Outriders: Why do you have to hurt to heal?

Outriders Director Bartek Kmita explains why the best way to heal in Outriders is to put yourself at risk… and the challenges the team faced making that happen.
By Bartek Kmita, Director, Outriders
Tags: Outriders

Outriders is the ultimate power fantasy. As a genetically enhanced operative, you have the skills to engage in gleefully visceral combat that encourages you to get into the heart of the fight.

In fact, the only way to survive Outriders’ savage world of Enoch is to become more savage yourself. Killing or hurting foes is the best - and in some cases only - way to heal.

That mechanic sits at the very heart of the game… but why?

Outriders battlefield

Position, position, position

The initial idea behind our ‘hurt to heal’ system was to help players learn how to position themselves on the battlefield to get the most out of their skills.

There was a clear need for this. During playtests, we’d find that people would choose a ‘tanky’ class like the Devastator, for example, and then stay behind the weaker long-distance damage dealers, or hide in cover and take shots from a long way away rather dive into the fray.

That meant that what should be a powerhouse of destruction felt weak and ineffectual. There was nothing that told players they couldn’t play this way, and we’re all for giving players choice on how to approach each battle, but the problem was that they weren’t having fun.

We realised it was far better to give players a specific way to play at the beginning of the game. By only allowing them to heal in certain ways, we organically teach them how to use their skills and where the best place in the combat arena is for them to be.

With that greater understanding of how the game works, they can go on to spec and upgrade their character to build the specific playstyle that suits them best.

Outriders battle

Proactive players play proactively

Another reason we implemented ‘hurt to heal’ was to make characters play proactively. We wanted players to have to actively do something to heal - not just move back and sit still for a few moments.

We investigated different methods of healing like pickups, or special finishers, but we found that making most classes have to simply kill enemies worked best. It forces players to get aggressive, use all of their toolbox, and dive into the heart of the fight, which is where Outriders’ combat really shines.

Outriders combat

To show you what I mean, at one point we had both fully regenerating health and the hurt to heal system implemented in the game. Best of both worlds, right?

Well no - what happened is that the players who chose to play cautiously and hide out for healing had far less fun than the ones who were dancing in the chaos, crushing enemies left and right.

So now you just hurt to heal - and the game’s much better for it.


The Devastator - up close and personal

Devastator showcase

While the basic concept of restoring health is consistent across all classes, how it actually works differs greatly depending on which class you pick.

For the Devastator, you heal by killing enemies up close and personal. The idea for this class is that it’s essentially a tank. If you play as a Devastator, you need to be on the front line between the enemies and the rest of the team.

This is one of the more straightforward healing systems in the game, but it’s effective for ensuring you maximise the strengths of your skills. When we implemented it, those players who once hunkered down behind cover taking pot shots - and not really having a good time - were now diving excitedly right into the fray. It works!

Outriders powers

What’s more, that’s only the starting point. The flexibility of the upgrade systems mean it’s entirely possible to build a Devastator who excels at range - one who can snipe and reflect bullets. But you need a firm starting point to get there - and that’s what this healing system gives you.


Striking shields - The Trickster

Outriders - Trickster

The Trickster class is all about getting in close, doing lots of damage quickly and getting out again. It’s unique among the classes in that it comes equipped with a shield from the start, and this extra layer of protection can absorb hits that would otherwise cause catastrophic damage.

Like the Devastator, the Trickster heals by killing enemies from close range, but doing so will also restore part of the shield - a crucial difference that changes how you play the game.

Originally, there was no shield restoration for the class - close range damage restored health alone. Unfortunately, Tricksters are intentionally less hardy than Devastators, and we found that they lost health as fast as they gained it. We needed to find a little something extra to make the class feel awesome, so we looked back into the past of the project.

Early in development, there was no class system in Outriders - players were free to choose whatever skills and character upgrades they wanted from the very start (check out last week’s article, Powers on Tap, to find out why we changed that). We’d built a range of skills for this more open system, and some of them had an effect that added a shield to your character.

Looking at these old, unused powers, we realised that this was the extra ingredient that the Trickster needed. Not only would it add an extra layer of durability, it provided a unique playstyle. Every character can get access to a shield at some point, but only the Trickster can easily keep it topped up this way from the beginning.


Pyromancer - marked by fire

For the Pyromancer, healing is (unsurprisingly) all about bringing the heat. When these spicy supersoldiers use their skills on their foes, they ‘mark’ them. If a marked enemy expires, the Pyro is rewarded with a big boost of vitality - even if they didn’t land the final hit.

You can set enemies aflame, encase them in ash or even roast them with a literal volcano… however you want to play, using your skills is the key to survival. We chose that for a very specific reason.

The Pyromancer was one of the trickier classes to develop because there’s a greater need to educate the player on how to use their abilities effectively. With the Trickster and Devastator, for example, we push players into the heart of the action, which forces them to learn fast, but the Pyromancer is a mid-range class.

The natural playstyle (at least at the start of the game before you begin to change it) is to stay at a distance, which means that many new players - particularly those used to shooters - naturally reach for the automatic rifle. and may not even realise they have skills at first.

By marking and killing enemies to restore health, players are actively encouraged to experiment with everything the Pyro has to offer. They’ll learn how effective Heatwave is at crowd control, or how Ash Blast can be used to disrupt enemy assaults. Most importantly, they’ll be having a more dynamic, satisfyingly brutal combat experience.


Tech support - the Technomancer

Technomancer

The final class, the Technomancer, works a little differently to the others. Rather than killing to heal, Technomancers leech life from their opponents when they damage them. The more pain you inflict, the more healthy you’ll be.

We went with this approach because the Technomancer was envisaged as a support class - albeit one that can wreck shop too. When you start out as this class, you’ll likely stay at a distance, using your gadgets and guns to either take out enemies or soften then up for your allies.

Outriders technomancer

One particularly cool thing about the class is that it’s the only one that comes with a direct healing skill - Healing Wave. This ability will restore vitality to you, your gadgets and your team, making it very useful in tough fights.

Again, the skill is there to help you learn to play in a specific way at the initial stages of the game. Having the ability to give your team a valuable boost of health in a pinch teaches you that you can help your friends as much as you hurt your foes, and provides the foundations needed to develop your character in your desired direction - support, offence, or a mixture of the two.

Is there such a thing as too healthy?

The final element of the hurt to heal system we had to consider was perhaps the most complicated - how much health should be restored?

On paper, it sounds like an easy question to answer - do some maths. Take the base damage from the enemies, multiply it by the number of enemies that shoot at you, and determine the health restoration value from the result. And that’s what we initially did, focusing on the minimum amount of health restoration to keep things challenging, yet survivable.

Small problem though - it wasn’t fun. When a player dives into the heart of combat, it’s a risk. When you take down your foes you want to feel it was worth it, but the modest health boost wasn’t giving that feeling of reward.

Ultimately what it came down to was testing, testing, testing. We’ve refined these values time and time again, trying to balance everything from challenge to level scaling. The most important element though can’t be mathematically determined - it’s how it feels.

When you take out an enemy now, you get a sizable health boost… and it feels soooo good.

I hope you enjoyed this brief look into how we developed the healing system in Outriders. As you can see, in the dangerous world of Enoch, attack is the best defence… and the most enjoyable.

You can experience it for yourselves in the Outriders demo - available on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC.

The full game launches on April 1, 2021:

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