Role playing games are all about choice. The freedom to govern who and how you play lives at the very heart of the genre’s popularity. And while this quality undoubtedly provides one of the most appealing aspects of a solid RPG, it also raises a unique question for developers. How can you construct a satisfying and cohesive experience for all players, while at the same time allowing them the freedom to play as they see fit?
From its outset, Outriders is designed to provide players with an immense amount of choice regarding how they wish to approach the game. Beginning with four base classes and multiple skill trees to choose from, players are soon opened up to a continuous loop of options through a constant slew of weapon and armor drops. Each of these options can be combined to devastating effect, allowing the player to fundamentally shift the very mechanics of the game they are playing.
“I think the diversity, element of freedom, it is a core element. This is a core pillar, this is the most important thing from our game.” says Bartek Kmita, Outriders’ Creative Director. “Maybe something that is working for one player will not work for you. So we have to find the tools for yourself, how you play. For what class you play, what guns you like, and all these answers.”
Designing a game for this level of customizability creates a unique set of challenges for the developers. In order to ensure that every player’s desired approach remains viable, countless hours must be spent tweaking the ‘behind the scenes’ metrics of every weapon, power based skill and armor piece in the game. And while tiny adjustments to one set of numbers might seem like an easy way to raise and lower a weapon’s effectiveness, when considered alongside the games multiple stacked systems, those small changes can have ripple effects that alter the underlying feel of the gameplay itself.
“There’s always two things that sometimes fight together. One is the numbers. One is the feel. And the beauty of good balance is to have good numbers and fun gameplay. Because it’s not hard to balance a game that will not be fun. That’s, to be honest, quite easy. But to make a game that is balanced and is fun. That’s a challenge.”
Balancing the game therefore becomes somewhat of a tightrope act for the developers. In order to promote strong diversity of gameplay, it is important that each option the player might choose feels empowering and enjoyable to use. However, having all options feel equally weighted removes the fundamental value that comes from allowing players to make decisions in the first place. Were every choice to have the same result, there really wouldn’t be any choices at all. Or as Bartek puts it,
“It was very tricky because sometimes when you are trying to do a game for everyone, it’s the game for none. But right now, seeing the reaction of people who are playing, I think that we did a good job. Because people like the gameplay, no matter the class they are playing, which means that no matter what they are doing, they overall enjoy the combat, which is pretty awesome for us. That’s great.”