Outward 2 Q&A – Director Says Sequel Is a Few Years Away, Will Be Just as Cruel & Obscure

Outward 2 Q&A – Director Says Sequel Is a Few Years Away, Will Be Just as Cruel & Obscure

In 2019, indie Canadian studio Nine Dots released Outward, an unforgiving immersive action roleplaying game that immediately captivated an audience. Having sold over 1.3 million units to date, the game is now getting a sequel, as announced earlier this month by Nine Dots.

We had the opportunity to talk with Guillaume Boucher-Vidal, CEO of Nine Dots Studio and Game Director on the original game and the sequel while at GDC 2024. You can read the full transcript below; Outward 2 can be wishlisted on Steam.

‘We have this yearly calendar and the impact of seasons will be really felt. We have different seasons per region’.

How long has Outward 2 been in development so far?

Well, we started full production in January of 2021.

Leading up to that, what sort of design documents and feedback from the first one were the basis for this new project?

I had the opportunity to analyze everything that people wanted from Outward while working on the DLC. The DLC was a very nice opportunity to just complete the vision we’ve had for the initial title. In doing so, I was constantly re-evaluating what I would change if I could do it. What would people react positively to? So, making the DLC really informed the design going into the sequel.

What kind of feedback did you get from the console version of Outward?

I didn’t hear as many complaints as I would have expected from the reduction in production values from the port. It wasn’t broken, but it was not as polished as on PC. I think that the definitive edition definitely had a better reception and that’s one big reason why – not that the porting teams that we had were bad, but we have so much more control by making the game and porting it ourselves that I think this had a big impact on the final quality. It’s just that nobody can know our game better than ourselves. We would know of something that is just a tweak, but it’s going to work so much better. If you don’t have that very deep knowledge of how the game is made, it isn’t so obvious.

One of the minor complaints from the original outward is how the open world, with how expansive it was, did feel a little empty at times. People are assuming that you would want to pack the world a little bit denser with content that’s already there, like, wild animals. But will there be non-hostile encounters in Outward 2?

That is one of the most important aspects. We have four pillars of what it is, like the four areas that we want to focus on for the sequel. One of them is a livelier world. To do that, we try to have that variety of encounters, like not only hostile stuff but also variety in how hostile people are.

We want, for instance, hostile humans to behave like humans and not like animals, and that in itself would make the world feel more alive. Also, we have this yearly calendar and the impact of seasons will be really felt.

When we’re talking about density, what about density in time? At the same spot, the gameplay will change from when it’s winter to when it’s summer and in between. We want to have very different seasons per region. It’s not always just a season of cold versus heat. Sometimes, it’s a season of pollen versus not so much pollen in the air and stuff like that. That’s part of the way of making it more dense.

Right now, both humans and creatures are able to kind of fight each other a little bit. Would there be any other dynamic content the player can stumble upon?

That’s a good question. Some of it will actually come from kind of having fun with it once we have the basis of every feature and then finding just other ways to exploit it all. There are some answers I can think of that question that I have to hold up.

Are you looking at having some scripted encounters or kind of leaning more towards the immersive sim aspect?

That’s a tough one because if we stop ourselves at a question, it can just stop us from doing the thing that we just want to do. Yes, we have those scripted things. I’m just thinking of the defeat scenarios: every defeat scenario is handcrafted, but they are triggered in a way that is more sandboxy. So, I think that’s still gonna be as much as possible the kind of balance that we find.

‘Outward 2 is just going to be as cruel and obscure as the first one. I insist on that.’

Do you plan to have traveling merchants added in Outward 2?

Well, we already had one in Outward, but we want to do it again. We want to have more instances of encountering humans that are not merchants as well. We have to strike the right balance because we established that this is a very hostile world and that it is abnormal to survive when you’re outside. If you just end up encountering humans all the time, it plays counter to the world we’re saying it’s supposed to be. I don’t want to be like GTA IV where you have this guilty conscience of killing one guy, but you had to kill so many guys to get that one guy and now the story moment is asking of you to have a conscience. Ludonarrative dissonance is actually something I’m trying to be cautious about.

There’s this world we want to create that is super hostile. Even prey animals tend to have something about them that informs of how they actually manage to survive in that super hard environment. Humans survive by grouping up and having technology and we cannot just blurt that anywhere in the world.

The first Outward had such a charming economy that flourished even outside the combat itself. You had fishing, you had crafting and harvesting, all these different mechanics that allowed you to make money without having to just murder someone in cold blood. What is Outward 2’s approach to servicing the less combat-focused adventurer?

We keep doing what we did before and we’re also adding a type of item called trading goods that have a varying price depending on which region you sell it to. So, you can just pack up your mule with trading goods from one area and go to the further areas because that’s where they’re gonna sell for more since they are rarer. We are adding this small aspect of trade simulation.

Do the seasons also play a part in that?

Not for now, but maybe we’ll have to consider it.

Learning Outward depends a lot on the players figuring the systems out for themselves through trial and error until certain connections become clear, whether it’s magic and enchantments and crafting. Is Outward 2 designed in a similar way or will we see more tips or any handholding mechanics?

It’s just going to be as cruel and obscure as the first one. I insist on that. I’m quite okay that it’s gonna turn off some people because there are others who are turned on by exactly the thing that is turning off others.

There’s definitely a dedicated market for the people who want to have that sort of fantasy that they can’t get outside of an immersive sim.

Yes. And let’s not forget in Outward there was a tutorial. It was just that you had to start it from the main menu rather than inside of your game. We will have the same approach for Outward 2.

If you just want to really just start from nothing you can, but I feel that this way of doing the tutorial just allows you to get back into the game at any time. Maybe you are like, oh, I haven’t played in three months. How did I do this or that? You just launch the dedicated tutorial and you don’t need to be handheld through nine hours of introduction content just to figure out that thing.

From a technical perspective, what can be achieved by having switched to Unreal Engine that wasn’t possible in Unity?

The biggest one is just lighting. The Unity tech for lighting has been kind of stalling for years and years and years. They stop allowing a certain tech. I forgot the name. Then they brought it back but in a very limited fashion. Meanwhile, Unreal has been making so much progress.

Lumen just works out of the box as long as your materials and everything are made in a way that follows the laws of physics. The lighting is just really, really good.

Another thing is that Unreal supports split screen natively, while it was very complicated in Unity. A lot of the basis of the work is already there. I think that’s gonna open up some doors.

‘Outward 2’s combat feels more responsive and is also more flexible’.

What do you think is the biggest benefit in terms of game experience from the new engine?

I’m going back once again to the lighting because one thing that happened when we switched from Unity to Unreal was that it was more clear where everything was placed. When you’re looking at an area as a whole, because of the way shadows are cast and everything pinpointing what it is that you’re looking at, you can now spot this is a plant, there’s a chest here.

It was a big challenge in Unity to make things just get spotted in the environment because the lighting was not as crisp as it could be. That’s something that changed the experience.

Aside from that, it’s just like, we can have higher fidelity and higher frame rates. Unreal is usually more optimized than Unity.

From what’s been shared so far, Outward 2 seems to be crafted to maintain that unique experience from the first game by keeping a lot of the core experiences the same. What do you think is the most different mechanic in terms of an update or a new feature compared to the first game?

Definitely the combat, because the combat in the first game was meant to be very deliberate. Every time you would attack, you had to commit to that attack from start to finish. Outward 2 is way more responsive and it is also more flexible because of dual wielding.

You can have the move set of one type of weapon with the move set of another type of weapon.  You can very seamlessly move on from one to the other. We also have these canceling windows, like when you start to attack, you can cancel by either blocking or dodging, and you can do step-dodge, you don’t only have the rolls a bit like in Nioh.

If you combine the granularity of dodging, the flexibility of dual wielding and the fact that your attacks are fast and easier to cancel from both during the start-up and the recovery phase of the animation, it’s just snappier, it feels very responsive. Doing that meant that we also had to accelerate the aggression from enemies because now that you don’t have to commit this much. The enemy has to be able to kind of surprise you and keep you on your toes.

Outward didn’t give much reason to want to be out exploring at night, perhaps by design. Is outward 2 doing anything different in this regard?

Aside from using bioluminescence and some types of encounters only happening at night, not much. It’s not a key concern for us simply because we want to encourage the player to go through a cycle of having to sleep, having to eat and just going through a normal day. Kind of forcing the player to sleep because it’s unpleasant to be in the dark is actually one of the reasons why we sleep in real life, right? There’s just less you can do when you’re in darkness.

From what we have seen so far, a lot of the weapons that you can dual-wield are carried over from the first game. Will players be able to dual-wield daggers in this sequel?


Will there be more armor, abilities, and/or items to approve stealth?

Yes. In the trailer, we have shown a spell that you do from the Sigil of Darkness where you envelope yourself in a dark mist. We’re trying to make it more obvious when stealth is working and how. Sneaking was viable in Outward, but you had to be very patient to learn how the AI worked and kind of abuse it a little bit. We’re hoping to find better ways. Also, now we’re going to have more patrols, not just like dropping an enemy, but actually making them follow paths, and that is just more conducive to stealth general.

Also, every weapon type now has a sneak attack they can do and they have different functions. One of them can be a very high damage, but another one can be a high impact to get an opportunity to land a combo. That’s one of the things we’re adding to make stealth more interesting.

‘It’s possible Outward 2 could launch in early access’.

Do you have any endgame content planned, like New Sirocco’s arena, for Outward 2?

Not at the moment. We do want to bring arenas and stuff like that, but right now, it’s not our area of focus. We will see what we want to add later on.

A friend wants to know, will there be jumping?


Can players do multiple faction quests in one playthrough?


All right. Will Outward 2 feature cross-play?

That’s a very political thing, strangely. I want to, but it depends on the platform owners and it’s also a whole can of worms. Like, how do you handle the different types of handles, like a PlayStation handle and a Steam handle? How do they interact together? It’s very complicated.

To make it work is simple, but to make it polished and make sense is harder, but it is my wish to do it. The gamers gain something from that, but it’s work, and we need to have the approvals in the first place.

Are there any plans for Outward 2 to support three-player co-op?


Are you looking to go into early access?

It’s possible. Both Lost in Prayer and Witherbloom, our two other titles, will go in early access. Going through that process convinced us to do the same for Outward.

We’re going to see. We are already fully funded and we have a very clear idea of what we want to do with Outward 2, whereas Lost in Prayer and Witherbloom are a bit more community-based. Of course, it can be that for Outward 2 as well, but the intent is so clear that it might just be about like a sanity check on early access. But then again, my opinion on it will change in some way for sure just by going through the process with the two other titles.

Will Outward 2 see a return of rune magic?


Will the game support cloud saves on Steam?

It depends on Valve. The reason why we don’t support it with Outward was because I feel there’s a lot of things that can go wrong with the cloud saving systems, like when it doesn’t work and erases somebody’s safe file, they come to us and blame us rather than Valve for the failures of their own tech. We just don’t want to have to handle that side of customer support.

I’ve lost just hundreds of hours of playtime from trying to use the Steam cloud save. We’re just less inclined to subject our players to the same frustration as I had trying to make use of that.

But it would be time for me to renew my impression of those systems from Valve because I have not used them in a while because I was too frustrated. So, maybe it’s already better and I can justify making it work for the next game.

We still have a few years to go for Outward 2, so by then, who knows what will be in?

Thank you for your time.

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