The MMO Uninstallation Chronicles Part 1 of 2: New World

I was not very hyped about New World prior to launch, at all.

When it came out, it was an oddity, a blip on the radar that grew in size and volume, demanding attention. I decided to try it, once the early queue city had ended, and something unexpected happened – I actually really enjoyed it for what it was and what it offered.

Past-tense.

In the last two weeks, I have uninstalled two MMOs – the first one being New World. Why is that? Well, today and in a subsequent post to come, I want to discuss the reasons why through something of a different lens. Normally, I try to write here in a self-interested neutral analytical tone – I don’t always succeed at a full level of neutrality, and I think that would be dull if I did, but I try to give voice to things that aren’t just my thoughts on a game. I’ll bring up discussions with friends and guildies, check community reactions, and try to dig down a bit more past my own feelings and thoughts. For these two posts, I want to just post my opinion, as-is. No fluff, no extrapolation to larger community sentiment, and no broad representation of the audience – just me, my thoughts and opinions, and what led me to uninstalling the two games.

So, New World.

I didn’t particularly like what I saw of New World pre-release and I sort-of didn’t get it. Blaugust participants were gushing over it, and it seemed like the next-big-not-WoW thing in the MMO space, as FFXIV was sort of idling waiting for Endwalker, Guild Wars 2 and SWTOR were both awaiting new expansions, and the Everquest expansion wasn’t due until later in the year as well. For me, it just seemed a little too meh – high-detail graphics with little discernible art style or sensibility, gameplay focused on PvP and community interaction over designed PvE content, and the screenshots and video I saw weren’t particularly compelling. Then launch happened and it just seemed like a general over-successful MMO launch – too few servers, too many interested players, long lines, and as a result, gameplay discussion was somewhat harder to come by, but it was trickling in slowly.

I bought the game on a whim in the first week of October, after the launch furor had died down slightly and the game was still quite popular. My intention was to try it – I had a gift card to use and so it didn’t cost me anything directly. If it was good, I would be happy, and if it wasn’t, well, at least it wasn’t my money wasted on the game, and there was no subscription to pay so I could revisit it with a low barrier to entry if I burned out and wanted to give it a shot a few content updates down the road.

So I jumped in with the 1.0 experience of New World, and it was…pretty good, actually. Was.

Something that I struggled to articulate is that the game, in spite of each of its individual components feeling kind of weird and off-putting on their own in some way, was a cohesive whole in far better shape than I expected in those early levels of content. The leveling felt good and crisp, the gathering and crafting systems were enjoyable in those early stages of the game, the idea of buying a house and settling in was appealing, and the world was great, busted-ass colonialism theme and all. It had something going for it that was difficult to contextualize – I still sometimes think about how quickly it grabbed me and wonder what was there about it. I realize now in retrospect that a lot of it was how effortless getting into the game is made to be – rolling a character involves a small number of choices and the game quickly pushes you into gameplay, gives you early means to set yourself apart (you can make tools at the first encampment before the game tells you to if you pay attention!), and how almost-effortlessly everything coalesces into a total package. There’s not a huge story but there’s a lot of lore about what Aeternum was like and how it became…this, the map is bright and huge and draws your attention to the game’s pillar 3-faction conflict before the game deigns to inform you about it in-universe, and there’s a sense of liveliness in that early content. It really does take some of the better elements of a survival sim and smashes them into a retro-style MMORPG system, and early on, that combination is like chocolate and peanut butter.

I extolled the good word of New World and got a handful of friends and guildies into it, and we did a lot of content together and had fun, I would say. Those early levels are the closest to a WoW 1.0 experience I’ve had since that launch – where I was just so curious about the game and what it had to offer that I scoured the internet for videos and articles, read everything I could, because I needed to know.

Early on, I was struck with how repetitive the quests were in a gameplay sense, but I also didn’t necessarily care that much about it – they were set dressing to get you into the world, killing animals and taking their meat and hides, mining ore, chopping down trees, picking flowers, and ramping your inventory to full encumbrance before heading back to town to turn in, refine and craft, and drop off at the storage shed. It was fun.

The first time I remember questioning if I was going to stick with it was around the early level 40s, with a lot of my tradeskills up near the halfway point of 100/200 skill. It was getting tougher to craft meaningful items, because the material loadouts were large and spanned the whole of Aeternum. The storage stash system, at first one that felt open and large with possibility (a shed in EVERY town? Whoa) started to feel constrained as I just could not move supplies between settlements unless my faction had done well in PvP at grabbing control of zones, and any issues on that front meant being forced to empty bags, teleport between towns, grab stuff out of Shed A and then move to town B and drop them there.

The second thing I came to realize in that level range is that there were some huge fundamental balance problems with the various weapons. In New World, you don’t have a class or job, you level weapons individually from their own level 1-20 process, picking traits and active abilities from two trees per weapon that give you various perks with that weapon, and can have 3 active abilities at a time per weapon. You get two weapons to equip and that creates your logical limits for a character – you can level all the weapons, but can only have two active weapons at once, so the builds for the game centered on that idea for fun and expansion. Early on, I loved the big weapons – great hammer, axe, but went sword and board for a handful of levels before I tried hatchet, which became my go-to. I leveled hatchet all the way to 20 and it was absolutely insane – fast attacks, multiple hits, lots of self-healing and sustain – it felt great to play.

I then tried leveling axe, which I already had a ton of levels in from before the time I became a hatchet devotee, and it was…not good, folks. Axe felt worse, slower, with less self-sustain and ability to recover from disasters. Leveling was slowing down, way down, and those early weeks where I spent hours playing and was being rewarded constantly with progress felt more and more distant.

In the 40s in that early experience, the sheen was wearing off already. It wasn’t bad, per se – just that a lot of what had hooked me was gone. Crafting was slow and tedious, made worse by the compounding list of ingredients needed for higher level crafts that I needed to make to keep my progress going, and hurt even more by the territory system, which mandated that a controlling Company pay upkeep on crafting stations and pay to maintain upgrades. The game’s Corrupted invasion events often sacked towns and cost way more to recover from, so most towns would, once threatened with such an NPC invasion event, simply downgrade all their crafting stations, meaning that not only was high-end crafting incredibly tedious in terms of material cost and farming, but it was also nigh impossible to get the high-end crafting stations needed to make many of those items in the first place!

The game compounded this with confusion on reagents for crafting. Most recipes past the most basic require a refining agent of some sort – flux for metals, sandpaper for wood and stone, etc – and those materials are not farmed easily in the world or crafted, but instead gathered from chests that spawn and respawn in the open world, usually in enemy-dense environments. When I first joined up, the team pushed a hotfix that upped the rate at which such items could be obtained from chests, so the flow felt pretty satisfying and it was easy enough to have 100s of each item on-hand and ready for your crafting needs. As I was reaching the higher level ranges, the team at Amazon decided to revert that change, meaning that supplies of such refining agents dwindled.

I hit level 50 about a week before the 1.1 update, which made a ton of changes to crafting – mostly, in drastically increasing the number of materials required for most mid-range and up recipes! Oh boy! The economy of the game, were it functioning, was set to place increased emphasis on low-end materials that become critical for higher-tier crafting – everyone can mine Iron, and damn near every ingot past Iron requires Iron as a base or Iron made into Steel in order to make the better ore into bars. It actually exacerbated the conditions that made me get into the game in a way – the early stuff comes easy and it’s very straightforward to level and find value in the early gameplay because so much of it is valuable to everyone – a slew of lowbies grabbing Iron ore and selling it means everyone benefits – lowbies get to participate in the game’s market and make money, and high level players have a supply line for those materials that doesn’t require them taking time out to go do it themselves if they don’t want to. Huzzah!

Except…well, the economy in the game has never really worked, not in any proper or predictable way.

Chief among the problems is that the game was a buggy mess at launch and has remained pretty bad since then. Early on, the game had problems with duping exploits that led to a bunch of players having a lot of money and led AGS to shut down the game’s Trading Posts for days at a time, slowing in-game trade to a crawl and sending the unintentional message that the trading posts would not be a reliable source of materials. There were bugs and exploits in combat, like the fact that kneeling in AoE effects would trigger their effect regardless of whether it was due or not, so a lot of early PvP sieges were players doing squats in healing circles trying to melee opponents or casting from relative safety – oh, and this worked on damaging AoEs against opponents too, so a Fire Staff user could drop a fire circle and if their enemies were doing squats in it, they’d take a lot of DPS (Damage Per Squat). Fixes were slow and there was no good way to revert the damage these bugs had done – if a faction gained control of a region using such exploits, you could sanction and ban the players but the control effects remained and the game’s cycle for such encounters would mean it would take weeks for control to be wrested from such entities.

Another big problem the game had for me is a complete lack of design focus. The game wanted to be sort of an interesting new take on MMOs – some old-school immersion stuff like storage and trading posts that were town-locked, running everywhere, and everything outside of towns being hostile and sort of unfriendly , but then with new-school ideas baked in – fast travel, transfer between sheds if your faction owns the town on both ends, robust built-in voice chat, and a gearing system that would work its way up with you (we’ll get back to that).

The problem is that many of the elements were rough on their own and still felt rough integrated, especially as you progressed. Fast travel was great – except you needed currency with a hard cap to do it, it has scaling costs based on carried weight and distance, and the cap on said currency is so low and rewarded so little that as you reach your level 30+ range and more of the map opens up, you run a serious risk of being trapped without enough of it to even teleport back to the nearest town, much less being able to span the map with ease. You can’t get mounts either, so if you cannot fast travel, the solution is to walk everywhere, and given the size of the map, that quickly becomes a burden. Most trips out for quests become tight loops dictated by how much you can carry and how much Azoth (the currency) you have and can expect to get from your time in the field. If the game didn’t hard cap the currency so low at just 1,000, it’d probably be fine – but the game asks you to make a difficult choice about…travel, which is not really in the category of things I would put “difficult choices” onto!

Then there was gear watermarking. At the level cap, the game tries to help you out in gearing by setting the drops you get from endgame content to a gearscore range based on the highest drop you’ve reached in a given slot. If I had gearscore 515 hand armor, the game will, when giving me new gloves, place that new drop within a band that starts a few gearscore lower than my current drop and goes a few levels higher than my current record. This seems all well and good – most items will be upgrades and even a lower gearscore item could theoretically be better if the traits on it align with my build more, but there’s a problem – most of the traits in the game suck and there’s no lockout or exclusivity on traits that don’t make sense. You can get armor that does nothing to increase your bow DPS, but that somehow has a Bow trait on it. Because the game random-rolls the traits on armor from most endgame content, you basically get stuck in a situation where most gear you get is worthless, and even when it is worthwhile, you’re still grinding up that watermark, trying to push higher and higher up the gear progression with no end in sight. Even though the game does have an end at 600 Gearscore, getting there with meaningful drops is damn near impossible.

The changes made in subsequent patches have actually made the game’s problems worse, with 1.1 emphasizing that early player experience at the cost of high-level players – newbies can keep grinding out levels in a rewarding fashion with a lot of things to do that all feed into the core gameplay, and once you hit the 40s, the game starts to slow to a crawl, with abysmal crafting requirements, grindy leveling of unbalanced weapons, and being stuck in what I can charitably describe as a microcosm of the dumb austerity politics that don’t work in a fictional world any better than they do in reality. Player-run towns don’t invest in high-end crafting stations that would meaningfully benefit players because that’s expensive and don’t raise taxes to help pay for things because tax=bad, so most towns languish and those that do succeed are then often kneecapped by the game itself with Corrupted Invasions and a lack of activity. The game has, notoriously, dug itself a deep hole to live in, being at just 10% of its Steam playerbase records only 3 months in, and that lack of players is felt in-game with stagnant economies, dead towns, and a lack of meaningful high-level crafting activity or gameplay in general.

I had a few sessions when I was getting tired of the game where I would log in, set out to level Great Axe, go to a level-appropriate zone for maximum experience, get teamed up on, die, and then have to port across the map to start over. Even with the camp system, the game can often get annoying in difficult content and it makes it a lot easier to just give up instead. I don’t mind the combat being difficult, but I would like to see weapons better-balanced and more enjoyable across the board.

Speaking of the combat, that is the last thing I need to say about the game. Combat in New World is…fine, I suppose. I actually really liked it early on, when it felt like my player skill had room to meaningfully grow and expand as the game progressed. However, a couple of things make getting really into New World combat difficult.

Firstly, the game’s NPC enemy variety is dogshit. There’s just not enough enemies to vary your plans, to learn how to read attacks in a general sense, and so after about 15 levels of gameplay, you’ve seen 90% of what the game’s PvE gameplay is, and you still have 45 more levels that feel like drudgery for it! Secondly, though – the game’s insistence on collision detection for players and NPCs means that combat in group settings feels pretty bad. If you and your friends all love melee and roll with it – great, have fun in a dungeon when the boss is being pushed and shoved around by a player-cluster surrounding it in such a way that a Brazzers logo should be stamped on-screen in that moment. Oh, you like the hatchet animations, do you? Well, just wait until the leaping attacks interact weirdly with collision in those moments, as your jump in pushes you away somehow and just makes the whole thing a clunky, chaotic mess. I can’t imagine what the biggest scale of PvP would even look like given that!

Because of all of this, the game isn’t really challenging in PvE to any great extent, because you have issues like that, and it’s compounded by how clunky the game feels in moments where it tries to use MMO gameplay mechanics to make things happen. Okay, sure, you need to move the boss out of the AoE, but good luck getting them to move quickly and reposition, especially if the boss has any sort of ranged capability! There’s just not enough to sink your teeth into or to show your long-term progress as a player in skill terms, because the game cannot really make meaningful difficulty adjustments because the controls and gameplay are a little clunky and mechanics can be unnecessarily difficult to interact with at even a basic level.

The nature of the game’s design compounds this, as it was obviously a PvP-first title and the game is really built and designed around that experience. But the PvP is difficult to get into, with limited size on most planned player invasion events and a lot of the early bugs, flaws, and exploits having pushed players away, a problem that is only compounded by the shrinkage of the playerbase.

In the end, what got me out of the game is that the combat felt worse as I leveled other weapons, the game’s rough edges at higher levels started to wear on me, and the lack of a meaningful overarching story in favor of a narrative of mystery served piecemeal via quest pickup and documents around the world made it impossible to have any meaningful investment in the fate of Aeternum. Since I stopped playing, the patches have shown a chronic level of missing the point from AGS, as they’ve almost seemingly gone out of their way to make that endgame experience worse instead of better, by doubling down on their own bets and assumptions about the game instead of taking community feedback seriously (a theme that will repeat in the next one of these posts!), and even the diehards I knew who were there for day 1 and defending the game have, largely, given it up.

Given all of that and a desire to reclaim some space on my main PCIE Gen 4 NVME drive, I decided to uninstall it. To be clear, I don’t think that New World is/was a bad game, even – I think that there’s clearly a spark there that could be lit well with some focused thought on how the design should work beginning to end, and how players could be encouraged and incentivized to stay around at the high end instead of having the game’s design push them away. More enemy variety, more thoughtful crafting progression, a better gearing system that enables pursuit of goals – all of these could be powerful tools to bring players back. Like any online game, it’s just one patch or expansion away from being a solid experience with the right focus. But for now, I think I’m pretty satisfied with the experience I did have, given that I expected to not like it and instead got over 100 hours of gameplay that I mostly enjoyed from it.

The next game I plan to discuss in such a post is one that has given me far more hours of play and enjoyment, but made clear that its time has passed – World of Warcraft.

Yep.

2 thoughts on “The MMO Uninstallation Chronicles Part 1 of 2: New World

  1. I’ve been working in a given field of work for what feels like 20 years now. I’ve seen nearly every possible permutation of the possible, and in only very rare cases am I ever surprised at a development. It’s both a boon in that I can rapidly diagnose and solve a problem, but also a bane in that I am predisposed to push away innovation. It takes a conscious effort to let people try out “new” ideas and see if with a few minor tweaks, there are different results. The worst part by far is that people from the outside looking in only see the tip of the iceberg and assume things are simple. They are not, they are extremely complex, but also handled by a group of experts who know what they are doing.

    I find that MMOs (and quite a bit of gaming) suffer from the same thing, First, that consumers are so accustomed to given ideas that they automatically picture a given set of balance structures in their head. “Oh, you have crafting, it should work like this”. Not because they are wrong (they can be), but frankly because they’ve seen the bad implementations and can see the red flags.

    Second, that the development team may have ambition, they lack in capacity and experience. They may have ideas, but the execution against those ideas is a massive hurdle. You can look to Mass Effect Andromeda… there were grand ideas there and the devs were hobbled by an engine that simply could support those ideas.

    Third, and this is really an important piece, is that it is simply not possible to have PvP and PvE intersect with today’s gaming audience, at any “meaningful” scale. It can work in microcosms, where there are smaller goals and complexity, but it also needs to manage scale of events. PvP is predicated on the concept of balance prior to human action, or the semblance of balance.

    Finally, and this is something every developer learns at some point, you cannot underestimate the laziness of a gamer. The law of least effort applies at all times, and while it can be seen as “optimization”, it’s really the former. If there is a shortcut, they will take it because the effort is not rewarded, only the goal. If they can outsource that effort, they will (bots).

    New World is a shining example of great ideas meeting mediocre implementation and mis-aligned player expectations. I’m sure there’s some salvage here, if they can merge the servers and keep a sustainable player base, giving time to properly address the various balance issues. It’s more than possible. But then again, this is Amazon, and they are not exactly good at giving time for this sort of stuff…

    Like

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