Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Try The New World, Play The Game

I'm only writing this now because the New World beta servers are down. The in-game message says Amazon are investigating "server instability", which made me wonder if someone was trying to wreak vengeance on the game for supposed past misdemeanors but the forum gives chapter and verse on some bug fixes so it's probably nothing sinister. 

They'd already extended the downtime by thirty minutes when I went to log in or I wouldn't even have known. Mrs. Bhagpuss and I had been for a long walk through wheatfields and woodland before the sun got too hot and I'd just sat myself down with a cold drink to decide whether to play New World or blog about it. I'd settled on playing, mostly so I'd have more to write about, and then I found I couldn't which is always annoying. I had to change tack.

Of course, just typing this has taken me to within a few minutes of the servers coming back up, so now I have to choose whether to carry on or go back to the original plan. I think it's going to be the latter. (It wasn't. Ed.)

It's not that I'm desperate to play, although I was having fun last night, mostly. The main reason I'd be well-advised to get on as soon as the servers come up is that it'll be the middle of the night in the USA.

Now with added freckles!


Last night was astonishingly busy on Roruva, the North American East Coast server I chose almost at random. I imagine it was busy on every server. At one point there were nearly two hundred thousand people logged in via Steam, according to reports. The 24-hour peak stands at 190,811 as I write.

The sheer volume of people, all trying to talk to the same NPCs and do the same quests, led to the usual bottlenecks, as well as the traditional opening day cavalcade of repetitive questions. Every third person seemed to want to know where the sheep were. Or, as one persistent if ungrammatical quester kept asking, "Where are sheeps?" There were, of course, no sheeps. Not live ones, anyway.

Despite the excessive crowding, I didn't run into any real problems in my first hour. The game begins with what I'm fairly sure is the exact same cinematic, the one that leads quite cleverly into character creation set in a ship's cabin. It's a nice introduction to the general theme and setting of the game.

I made the same character I've been making since the first alpha. I have screenshots from back then and she looks pretty much identical. Character options, still surprisingly limited, don't appear to have moved forward all that much over the last couple of years. There are still no sliders. You don't get to change your jawline or the length of your eyelashes although you can, at least, choose your eye-color, something I complained about not being able to do last time.

A year ago I also mentioned that you got a choice of two genders. You don't any more. Now you get a choice of two body types with no gender stated. You also get a choice of pronouns, although you have to dig into the settings to find that out. The default pronoun is They/Them, which makes sense. 

There are also multiple statements and explanations addressing the locale, setting and theme of the game. Amazon have taken some of the criticisms over cultural insensitivity to heart, it appears. I'm not wholly convinced that standing behind consultations with "experts" and their own "diverse workforce" is quite the get out of jail free card they seem to imagine but at least they're acknowledging the issues.

When it comes to player characters, there is a deal of diversity on show. There are twenty-one presets for the head and face, not all of which are young and good-looking. A couple of dozen or so hairstyles add more variety, although in my experience whatever hairstyle you choose pretty soon vanishes under some helmet or other. There are flesh tones, facial hair, scars and tattoos as well. It's plenty, although if you're used to something like Swords of Legend Online it might still feel like it's not all that much.

With your character made, before you can play you still need to choose a region. Europe, East Coast or West Coast USA, South America, Australasia, somewhere near you is hosting this game. Then it's on to servers, of which there are many. 

So far so familiar but here's a new one on me. You also have to choose a "World Set". There's no real explanation of what that means but there is a stern warning:

I imagine a "World Set" is what we usually refer to as a "server cluster". Why you can only have one character per "Set", though, I have no idea. Even with the dire warnings, I heard several players complaining they weren't able to join friends in other World Sets. People don't read signage, it's a fact.

Since I wasn't planning on meeting up with anyone and anyway it's beta, I just picked a name I liked the look of. There were a lot to choose from and most of them had no extrinsic meaning. I imagine they relate to places in the gameworld but that's a guess. They could be the names of the developers' pets for all I know.

Once in, everything seemed extremely familiar. If anything's changed in the tutorial since last summer's Preview, I didn't spot it. I wrote about it then and all of that still applies so I'm not going to go over it again. 

I had exactly the same issues with "lag" as last year, too. For about an hour the game played smoothly even with countless players bouncing around the screen. The game defaulted to "Low" for all my graphics settings which is interesting. My PC is unchanged since last year's Preview, when I noted that all but one of my settings defaulted to "High". I thought the point of optimization was to increase accessibility, not reduce it.

I changed everything to "High" to see what would happen and not much did. I played without any obvious problems for about an hour, going through all the quests on the beach without any noticeable frame rate issues. 

Curious definition of Medium Load there, Amazon.


When I got to the first town, though, I ran into exactly the same trouble as last year. Frame rates dropped, everything began to judder and eventually my whole machine ground to a halt. I couldn't play. I couldn't even close the game. I had to tab out, which itself took a couple of minutes, and close the game from the Task Manager.

Before that happened I did manage to do some of the quests in town. Last year I noted that none of the NPCs were voiced, which seemed odd. They all do now. Every character I spoke to had full voice acting although it was often hard to hear what they were saying even when I turned the sound right up. 

When I could hear them, most of the voice acting seemed... okay. The guy on the beach, the first questgiver you meet, speaks in a peculiar, arch tone that makes him sound like he's being sarcastic even when he's not but the folks in town mostly seemed matter-of-fact even when the lines they were delivering appeared to be intentionally humorous.  I can almost hear the director murmuring "Undersell it."

The game has housing now, something I think must have been added in the last year. It's hard not to be aware of it because you'll keep trying to go through open doors only to be stopped by an invisible barrier. I'm guessing it works somewhat like Black Desert, a smart mix of instanced and open world access, but since every house I looked at cost several thousand gold I don't imagine I'm going to find out for sure before beta ends.

One other change I noticed in the two or three hours I was on (I got to level nine) was the fashion. For a PvP game, the utilitarian look of the alpha made sense but once the game transitioned to a PvE model and invited in a whole new audience it was plain that plain wouldn't pass. PvE players like to strut. 

I hope that's been properly cured...
In just the opening few levels I had half a dozen different looks. Quested and dropped gear was abundant and most of it looked good. I was very impressed by the tunic made from a whole dead fox with its front paws bound together. The leather greatcoat was impressive too. The whole gender/body type discussion becomes moot when you're wrapped up in something like that.

After I was forced out of the game by frame rate issues I was in two minds whether to go back and try again but I've always found New World moreish. The addition of quests and achievements and all the paraphenalia of the theme park only make the draw stronger. 

When I logged back in, something odd happened. At first it was as unplayable as it had been before but then, as I struggled on, after maybe twenty minutes the stutter and grind just...went away. I was, by then, back on Low graphics to see if that would help but I'd changed those settings before I logged in and it hadn't appeared to make any difference at all, so unless it takes twenty minutes for the game to notice, that can't have been it. 

I played for quite a while, half an hour perhaps, with no difficulties whatsoever. There were, if anything, even more people than before and yet I could move, fight, talk to NPCs, open inventory, all with smooth fluidity. And then the lag came back, not quite as bad as before but bad enough to make me stop.

I went and checked the Minimum Specs. My PC meets them. Just barely, it's true. The GPU and the RAM are the lowest admissable, the CPU a couple of notches above that. I wouldn't expect to get great performance and I probably need to keep the graphics settings at Low, but it ought to run acceptably. Minimum spec does, after all, mean "This will work". 

Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. I'd like to know why.

It does confirm what I already knew, namely that I need to upgrade. With the current worldwide shortage of  components and the crazy price of graphics cards, though, it's probably not going to happen this year.

I'm hoping, once New World settles down and the crowds disperse across the landscape, most of the pressure will subside. I'm probably going to wait until launch before pushing much beyond the starting area, anyway. There doesn't seem too much point committing a whole load of time to a character that will be wiped in a couple of weeks, nor in working through content I'm going to be repeating so soon. 

And, honestly, there doesn't feel any need to explore much further. It all feels very familiar still from last year. I knew I liked the game then and nothing bad seems to have happened to it while it was off the road with the hood up.

It does feel as though Amazon might have got this one right. I guess we'll know for sure come September.


  1. Great preview, I enjoyed that. I may give it a look when it goes live.

    1. We'll see how it goes but I would guess it's going to be one of the more successful mmos we've seen for a while. I would imagine anyone who likes ESO would find it worth a look.

  2. Sounds like they're incrementally downloading assets to the client to me. My suspicion is that you will see your lag problems mostly disappear once you've played in a given area long enough. Is your Internet connection fairly high bandwidth?

    1. I live in a city that was laid to cable back when Cable TV was going to be a thing. We originaly had a regular BT phone line as well and we started on dial up back in the 90s but about twenty years or more ago we moved everything to the cable company, phone and internet, and that's the connection we've had ever since. It's always been pretty good but these days it's excellent. One of the reasons we haven't moved yet!

      That does sound like a possible reason. It's far worse in towns whit a ton of assets and lots of people in all kinds of different gear. I managed to get out into the country this afternoon and I just played for two hours with almost no issues at all. I did also turn every setting down as low as it would go. Now I'm in a quiet area I'll try turning them back up and see how that goes.

  3. It really is a very bad time to upgrade one's PC... I had to find out the hard way last week. Almost exactly a year ago I built my new PC but decided to keep using my old graphics card for a while. Then the shortages kicked into gear and I thought I wouldn't be upgrading the card anytime soon.
    Alas, last week my old one quite literally blew up. I suspect after 6 1/2 years one or both of the fans crapped out and the thing just overheated.

    Now I have a new card that was more expensive than the whole rest of that new(ish) PC in total...and also a tool that will set off an alarm if anything gets too hot. ^^

    On the bright side, when I play Cyberpunk 2077 with all settings maxed now (including stuff like raytracing, which I didn't even have access to before) I get close to 100 FPS...

    1. I looked at graphic cards again yesterday. Even small upgrades cost more than I've ever paid for a card in my life. A card that would actually be current, even by the low-mid range standards I usually go for, would cost more than the last PC I bought.

      On the plus side, if I could be bothered to set up an EBay account I could probably shift a whole bunch of old cards I have sitting around, most in their original boxes. Never been a better time for that.


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