Pathogen Deep Dive: An Exhilarating New Story
The Pathogen expansion for Aliens: Fireteam Elite is now available and there’s a swarm of new content to go through. Join us as we dive into the trenches with Head of Studio Craig Zinkievich, Lead Content Designer Kris DeMeza, Creative Director Matt Highison, Systems Designer Corey LeFever, and Lead Systems & Combat Designer Chris Matz.
To start things off, we’ll throw it over to Craig for a brief introduction.
It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since we first launched Aliens: Fireteam Elite! We got to tell the story of Katanga and LV-895 in the initial four campaigns of the game, but we left plenty of threads lying around for other missions and stories the crew of the Endeavor could explore. Thanks to our incredible community and the support we’ve received, we realized we could provide players with more story content, and it didn’t take us long to figure out the exhilarating story we wanted to tell. Pushing ourselves and our storytelling to delve deeper into the Pathogen enemies of LV-895 that players encountered in Campaign 3: The Gift of Fire, we realized there was a lot left unexplored there. Where did these creatures come from? Why are there so many? The Pathogen is so dangerous that it was an obvious priority for The Endeavor, and Cold Iron to investigate. This expansion includes new enemies, new stories, and our toughest missions yet. We can’t wait to see you all take them on!
-Craig Zinkievich, Head of Studio
As Craig alluded to, Pathogen finds the crew of the Endeavor on a mission to discover more about the mysterious infection ravaging LV-895. They must venture into new and unexplored Engineer ruins and investigate a deadly new hive unlike anything they’ve seen before. If you haven’t seen it already, check out the official gameplay trailer below!
The Pathogen campaign spans three missions following the events of the successful Regicide mission in campaign four of the base game. It all starts when Esther detects unusual activity from the Xenomorphs that remain on Pala Station on the surface of LV-895. Large groups are traveling south to a big canyon complex, and when Xenomorphs act strange, Colonel Shipp wants to know why. But before things get to Shipp, they first must go through Cold Iron’s Kris DeMeza.
We know players have been wanting more story content and we're excited to be able to bring that to them with this expansion. We built a whole new three-mission campaign exploring the consequences of Pathogen spreading on LV-895. We focused on making environments with a focus on exploration, presenting players with the opportunity to stick together or divide and conquer. Dangerous new enemies and hazardous locations might overwhelm the lone Marine, so make sure your friends - or the ever-loyal Alpha and Beta - are ready to help if you get in over your head! At the end of this trek lurks an often asked for threat: a boss fight in the shape of the Pathogen Queen. She's waiting to topple the unwary, so bring your consumables and get ready to unload!
-Kris DeMeza, Lead Content Designer
That’s right! If you didn’t notice in the trailer above or if you missed her debut on our social channels, then consider this your official warning: the Pathogen Queen has arrived. But before you get to her, you’ll have to make it through a host of new enemies and threats. From an infected Brute to walls that are ready to kill you, there’s threats around every corner in Pathogen
You may have already had the misfortune of running into pathogen-infected creatures onboard the Engineer Juggernaut, including the stealthy Stalker and the overwhelming Poppers, but new creatures have now spawned from this vile black goo and they’re not too friendly to say the least. Let us introduce you to the Pathogen Runner, Pathogen Blight, and Pathogen Brute.
- The Pathogen Runner is a mutated Xenomorph Runner that has taken on the grotesque qualities of pathogen-infected creatures. It's larger than an average Xenomorph Runner and more durable. It’s not all bad news though, it’s also somewhat slower and more erratic.
- Pathogen Blight
- An unknown mutated creature with a particularly horrendous form, the Pathogen Blight is reminiscent of the Stalker. It will attempt to stay hidden as much as possible, aided by its relatively smaller size, and will shoot its timed explosive globs of corrosive white acid from a distance. Watch out for the large hazardous pools it can create and shoot down its projectiles before they reach their targets!
- Pathogen Brute
- The Pathogen Brute is an unidentified mutated Xenomorph true to its brutish name, most notable for wielding two huge fist-like growths at the end of its arms that it uses to slam into its enemies. Be careful, it can even pound directly on the ground to create shockwaves that damage nearby foes. Try your best to keep your distance and focus fire when one of these shows up!
The new enemies you’ll face in Pathogen are only part of the equation. You’re also likely to find Stalkers and Poppers joining the swarms. Just remember to always stay on your toes as this isn’t your average bug hunt.
And of course, even if you make it through the swarms of Brutes, Blights and everything else, you’ll still have the Pathogen Queen to contend with.
A towering infected Xenomorph, the Pathogen Queen has heightened aggressiveness and unrivaled ferocity. Her large clobbering arms can cause great damage, even if they aren’t direct hits. She’s also capable of shooting cluster shots of deadly acid, so watch out for those. And we haven’t even mentioned her carapace yet!
It’s time to bring in our Creative Director, Matt Highison, to break down this threat and how she came to be.
I wanted the pathogen altered Xenomorphs to feel broken, in pain, dangerous as hell, and no longer the elegant perfection of their former selves. The same went for the pathogen altered hive. It needed to be familiar, but obvious that the pathogen’s influence had made it grow wildly out of control. It’s even developed some new treacherous self-defenses in the transformation process, which Marines are going to be forced to break through.
I love the feeling in the Alien universe of, “How can this get any worse for us!?” and then things inevitably do get worse. Being trapped in a maze-like hive with Runners and Stalkers hunting you, then realizing that even the walls of this new hive are exploding into acid pools really drives that home.
We’ve got pathogen-altered native life, pathogen-altered Xenomorphs, and an even more dangerous hive. What else could cap that off better than a massive boss fight?
As with any hive, there’s probably gonna be a queen somewhere, and here even she couldn’t escape the destructive power of the pathogen.
Her visual design is form based on function. We wanted her to have armor that players can damage and shoot off to expose weak points; have bits of her that are flung off to damage the player from a distance, along with dangerous melee options when you get too close. We started with the gameplay experience and began to explore the look from there striving to make her feel broken, tormented, and angry.
-Matt Highison, Creative Director
Taking down the Pathogen Queen won’t be easy. She gave even our best players a run for their money when we first started playing against her in the studio. Luckily, taking her down comes with some pretty sweet rewards.
In fact, the whole Pathogen expansion comes with a plethora of new and exciting items. Some you’ll get right away, some you’ll have to earn, and some you’ll need to get from SSGT Park. Feast your eyes on all eight new weapons in Pathogen below, along with a little extra information about the four you’ll be able to get from the armory.
- Rifle, Auto Rifle - 4C2 Astra
- Alphatech's first and most successful monopole assault rifle, the Astra provides a repeating 3-round burst of low caliber rounds with very tight grouping. The repeated burst cadence has a learning curve for some users, but the ease of use and large magazines have kept it popular through the years.
- Heavy, Launcher - 2N1 Vajra
- An older model, the Vajra's rapid fire small-area impact grenades still prove popular to this day. Boasting the largest capacity on the market, the Vajra is quite adept at clearing a room.
- CQW, SMG - 6A Jaipur
- The first of its kind, the 6A uses a custom sabot round designed to splinter into 4 pieces after leaving the barrel, causing multiple impacts on the target. This peculiar behavior results in a weapon that sits comfortably between typical SMG and Shotgun performance while finding new ways to eliminate threats of many kinds.
- Hand Gun, Machine Pistol -8A7 Dambulla
- After many revisions, Alphatech has finally delivered a contender in the Machine Pistol market. It performs closer to traditional SMGs, with a lower fire rate and smaller magazine than typical Machine Pistols - however, the heavy impact is well appreciated in its small package.
Weapons are only one of the new things to look forward to. There are also new attachments, perks, accessories and more! One of the things we’re most excited about is the new round of Replacer Perks. For more on that, we’ll kick it over to our Systems Designer, Corey LeFever.
When we started designing this round of Replacer Perks, we asked ourselves a couple questions. ‘How do we support the roles this kit has?’ and ‘How can we alter this kit's playstyle, while staying true to the kit's identity?’. With those points in mind, we began working through a handful of concepts for each kit's new abilities. That's of course after a lot of ideation that involved questions like ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we did this very wild [REDACTED] thing?’. Then we narrowed it down a little further as we tried to find out what could work well with existing perks. For instance, Gunner's ‘Mini Grenades’ are a good pairing with ‘Disorienting Blast’ for a crowd control option, and Lancer's ‘Particle Beam’ with ‘Disrupting Radiation’ is great for locking down lanes or for focusing large threats. It's a fun challenge working on Replacer Perks, balancing the ability to stretch the design space a little further while also needing to stay on the side of providing a fairly grounded sci-fi experience for players in the end.
- Corey LeFever, Systems Designer
The Replacer Perks and all the new items in Pathogen are going to come in handy fighting against the new Xenomorphs and of course, the Queen, but that’s not all. They’re also going to be integral for one of the biggest new additions to the game: Hardcore Mode.
For more on Hardcore Mode, it’s time to hear from Lead Systems & Combat Designer, Chris Matz.
When discussing ways to expand on the difficulties we already have, we kept coming back to various hardcore or permadeath modes we had played in other games. How could we incorporate that feeling of danger into our game? The idea of "What happens if my marine dies? Game over, man!" was such a natural fit for the Alien universe.
We started by thinking about the rules of how it would work. It didn't make sense as a mission-selectable difficulty that could be turned on or off. Part of the challenge of this mode comes from pushing as far and as hard as you can, so we made it an entirely separate mode. This allowed us to look at a lot of other things. How does item progression work? Do we allow long-term earning? Is it a true rogue-like experience where everything starts all over every time? What happens to the story? When do players unlock this mode?
We looked at a lot of different options, and I'm really happy with where we landed. Our hardcore mode let’s players tune the difficulty to something they're happy with. Do they want a little danger or do they keep pushing all the way to Hardcore 50?
I remember in one of our earlier tests regretting some bad decisions about which kits to bring on a mission that was still tuned too hard. We just had the wrong setup and struggled. The fear of losing that character was strong, but we managed to have one team member get through the last fight while we were downed. They pulled us both up and it was an awesome end to the mission!
- Chris Matz, Lead Systems & Combat Designer
From hidden secrets to surprise encounters, there’s plenty more to be discovered in Pathogen, but we’re not here to spoil everything. Hit us up on Twitter or Discord and let us know what your favorite part is.
Until next time, good luck out there, Marines.
Join the fight
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is available on Steam, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and the Windows Store. A copy of Aliens: Fireteam Elite on the same platform is required to play the Pathogen expansion content.