My Continuing Adventures in New World, Volume 3

I’ve been playing a lot of New World still.

At level 47, a few weapons in the high-teens on their levels (and Hatchet maxed out at 20), with two expeditions and over half the map run, I have some more opinions to share on the game.

Leveling Pace Is…Okay-Ish

Leveling in New World felt extremely rewarding early-on, because everything gives XP and you can very quickly sprint up the levels through just engaging with the game world. As you move higher up, however, there’s a catch. That catch is functionally quite similar to almost every MMO with a level cap and a scaling XP mountain to climb – there’s always a slog somewhere. In New World, thine slog is 30-40, from my experience.

A part of the problem is apparent when you look at the map’s recommended levels by zone. There are a ton of starter zones, all of which offer questing in the 1-25 level range, but only a small handful of zones for the midranges, 3 in fact, two of which are 26-35 and only one is 30-40. This means you’re either slashing through easy, reduced-XP level 25ish quests or you’re smashing face against harder content that takes longer but is more rewarding in Weaver’s Fen. Coupled with this is the very nature of the game’s design – gathering XP is great early on, but in the 30-40 range, a lot of players (this was me as well) hit a wall on progressing gathering skills. Because lower-level gatherables scale to less XP value as your skill climbs higher above them, you’re in a situation inverted from early on – in the early levels, XP comes easy because hitting nodes, refining materials, and crafting all give decent chunks of XP and your skill levels scale up to keep pace relatively well, where in 30-40, you’re often looking for lower-level nodes in zones with fewer spawns of them, getting less XP per gathered node, and then refining for less or even no XP, all in service of getting those skills north of 100 points so that you can then pick up the new tier of materials.

You can still run town project boards and Faction missions, which give you a good chunk of XP, but these again funnel you into zones where you either trounce everything for less reward, or struggle and have to strategically fight your way through packs of mobs that can carve your flesh quickly for a slightly higher one. The scaling of XP isn’t as bad as some other games, but all these factors combine to create a valley that can often hit your interest hard.

Of course, once I hit 40, I then cooked for half a level of XP and hit 41 fairly quickly, and the other night I hit 46 about two hours after hitting 45, so the pacing of 30-40 stands in stark contrast to that much-faster pacing.

The Repetition is Killer (To My Interest)

I mentioned this in an earlier post, and leveling ever higher does not improve this at all.

The enemy variants remain very similar to those early hours in the game, and you basically have seen the enemy types the game has to offer once you’ve hit 25 and done your first Amrine run. They get new names, and there are some standout enemy types (coffin-suckers, as I call them), but they become less exceptional the more of them you see, and you will see a lot!

More than that though, the quest design is, from a gameplay perspective, very uninspired still, and the world design clearly hits moments of boredom or crunch as well. When I hit 40, I was so excited to see the Great Cleave – this big, mountainous, snowy zone in the northern end of Aeternum, feeling almost like climbing the XP ladder was an ascent up the continent, towards this towering mountain and treacherous valley. The “gate” area to the zone is great – this wall encampment of Corrupted enemies with easy kills and quick respawns good for farming and the handful of quests and Faction missions that send you here. I got to the first outpost, and got a quest to go to a series of forts around the zone, killing enemies for Soulgems in each and picking up a journal entry from each fort. The first one was fine, I got my gems and the journal, while hard to find, came easily enough, but the respawn was constant. I finished that leg, and went on to the next one, and it was….literally the same fort in a new place! I don’t even mean similar, I mean identical. Someone at Amazon Game Studios fucking Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V’d that thing into a new place, same props, same buildings, same layout, same terrain leveling. Okay, 3 more forts to go, and do you want to guess what came next?

Three…completely…identical…forts. 5 total!

For gameplay purposes, I am glad they at least put the journal pages in different locations, because the horrific deja vu I had playing it was rattling my brain. I actually thought for a moment I was accidentally in the old fort, until I looked and saw new enemy prefix names and new Soulgem names. Not great!

The quest design is also still quite repetitive, with quests doing the bare minimum to distinguish themselves from a gameplay perspective, and sometimes not even doing that. Looting all the chests in a landmark for a differently-named item does not a solid gameplay loop make, and my core critique is that the repetition is most noticeable outside of combat quests. When I get to fight things, I can generally forgive repetitive “Kill X badguy” quests because the core combat is still rather satisfying to me and more chances to engage with it is great. I do, however, struggle with the chest looting quests because they are often frustrating in areas with high respawn rates (which seems to be a problem that increases in frequency as you move up the level curve) and can be difficult to find. I appreciate that chest looting quests give easy ways to go out and loot chests, which are the only way to get a lot of refining materials, certain cooking mats, and the like – but from a gameplay perspective, they’re fucking dull and I wish a lot of these quests used the percentage progress meter from WoW, where you would instead go to a landmark, complete objectives until you reach completion, and then go back.

If the environments didn’t have unique stuff going on, it would feel far too repetitive, a problem that only gets worse the deeper you get into the game. Enemies, aspects of the map, and quests all feel like loops of the same stuff over and over. The game is carried by other aspects of the design, like combat and the interplay of different weapon types and abilities, and without those, this design would fall flat on its ass.

The Systems of the Game Are Not All Great

Now with a few weeks of play and a house, I can say a bit more about the systems. Firstly, the tax systems are sort of awful and feel bad. Having to travel to your house, with recall or not, makes it feel a bit timewaster-y. In theory, you travel to and use your house a lot, but as the player type I am, it just doesn’t really fit or work for me. The tax systems are also player set and intersect with the inter-player politics of the game, which is great in theory…but we’ll discuss more of that later!

Secondly, Azoth. At first, the Azoth system was great to me – I spent some in crafting, it came readily enough, travel was short and easy to run between points, especially since I was grinding the board in First Light endlessly, and when I finally used it for fast travel, it was pretty cheap. However, the system is just a really weird sore thumb on the whole experience. What it is used for is inconsistently weird – it functions for fast travel, respeccing your weapon (but not your player stats), and can be used to infuse crafted gear with more power, pushing the Gear Score higher and increasing the odds of valuable bonus traits on the stuff. It is acquired…pretty haphazardly, all told. You get it from some quests but not all, you sometimes loot it from mobs, both in small quantities and in vials of 100 that can be used or sold at the Trading Post, and some later gathering tools also let you extract 1 Azoth (just 1 point, yep) when gathering in the world. It comes in smallish quantities or in floods with no in-between, and with a hard cap of 1,000, it means you’ll often keep losing the full value of your quest completions.

Because of that, Azoth is either feast or famine – you comfortably have enough for all your needs, or, increasingly, as the world opens up to you and you spend time teleporting around for varying zones and different quests with ever-increasing encumbrance, you have too little and the task of simply getting around the world becomes a chore. I haven’t touched it for crafting since the low levels, and haven’t respecced any weapon besides my Great Axe one time, and even with that, the flow of Azoth (or lack thereof) is the most pressing concern I’ve had as I’ve leveled. You can drop the cost of teleporting by carrying less weight, which works if you’re moving to a place with a storage shed first, but it means that your trip into town from a Spirit Shrine is either going to cost a lot, or you’re going to be running that first leg into town to avoid overspending Azoth. I agree with the MassivelyOP assessment of Azoth – it 100% feels like it is being primed to be a premium currency they can charge for in the future, where being able to sink your real-money purchased marks into Azoth will be a part of making sure the game stays profitable. Or perhaps being able to buy an Azoth cap expansion?

Lastly, the game’s use of Holy Trinity roles has some rough spots, particularly with tanks. I gave up on sword leveling after my guildmates started to catch up to Amrine level, and watching other people tank is…rough. The core threat mechanics of the game are wonky, which is the primary issue. To be an effective tank, moreso than any other role, you must have a socketed weapon with a Carnelian equipped to enable Taunting. Taunting is not an ability itself, but rather tied to an ability each on the Sword tree and Great Axe tree – you do get passively increased threat from having a Carnelian in your weapon, but the increase is miniscule. In order for the taunt gem to actually do work, you need to be using the taunt-enabled ability in each tree, which then makes it behave like taunt does in both WoW and FFXIV – you spring ahead to the top of the threat list for your targets plus a small amount more over the prior number 1. What this functionally means is that tanks basically have two steps to ensuring a pull goes well – grouping everything up and hitting the mobs with non-taunting abilities to build a baseline of threat and to ensure they’re in range for the taunt ability, so they can then hit the taunt ability, spring ahead on all mobs at once, and then the building of threat from other attacks keeps the tank winning the exchange, coupled with regular refreshes of taunt as the ability comes off cooldown.

My Depths run had a tank who was insistent (and assholish) about point 1, rounding everything up into a ball to hit them. He then…never used his taunt-equipped ability, so we pulled off him constantly, and he got mad at us, despite him having been the one making the error. It would be nice if tanking-intended trees had more taunt abilities, or if they had some threat multiplier passive trait they could take with another offensive boost such that their passive threat would work out better. I don’t necessarily want tank threat to be easy mode like WoW or FFXIV – in those games, mitigation is the challenge for the tank and so long as a tank pulls everything properly (and doesn’t insist on a boomkin Convoke pull because their DPS is more important than the actual job they’re doing in the dungeon) they have to just focus on survival without worrying too much about threat, save for very high Mythic Plus in WoW where kiting is the game and your ability to do snap threat is more vital. In New World, you have multiple vectors of tank difficulty, because managing threat is a clusterfuck but also just the beginning, as you need to master blocking, dodging, evading abilities through movement, and know the attack patterns of most mobs in the game (all 18 enemies the game shipped with). There’s a lot, and given that tanking is already sort of the most stressful job in a Holy Trinity MMO, it feels kind of like the game is going to head for a tank shortage sooner or later.

Player Politics Are Dumb, Depending On Your Server

On my server, the player politics of the game are absolutely idiotic. The Syndicate has the fewest zones and appears to have the most players, because they are only good at defending claims rather than pushing new ones, and the server is locked in a stupid squabble between the Covenant and Marauders, with a large number of Marauders (nearly all the 60s in the company I am in included) moving to Covenant because “yellow is gonna win,” despite the server’s remaining zones being split evenly between Covenant and Marauders.

The politics of the game can be stupid, because players engage in deals, offering town trading, betrayals, and the like with no sense of what actually works or gets them progress towards managing a server’s economy or providing themselves with the best leg-up possible. At their best, I could see a strong economy and self-interest emerging in a way that props up the game’s core PvP conflicts, but in practice, so far all I’ve seen is some dumbasses trading across faction lines because “lol yellow’s better” and watched town project boards lose most quests despite seeing almost no Tier 5 crafting stations because everyone is too busy pretending that their unfounded real-life beliefs translate in the way they expect. “Taxes are bad!” says the company whose town is stuck with a Tier 2 Kitchen because they can’t afford the upkeep or upgrade, while a lot of companies try for a balance of lower taxes and some services and always end up downgrading crafting and refining stations because the cost is too high to maintain on sub-10% tax levels.

It’s made worse because most of the players I have seen are trying to play a metagame, and not just playing to their preference. The aforementioned faction-switching happened because there was a brief window where the Covenant was the top faction by holdings on my server, until the switch trade, where First Light was basically forfeited by the Covenant to the Marauders under the idea they’d take it back with the switchers. Well, it’s been nearly two weeks, and the balance of the map has remained the same – there’s been little perceptible movement in the balance of power, nor any meaningful surge of Covenant dominance (in fact, Syndicate is the group that’s gotten closest to contesting First Light, the territory on which the whole idea hinged anyways!). Which is what you get when you use standard MMO tactics to faction swap but your galaxy brain never comprehends that in a new MMO, new people are hitting the level cap daily and the balance of max-level power is going to be a moving target for weeks or even months past the point where you’ve deemed Covenant the main faction!

The fact that I even know all of this irritates me, frankly, almost as much as how knowing the various opinion columnists and their takes in the major US national papers does – but I do it to myself, so I guess there’s blame to be shared there.

A Fundamental Problem – The Game Was Rushed and Is Broken

I almost put this post out two full days ago, because I was overdue to write a post and I had a lot of stuff in-game to share, but I am glad I waited, because the game’s discussion has turned undeniably sour.

First things first – the game’s code is an obvious hot mess, with a number of glitches and exploits that escape anti-cheat. There was an invulnerability exploit, gold duping, and the AoE bug where crouching in an AoE would trigger its tick effect regardless of whether it was due or not, making PvP battles degenerate into crouching in healing circles while fighting. The game has issues with authentication, as it has some weirdness with Steam interactions that players tested and were able to use to have 5 people logged in to the game at once from a single license and Steam account. Server transfers remain a buggy mess, Outpost Rush was a cornerstone endgame PvP mode that was straight missing until the newest patch and apparently has not had a lot of uptake among players, and the game’s economy remains fraught and broken, despite AGS’ protests otherwise, as the game has a myriad of gold sinks but relatively few and small gold faucets.

For me, as a primarily PvE player, the endgame content looks extremely lacking, down to a small handful of activities. You can do Corruption Rifts, you can do the one true endgame PvE expedition (two if you consider the level 55 Dynasty Shipyard to be endgame or not), you can simply gather and craft all the livelong day, and you can go town-to-town completing the town project board quests and your faction quests. You can also just explore the world and loot the respawning chests for materials. All of these have some measure of synergy with each other and comprise a pretty decent framework for an endgame, but in terms of total content, it is lacking. It’s not dire, per se, but if you don’t want to PvP, the game gives you very little content to satiate that desire.

This is the biggest thing that stands out to me, as I haven’t had people use my chat box to crash my game client or been on the receiving end of someone with an invuln exploit yet – the later in the game you get, the more apparent it is that the PvP of the game was the main activity intended, and while the PvE pivot has given the game some measure of content, it’s not a lot – one expedition every 10 levels from 20 up is not exactly a lot of PvE gameplay, and the outdoor environment content, while cool, is also sort of unrewarding compared to expeditions. Expeditions also need a key per run, which is fine when it’s a story expedition and everyone gets a key from the quest, but for the optional expeditions, the key requirement (particularly the materials needed) can be a big hassle, because you have to do gathering, run corruption rifts for pieces, do faction rep quests to buy the chisels needed, and all the requirements together stack up quick. Now, in an endgame where these activities all pose as things to do, this isn’t the worst design ever or anything, but it does feel constrained in a bad way.

If the PvP gameplay was on-point, I’d be down to try it too, but the myriad bugs, glitches, and exploits have made a lot of players publicly swear off PvP, which just makes the whole thing feel bad.

It has become increasingly obvious that the game was shipped in spite of not being ready, even with the last-minute launch delay. The game design has a lot of jagged edges in need of sanding, a lot of modes of content that need more actual content, and a PvP-oriented game world that needed a little more time in design. In an earlier post about the game, I noted that it felt like the timing was just right to launch in the broader competitive landscape – a dire lack of WoW content, Endwalker for FFXIV still nearly two months out from the decided NW launch date, and with the GW2 expansion further out than that. The studio leadership struck while the iron was hot, and it worked in some ways (the game had a huge influx of players of all MMO persuasions) and failed in others (nearly 2/3rds of the company I am in appear to have abandoned the game with last login at 3 weeks or more and the game world is starting to get that empty feeling as my friends and guildmates also peel off of playing as much or even at all).

The upcoming content lists, between datamining, team interviews and posts looks promising enough. They have a huge pile of expeditions covering zones in all level ranges (which hopefully means more low-level expeditions), there are a handful of new weapons in the works that cover some gaps (like a primarily-offensive weapon with Focus as main stat), and there is even a new zone coming – but all of that really feels like it would have made a comprehensively better launch package instead of parceling it out in updates.

So on the one hand, the game is currently feeling kind of bad – it has a lack of notable stuff to do at endgame for both player types, has a list of bugs, exploits, and glitches that clearly need to be worked out (the 1.04 patch was a step in the right direction there), and while the game has a semi-active forum response from the studio, more communication would definitely be welcome. On the other hand, I actually do still enjoy what is there – the game’s environment is still captivating to me, copy and pasted forts notwithstanding, the core combat gameplay is quite fun and interesting to engage with, and I like the ability I have to melt into the game world – it’s not something I look for in most MMOs (and I think the market success of various games speaks to how I’m not alone in that) but it just pulls the experience together here, and I’ve enjoyed the gathering systems a lot (more than crafting, which is decidedly just eh).

Ultimately, for me, New World has ended up being my go-to for burning the days until Endwalker, and in that role, it has performed admirably well. My approach may be validated further with no clear release of new content on the horizon, meaning that I’ll be able to hit level 60, do some things, and then get out while the getting is good. Given that this was my expectation once the game got its hooks into me, well, I think that works out pretty well, all told.

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