a good moment to start finally working on our game to make it better."
Why one big update?
Developers have been working on Outriders fixes since the game launched and feedback started streaming in. While Kmita notes that some of it was positive, a lot of it was "bittersweet." This is understandable because while the game did work, it didn't work all the time. Personally, I had few issues playing on PC with friends and only ran into occasional crashes, but I knew people who lost their entire inventory or couldn't play at all. Those who were intrigued by the game at launch fell off quickly, and not of their own volition.
"Our game is very, very complicated from a technical point of view and in the systems, so it took a little bit longer than expected to even realize what is going on."
According to Kmita, the response was sort of unexpected. The demo seemed to be successful, with a couple million players downloading it. (Kmita noted the demo had 2 million players, but couldn't confirm the number.) However, there were many more players that wanted to play the full game at launch, which strained the company's servers.
"Our game is very, very complicated from a technical point of view and in the systems, so it took a little bit longer than expected to even realize what is going on," Kmita said. "We did everything we could from our perspective to mitigate, but unfortunately, not everything."
It's unclear how the idea of a large free update with big changes came about, but Toby Palm, a community manager at Square Enix, said that it partially happened this way because of timing and because of optics. Why not give players a larger update and event to pay attention to than a bunch of small patches?
"If we hadn't run into, say, an inventory wipe issue, we'd be releasing the content that's in New Horizons much earlier, Palm said. "We focused first on stabilizing the game, and then we said let's bring everything in together into this big New Horizon update where we have a chance to actually win people back by showing them actually everything's been changed."
Since working on making the game work as intended took up a lot of the developers' time, the team's timeline with plans for new content was pushed back. According to Palm, that allowed the team to be in the weeds with Outriders longer than expected.
"The timeline has given us the opportunity to actually implement all the great things. The fact we had to stay with Outriders for longer actually meant we can also improve it in great ways longer as well."
What are the changes, exactly?
The broadcast detailed all the changes coming in the New Horizon update, and they promise a lot of improvements to the endgame, first and foremost. As we previously mentioned, Expeditions, which were post-main campaign missions that provided some of the game's best loot, were timed and incredibly difficult. This meant players focused on DPS, bullet-focused builds that dealt the most damage the fastest. A lot of builds, especially ones for the Devastator and the Trickster, became unpopular as a result.
The New Horizon update seeks to change balancing issues by disabling the timer on Expedition missions.
The New Horizon update seeks to change that by disabling the timer on Expedition missions. Players can still use it if they wish, but it's no longer a requirement to complete it in a short amount of time. No matter how you play, you'll receive the same rewards. This change will come in handy with the four new Expeditions that are coming in the New Horizon update, which range from standard to challenging.
One of the more interesting aspects from Outriders was how it incentivized players to play on tougher difficulties (called World Tiers) for better loot. Despite this, drop rates for legendary items were low, and it was common to get duplicates. To reward players even more in the New Horizon update, People Can Fly has upped the drop rate of legendary loot — a 100% increase, according to the developers. There's also an anti-duplication system now in place that reduces the chance of getting an item you already own. Players also get more of a choice in their legendary loot, from being able to choose an item at the end of the final mission to being able to buy a legendary purchase from Tiago's shop. Plus, if you log on once per week, you'll get a legendary item.
An unnecessary but still neat addition is Transmog, which allows you to keep the design of certain weapons and armor and put it onto different items. This allows you take the skins from legendary items and put them on rare or common weapons, for example, and provides players another way to customize their kit in an already stacked customization system.
Finally, we come to smaller quality of life changes, many of which were sorely needed. For instance, you can now skip that opening video! More importantly, all four classes and their skills will be receiving buffs to deal and take more damage. The developers also added that multiplayer connectivity has been improved across platforms, with the added ability to check whether players are AFK.
Additionally, during the broadcast, the team announced the Worldslayer expansion, a new story DLC set to release in 2022.
But how does it all play?
I got the chance to try out a version of Outriders with the update where we played through the four new Expeditions. They ranged from the more straightforward with the Molden Depths, to The Wellspring, where your team is beseeched by storms that get stronger as you play. While it was tough to see if the legendary drop rate had improved at all (my team completed two out of the four Expeditions on at least World Tier 10 and didn't receive any legendary loot), I received only a couple duplicate items.
In the real world, players will see whether the bugs have been cleaned up and whether the multiplayer connections have been improved.
What I was paying attention to mainly involved buffs to the characters. I typically play a Trickster, one of the more affected classes by the previous meta, and one of my teammates was a Devastator, so there were plenty of opportunities to check out whether the tweaks were impactful. Since we were playing on higher World Tiers, it was difficult to truly gauge how meaningful the changes were, but it was more apparent on lower tiers. My team had difficulty completing Expeditions after World Tier 12 at the level 50 cap, but had a much easier time even just slightly lower.
As a Trickster, I felt myself having way more of an impact on enemies. Before, many of the later game abilities like Venator's Knife weren't super viable on tougher enemies. It felt like a lot of Trickster abilities didn't leave much of a mark on larger enemies at all. While I still ran into some issues on larger monsters that didn't seem affected at all by marking by the Trickster, that was only on much tougher difficulties and in the latter Expeditions.
However, Outriders has always been a balancing act between wanting to gun down opponents and creating the right build for the situation. It's not about just pure damage, which the developers stressed in the update. So it's still strange that on higher World Tiers, it still ends up being about damage. Sure, you can strategize and combine abilities with your teammates, but ultimately it's about how quickly you can gun down your opponents so you don't get overrun. So while there isn't a timer anymore, you still are sort of in a race to not get clobbered by three Alphas at the same time.
Ultimately, my time with the game felt like more of the same, minus the timers in Expeditions, which is a much-needed change. It's tough to truly tell how much an effect balancing will have on the game since we were all playing with high-level characters and legendary weapons and armor. Plus, we were only playing Expeditions, and the true test will come throughout the main game. In the real world, players will see whether the bugs have been cleaned up and whether the multiplayer connections have been improved. You can't see these things in a preview test. That being said, while it took a while for Outriders to get these much-needed changes, it shows the team is continuing work on the game for the foreseeable future.
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