Last week, I bought New World, after a decision not to. I wrote about it, a piece that contextualized why I wasn’t going to get it, why I did, and what I thought about it.
In the 7 days that I’ve now been playing New World, I’ve got…a bit more context, I could say.
My character hit level 30 today, I’ve done the first Expedition (dungeon), and I’ve worked through a pretty stacked roster of normal quests, board quests, faction quests, and done a lot of running around. I’ve leveled most of my crafting and gathering skills near to 100, except the big and difficult crafting jobs (and Fishing), and with all of that, I have some refined opinions about the game – mostly all positive, too!
The Combat Has Some Additional Unexpected Depth
The action combat is something I was iffy on prior to playing, excited for after playing a bit, and now, this deep into the game, I find it more interesting than I had expected. One of the things I realized after my first bit of time in the game is that the intent of having weapons with dual stat benefits was for off-weapon builds, allowing you to build a primary weapon with stat allocation for that and then to have a secondary weapon that gains some similar benefit from those same stats. It makes things quite a bit more interesting than I expected, because you can do all kinds of builds and even try and dual-level both weapons at once.
I’ve settled in on Sword and Shield and Great Axe for leveling, which works well because the dump stats for both are the same, and in a pinch, there’s even a Great Axe build for tanking! It works so well in a way I didn’t really expect, and gives you these facets of play you have complete control over. At the same time, I do still sort of feel like the 3 skill format is limiting, even if the tactical aspects of combat, your base non-skill attacks, blocking, and the like all add some layers to the proceedings.
The Tradeskills Are Well-Woven Into Gameplay
I like that quests push me towards places with resource nodes, that there’s a reason and benefit to level trades alongside my core combat abilities without making them feel distinctly separate, and that things tie together fairly well with elements of the core gameplay benefitting tremendously from you making the effort to level these up as you go – particularly the quest for the Azoth Staff, where your options are having gathered the materials already, having to go find the nodes you need, or buying from the trading post, and that quest is main story and required for much of your progression into the late game.
The World Is More Expansive Than It Seems, But Also Smaller Than It Feels
New World is, perhaps, controversial for offering such a huge space without any sort of mounts. Yes, there are fast travel points sprinkled across the map, alongside being able to bind to a town inn and to your homes, but the non-recall fast travel options cost Azoth, a limited resource, with the cost based on distance and current weight of inventory, and the recall options are on fairly restrictive and long cooldowns. I found myself wanting something – a mount, a flight path, a taxi service of some sort where I could zone out and let the game ferry me places. Instead, your options are to spend precious Azoth on fast traveling everywhere, which still requires you to get to a safe spot before being able to teleport, use a carefully-placed inn recall, or run everywhere. This is, to me, a giant flaw, and yet, also a booster to the game in a weird sort of way.
Having to run everywhere sucks, especially being a Heavy armor user without travel rolling on the table as a viable option. However, one thing I did find myself feeling is that the gameplay does naturally contour to a reasonable route, at least when using quests in a single zone, and the constant running and limited fast travel systems do add a sense of space and place to Aeternum that is interesting and somewhat compelling. The world feels much larger when you cannot simply traverse big chunks of it with ease. This is a bit of trickery on the part of the development team – when you run between zones in a long stretch, as I did running from Everfall to First Light to meet some friends on their new characters, the game world illusion sort of falls apart a smidge because you realize the distance covered is relatively tame (3 kilometers from halfway across the continent kind of puts the world into context) and what makes it feel so huge is that you have limited speed and limited options for quick traversal. It is reminiscent of the era of MMOs that started development on the success of WoW – there’s a large* world for consumption, but the limited travel options funnel you through funhouse mirrors designed to create the facade of so much more. Or, in short, the Penny Arcade comic on the game might actually be onto something (which is rare for PA these days!).
The Combat Is Fun, But Enemy Types Need Variety
Stroeb pointed this out in their recent entry on the mixed reaction to the game, and it was a glass-shattering moment of realization to me. The game has wild animals, 3 different types of angry/dead human zombies, and a few special enemies dotted throughout, and that’s it. At level 30, I’ve been fighting 8 uniquely named wolves that all have the same attacks, the same animations, and the difference is a new adjective clamped on to the front of the name and a new fur color to set them apart. Also, they give me more XP, more rawhide, and more red meat when I butcher them after combat. It does help the few unique enemies stand out (there was a grove I ran into with plant…people and plant wolves, and that was really cool, but a part of that wow factor was because the game is filled to the fucking brim with wolves, turkeys (even they level up!), and bland humanoids made unique with a handful of particle effects and post-processing filters. One spot where I imagine the PvP origin story of the game pokes out to say hello, because the dearth of unique enemies feels very much like someone went “oh shit, we need NPC enemies in here, stat!” and just tossed these guys in. Oh wait, there’s also lynxes. V A R I E T Y!
The Quests Are Very Repetitive and Cookie-Cutter
Nothing much has changed in my opinion here. I did, however, stop running full town boards and faction boards of quests in a loop repeatedly in the starter zone to focus in on the main story quests, but those aren’t much better. The variety of quests is severely lacking, and sure, it is a cardinal sin of MMO writing to distill quests to their basest form of “gather 10 bear asses” and the like, but that stuff really is the meat of New World’s PvE leveling experience. This is further problematized by the game’s incredibly awful quest tracker options, where I’ve had a list reorder on me while in the same zone and I’ve had to stop relying on the game’s pinning for quests and just put my own marker down to start my route, finish a quest, then put a new marker down and chase it. I have auto-pinning turned on and what gets pinned and shown to me fluctuates on a seemingly random basis to the point of frustration. It’s a bit of unnecessary jank that weighs down the experience.
Dungeons Are Interesting, In Both Good and Bad Ways
I ran the Amrine Excavation just last night, the first of the game’s “Expeditions” which are just dungeons by a fancy name. The first segment of the MSQ funnels you here, and by the time you can run it, you’ve likely got a sidequest and a faction board option to come here as well. Amrine was fun, actually – I enjoyed it a lot, because it was a bit of an interesting diversion from the game’s open world and it really gave a sense of how the various builds in the game might synergize in later content or in the game’s cornerstone PvP gameplay options.
On the good side, the environment was interesting, there was a clear attempt at using musical cues to set the scene in a way that is halfway between WoW and FFXIV (multiple dungeon themes, but traded out at room thresholds instead of bosses), the game clearly wants there to be some player convenience (when the party zoned in to the dungeon, I was given the option to teleport right to them from two zones over at no cost), there’s a mix of the game’s signature gameplay from the open world (action combat, gathering) coupled with puzzles and other challenges, and the game rewards showers of loot – big bags of stuff from the bosses and huge chests all over to loot, the kind of capacity which will force some mid-run salvaging.
On the bad side, the game’s challenge isn’t really there for dungeons or tuning. Having multiple melee characters means that collision detection will push you away from enemies and make fighting a highly mobile mob into a clusterfuck real quick, so mobs seem to be tuned to fall over relatively quickly with little stress. Healers are so powerful because they need to line up some skill shots for their core healing skills, so sometimes the best answer is to just stand in the damn healing circle and do damage, even if an enemy puts a ground effect right in that circle. Lastly, there is a clear effort at building some WoW-style mechanics into fights – the first boss in Amrine has an AoE chain effect that only applies if you move out of it or into it, but the game’s combat design means you can often get snared by animation lock on an ability. That same boss has a room sweep of ghosts that hits pretty hard with an opening in the middle, but you can just move out of that part of the room to avoid it, or alternatively, if you’re trying to fight the boss when it goes off, just watch your character juggle the ghost bombers while standing in a healing circle to mitigate the worst of it. The mechanic spawns quickly like you can just run away, but if you’re mid-combo, mid-attack animation, or stamina-damaged from blocking, you just don’t have recourse. It’s a WoW-speed timer in a game where you need a smidge more time to react and with a more latency-sensitive engine.
Overall, I think Expeditions are interesting, and I’m trying to not draw big conclusions from doing the first one (which should always be an easy, level-setting kind of dungeon anyways) but the game makes a big fuss about them, including faction board quests and the fact that you need to craft a key for a party to enter at all (story dungeons will give you a key, which is great because you need a myriad of items including faction vendor and corruption rift rewards to even make one). Speaking of…
Corruption Rifts are Somewhat Fun, Unclear Runs
Corruption Rifts are these small events that spawn all over the map, akin to an elite world quest in WoW, a harder FATE in FFXIV, and perhaps to Rifts from…er, Rift. A little spot of the map gets the red goop on it, you go smash the red goop and use your fancy Azoth Staff to banish the goop, victory. I ran a couple of minor ones and a major one with a group of players and only got rewards once, so I was somewhat confused as to why or when I should be doing them. They spawn in 10 level jumps from level 25 up and later tiers require the upgraded Azoth Staff from further in the story to do.
The challenge with these, as with dungeon bosses and other mechanical options in New World, is that positioning enemies fucking sucks in the game, so enemies with the effect that mimics the arcane sentry spinning line from Diablo III are really difficult just because you can’t get them to move easily and you almost always need to be close enough to get clipped by their spinning bullshit unless you’re playing a ranged or caster, but the challenge is, like in Amrine, almost completely nerfed by just having a healer, not even a good one – if they can put the circle where you can hit the boss from it, you’re set! I died on a big one of these and had my first teabagging from some shitty player who was circling the edge just sort of watching the fight, but then I was revived and it went well enough. Speaking of players, though…
The Community is Sort Of…Iffy
Global chat in NW feels a lot like the shitposts that clutter up WoW general and trade channels in cities. People randomly linking their gear, being unnecessarily aggressive to each other, etc. I learned how to customize my chat feed and turned off Global, Help, and Recruitment (unless looking for a group, in which case Recruitment goes back on) and that has made things feel noticeably better. There’s a certain element of internet shitlords that I feel like have been slowly moving away from WoW, and it feels like a lot of them have landed on the shores of Aeternum, which is, you know, not good. Some of that is having a PvP game with open lines of communication, some of it is just the current sociopolitical climate of 2021, and a lot of it is that people suspended in juvenalia are just so often drawn to open chats like moths to a flame. The game’s social tools solve it easily enough, so it isn’t really on the game for the most part. Where it does fall is moderation and reporting response, which Amazon has been iffy about. They’ve been quick to ban, which sometimes works out well (I saw a report of a streamer getting banned, saying he didn’t know what he did, and then someone pointed out that he put a slur into chat and well, hey, there you go) and sometimes not so much (reporting as an offensive tool in PvP battles with quick ban responses coming from Amazon).
To be clear, the in-game environment isn’t really that bad, but there are some clear fringe cases and Global chat can often make following other chats like your company, group, or friends fall off quickly. Also, in general, the chat options in NW are not great – not even half-baked, but more like quarter-baked. It’s still raw, basically. There’s not a great way to set chat up that will let you enact all of your preferences and the limitations of character actions while chatting basically means that you’re not going to be actively using it a lot. The built in voice-chat is…not something I’ve used, so I can’t speak to if it sounds good, works well, or fills the gaps from the disappointing lack of text chat options.
In Spite of All The Rough Edges, I’m Still Having A Lot Of Fun
I didn’t get to 40 hours of played time in the game just out of sheer curiosity or as a means to write here about the game – I’ve genuinely been enjoying my time in New World and the world of Aeternum captures me for long chunks of time daily in an unbroken streak since I bought the game a week ago. I’ve even recruited a handful of guildies and friends to come along with (at current count, 4) and the game has remained fun and caught all of them in its web. I had to log in to get my current skill levels when starting this draft and I had to fight myself to exit the game after getting the shots because I felt an urge to play.
The easiest thing I can identify about New World compared to my experiences in WoW and FFXIV (still my top two MMOs) is that there is a constant flood of progression happening and goals on multiple levels to work towards. More than any MMO I’ve played, even WoW Classic, New World has this sense of progression and goal-seeking baked in with transparency, at least sort of. You know how much weapon XP and XP a kill gives, you know how much trade XP an activity provides and you can see it fill a gauge, compared to the opaque systems used for skill leveling (both trade and weapons) in WoW Classic, so it gives you this burst of energy at times to finish off a bar. I spent literally 90 minutes one night this week just chopping down trees, and it wasn’t even because I had a goal I needed to hit with woodcutting skill or a project to make at the workshop. Nope, I just wanted some chill XP grinding, so I hit some trees close to town, loaded up around 200 pounds of wood, and hauled back to refine it into lumber and timber. I had to actually push myself to do the MSQ and get into Amrine not because I didn’t want to, but because I was letting myself just go on a whim through multiple town board and faction rep quest loops. The 8 hours I wrote about last time? All of that was in First Light – I didn’t even leave the starter zone for around 10 hours of gameplay, and I enjoyed it?!
I still kind of struggle with how to describe it, but a friend paraphrased my description as the gameplay “feeling Zen” and you know what – that’s pretty spot-on in my experience. Once you get a loop going and set out with some ideas of what you want to accomplish in mind, it is so easy to just get into a groove, get comfortable, and just run loose on Aeternum (figuratively and literally) and that is the thing I keep describing to my friends and guildies. Academically, I can recognize that New World is a flawed game with a lot of misses in execution and even design and idea, but yet there’s something there that just feels kind of fun. I thought at first it might be that I wasn’t playing competitively, but no, I’ve made a point of staying ahead of the pack on experience and remaining sort of the New World “expert” in our group, and I’ve been consuming data mining, interviews, player theorycrafting, and videos about the game. Nothing about my experience with it is less than the passion I have for WoW and FFXIV – at least in terms of sincerity.
At the same time, I recognize that part of why New World is so appealing is timing. I’d say that the delay of launch was strategic as much as genuinely about bugs and issues – by launching in the doldrums of another overlong WoW patch and with a couple of months to spare before the launch of Endwalker for FFXIV, a lot of us who make our homes there are in a mode where a new game can come in and catch our spare time before patch 9.1.5 or the big smorgasbord of FFXIV stuff coming in Endwalker. If I had AOTC to chase, KSM keys to clear, or FFXIV MSQ content to play right now, I’d probably not be as enraptured with New World as I am. Yet, it timed itself damn near perfectly, and I can tell that’s a big part of it for my friends. A couple more converts came over after a disastrous raid night this week, and a long-time guildie literally picked it up at 2 AM PST today and played until 9 PM PST non-stop, which is mental!
There’s definitely something addictive about it that is difficulty to quantify, and yet at the same time, I can say this confidently – it isn’t my number 1 or even number 2 MMO and won’t be unless something catastrophic happens (which, given that WoW is in that top 2, could very well happen!). It is my solid number 3 – right now, I fucking love New World and I cannot wait to spend more time in Aeternum, day by day getting more skilled, more progressed, and seeing more of the world that has been crafted by the team at Amazon. At the same time though, I spent a good chunk of this week still raiding, still keeping up in WoW, and when the Media Tour drop for Endwalker was officially out, I spent hours watching videos and analyzing the content shown (since the leaks were accurate, I haven’t had much need to discuss yet, but a post is forthcoming!), because those remain my two “home” games. Right now, what I have with New World is a honeymoon stage, and while I don’t think I’ll fall off hard and I do expect that I will hit level cap and try some endgame content, those goals come third to the upcoming Endwalker content and my Mage Tower ambitions for when patch 9.1.5 launches in WoW.
But for a game I expected to loathe, and one that has a long way still to go, 3rd place ain’t really that bad, now is it?