Gear to Fear - how we made loot meaningful in Outriders

Outriders Director Bartek Kmita talks us through the game’s robust gear system, how each piece is handcrafted and the challenge of making loot feel rewarding.
By Bartek Kmita
Tags: Outriders

Whenever you add a feature into a game, the obvious question is… why?

For example, why did we decide to add a comprehensive loot system to Outriders? The answer is quite simple - we really, really like this kind of mechanic.

In many respects, Outriders is a passion project for us - heavily inspired by the things that the team loves. For example, it’s an RPG because everyone on the team loves RPGs. It has visceral third person combat because we thoroughly enjoy this type of gameplay, and it has a dark sci-fi setting because that’s the kind of fiction that a lot of us are attracted to.

In particular, almost everyone on the team is a fan of the Diablo series - many of us grew up on those games. We wanted to find a way to explore similar ideas, and really push that aspect of RPGs into the shooter genre through our own, unique perspective.

Of course, it was more than just a case of ‘let’s add this because we like it’. The gear system is one of the central pillars of the game - without it, players would get a far lesser experience.

That’s because it plays into the idea that sits at the very heart of Outriders - customization.

Customization is key

From its very conception, we intended Outriders to be an intensely customizable experience. By building out your gear and your character tree, you are able to create your own personal playstyle - something that dramatically changes how you approach the game.

When I say intensely customizable, I mean it - while you start as one of four classes, the final build you create will feel wholly unique to you.

For example, one player could have a Devastator who works as a tank, rushing around in the open to get right in the enemies’ faces, while another could build theirs out as a ranged specialist, who zips behind cover to take out enemies from a distance - it’s all completely up to you.

Some of this customizability comes from the extensive character tree, but a lot of it also comes from the gear system - what you equip, craft and mod can dramatically change how you play the game.

In fact, gear customization forms the backbone of the endgame called Expeditions mode - where what you equip or craft can be the difference between success and failure.

Devising the Gear system

Before we talk about how we built the gear system in Outriders, it’s important to understand a little about how it works.

As you’d expect, equipping gear affects your stats - everything from your damage output to your resilience. Some gear also comes with special attributes called mods. Some mods are passive skills that affect how your armor, weapons or abilities work - for example, they can add status effects like freezing or poison. Other mods are class-specific and change how your abilities work - for example, they can increase the area of effect of a skill, or improve their effectiveness.

You can also dismantle gear to equip that mod to something else, make your own… there are so many permeations to gear mods that it can make your head spin. It did ours!

That was actually one of the biggest challenges we faced.

Is it worth it?

The scope of the gear system was initially quite daunting for us. We wanted gear and mods to be meaningful - if you get stronger, you should feel stronger.

But the more meaningful gear becomes, the more challenging it is to produce and create. On more than one occasion, we had frank discussions about whether we needed to pare it down. For example, if only 1% of players even find a particular piece of gear, maybe it’s not worth it.

What’s more, the fact that gear directly affects how your character plays adds even more complications. We had to make sure that despite the massive number of effects mods can have, everything remains balanced and that, ultimately, we stay in control of how all this customization comes together. Not an easy task!

When we talked through it though, we all came to the same conclusion - this is the game we want to create. If only a handful of players find a particular piece or permeation of gear, that’s actually great - it’ll help their character feel even more unique. And as for making sure that gear feels meaningful, and the game remains balanced and satisfying, we just had to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

As you can imagine, a lot of testing was involved. As I write this, it’s still going on, and I’m sure we’ll be tweaking things right up to release!

This year’s fashions

Another hugely important element of gear is how it looks!

When you equip a new piece of armor, or a new weapon, you’ll see that reflected visually on your character. That’s not just in gameplay - the gear you have equipped will show up in cinematics too.

So it had to look cool - fortunately, we have an amazing art team here at People Can Fly.

The team created literally hundreds of individual pieces of gear. Each with multiple elements that can be combined in different ways. By putting these different elements together, they were able to create a staggering number of visually different pieces of armor and weapons.

All the loot had to look like it fit together organically, rather than be a mis-match of different elements, which meant that the team had meticulously go over all possible combinations to make sure that everything you can equip looks awesome.

So to sum up, there are more than 1,000 equippable items in Outriders, and the visuals of every single one has been handcrafted by the team to ensure you’re exploring Enoch in style.

Legendary Gear

In addition to standard gear - the stats of which are algorithmically generated - we have Legendary gear. These are unique pieces of equipment, where the visuals, the stats and the associated mods have all been specifically crafted by the team.

Because this gear was completely controlled by us, we were able to go really out there with the designs. There are more than 20 Legendary sets in the game to find, and they are all visually distinct, and extremely powerful.

If a player finds a Legendary item, it’ll feel extra rewarding and special since they’re pretty rare.

Drop it like it’s hot

Speaking of rarity, that’s something that we had to define. When you add a loot system to a game, you have to work out how often gear should drop, how to balance the different rarity or quality levels and more. It’s particularly challenging on Outriders because we have many levels of difficulty, and the World Tier system.

You get gear in Outriders in three basic ways. The first is by killing enemies - all enemies have a chance to drop an item, so the faster you kill, the more you’re rewarded.

You also get loot for completing quests - Outriders is an RPG with plenty of side quests to complement the main story, and many of these reward you with gear.

Finally, you get loot for climbing the World Tiers. As you progress through the game and build up your power, you enter new tiers, increasing enemy strength, but with the added risks means better rewards.

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider. We started out by looking at the drop rates on average difficulty. We looked at the number of enemies you fight, and used that rate as the basis for our initial calculations.

From there, it’s a case of testing and refinement. In some cases, we found we weren’t giving enough loot, which made combat feel unsatisfying. Other times, we gave so much that players was maxing out their storage capacity and spending too much time dismantling or sorting gear in menus.

Ultimately, the measure we used was how fast the player’s backpack fills - if they couldn’t pick up gear when it appeared, the balance was wrong.

With that basis, we were able to define the loot drop rates across the different difficulties, adjusting the drop rates and economy of rarity for each different difficulty. Sadly, it’s not just a case of moving a slider - it’s all got to be tested and iterated on continuously.

We feel like we’re already in a good place, but it’s another thing we’ll probably be fiddling with right up to release!

As you can see, a lot of thought and work has gone into the Outriders gear system. From the artists tasked with crafting the aesthetics of being a badass to the programmers ensuring the proper gameplay balances, the entire team has put their hearts and souls into this aspect of the game.

We want you to look powerful, be powerful, and most importantly feel powerful as you earn loot. See what we mean in the full game:

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