Players can often use stealth or go in bows blazing. Can you talk about your approach to creating a sandbox that facilitates different playstyles?Willans: “Embrace the emergent gameplay” immediately springs to mind. Throughout development, we balanced between stealth and action to try and find something which embraces the fun, but isn’t too restrictive or open to trolling behavior. The biggest challenge when creating a purely multiplayer stealth game is what happens when someone on your team doesn’t play the way you intended them to. Penalizing the whole team feels unfair, so we opted for a more personal consequence. If you trip the alarms you are named and shamed in the game feed, and your character will be highlighted in red so the other team can see your position, and the guards will swarm you, rather than your teammates. Your team can remain hidden and continue in stealth if they choose not to jump to your defense and get involved in open combat.

That said, open combat, sprinting, sliding, throwing grenades, and firing explosive arrows is just so much fun and key to embracing the fantasy of a heist. Just imagine how anticlimactic the movie Heat would have been without the shootout during the getaway scene. So, we absolutely embrace this in the final act. The battle for extraction should be tense and dramatic. But if you managed to get the treasure chest loaded without the guards seeing you, then you can make that stealthy escape. This is rare, but absolutely possible with the current AI escalation rules. 

We know there are a lot of players who desire a more hardcore approach with things like limited lives, limited UI, fail conditions based on alarms tripped, and more. This is something we’re very keen to deliver (we had fun with these types of rules during development), but we need to build our player base first, so accessible gameplay and clear mission objectives were our priority for launch. 

With many ways to fight that include archery, stealth attacks, and melee weapons, can you delve into how you developed the game’s combat system? 

Willans: Our very first designs involved all characters having both a ranged attack and melee. So John,  the Brawler, was intended to throw his hammer over a distance, and Tooke, the Mystic, launched his mace from the end of his flail (chain). This sounded great in theory, but when we started breaking the design down further, we decided that recovering a thrown weapon wasn’t much fun, and they could easily be lost in combat leaving you with just your bare hands. So, these discussions helped us define the two main fighting styles of ranged and melee and gave us our first combat rule: no character should be without their weapon. This forced us to think creatively about how Robin’s bow could be used for a melee attack, and also led to the creation of the wrist-mounted crossbow with the knife attachment for Marianne. 

In our early playtests, John was actually seen as the weakest character because he was so vulnerable to headshots. All that rage running towards you was easily defeated with a well-timed shot to the head. So we introduced blocking and parrying as a means of defense, and also created more differences in the damage you could deal with either a fully charged, or quick fire shot from the bow. We followed this and iterated through the entirety of development. Characters needed to feel OP for the power fantasy, and then we tuned up the other outlaws to match.  

Assassinations were essential to delivering on the promise of stealth, and their development journey is still far from over. Make them too easy to perform, and all you see are players backstab fishing, looking like a deadly conga line. Make them too hard, and players feel the system is unfair or buggy because they are used to the incredibly user-friendly functionality seen in single-player games like Assassin’s Creed. Finding that sweet spot for competitive play is tricky, but now that we have proper data to track, we can tune things with more accuracy. One of the first things we’re addressing is the ability to stop an assassination in progress by striking the attacker mid animation.

Source: Unreal Engine Blog

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