Ever since the New World release announcement there has been a fierce debate about some of the changes described in the new interviews.
This was the first time since New World went dark in June that we've heard any news about the game. For many readers of the websites that posted exclusive interviews with the devs, it was most likely the first time they ever heard about it at all.
A large part of the current community consists of hardcore fans who have been following the game for years. We're more interested in the details, the explicit changes, the patch notes.
But the interviews had to give a broad overview of some of the features that set New World apart from other games. The goal - half a year from release - is most likely to raise awareness and create hype, to get more people interested in the game. Not necessarily to keep the hardcore fans in the loop.
Has there been a major change of direction? Some of what David Verfaillie (Player Experience Lead) and Scot Lane (Game Director) have said in recent interviews sounds very much like it. But they were also trying to give an overview to readers who don't know the game at all. So if they are describing something in broad strokes, it's easy to misinterpret when we already have certain expectations.
Let's look at the major points and wildly speculate about what they could mean for New World. And if you haven't had a chance to read the articles and interviews, we have a round-up of the recent news.
1. New World is now an "Open World MMO" and no longer a "Sandbox MMO".
Usually the big distinction is between Sandbox (more freedom) and Theme Park (on rails). Both can have an "Open World", so this statement is a bit meaningless. Worst case, some of the less restricted gameplay elements have been toned down. For example in previous gameplay videos you could see that New World has a free building mode, allowing players to place tents and other structures. It's possible this has been restricted for balance purposes.
2. New World removed "Survival elements".
We don't know how many survival elements the game had before. Most often in MMOs, eating/drinking or paying attention to weather elements such as cold or heat become a chore, and only play minor roles. Getting rid of these is a good thing for the game, and it also allows AGS to differentiate better from games such as Rust, Ark and other survival games. This may be important because many of those games have a rather unpolished feel to them, so it may be better if potential players don't associate the same with New World.
3. Adding player factions to New World
This is a big one. Depending on how these factions are implemented, they could result in a completely different PvP experience. If PvP is only possible between factions, that would be a major element being taken out: Guild vs guild warfare and politics. Few games offer these gameplay elements with a lot of depth anymore, so I am still looking forward to seeing these in New World. But if alliances and enemies are pre-determined due to faction membership, this would be severely diminished.
The other possibility is that factions provide a low-risk way for players to enter PvP not tied to wars or sieges. Imagine being able to join a faction and then being able to engage in PvP with other faction-flagged players freely. Some games, such as Albion or Eve, already offer this. Yet they offer this gameplay mode in addition to the normal PvP modes.
Factions could provide a lot of engagement for solo players or smaller groups without the need to join a large company and wage territory wars. So I hope this will be implemented well, but as an alternative PvP-mode.
4. Instanced sieges?
Some statements by the developers led fans to speculate that sieges are now instanced. There is no way to tell right now if this is true, but having to "sign up" for sieges and having a better chance to participate depending on "your influence in the region" surely makes it sound like it. This goes against the "Open World" that Amazon wants to offer, and with their server tech it should not be necessary to limit the amount of players in sieges. Unless it's done for balance reasons. If "mass battles" are a major focus of the game, restricting them to 50 vs 50 seems unlikely.
But then there are other ways to do this, such as a sophisticated system for alliances, war declarations and criminal flagging. That way they could preserve the Open World nature of the game. At the same time it would still allow for emergent gameplay such as third-party interference during sieges, backstabbing and surprise attacks. The kind of things that transform a siege from a match-style event to a real experience, that players will remember and talk about.
There is a chance this point was misunderstood, due to the "50 vs 50" quote from one of the interviews. It could just be a way to describe two companies fighting each other and not actually refer to a hard cap. Hopefully we can get some clarification soon.
5. PvP being completely optional
I'd say out of all the things that came out of those interviews, this is the big one. During an interview with German site "Mein-MMO", Scot Lane said that "PvP is now a voluntary Opt-In". Keep in mind that this is something that has likely been translated from English to German (and back to English), so it has to be taken with a grain of salt. If true, and PvP can now be completely avoided by players who prefer a pure PvE experience, there is still a chance to balance this in the context of a larger PvP world.
There are several issues with players being able to opt-out of PvP. For instance it allows players to level up or gather resource in complete safety from rival players. I'd argue that this is fine, if properly balanced by having more rewarding areas in the game where it's not possible to opt-out of PvP. This would be how Eve does it with high-sec and null-sec areas. As long as players put themselves at a disadvantage and level up slower or are able to gather fewer and less valuable resources while not PvP-enabled, this can still make both types of players happy. Those who prefer being safe from other players and those who prefer the full PvP experience.
For example on the map that was released by AGS on Twitter some time ago, you could have the high-level resources in the north or the center, but designate the entire area as a PvP zone.
Another problem is that non-PvP players can potentially grief others, by blocking them, stealing kills or loot, and countless other creative ways, without the other player being able to retaliate. It would mean that the system that AGS came up with to protect players (by toggling off PvP), could actually be turned around to harass others instead.
I also think that a world where you can be completely safe is not actually that intriguing to players. Even those who say they don't want to participate in PvP will probably admit that the possibility of being attacked at any moment makes the game a lot more exciting. A lot of players of online RPGs don't just want a game, they want an experience. The kind of experience where actions have consequences, reputation and relationships matter, and where those relationships form through shared moments of excitement.
There are not many games that offer meaningful relationships and communities, deep politics that result in your company either getting help from friendly companies during a defensive siege, or being stabbed in the back by a mercenary clan, or a coalition of smaller companies forming against you because of your awful reputation. New World can still offer this, and it would set it apart from many of the other games nowadays and hold players' interest long-term.
6. Housing and Settlement Taxes
It sounds like the devs want to let solo players or those in smaller companies that cannot hold a settlement of their own be a part of larger settlements. That way they would have access to all the same resources and buildings the owning company has. For the owners this would mean tax income and potentially the support of their "vassals" in the case of war. Again for the latter to really play a role, sieges would have to be non-instanced.
7. PvE sieges
This was mentioned a few times in different articles, but I feel that it's not actually a very important feature. Fighting masses of AI just is not as exciting as fighting an organized group of players, so it really shouldn't have the same priority as PvP sieges. It could be a nice way to prevent a server from getting too stale, when one company owns a lot of territory and other players cannot organize against them - but then again you also can't make it impossible to beat the AI, because it's probably much more frustrating to lose your city to a scripted in-game event rather than being outplayed by another group of players.
Overall it sounds like New World has gotten a lot of new features, such as skill trees and crafting that improves as you use certain tradeskills. It remains to be seen if by trying to appeal to both the hardcore PvP crowd and the more casual players, Amazon may have watered down the game.
The devs have stated that we'll hear more about the changes soon, quoted below, until then we can only speculate.
We know folks who participated in the Alpha test want a deep dive on PvPvE, we understand. We are working on a solution to provide a sense of the big picture, how all these systems and mechanics work together. The majority of people just learned about New World for the first time when we released our Trailer at the Game Awards on 12/13. We launch in May, Beta in April. We will make sure there is 100% clarity on gameplay prior to launch and address the existing concerns as soon as possible. We hear you and we care.
If you want to read more about all the new systems, check out our round-up of the interviews that we published last week. Feel free to join us on our New World Discord or tweet at us if you have any comments.