The full release of the Horizons 1.6 & 2.1 update was made on the 26th May 2016. This is the first update following its initial ‘Early Access’ release and is a large and significant addition to the game. Additionally Horizons for Xbox (including The Engineers) made its début on the 3rd June 2016. Here’s a brief run-down of some details:
> The Engineers
Who are The Engineers? According to Frontier’s Newsletter #122
“Engineers is an all-encompassing name for a disparate group of people that exist on the outskirts of civilised society. They shut themselves away, coming up with weird, amazing, and often useful contraptions. Some of these modifications are even safe to use. Many of the engineers are those that rebelled in their earlier years, but now support those with similar inclinations to themselves.
“They are inveterate tinkerers, coming up with all sorts of at times outrageous modifications to what would otherwise be standard pieces of equipment. Such engineers have existed since the beginning – when humanity first started using tools. Whether it is attaching a bit of sharpened flint to a wooden stick for better mammoth-killing, a longer bore cannon with extra charge on an ancient earth sea ship, or a modified waste gate in a turbine on a Huey helicopter to get that extra power boost in battle, engineers have existed through the millennia.
“They are often contrary people with strange requirements, and the thirty fourth century is no different. If you’re careful and gain their trust and respect, you too can benefit from their tinkering – but be aware, no two modifications are exactly the same.”
There are initially be 30 Engineers to be found on planets and moons in human space, each with their own back story and specialisation with some engineers being easier to meet and gain favour with than others. Once you find them (for example: through a completed mission objective) and have a suitably favourable relationship with them (through your rank/alignment) they will enable you to:
“Improve and upgrade the statistics on every module of your ship, and add rare, experimental effects to your weapons for some special outcomes.”
There are currently 54 different upgrades with 5 tiers for each upgrade giving a wide range of outcomes and opportunities for each Commander when building their ship. These new upgrades will be covered by your insurance re-buy should your ship be destroyed. The video below shows the approach to one of the Engineer’s bases followed by the creation of some of the newly available weapons. The bases have been created by manually placing the bases components rather than procedurally generating them.
The original missions system was given a overhaul after the initial release by Frontier, which probably means it’s a little behind where they would have envisaged. That said Updates 1.6 and 2.1 see a further iteration that brings further improvements to a key part of the game.
Although there are some new missions templates, there has been a decision to fundamentally improve the existing missions in a variety of ways with missions branches being changed. The old bulletin board has disappeared and is replaced by new mission screens. In Frontier’s Newsletter #121 they explained some of the other changes.
“Our first goal was related to interaction with the factions who provide your missions. The most obvious change is that you can now see what they look like! However the new structure goes far beyond that – the characters that give you your missions are persistent, and also interact with you differently depending on the type of government, your reputation with them and their relative social status compared to yours. For example, Elite pilots will tend to receive more deference compared to those who are lower ranked.
“Reputation is the key driver for your relationship with any faction in a system, and of course their opinion of you naturally takes into account your reputation with any relevant superpower they are for or against. This means that being friendly with/to a superpower will help you build reputation with an associated faction quicker, and vice versa. Completing missions successfully improves your reputation and failing decreases it. As you build your reputation with them, factions will work with you more, increasing the availability of missions and their rewards – in addition to credits you’ll be offered hidden data caches, commodities, and materials.
“Our second key goal was to better illustrate the impact of your missions on the galaxy. As well as informing you of available missions and your progress, the individuals giving you the missions will tell you how your mission affects the system (e.g. consequences for famine, economic boom and war, the economy and government) and your reputation and influence.”
A work in progress image can be seen below, with a larger version here.
Navigation Beacons: These can now be scanned in normal flight in order to receive mission locations as well as system exploration information, where applicable.
Unidentified Signal Sources (USS): For missions (some in both 2.1 & 1.6), USS will generally be located at specific bodies in the system rather than randomly generated. They can be found by using the discovery scanner and their placement will depend on specific places like ‘traffic lanes’ that will now exist in a system. Commanders can also scan them whilst in super-cruise giving allowing them to make better judgements as to whether engage with them or not.
Points of Interest (POI): New POI have been added to the surface of planets and moons for players to find with existing ones being improved – for instance some are now guarded by low flying ships. An example of a POI can be seen below in this unedited shot of a wrecked Diamondback taken from the game:
Further changes include:
- An additional level of alignment with factions, with ‘Cordial’ being added to give another level of progression (or grind if that’s your thing!) This makes the levels as follows: Hostile, Unfriendly, Neutral, Cordial, Friendly, Allied.
- More missions will now be available at the ‘Neutral’ alignment stage.
- Completing missions will now give other rewards such as ‘treasure’ location, crafting materials, rare commodity types (only available through missions) and ‘salvage only’ items.
- Criminal factions will offer more illegal missions, with law abiding ones being more a little more subtle about offering them out.
- Your communications inbox will now be used more often to receive missions and updates on missions. Additionally you won’t have to drop out of supercruise to listen to these offers.
Additionally Michael Brookes has confirmed that this update to the missions system will not be the last. In reply to a comment on the official forum he commented,
“It’s worth bearing in mind that these things happen in stages. We’ve had a few mission system upgrades since release, and each one brings new things to the table that we can then build upon. That process will continue.”
> General User Interface Changes
Bookmarks: You’ll have the ability to select a system, annotate the name as you wish, and plot your route to it. A development-build video (details could change) can be seen below:
System Map: Filters will be present on the map to enable you to show/hide system states: Anarchy, War, Lock down, Civil Unrest, Boom, Bust etc. A development-build video (details could change) can be seen here. Community goals can now be found on the map to make it easier to get involved.
Outfitting Screens: The ship outfitting screens have undergone a big makeover allowing new statistical information to be shown regarding the specific details of each weapon. Changes in quality will also make the screens much more legible for players using VR. A development-build video (details could change) can be seen here.
Controls: The main control set-up screen has become tricky to navigate given the increasing number of control options available. In 2.1 this will be change with tabs being used to give a clearer and easier to navigate look to all your settings.
> Graphical Improvements
Planetary Surfaces, Tyre Tracks, Asteroids & Star light: Both planetary surfaces and asteroids will receive graphical updates to improve their quality. This will include SRV’s leaving physical traces of their tyres on the surface. According to Michael Brookes, “For planet surfaces […] we’ve implemented a whole new surface terrain system. Basically the surface materials, higher resolution, and actually better performance, which is quite handy. So faster and nicer.” Star light has been fixed so that it retains its colour over distance.
> NPC: Artificial Intelligence
General Combat: High ranking NPC’s are now about ‘as good as they can be’ with Elite ranks having some new tricks up their sleeve that should provide more of a challenge to pilots. Lower ranking NPC pilots won’t see much of a change. Other changes include:
- Make better use of missiles & torpedoes when opponents shields are down.
- Are more skilled in avoiding damage.
- Better use of PIP management when fleeing or pursuing an opponent.
- Will flee battles to allow their shields to re-charge before returning.
- Will counter attempts of human pilots to use reverse thrust.
- They will be unable to use energy weapons when overheating.
- Less use of spam & chaff with the later only used when taking damage from gimbals & turrets.
- Various other fixes including ‘scan & ram’ tactic.
Planetary Surfaces: NPC’s will now be able to dogfight on the surface of planets (including canyons) and defend planetary bases. AI programmer Sarah Jane Avory commented on the official forums that, “Around 400m is their “safe zone” (it does vary depending on factors), the altitude at which they start to seriously consider avoiding the ground. Higher altitudes are no problem, and they can go lower, attacking landed ships with strafing runs.” On High-G worlds NPC’s will be more wary in engaging in combat.
Security: Security ships response to illegal behaviour has been given a boost in High Security systems.
> General Gameplay Changes
Traffic Control: As per Newsletter #121.
“On approach to star ports and planetary ports you’ll now hear chatter from the flight controllers who will guide you in on your approach and also when you leave. They will know if you’re liked or not at that station and will also assign a call sign automatically to all ships – this is formed from the ship manufacturer and the first three characters of your commander name. They’ll even notice if you disappear from their scanners!”
As well as there being a large variety of voices for traffic control, any hostile pilots will be warned that they will be fired upon on approach to station.
System States: These have undergone changes in order to give greater visibility to their current situation. For instance when a system is in famine the price of food increases accordingly in order to make it a profitable trading commodity. Another example would be high population systems which will have visibly more ships in them. These highlighted states also affect the type of missions offered by factions.
Mining: Commanders are now able to mine new commodities like methanol mono-hydrate crystals and low temperature diamonds whilst mining ice rings. Materials for crafting are found in the ice rings as well as the traditional asteroids. A full size version of the image below can be seen here.
> Weapons & Drives
New Weapons: As well as visual changes for all weapons – so they automatically reflect both the level and type of damage done, there are four new weapons in 2.1. These come on both fixed and gimballed mounts.
- Huge Beam Laser
- Huge Pulse Laser
- Huge Multi-Cannon
- Large Multi-Cannon
Missiles & Torpedoes: According to Frontier in Newsletter #121,
“Guided missiles have received enhanced guidance control systems that makes them more effective over distance, and improved payload delivery capabilities that increase the damage, especially splash damage, they cause. Commanders will find that skimmer resistance to splash damage has increased, so some pilots may need to rethink their tactics against surface bases – especially as many now have point defence systems.
“The area effect damage of guided missiles will now impact all of a target’s external modules – typically this is engine, cockpit, weapons and utility mounts – thus making them effective disabling weapons. With the enhanced missile capabilities, the capabilities of torpedoes have been similarly enhanced such that they are now a more effective alternative against larger ships and point defence weapons.”
Drives: For smaller ships, in particular the Sidewinder, Faulcon de Lacey have introduced performance enhanced size 2 and 3 drives. A video of a Sidewinder using these can be seen below: