Hitman - Freelancer Mode

Hitman 3, or Hitman: World of Assassination, as it’s currently known, will be launching its greatly anticipated Freelancer Mode in about a week. Back in November, IO Interactive did a substantial beta test, and I participated in it. In fact, you might say I participated a little too much. I absolutely loved what I played, and I’m really excited to get my hands on the launch-day build.

In the meantime, IO Interactive has been spinning knobs and pressing buttons, tweaking the finer details of the mode based on player data and feedback from the beta. This morning, they released an incredibly detailed list of changes they’re making, and I wanted to comb through each one and give my thoughts.

If you want the full list without all my ramblings, you can get that directly on IO’s website. But if you’re here for the rambling, than continue onward to see my complete breakdown of Hitman‘s Freelancer changes.

Merces Economy

Hitman 3

To improve the immersion around the economy, we changed the Merces amounts to seem more valuable by adding two zeroes to all values (Example 5M is now 500M).

Okay, so the currency in Freelancer Mode is called Merces. You earn it for completing contracts, and you earn extra Merces for completing bonus objectives. You can then spend these on tools and weapons.

The thing is, the Merces amounts were really strange. When Agent 47 is awarded like 15 Merces for assassinating a target, it feels like something’s a little off. Would this professionally trained assassin really work for peanuts?

So IO is changing that 15 Merces to 1,500 Merces. As far as I can tell, the economy balance won’t be changing, except that all numbers will be multiplied by 100 compared to the numbers in beta. A 5 Mercer objective will now be worth 500 Merces. A 12 Mercer contract will now be worth 1,200 Mercers.

It’s an aesthetic change more than anything else, but I can see why IO is going this route. I actually appreciate this change.

Prestige objective communication and Quality of Life

Hitman 3: Seven Deadly Sins

Freelancer has a help section called Field Manuals in the Intel menu page. Here, you can find a description of the available Prestige Objectives and the specific rules for completing them. This information is quite hidden, so we have dedicated a wall setpiece to show that information up front, so that the players can plan ahead. We also added an option to reselect the chosen Prestige Objective, so that it’s possible to change your mind when considering the choices between objectives, locations and gear in the planning phase in the safehouse.

Okay, so I honestly didn’t even know this was a feature after playing 30 hours of Freelancer Mode. So the fact that IO is bringing some attention to it is probably a good thing. Probably.

More important than Field Manuals being more visible, though, is the fact that you can reselect a Prestige Objective. This means you won’t lock in one of these objectives, then realize it’s not even possible to complete with your current loadout. So being able to reselect a Prestige Objective after you’ve selected everything else? That’s definitely a quality-of-life improvement I can get behind.

Added persistent item versions of select Freelancer Tools

Hitman 3 - Freelancer Tools

We have chosen to stick to our design around the rules for losing Freelancer Tools. To alleviate the frustration that some players feel around losing their favorite gear in the Freelancer Tool category, we have made new versions of these tools that are known as ‘Collectors Editions’ that can be purchased and stored persistently on gear walls. To phrase this in a different way, a player can choose to buy a rare lockpick that will not be lost on Campaign fail, for instance. We also added some UI-tags on the Freelancer Tool items so that a player can always see if an item will be lost on a mission or is bound to a campaign.

Okay, so this one might need a little explaining.

In Freelancer Mode, any weapons you bring into the field with you are lost if you die. However, there are special versions of weapons that you can collect and take back to your hideout if you successfully complete a mission. These weapons are persistent across runs, so the idea is that you’re slowly building an arsenal over time — or slowly losing your arsenal, if you’re playing badly.

Tools work similarly, though they don’t carry over from run to run. They’ll carry over between different missions in a single run, but once the run ends, your toolkit resets. (A run consists of multiple missions, in case that wasn’t clear.)

I kind of hated this mechanic, to be honest, and IO’s solution doesn’t feel like a solution to me. I don’t understand why tools don’t just work exactly like weapons do. That seems like the obvious choice, so the fact that IO refuses to make it strikes me as a bit odd.

In fact, the tools mechanic was probably my biggest complaint about Freelancer Mode, so it’s a little frustrating that IO has come up with such an oddball “fix.”

Playtime, overall difficulty and XP progression

Hitman 3 - Freelancer

In general, we were happy about the metrics we saw from the Closed Technical Test about playtime, the overall difficulty, and the XP progression. These matched our expectations quite well, so we didn’t tweak the balancing around these areas much. The game-mode is deliberately balanced and takes inspiration from rogue-lite mechanics to rely on using consequence to add adrenaline-infused tension to the gameplay.

Okay, so this is describing a lack of change instead of a change. I actually thought the XP progression was fine in Closed Beta, so I’m not super concerned about the fact that it’s not changing.

Base Payout

Hitman (2016)

We have added a ‘base payout’ that the player will earn for completing the mission. This means that players can earn money even without doing the optional payout objectives or prestige objectives. This makes earning money a little bit easier, helping less experienced players slightly. The base amount is higher for Showdown missions, which addresses an issue we saw in the metrics from the CTT, where players would earn less money in average on Showdown missions.

Let me explain this one.

For each mission, you have a main target, plus some optional objectives. In Closed Beta, you only got paid for the optional objectives — there was no payout for simply completing the mission. So you could complete a mission perfectly, and even earn Silent Assassin rating (if SA wasn’t an optional objective), and walk away without a payment. This could be frustrating in situations where your bonus objectives contradicted each other (Get a Headshot Kill + Don’t Use a Pistol, for example).

So this change is a good one. The only weird part is that IO had to look at player data to figure this out when it seems like a super obvious choice. I’m glad they fixed it; I’m just confused by the fact that they had to.

Completing Campaigns

Hitman 3 - Freelancer Mode

We added a large Merces payout for players that manage to complete a campaign, to celebrate this effort more. We also made the Reward Crate item drops follow the difficulty in a more reliable way, so that the gear that is earned matches the accomplishment in a better way.

Okay, so I do think that players who complete a campaign deserve a hefty reward (it’s no small feat). However, I kind of like the randomness of the original Reward Crate system. If you got super lucky, you might get a stupidly good item in your first Reward Crate. With this change, though, it sounds like that’s going to be much less likely to happen.

I understand why IO is going this route, but as far as I can tell, this does imply that certain items will be forever out of reach for all but the most skilled players. Some will see that as a good thing, others won’t. Me? I can deal with it, though I don’t think it’s ideal.

Payout and Prestige Objective balancing

Hitman 3 - Freelancer Mode

We found that some objectives were a bit skewed regarding reward and difficulty, so we balanced payout values based on success and popularity metrics.

I don’t know what this means.

Okay, I know what’s implied here — payout values were adjusted based on player data — but IO is being intentionally vague here about whether they increased or decreased those payouts. I think Merces are super difficult to earn in Freelancer Mode, so giving players a few more for difficult objectives seems ideal to me. Reducing payouts for easier objectives, though, seems like a step backward.

So my fingers are crossed that this means there are slightly larger payouts instead of slightly smaller ones.

Underground Lookouts

Hitman 3 - The Black Hat

In the CTT, we saw a lot of frustration from players failing showdown missions (and thereby Campaigns) by being spotted by Underground Lookouts in ways that felt unfair. To improve this, we introduced a grace-period so that a suspicious lookout can be dealt with before the suspect network is alerted to escape. We also made lookouts telegraph this with animation, to make it more visible which NPC is a Lookout, when suspicious. Lookouts are still a pretty hardcore addition to be respected. Also, lookouts can still be alerted from distance (for example using a well-placed bullet impact distraction or deliberately positioned body) to support that the player can trigger an escape-scenario deliberately for a sniper strategy or similar.

If I’m understanding this correctly, IO has added a brief window after a Lookout has spotted you, giving you a chance to take down that Lookout without causing the entire map to become hostile. The next part, though, talks about alerting Lookouts from a distance with bullet distractions, which was already a thing, so I’m not sure why IO felt like they had to clarify this.

It’s possible there’s something that I’m missing, but I’ve read this a few times now and it all seems pretty straightforward.

Suspect exploit

Hitman 3

The Closed Technical Test helped uncover some exploits around suspects in Showdown missions. Now it is no longer possible to use body containers to verify if a suspect is the target. We also added a Merces punishment for eliminating a suspect that isn’t the target to disincentivize the strategy of killing all suspects indiscriminately, thereby bypassing the investigation gameplay of the Showdown missions.

I’m going to be honest here: I got into the habit of just killing all the suspects until I got the right one. So IO is probably right to penalize players for this. It just sounds like I’m going to have to learn to play the game as IO intended.


Hitman 3 - Freelancer Mode

We added a small Merces punishment for killing innocent civilian NPCs. A big fun factor in Freelancer is that it loosens up the stances on preferred gameplay styles that the main game has cultivated and lets players try more aggressive play styles, for example, without punishing or pointing fingers at alternative approaches. We didn’t want to change this, but still wanted to have the game mechanics encourage killing targets over civilians.

The short version is that there’s now a Merces penalty for killing non-targets.

What’s a little bit confusing to me is that IO seems to be contradicting themselves here. They talk about how they wanted to keep the game mode a bit more free than the rest of the game, which incentivizes perfection, but then they made a change that de-incentivizes imperfection. I’m kind of unclear on their justification, but I think my problem is more with the wording of the explanation rather than the actual change.

Number of Suspects

Hitman 3 - the Deceivers

The number of suspects were found to be too overwhelming on higher difficulties, so these have been scaled down a bit.

I never made it to the highest difficultly level during the beta, but in my experience, it did seem like the number of suspects was getting a bit out of hand when you get deep into a run. So it’s probably good that IO toned it down a bit.

Increased value for on-mission stashes

Hitman - Freelancer Mode

The stashes that are found on location have been tweaked so that they contain more valuable gear. To balance this out, there are now fewer stashes but our hope is that they’re worth exploring for.

I don’t know how I feel about this. It’s cool that stashes are more valuable, I guess, but I don’t like this coming at the expense of quantity. I think the stash locations are already somewhat prohibitive — you might complete a mission without ever coming anywhere close to a stash — so the fact that they’ll be even rarer means I’ll probably hardly ever go after them.

Gear properties

Hitman - Freelancer Mode

We balanced some prices and gear capacities for specific items based on metrics and player feedback.

Again, this is too vague for me to really be able to say whether or not I agree with the change.

I do think that sometimes prices felt a bit random, and you’d often see two items with the same price that were radically different in actual value. So it’s good to see that this was tweaked; I just hope it was tweaked to be slightly more forgiving rather than the other direction.

Challenge balancing

Hitman 3 - Freelancer Trophy Case

We got feedback that some of our values for the challenges were ridiculously high and would frustrate completionists too much, so we lowered these to feel more reasonable (while still providing aspirational goals to shoot for).

IO is a bit more clear about what they did here, and I think it’s good that they’ve reduced the difficulty of some of the challenges. I’m totally fine with this.

Tweaks on texts

Hitman 3 - Freelancer Mode

We received feedback on some of the in-game text that wasn’t formulated as clearly as it could be, especially around objectives. We’ve made some revisions to address that.

This is a pretty small change, but a welcome one, I’m sure. I did notice a few places where the text wasn’t edited as clearly as it could have been, and I kind of suspected they’d be changing some of it. So this is completely expected but also completely welcome.

Alt-F4 Exploits

Hitman - Freelancer Mode

The test revealed a number of ALT+F4 exploits similar to what we know from Elusive Targets. We investigated removing these but they can’t be separated from when the game is exited during a power-outage or crash. With the roguelite consequences in Freelancer we decided to favor players that are unlucky enough to experience this.

So, basically, if you are about to fail an Elusive Target, you can hard quit the game to reset the mission without penalty. The reason you can do this is because if IO added a penalty for this, it could cause people who experience a power outage to lose an Elusive Target by no fault of their own. Freelancer Mode has a similar issue. IO is aware of it, but they decided not to fix it to avoid penalizing honest players who suffer some misfortune.

That’s cool, I guess, but this will absolutely be exploited. Then again, IO is cool enough with that to leave it in, which means I won’t feel super bad if I end up exploiting this myself. I probably will.


Hitman 3 - Freelancer Mode

To sum all this up, IO has done a lot of balance tweaking in the past couple months, and most of these changes are pretty good. We’ll have to wait and see how much of an impact they have cumulatively, but I think IO is on the right track. I also expect there to be more tweaks once the floodgates open, but it does seem like Freelancer Mode will be in pretty good shape right out of the gate.

Fingers crossed.

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