It’s really hard to look at the general progress of New World and not get the sense of a game that’s struggling to sort out its place in the MMO hierarchy even before it launches. Release dates keep getting moved back, principles of design keep changing, sometimes dramatically, and so on. Whether or not it is struggling, the MMO community’s overall impression is that it’s a much-wanted title that just doesn’t know quite what it wants to be and doesn’t have a cohesive battle plan.
Which makes it all the more interesting that I walked away from the game’s war mode preview yesterday rather impressed with the whole thing.
The preview event in question was basically meant as a straightforward and limited press preview of laying siege to a fortress, either from the defending side or the attacking side, and it served more as a demonstration of what this particular high-end content would feel like than as a look at the game as a whole. So that’s how I’m going to treat it. What was it like laying siege, how well did the interface work, and did combat feel appropriately fun?
What struck me first on starting the game is that this game is clearly meant to have launched already. I mean that in a good way. The hard work of polishing a game and smoothing the rough edges for launch seems to have already happened. Controls were crisp and response; the interface was clear and developed. In fact, one of the things that I speculated about myself in a past column was that the game wasn’t content-complete, but it definitely seems to be feature-complete.
So it makes sense to preview this type of content via a controlled event. The goal of a siege is straightforward: get into the fort and capture it. Attackers have to grab three control points, then break down the doors, then grab the central point in the middle of the fort. Defenders have to… stop them from doing this. It honestly felt a bit akin to Unreal Tournament game modes, or if you’d prefer, some of World of Warcraft‘s battlegrounds.
The latter comparison is hardly fair, though, because this is much more involved. Players have to handle siege engine placement, and only a certain number of siege devices can be on the field at any given time (but you can break them down and make new ones). There are a variety of defenses in place and different mechanisms to consider. And all in all, it definitely has a good balance of pressures between attacking and defending.
My chosen role was on the attacker side, meaning that we had to capture and hold the space. Our options for machinery were thus a bit more limited than the defenders’ since we had to be on the move, but it was still appreciable. Repeater cannons and flamethrowers were available to deal with infantry, but neither one was well-suited to assaulting the gates; that relied upon cannons and explosive barrels. The interplay there was particularly interesting to me, as well. Explosive barrels are (obviously) single-use, but you can simply drop them and then move on; cannons are more consistent, but they leave you a stationary target, which can be its own sort of danger.
Your weapons also have to deal with the problems of ammunition, though; you can’t just fire all day with your repeater cannon once it’s down. Since you get more ammo through battle tokens, which are earned by fighting enemies and progressing objectives, you’re encouraged to be an active participant instead of passive.
Of course, the muscle memory of FPS games did not serve me as well as it might have otherwise. Even though the controls were familiar in that regard, my musket was definitely not a rapid-fire weapon or one that took out enemies with a lone well-placed headshot. The weapon switching, fortunately, worked fairly well; each character has to pick between three weapons to equip at once, with the swap taking a second but allowing you to build an overall flexible arsenal.
The assault started with a basic plan. Everyone would rush forward to point B on the map and claim that; we would then split in half, with half the group going to A and half going to C. Unfortunately, we quickly ran into a problem. My half swept A quickly and claimed control, but the team in charge of C was unable to capture the point, diverting more of our forces there until it was claimed and we could begin assaulting the gates.
Claimed points serve as respawn markers, but by default you respawn closest to where you fell. This, it seemed, was the goal of the defenders. Funneling us all toward C meant that all of the enemies’ defenses were also located at C, and it was harder to get a coordinated push going. So I took the opportunity to set up a repeater cannon and aim up at the parapets of the fortress.
I am happy to say that it was a glorious moment of surprise to watch defenders suddenly falling beneath a hail of firepower. I am less happy to say that it was only a moment, as my ammo ran out quickly and I found myself having become more of a target than anything. Still, it demonstrated the impact of siege devices, and so I cleverly rushed back to the main base through the time-honored trick of “catching multiple arrows in the face.”
When this story is recounted in taverns, I’ll leave that part out.
Grabbing a cannon and an explosive barrel, I started the haul back up around through point A. The balance here is fairly strong. You can’t resupply except at your base, but that also means a longer run back to the actual front, which means you might actually be facing a very different situation when you get there. Such was the case for me; the group had managed to get most of the gates down and was starting to rush the middle, but I still helped tear down another gate and opened up another avenue of our attack.
From there… well, it turned into a meat grinder. The combat in melee is very much more intricate than it is at range, and I admit that I have not really mastered it yet (it was my first time in the game period, after all). All the defenders were focused on keeping our forces out of the middle, and they naturally had the home-field advantage. Thanks in absolutely no part to me, though, people got their coordination together, dropped some flame cannons, and spread out the enemy long enough that the attack was successful.
Now… it’s hard to extrapolate an entire game from just a small slice of gameplay like this. The event was the equivalent of a trade show demo event, just enough to get a sense of how it’s meant to play without the promise that it would play like this.
Having said that, though, that first preview was fun. It leveraged a lot of the stuff that makes PvP a fun experience, felt dynamic without feeling impossible to follow, and had a lot of fun bells and whistles that made me eager to learn more. It made me excited to preview more of the game, to check out things in more depth instead of just dipping my toes into PvP. Which is good news since the preview test opens up for everyone in just a few hours, and I can do just that.
So yeah, New World has struggled to get itself going and has suffered from a lot of delays. But it does seem to at least be coming out the other side of those issues in a really good spot.