Friday, September 4, 2020

Ready For Combat: New World

Earlier this week Syp used MassivelyOP's "Daily Grind" column to start a discussion about the future of tab targeting and whether it even has one. He was bouncing off an earlier column by Tyler F.M. Edwards, in which Tyler sang the praises of New World's action combat system, a subject about which Seanas, writing in a comment on one of my own recent posts on Amazon's game, expressed a very different opinion.

Here's Seanas on combat in New World:
"*poor* ...  everything bad about ESO (slow, unresponsive, easily cheeseable) taken to the extreme".
And here's Tyler:
"easy to learn, but hard to master; challenging, but not frustrating; engaging, but not exhausting... could well become the new gold standard for MMO combat".
That's quite a divergence. I can't say I'd really thought about it all that much but I guess if I'd been asked I'd have come down somewhere in the middle. Like Syp, I am not a big fan of action combat in MMORPGs but by now I've done a huge amount of it. I have a pretty wide range of examples with which to compare New World's style. If pushed, I'd probably have said it felt something like a cross between Black Desert Online's wild flailing and the rubbery, haptic bounce of the original Dragon Nest.

I suppose I ought to have had a more coherent opinion by now. I've done my share of fighting in New World, after all, even if most of it was back in the beforetimes, about which we may not speak.

If combat had changed since then I wouldn't be allowed to mention it but during my six hours in the Preview so far I can't say I'd noticed anything very different about it.  Then again, I'd only really fought the minimum required number of mobs for the quests I took, which wasn't all that many. And it was so ridiculously busy for most of the time I was there it was all I could do find anything to kill at all. I certainly wasn't thinking about the aesthetics.

It ocurred to me that, with the Preview coming to an end in a couple of days, it might be an idea to go test the combat for myself. I wanted to spend some more time in New World anyway but I didn't want to get caught up in progression. I'll be doing that for real when the game launches next year and I'd prefer to keep my powder dry until then.

I also wanted to see some diferent parts of the map. With all that in mind, it seemed like a plan to make a new character, pick a different starting area and go kill stuff for an hour or so. By now the lower levels should have emptied out a bit with most people either having moved on or dropped out.

So that's what I did. And my experience was quite different, this time around.

For one thing, I was quite right about the population having moved on. Instead of barely being able to see the first quest-giver through the jostling crowd, I was the only one there. I did the first seven levels without seeing anyone else at all.

There were plenty of people in the town when I got that far. They were crafting, working on quests, using the storage shacks and generally making the place feel lived-in. Out in the corrupted countryside there was the same purposeful activity with people working on whatever quests or projects they had going. 

I picked up a series of quests that sent me out to kill various nasties, some of them twenty at a time. It gave me ample opportunity to take a good, long look at the combat system. Whether or not I can say anything very insightful about what I saw is another matter. I'm no expert on combat mechanics in video games. I don't have the vocabulary to discuss the fine details and the nuances.

What I can do is talk about how the combat feels. And it feels pretty good.

It is chaotic, or it seems so at first. There's an awful lot of jumping and lunging. I found myself facing the wrong direction pretty often. It wasn't so much that I was throwing myself about all over the place intentionally. I was just trying to keep up with the mobs.

It seems as though every mob type behaves differently or near as dammit The AI feels quite complex for an MMORPG. In a farm or a cave that's been overrun by undead there might be three or four different kinds, all of them with their own way of fighting. Sometimes it depends what weapon they're using, sometimes it's more about how many limbs they have left.

A lot seems obvious. If a mob has a shield, it blocks just like a player would. If it has grenades, it hangs back and throws them. Nothing very unusual about that. Rank seems to enter into things as well, with quartermasters or cooks or second mates displaying more cunning or vigor in their atacks than generic sailors can manage.

There's a very kinetic feel to combat in New World. Mobs circle and dart, striking then pulling back out of reach. Comparatively intelligent undead, the intact, better-dressed corrupted or the glowing skeletons, seem to recall more from when they were alive. They feint and defend, making fighting them feel like a duel or a dance. By contrast, the far-gone shamblers, ragged, limbs missing, the farm workers, clutching pitchforks as they go through the empty movements of their meaningless parody of labor,  just charge in to attack without benefit of strategy or tactics.

Animals behave approximately as you might expect. Prey species like rabbits and turkeys don't fight back at all. They run away, making it as hard as possible to catch them. Then they die in a single hit.

Still, it doesn't do to turn your back on even the most innocuous animal. One time, a sheep ran up behind me on the road, butted me in the backside, then ran away. It wasn't even a ram, either. I have yet to be savaged by a bunny but it could happen.

Wolves, though... wolves are smart. Up to level 12, which is as far as I've gotten so far, I found wolves to be the hardest of all mobs to kill. A wolf three levels lower than me was a tougher fight than almost any undead as much as two levels above.

Wolves never stay still. They put their heads down and come at you fast, then suddenly spin and turn in the air so they're to one side of you or even behind. Then when you turn and try to strike they leap back out of reach.

When fighting wolves I frequently found myself disoriented and dizzy. They always managed to wear me down if I got into a to-and-fro with them. So I tried not to do that. Instead I always tried to rush them from behind, stun them and then pound on them as fast and hard as I could. And even then it was touch and go, sometimes.

I'm certain none of this is remotely new or original for video game combat but it does seem unusual for an MMORPG. As Tyler mentions in his article, this is perhaps why there are so few buttons to press. With so much movement and so much to watch you really don't have time to be building chains and searching for function keys.

Here's a useful data point. It's a sample of one - me - and therefore about as anecdotal as you can get but I think it's telling. I used my shield to block on multiple occasions. I've played plenty of MMORPGs that give you an active block skill but I very rarely use it. Pretty much only on bosses where it's virtually scripted that you have to.

Just as Guild Wars 2 converted me to the active pleasures of dodge-rolling eight years ago, I get the feeling New World could teach me to love blocking. For possibly the first time it feels intuitive not artificial. That says something, although possibly only about me.

Weapon skill progresses nicely. Everything I say here is based on my experience with just one weapon, the long sword. I had most of the others  - hatchet, big hammer, magic staff, bow (and that seems to be about the lot) but it seemed prudent to stick to one in the short time available.

By level twelve I had a nice spinning AE and an extremely satisfying and effective leap. And I was using them, too. As I earned points I spent them on new fighting skills, which gave me a grand total of four buttons to press - LMB, RMB, Q and R. There's one more to open, E by default. Even I can manage a mouse and three buttons. Probably.

One acid test for action combat I sometimes use is whether or not I can win a fight with the UI switched off. It's very useful to me to be able to go a whole fight without the UI and not die because that lets me take combat screenshots for the blog.

By the time I got to the scary ruined tower in the lake, surrounded by and filled with glowing skeletal guardians I felt confident enough to give it a try. I fought and beat two skels in a row without benefit of onscreen information. All I had to do was watch their moves and counter them with the four buttons. Really just with the mouse, most of the time.

Of course, the big problem in playing with the UI off in any game is knowing how much damage you've taken. Or the mob, for that matter. in this case it was a nice surprise to turn the details back on and find I'd actually lost less health than I was used to losing when I could see what I was doing!

I'm aware lots of people already play this way - not necessarily with the UI switched off but by looking mostly at the mobs and their movements. I don't, though. I've tried it and I don't like it. Only, playing  New World, yesterday, I found I did quite like it, after all. That does suggest to me that Tyler's take on how good the combat is comes closer to my own experience than Seanas's.

That said, I do still agree with Syp. No matter how good the action combat is, it does get exhausting. Tab targeting is undoubtedly less tiring, both on the mind and the body.

If I had the choice, I'd still prefer New World used tab targeting and hot keys. But no-one's giving me that choice. If it's going to be action combat then I'd sooner have this version than most I've tried.

1 comment:

  1. I was fairly ambivalent on New World but this post has me more interested. I love games that have good movement.

    I think I may still wait until it releases proper to try it but it's now on my radar.


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