Saturday, October 9, 2021

New World: The Good, The Bad And The UI

One of the paradoxes of blogging about mmorpgs is that, when you have plenty of time to write, it probably means you don't have much to say and when you have plenty to say, it probably means you don't have much time to write. That's because ideas for posts about mmorpgs come thickest and fastest when the games are fresh and exciting but mmorpg gameplay is compulsive and time-consuming, both by nature and design.

I have a ton of ideas for posts about New World but, as with Valheim (Not an mmorpg.) earlier this year I begrudge the time it takes to think them through, fact-check the details and turn them into coherent essays that make some kind of point. Instead I find myself bashing out slice-of-life diary entries or op-ed pieces because I can get them done in half the time, then get back to what I really want to do, which is play the damn game.

And they still take way too long! Which is why today I'm going even further and putting up what are basically some notes I made over the last few days with a little bit of commentary tacked on. 

I'd have liked to be able to post my considered opinion, with supporting examples, on why the narrative in New World is actually one of the game's strengths rather than, as seems to be the accepted opinion already, one of it's weaknesses. That, however, would take me most of the rest of the day and I have Standing to grind, if I want that two-storey house in Everfall, so bring on the bullet points!

Some Things I Like About New World

  • Landmarks - Such a clean, intelligent way to integrate higher and lower level content within the same region. Reminds me strongly of original EverQuest design, spruced up for a modern audience. The level range of some zones is broad enough that mobs suited for the start of the spread would one-shot players at the end but the Landmark system makes it clear when you're stepping out of your comfort zone without actually telling you you can't.
  • Mob Tethering and Animations - Falls into the sweet spot between old school mmorpgs, where the mobs hit instantly and chase you forever and what we've grown used to in recent years, where mobs take so long to wind up you're ten meters past them before they strike and if they chase you at all, they give up in seconds. In New World the animations are long enough to give you a chance to move past but not for you to dither and gawp and the tethers stretch just to that point where you start to doubt the mob will ever back off... and then it does. Very immersive when you travel cross-country.

  • Distance - Which is just as well because there's a lot of cross-country travel. I've seen a number of comments about the supposed smallish size of the world and it's true the map, opened wide, doesn't look huge but just you try running across it. With only the most limited of fast travel options and just a single basic run speed, getting from one place to another becomes a large part of the gameplay. It's lucky there's so much to do along the way.
  • Resources - Like gathering the endless resources that crop up everywhere. Literally everywhere, since you can break the rocks and chop down the trees. The quantity, distribution and variety of things you can gather or mine or harvest or just flat-out steal is deeply satisfying but the best thing about the whole system is how those resources present visually.

  • Big Nodes- Oh, there are so many and they look so good. Those resources I just talked about - in other games they're little things, hard to see and when you find them and take them there's no sign they ever were there. In Aeternum you can see a vein of iron ore from the next mountain over. Magical plants stand shoulder high and glow with arcane light or spit like faulty neon signs. Even mundane crops like hemp stand out against sky from three fields away. It makes the tracking on the HUD almost superflous. And even when you've taken all there is to take, some residue remains so the next person passing by knows what was there and will be again.
  • Tracking - As I level up and my skinning and gathering and mining skills rise, I learn how to spot things from very far away. In other games tracking is a separate interface but here it's just a continuation of the directional indicators I'm alreading using. The difference when I learned how to track rabbits was palpable, as good as learning a new spell might be for a magic user.

  • The UI - That compass, with all that goes on along the top line, is just one exemplar of the excellent, ergonomic, intuitive interface that already feels as natural as any I've ever used. The hallmark of a great UI is that it does just what you need it to do without you noticing it's doing it and that's this one to a tee. I particularly like the positioning of all the elements. Even with what is, potentially, a slew of screen clutter (The quest journal alone is very big and bright.) it always feels as though I'm looking directly into the world with a clear, unobstructed view.
  • Counters - Everyone mentions how New World makes numbers go up and why that's the reason people like it but no-one mentions another set of numbers; the tiny counter on every harvest. Of course the game tells you just how many logs you picked up when you chopped down that last tree - every mmorpg does that - but it also gives you the running total of how many you're carrying altogether. I've wished for that in so many other games. In some, when it's been possible, I've pulled the stack onto a hot key so I can follow the count there. In most games I just have to keep opening my bags to check. New World puts it there in front of me, exactly when I need it.

  • Interruption Memory- File this under things I never thought I needed. When I'm hacking away at a rock in other games and a wolf chooses that exact moment to take a chunk out of my thigh, after I've broken off to break his skull and turned back to my task I have to start all over again. Even though I might have hit the rock a dozen times, now it's as though we'd never met. In New World the rocks remember. If the circle was half-turned when I stopped, it's still half-turned when I start up again. So much energy saved, so much stress removed.
  • Mystery - At the other extreme from all this pragmatic praxis comes the ineffable. Time, history, frozen in stone, mysterious, enigmatic, unknowable. Strange, bifurcated statues, pristine obelisks, shattered acqueducts. The architecture of the arcane is everywhere. My absolute favorite thing, visually, in the all the game I've seen so far, arrives early: those gigantic stone spheres that dot the landscape around one of the first settlements. Windsward, I think it is. I can't help but stop and climb onto them whenever I pass, just to stand there and wonder. It always makes me think of Tales From The Loop. I like to be reminded of things I like.
  • Lore - As I said, there's a much more thoughtful post than this to be written about the way New World handles narrative, story and lore. In case I never get around to writing that post, I'll just mention here how although much of the story is there in the world itself, carved in stone, it's the letters and notes and journals, scattered far and wide, that really tell the tales. They're better-written than such things in many mmorpgs and more purposeful. They don't just add color to the game, they inform and define it. In narrative terms, working out what happened before we arrived and how it might affect us in the future makes up the thrust of the gameplay. That's what the game's about and that's what driving my engagement, outside of those ever-increasing numbers. 

I could go on eulogizing but that would make it sound as though I think New World's some all-but-perfect game. Far from it. It's good but it's not that. Let's finish up with

Some Things I Don't Like About New World

  • Caps - I hate them. Can't do this, can't do that, got to wait until such and such to do so and so. Why? Why give us freedom then take it away? If I'm good enough to get to the place where the quest begins then give me the quest when I get there! If I'm not good enough to finish it, let me fail. And if if I do finish a quest, give me what you promised! If you said I'd get Azoth then give me Azoth, don't flush it down the drain because I'm "At My Azoth Cap". Hold it in escrow if you must but I earned that blue stuff! Give it me!
  • Counters That Don't Clear - Remember how much I liked those counters? And the tracking? I know I didn't mention it then but I also love all the quest indicators that let me know what's where and how far and how many and all the good stuff like that. And just like I loved the big gathering nodes you can see from far away, I love how quest objectives glow bright blue so you can't miss them. Only why don't they stop? When I've put poison in five barrels, why do all the other barrellight up? Can you not code it so they switch off when my quest counter hits cap? I mean, you like caps, right?

  • Sprint, Lack Of - I said nice things about the distances. I said nice things about how mobs attack and chase. I'd say nicer things still if you'd just let me kick away and run for a while. I'd love to be able to gain some distance on those wolves rather than have them snapping at my heels. I'd like to be able to jog a bit faster on the slow stretches, make up a few seconds here and there. I can't remember the last mmorpg I played that had absolutely no means of increasing run speed at all. I keep thinking maybe there's something and I've missed it. If there is, someone please tell me.
  • Too Much Of A Good Thing - Inventory space is generous and the ways to make it stretch are ingenious and satisfying but it would be better yet if less stuff dropped. Yes, I know, we all like a good drop but this is Guild Wars 2 all over again and that's a loot model no-one needs to copy. I don't need to come back laden down with magic weapons and armor from every last little trip. I get that all we're meant to do with most of them is salvage them for parts but if that's all they're good for then why not just have the mobs drop repair parts in the first place? Sometimes less really is more, y'know.

And that's about all I had written down. Guess I'd better stop and go play some more until I think of something else.

That's my excuse and it's the only one I've got. It'll just have to do.


  1. I think agree with you on the lore but I don’t have a lot of MMOs to compare it to. I more like the feeling the lore gives rather than reading it all. The mystery of the past and how it can be used for our future.

    Want to see your lore post when you get the chance.

    1. The problem with lore is that somestimes it promises a lot more than it ever delivers. New World feels like all those letters and journals are building towards something but it could be just a whole lot of atmosphere that never resolves into anything. I hope it does but even if not, at least it's a convincingly-drawn background.

  2. I found myself stepping back this week. I was really enjoying it and then suddenly I just didn't want to play. I think the running back and forth between this and that quest with minimal ways to get there fast got tedious. I fell behind on my main quest so now I'm playing catch up and I'm playing alone and it gets a bit lonely. I almost consider streaming just to have some company but I don't really want to. And some parts of the game made me crave ESO so when I hopped in there to work a little on the current Blackwood Bounties event and found myself sprinting, mounting, and fast travelling all over the place with SO much to do and never feeling *behind* because of the whole One Tamriel thing, I found myself sucked in there again.

    1. I think for New World to really work at this stage you have to be invested in either the war or the world. Faction chat is busy all day, every day with people planning the day's battles but I'm exploring and trying to learn as much about Aeternum as I can. Plus it helps if you're the kind of player who loves gathering for its own sake, which I always have been.

      Outside of that, there's not too much in the way of the kind of structured content you get in something like ESO or GW2. The game really is much more of a sandbox than a theme park, I'm begining to realize. I wonder which way Amazon will take it over the next year or two. I suspect it will get more theme-parky but I kind of hope it doesn't. I'd prefer they doubled down on the worldliness and focused on that and the PvP aspect, while keeping the two at arms' length as they are at the moment. I think that would be something different from most of the competition.

  3. I agree with basically everything in your positive list -- the only 'sort of' exception would be around distance. And it has less to do with the need to travel much of it on foot, and more to do with the dual face-slaps of:

    1) Absolutely not respecting player time in the continual back and forth between the same points. (At least the Soulwarden / Fisher has a fast travel point beside him, but still).

    2) The absolute raw-faced game mechanics of kill x of y or find x of y with narry an attempt to cover over it.

    And it was that second point I was referring to in my own post as disliking. The story (or at least the lore!) as you say, is pretty decent taken as its own thing. But perhaps this could be used to add some colour to the quests themselves? Maybe the writers and the interns on 'quest design' could... speak to each other?

    There is the odd hint of this as you go through things like the crafting of your Azoth staff for instance, but otherwise, even on the MSQ, it's just so painfully raw. Dust even a modicum of colour over the questing affair and I think I'd be instantly *significantly* happier with everything!

    1. I was going to write a post today going into why I think the quests are much better (and deeper) than you (and most people as far as I can tell) are rating them. Unfortunately, I spent so long playing I don't have time! I might be able to cobble a quick version together just by using some screenshots of quest text but a more in-depth analysis will have to wait, most likely forever the way things are going.

      I am long on record here as loving slow travel in mmorpgs. I think we went into this at some length with WoW Classic. I would personally not have any form of instant travel at all in the first year of release, only basic mounts and run-speed buffs. NW is odd in that it has some instant travel but no run-speed boosts. I can't recall another game that launched like that.

      I have never have much problem with travelling out from a questgiver and then back, even repeatedly. I like the rhythm of it. I was only thinking today as I finished a quest how glad I was NW doesn't have any of those remote quest completion mechanics.

      I very rarely get tired of covering the same ground repeatedly until I'm on a second or more likely third character going through the same content. If I play a game for years, then I do start to want instant travel, but I'd probably need to know most of the zones inside-out before that happened and as yet I get constantly lost even in the two or three zones I kind of know.

      What I really do wish they'd add is a mini-map. I am not a fan of havint to open the full map every thirty seconds.

  4. Most gear is garbage due to the random stat perk distribution. And TBH, I really can't see why anyone other than a healer would run anything other than Int/Con (Occultist) with an Ice Gauntlet and a Great Axe (gemmed for INT) after level 25 either. But that's just me....

    I can *maybe* I can see a tank running Con/Str for the sword/shield + great axe combo, but even there the Ice Gauntlet's "Entomb" ability is so insanely defensive that my Amrine group managed just fine without a healer, so take that for what you will. And obviously that tank was running Con/Int, so... yeah.


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